A few years ago I traveled to India with a group from my seminary. During the 10-day journey, we visited a number of Hindu temples. In one temple I stayed behind to watch 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 deity. As I hastily rejoined the group, I found myself thinking about the man in the Bible named Job.
Although separated by thousands of years, Job was something like that young man in the temple. Both tried to appease the gods with rituals in exchange for showers of good fortune. In the first few pages of the book of Job, we discover a man 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 seems to be going well. Job is wealthy and healthy, and so are his children. The sacrifices appear to be working as the blessings come 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. God’s questions are a surgical instrument with which God skillfully operates on Job’s superstitious and formulaic heart. Question after question, God undertakes a very risky procedure: a heart transplant with a new “for nothing” kind of love. Mysteriously, God seems to do this by walking with Job 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 evidence was suggesting otherwise. To get there, Job needed to be reminded, through a series of divine questions, that his own wisdom and understanding were severely limited. Only then, with his newly discovered humility, could he open the door to trust.
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 see a person who trusts God in the midst of swirling injustices and pain. 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). A person who prays for his enemies and shares his inheritance with his daughters (a gracious and generous act in those days). A person who is free enough to “play”—characterized by giving his daughters enchanted names like dove, cinnamon, and eye shadow. In the end, we see 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 loves God for God’s own sake, not for the blessings God graciously gives. Truthfully, vibrant love and faithful trust 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.