Job is one of my favorite books, and has been for many years. The poetry in the middle section is so great, and the poetry when God shows up is absolutely transcendent (which only makes sense, since He's God and all).
My Bible study took a pretty in-depth look at Job, but did so in only two weeks, so we left a lot out; there's a lot to be said about this book. People always say that the Bible speaks to you in new ways every time you read it. This may be slightly heretical, but that's never stopped me before, so here goes: i'm not sure that that's true of the whole Bible. I don't know how many new things you can discover when you're reading the same genealogy for the sixth time. I'm not sure that there are many great spiritual insights tucked into the measurements of the Temple.
But Job always has something new, at least for me. When i read it in different seasons of my life, when i come back to it after some significant experience, when i revisit a passage in a new translation, i notice something new.
This year, i noticed three passages.
"Only two things do not do to me,
Then I will not hide myself from You:
Withdraw Your hand far from me,
And let not the dread of You make me afraid." (NKJV, emphasis mine)
I want that last line tattooed on my skin forever. "Let not the dread of You make me afraid." I read this verse in multiple translations to make sure i was getting the right message. (There's still room for interpretation, but i'm pretty confident in my understanding.) We talk sometimes about fearing God. Some denominations talk more about this than others; earlier generations talked more about it than we do now. "Fear", in this sense, doesn't mean, like, nightmarish terror of the thing under the bed. It means an awed respect for something or someone much greater and more powerful than you, something or someone who is so far beyond your comprehension that you can never hope to meet its level, and yet this thing, this person, is reaching out to you; you were in awe of it when it was on a far-off mountaintop but when it reaches out to take your hand? it's more dreadful and awesome than you could ever imagine. It's the terror of falling in love, really in love, and realizing how much power this other person has to hurt you, and also trusting them completely to keep you safe. It's entering the lavish throne room of a king and seeing him in his great throne, towering over you, with the divine right to control your life, and then seeing him smile at you.
I fear God, but i am not afraid of Him.
In Bible study one week, we talked about the difference between trusting God and trusting in God. Trusting God means being certain that He will never allow anything bad to happen to you. Trusting in God means that you know that bad things will happen to you, but that God is still God throughout, and that His will will be done in the end, trusting that His will is ultimately a good thing, even if it necessitates your death and pain and suffering. This is what Job learned: his life and health and happiness were subject to God's whims, but God is still God. God still loved him. God kept His hand on him. God was dreadful, but Job was not afraid of Him.
Then Job answered and said:
"I have heard many such things;
Miserable comforters are you all!
Shall words of wind have an end?
Or what provokes you that you answer?
I also could speak as you do,
If your soul were in my soul's place.
I could heap up words against you,
And shake my head at you;
But I would strengthen you with my mouth,
And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief."
Also against his (Elihu's) three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.
We do this all. the. time. We blame the victim, because if whatever bad thing happened is somehow the victim's fault, than we can just do the opposite of whatever they did or didn't do, and then nothing bad will ever happen to us. We give condemnation to people who are hurting, instead of comfort, or we offer a weak comfort like, "His ways are higher than ours! We don't know what the Hell He is doing! Just shut up, lie back, and take it!" Job's friends could not find an answer, they could not find a sin that he had committed, and yet they persisted in telling him that he must have sinned in some way. That his kids must have sinned in some way. That somewhere, somehow, someone messed up and called down the Wrath of the Almighty on their heads. Of course, those of us in the audience know that no one did anything wrong. And when we're not in the audience, when we're on the stage, it can be hard to keep everything in perspective. It's important to remember, therefore, the lesson of Job's friends: comfort comes before condemnation, and condemnation only comes after proof. Relieve the hurting of their grief, and refrain from insisting that everyone who has ever had something bad happen to them must have asked for it in some way.