For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease. Even though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant. Job 14:7-9
For years, I refused to read the book of Job. I’d heard the story. As I understood it, God had allowed Satan to strip his livelihood, his livestock, and worse of all, his ten children as a test of his faithfulness. And, as if that wasn’t enough, God allowed Satan to inflict Job with a terrible illness. I’d heard how Job had passed the test and that God had rewarded him for it. It’s a great story; however, I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I have a tendency to take on the emotional state of whomever I read about, and I just couldn’t imagine living in such a devastated state for forty-two chapters.
This Lent, I have been focusing on hope. As I searched for scripture verses about hope, I was surprised to find so many from the book of Job. How could someone who had lost all that Job had lost have any hope at all? Even though he was rewarded for his faith, I still just couldn’t fathom how that could make up for everything that was stolen from him. I had to read for myself how he remained hopeful. I discovered that the bulk of the tragedy is over pretty quickly. By the end of the second chapter, the shock of loss was over. What followed was not what I’d expected. Job was furious.
What? God knows that I have spent my share of time angry with him. I have always thought that being mad at God was a huge sin. It was disrespectful and probably a bit blasphemous. I couldn’t fathom how God considered Job faithful even while he railed against him. The time I was most angry with God was when my husband and I were struggling with infertility. I firmly believed that God had placed the desire for children in my heart. I couldn’t understand why he denied me of them. It felt cruel instead of loving. If he could have denied me anything in the world, this was definitely the worst he could do to me. I held my anger in whenever I was around anyone else. I didn’t want anyone to see that I had the gall to be angry with God. How could I have the audacity to question the Almighty Creator of the Universe’s actions?
Job did. He cried out to God, asking him why. He knew he’d been a faithful servant. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine what he could have done to evoke God’s wrath. His friends came and accused him of refusing to admit whatever horrible deed he’d done. There could be no other reason for Job’s suffering. God gave good things to those who were faithful and honest and misery to those who weren’t. I could relate to how he felt. I remember people trying to comfort me by saying, “It must not be in God’s plan for you to have a baby. Just accept it.” To that, my whole being screamed, “Why?!” A loving God would not be so cruel. A loving God would want to give good things to those doing good. What did I do to deserve this?
Like Job, in all of my anger, I never doubted that God was capable of ending my misery. My faith in his ability never waivered. Yet, my faith in his desire to want the best for me failed miserably. When God finally spoke to Job, Job said, “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). He recognized not only God’s greatness, but also his magnanimity. And God rewarded him.
God’s gift to Job of double of everything he had owned before and seven more sons and three more daughters did not replace what he had lost. Job cherished this second chance even more than his first, not because he loved his second life more, he just understood what it would be like to lose it. I know that I cherish my children more than I would have had my family been built the way I’d planned. My heart overflows with gratitude for the gift of my three adopted and two homegrown children. God truly did have a better plan in mind for my husband and me. Nonetheless, even after all these years, I sometimes mourn for the dream I’d lost. My favorite character in my favorite book series says it best. “I healed. Not completely. A scar is never the same as good flesh, but it stops the bleeding” (Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Quest). Tragedy and disappointment leave their mark. They change you. I know I was changed, just like Job. When I opened my Bible to the book of Job, I never expected to find so much hope within the pages. I’m finding that hope doesn’t lie simply in the fulfillment of dreams or desires, but in the knowing that whatever the outcome, God’s way is always best.