Summary: Facing up to the LORD from within an experience of darkness.
HOPE IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS
“When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
An active faith may question suffering - but it will not abandon God. In fact, the example of Job demonstrates that the closer we are to God, the more audacious our questioning might be. Sometimes outrageous, sincere, reverent questioning - even if the answers we receive are not what we had hoped for - can lead us even closer to God.
We may be familiar with the afflictions of patriarchs, psalmists and prophets in the Old Testament: and of Apostles and believers in the New. We may be aware of the sufferings of the Church throughout history, and of those undergoing unimaginable struggles even today. We may even feel that we have had more than our fair share of afflictions, or that the trials of those around us are disproportionate to any real sense of justice.
Job had the added pain of being blamed for his pain. If he was suffering - said his “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) - he must have done something really bad. This is to turn retribution on its head - it is one thing to say that God will punish wickedness: it is quite another to say that an individual’s suffering must always be proportionate to his own specific sin (Luke 13:1-5; John 9:2-3).
Job 23:2. Job complains because of the intensification of his suffering, despite all his prayers.
Job 23:3-4. Job wished that he might be able to find God, in order to lay out his complaint before Him in a legal argument. Earlier - in a verse which resonates with the possibility of introducing Jesus into the conversation - the complainant had bemoaned the lack of an advocate, between himself and God (Job 9:33). Job evidently no longer wished to “hide” himself from God and “be free from the dread of Him” (Job 13:20-21), but would rather confront Him.
Job 23:8-9 seem to be the opposite of Psalm 139. The Psalmist finds the LORD everywhere: even if he had wanted to flee from the LORD, he would have found it as impossible as did Jonah. Yet Job is floundering in the dark - not denying God’s existence, but wondering where He might be found.
Job 23:16. The seeming absence of God makes our heart faint within us. It is a terrible and terrifying prospect.
Job 23:17. The darkness looms large. Will Job flee from it, or embrace it? Whichever way, Job will NOT by silenced by the darkness.
Through all his perplexity, Job is grasping toward the idea that it will all come good in the end (Job 23:10). We can take encouragement from the closing verses of the book, that this did indeed happen (Job 42:10-17). All things - even the most adverse things - do work out for good, for the people of God: and nothing - not even the worst of situations - is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28; Romans 8:38-39).
The final word on suffering belongs to God Himself, culminating in Jesus’ cry of dereliction upon the Cross (Mark 15:34). Darkness had engulfed the land, even as it had overwhelmed Job’s soul: but the Lord’s cry of anguish was also a cry of triumph. Jesus has been there in the midst of human adversity, and has overcome it on our behalf.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted (tried, tested) like as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).