God gives, God takes.

the book of JobFirst day of the month, first chapter of a new book. The book of Job. Which is actually a very old book. Possibly the oldest book in this whole library that we call the Bible. A weird and wonderful book filled with comedy and tragedy (mainly tragedy!). Hard to understand. Raising lots of difficult questions. Do we really want to go there? No choice, I’m afraid. And to be honest, I feel like that every month and then am so glad that I have taken the plunge. So here goes – let’s dive right in!

The first chapter is called the prologue. It’s the introduction. It sets the scene. It provide the back story. So what do we learn about Job in Job 1:1-5

  • Job lives in the land of Uz
  • he’s blameless and upright
  • he fears God
  • he shuns evil
  • he has seven sons and three daughters
  • he owns seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys
  • he has a large number of servants
  • he’s the greatest man among all the people of the East
  • when his sons hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, Job makes arrangements for them to be purified
  • he’s worried about putting a foot wrong  – “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.”

He’s a good man. The best. A role model. He has it all. A wonderful example of the prosperity gospel – live a good life and you’ll succeed; you’ll prosper; all will go well for you.

Until God has this conversation with Satan (who only gets two other mentions in the whole of the Old Testament apart from in this book – once in 1 Chronicles 21 and once in Zechariah 3) in Job 1:6-12 (paraphrased).

One day the angels come to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan tags along too. Which raises the whole question of where Satan came from in the first place. If God created the whole world, did God create Satan too? How can there be something separate and outside of God in a world that God created? Did God make evil? Did God allow evil to enter the world? Or did an angel have the strength to defy God and disobey Him? How strong does that make Satan then?

The Lord: Where have you come from?

Satan: From roaming throughout the earth, going here and there and everywhere.

The Lord: Have you seen my servant Job? He’s good, isn’t he? A great example of how to get it right. How to live right. There’s no one on earth like him. Even you couldn’t find any fault with him. He rejects all that is evil. He follows me.

Satan: Yeah well, it’s easy for him, isn’t it? He has it made. He gets plenty out of it. You protect him and all that belongs to him. I can’t get near him. You bless everything he does. Of course he’s going to follow you. I bet if you brought a bit of tragedy into his existence, he’d soon turn against you then.

Lord: OK, then. Prove it. You can do whatever you want and let’s see what happens. Don’t touch Job himself though.

And so he does. That’s exactly what he does. That’s what the book of Job is all about.

As I paraphrased that conversation, I reflected on some of the times I’ve thought that way.

‘Well, it’s easy for A to follow God. They have it easy. God blesses everything they do. They don’t have any struggles to deal with. I wonder what their faith would be like if they had to deal with tough stuff.’

tough timesI’m probably not alone. And that’s why I find stories of God’s faithfulness in tough times much more convincing than triumphant stories of success and victory. Because anyone can praise God when things are going right. It takes a special kind of person to praise God in the suffering.

And so one day, the suffering starts –

  • a messenger comes to tell Job that enemies have made off with his oxen and donkeys and put the servants to the sword. ‘I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
  • another messenger comes to tell Job that fire has burned up the sheep and the servants. ‘I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
  • another messenger comes to tell Job that more enemies have taken his camels and put the servants to the sword. ‘I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
  • yet another messenger comes to tell Job that a mighty wind has caused his son’s house to collapse and all his sons and daughters have been killed. ‘I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’

Brutal stuff. Everything gone. All that Job has worked to achieve. All that Job treasures. His animals. His children. His livelihood. Suddenly all gone.

Because no one ever knows when disaster will struck. When everything will be ripped away. All that they have worked to achieve. Redundancy. Natural disaster. Bereavement. Illness. We do all that we can to protect all that we have , but everything is fragile. There is only so much we can do. All too quickly, all that we hold dear can be all gone.

Job is distraught. Of course he is. He grieves. He tears his clothes and shaves his head. He is in mourning. And yet he finds it in himself to worship.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.  Job 1:21(NIV)

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
God’s name be ever blessed. Job 1:21(Message)

he gives and takes awayTough stuff. Job doesn’t blame God. He accepts that disaster strikes. A lot of disaster all on one day in this case! He recognises that he deserves nothing. He understands what it is to be human – that we are born with nothing and we will die with nothing. He knows that he can never begin to understand God and His ways. That God has already given him much more than he could ever deserve. That God’s ways are not our ways.

Two thoughts of my own on this verse. When my mum died very suddenly 23 years ago, my Dad quoted this verse. He drew comfort from it. I resented him for it. I was angry. Really angry. I wasn’t ready to say these words with any real meaning. It was too soon for me. Too soon to see that we can praise God for the giving, for the time that we have had, for all the precious moments and to find an acceptance and peace in the taking. Because we will never understand why. That’s what trust is all about.

And on a lighter note, there is a song we sing at church with this line in it that we call the Hamster song. We’ve mentioned it before. Because when Courtney was desperate for a hamster, the story of God providing a hamster was remarkable – and then soon after, the hamster escaped…and we went to church and sang this song (how we all manage to sing this song in church regularly is sometimes beyond me….). But seriously, we have learnt over the years to hold loosely to all that we treasure – people and things – to treasure them, yes, and give thanks for them and make the most of the time we have with them every day and never take them for granted…..but know, always know somewhere deep inside, that everyone and everything has been lent to us for a season. And we have absolutely no control over the when and the how and the why.

So have a listen to ‘Blessed be your name’ now in the light of all you have read today and see where it takes you…..

God is the same. Whatever happens.

God never changes. Whatever happens.

God’s name be ever blessed.

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