The other day JP asked me, “Can you play hide and seek with me?”
What do you do? You put everything else down, and you play hide and seek with your kid. We went upstairs and I said, “OK, let’s play hide and seek.” And very excitedly he said, “Yay! We’re playing hide and seek!” and just stood there. That’s when I realized he had no idea how to actually play hide and seek and had probably just heard about it in a book somewhere. So I told him, “First, close your eyes. Then, count to ten and I’ll hide. When you’ve finished counting to ten, come and find me.” So he closed his eyes and counted, “One, two, three, four, seven, eight, nine, ten!’ Because he’s 2. I waited in the bedroom closet for a long time as he called out, “Mommy, where are you?” over and over. He didn’t seem to be particularly worried, but it seemed to be taking him a long time, so I called out, “I’m right here, JP!” But he still said, “I can’t find you!” So eventually I left the closet, and found him standing in the hallway. When I saw him, I realized I had forgotten to include a crucial step in the hide-and-seek process: I forgot to tell him to open his eyes!
But what struck me was that, with the simple faith of the young, even though he couldn’t see me, my son still trusted that I was there. In that way, he was very much like Job as we find him in Chapter 19. Job has undergone the most extreme suffering imaginable; he’s lost his home, his livelihood, his family, and his health. He’s calling out for God, like my son, calling, “Mommy, where are you?” But he doesn’t see God anywhere. He says: (Job 19:7)—”Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice.”
Job uses vivid images to describe how very alone he feels. He feels estranged from both his family and his friends. His wife finds his very breath repulsive: (Job 19:17) “My breath is repulsive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family.” A little levity amidst all this talk of suffering: if your spouse is in need of Listerine, you might subtly write Job 19:17 on the bathroom mirror!
We have seen firsthand how Job’s so-called friends have failed him. Job’s friends try to explain his suffering by pointing to the sovereignty of God; God is just, and there is a reason for your suffering you may not understand yet. Probably, the reason is: you deserve this. Bildad implies that Job has not just sinned, but that Job does not really know God at all; that’s why he’s suffering. That answer not acceptable to Job—and it shouldn’t be acceptable to us, either. But we may have more in common with Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad than we would like to think. We need to recognize that most people think of Christians as pretty judgmental and holier-than-thou. And even if we don’t spout the hate-filled speech that comes out of the mouths of some professing Christians, I for one find myself judging others so, so often. There’s a reason God put the book of Job in the Bible; He knew that religious people would need it. We tend to think we’ve got things figured out. Recently, Dan said to me, “I think I understand Chronicles. When the people obey God, things go well for them. When they disobey, they get slammed.” But the message of Job is: not always. We can’t be quick to judge others because they are suffering.
The philosophy of Job’s friends is not just typical of religious people, it’s typical of us as Americans as well. The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” comes from Ben Franklin’s almanac, not from the Bible. Americans like to believe that anyone can be successful as long as they work hard and do what’s right; this, after all, is the land of opportunity. The book of Job says, not so fast.
Because Job can’t help himself, not anymore. He’s totally friendless, totally alone. In verse 12, he says: “His troops come on together; they have thrown up siegeworks[a] against me, and encamp around my tent.”
He imagines himself on the battlefield, alone, with the entire army of God barricaded against him. And that’s what life feels like sometimes. Sometimes, we don’t sense any reason or justice to the world. If there is a God, He doesn’t seem to be particularly kind or good. In the midst of natural disaster, extreme poverty, in the midst of senseless war, we can’t see God. But in this moment, though Job can’t see God, he still trusts that God is there. Like my son, standing there with his eyes closes, when I whispered to him, “open your eyes, JP.” And, delighted, he said, “Mommy, I founded you!”
At this moment, it’s as though Job opens the eyes of his faith; and when he does so, sees beyond his situation, sees beyond even the centuries, sees beyond what he has been taught to think about who God is to what he knows in his heart: (Job 19:25-27) “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Job opens his eyes to a vision of God the Redeemer. He sees an image of God different from what he has been taught; God not as a divine Judge, but a divine Advocate. Not the God who is above us, but the God who stands beside us. Not God the Ruler, but God the Redeemer. As Christians, we believe, in essence, that Job saw the image of Christ. Christ who walked beside us, who suffered beside us, who died beside us. You see this word Redeemer, “goal” in Hebrew, was the person who would take care of your family in the event of your death. It was the person who would bail you out of jail, your emergency contact, your power of attorney. Usually, it was your brother.
There are a few times when we call someone “brother” or “sister” outside natural ties; one is in the church; another is in the military. As a child of the eighties, I cannot help but think of the song “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits, released in 1985. The song was released in response to the Falklands War and Dire Straits has used profits from the track to help soldiers with PTSD. The lyrics go as such:
Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms
These words could have been written by Christ, or about Christ, our brother. Christ loved us enough to go into the battle with us, to stand beside us in our deepest suffering. He said, “Greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” Job saw the image of God his brother. He saw his Redeemer beside him, in the fields of destruction, in this baptism by fire. He believed that God witnessed his suffering and would never desert him, his brother in arms.
Soldiers on the battlefield knew that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice, when their brothers lay down their lives for one another. On Memorial Day, we remember that sacrifice, dedicating ourselves to live greater lives in the memory of those who laid down theirs. As Christians, God does not promise us we will not suffer in this life. But God does promise that we will not suffer alone. He promises us that he will go with us into the battle, into the deepest suffering that we will experience, and that he will not turn away even in death. And not only that, but we have a Redeemer who lives; because sacrifice that pure, that profound, is stronger even than death itself.
Whatever battles you face, whatever struggles stand in your way this week, trust that God will be there. Open your eyes and see that your Redeemer lives; and when you meet your end, then in your flesh you shall see God; whom you will see on your side, whom your eyes shall behold, and not another. Like Job, may you open your eyes and see who stands with you: and may you cry out with delight, “I founded you!” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.