So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8And he took ta piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
– Job 2:7-10
One of the things that has caught my attention this week is the scope of hardship and suffering that people are going through. It may also have to do with the message series that we are currently rummaging through in Romans. As I was thinking about the suffering that I have heard others going through, some circumstantial and some by choice, it made me think of Job and his situation.
Job is the prototypical example of a person who went through such extreme suffering that it is hard to comprehend. In fact many will contend that such massive suffering is virtually impossible and thus conclude that this narrative is myth not history. However, working from the premise that his story is true the person I want to focus on is not Job, but his wife.
There is very little that we are told about Job’s wife. Job 2:9 is the only reference that refers to her active participation in this narrative. She is referred to two more times. One verse is describing the attitude of the family towards Job. The other describes the judgment he deserves if he has been unfaithful to the Lord and his wife:
“My breath is strange to my wife, and I am a stench to the children of my own mother”(Job 19:17). “… then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her” (Job 31:10).
One of the things that often escapes our notice is the silent suffering of those who are suffering alongside us or even those who are witnesses of our suffering. The focus of the book is on Job, almost exclusively. Our approach to the book is normally that we are reading about the suffering of Job. But we also have to remember that his wife went through the same suffering except for the physical suffering God permitted for Job alone.
Job’s wife had to go through the same suffering as Job. She felt the loss of servants that she loved and cared about (1:15); she experienced the loss of their resources (1:14, 16, 17-18). But her greatest loss was her own children when they were all killed in a wind storm (1:18-19). I am surprised that her “curse God and die” comment did not pop out when she lost her children. Nothing could be more cataclysmic to a mother than the loss of her own child. In this case it was all her children which frankly would be so utterly overwhelming that suicide (curse God and die) would not seem unreasonable to a person going through that much pain. However, it is only when God permits Satan to afflict Job with horrible physical affliction that the wife steps in and tells her husband to end this stupidity (my translation). She has lost her children and now the person who is the solid rock of her life is going through debilitating physical affliction – her outburst to her husband may be more of a confessional of her own agony than a directive to her husband. She is bearing up under the massacre of her family and she is not only mad at her husband but apparently she is ticked at God too.
When we suffer, those around us suffer. Our pain often drags others in our wake. Suffering is rarely experienced in isolation or solitude. Pain often drives us to these environments but often affects far more than just myself. The problem is that we are often so imprisoned by our own suffering that instead of offering comfort we can offer the same rebuke that Job offered, “You speak as one of the foolish women. Should we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In some respects he is either alleviating His vulnerability or offering hope in the midst of hopelessness. Job offers good theology but it does not seem to have much compassion. We do know that it resulted in some high-scaling tension when we read Job 19:17 – “my breath is strange to my wife and I am a stench to the children of my own mother”. So this suffering is sucking the life out of his relationships and causing a tectonic shift in his marriage. In spite of all this we are certain that she did not leave him since in the final chapter God restores his fortunes including more children (Job 42:13).
God does not always restore what was lost like He did with Job. Sometimes He resurrects something brand new. With Joseph God created an entirely new journey and this pathway of pain and suffering carved out a passage that brought him to exactly the spot that God used him to preserve Israel. What his family intended for evil, God worked out for good (Gen. 50:20). Can God actually work out all things for good?
The danger is getting trapped in our pain and suffering. Some people hurt us deeply but they move on and care little about what happens to us. If we get trapped in the pain of getting even or vengeance or extracting our own form of justice then our life gets trapped in fixing the past. Our life can become defined by someone else and as Christians it is easy for our life to veer off course from a singular devotion to Christ; the meaning of our life is being defined by the people who hurt us. For others they become victims their entire life and they are trapped by a dark hole of pain and never ever able to rise above those events in the past no matter how much time passes. This does not mean we should just walk away from significant pain and carry on like it never happened. Pain and suffering will always leave permanent marks on our life but it is God’s grace, not our grief that ought to shape our life moving forward. It may take time but God is greater than our experiences and He is able to redeem any circumstance for His ultimate glory; hard to see in the moment but often cherished in hindsight.
Suffering and pain truly changes the trajectory of our life. We decide if we allow our grief or His grace shape that journey. No one in their right mind will suggest that this easy in any way. Our willingness to entrust our life to our heavenly Father and walk by faith is the key to both Job’s journey and for Joseph. Our ability to forgive is always grounded in the reality that God has forgiven us. Our healing, recovery and health is dependent on these things moving forward.
In His grace,