An angel was walking down the street carrying a torch in one hand and a pail of water in the other. A woman asked the angel, “What are you going to do with the torch and with the pail?” The angel said, “With the torch I’m going to burn down the mansions of heaven, and with the pail I’m going to put out the fires of hell. Then we shall see who really loves God.” ~ Richard Rohr, Things Hidden 158
A few years ago I traveled to India with a group from my seminary. During the ten-day journey, we visited a number of Hindu temples. In one temple, while the group moved on with the tour guide, I stayed behind and watched a young man pay devotion to a god cast in stone. With a coordinated display of ear tugging, hand clasping and multiple dips at the knee, he prayed to the stoic deity. As I hastily joined the group again, I found myself thinking about a person in the Bible named Job.
Although separated by thousands of years, Job was something like that young man in the temple—trying to appease the gods with rituals for showers of good fortune. In fact, pouring over the first few pages of the book of Job, we discover that Job is a person who seems to do everything right. He is blameless and upright. He offers sacrifices to God on behalf of his children’s unwitting sins. Everything was going well for him. He was wealthy, healthy and his children were too. It appears as though the sacrifices were working and as a result, the blessings were pouring down.
But then, something happens…
Job gets sick.
Job is in pain.
Job is confused, frustrated, and angry. He turns toward heaven and hurls questions at God about why his suffering is so great. God hears and answers with a series of his own questions. It’s a chess game of interrogation and in the end, God’s questions overtake Job’s: checkmate. But it’s not a chess game, rather it’s a strategic strike. Better yet—it’s precision surgery. God’s questions are an instrument by which He skillfully operates in Job’s superstitious and formulaic heart. By the means of question after question, God attempts a very risky procedure: a heart transplant—a new “for nothing love.” Mysteriously, God seems to do this by walking with him into and through suffering.
Ultimately, Job didn’t need an answer to why his suffering was so great. Rather, he needed to know that God was taking his pain, his protest and his petitions seriously. Job needed to know that he could trust in God’s goodness even though all the current evidence was suggesting otherwise. To get there, Job needed to be reminded, through a series of divine questions, that his wisdom and understanding were severely limited. His newly discovered humility opened the door for trust to walk through.
It’s no surprise then, that the Job we see at the end of the book is quite different than the one we saw at the beginning. We no longer find Job demanding answers, asserting his own innocence, or offering superstitious sacrifices. Rather, we find a person who trusts God in the midst of swirling injustices and pain. We find a person who trusts in God rather than in his own righteousness, or in spiritual equations (If I do this and abstain from that, God will bless me). We find a person who prays for his enemies and shares his inheritance with his daughters (a gracious and generous act in those days). We find a person who is free enough to “play”—characterized by giving his daughters enchanted names like dove, cinnamon, and eye shadow. We find a person who breaks bread and sits down with his family for dinner.
From what we can observe, suffering and pain have done their difficult and risky, but important and necessary work in Job’s heart. At the beginning of the book, the accuser asserted that Job loved God only because God blessed him. By the end of the book we learn that Job indeed loves God for God’s own sake and not for the blessings He graciously gives. Truthfully, there is a vibrancy of love and a quality of trust that can grow only in the fields of pain and suffering. While God leads and walks with us through every dark valley, he quietly plants the “for nothing love” seeds that can grow only there.