The Suddenness of Job’s Tragedies

By Elizabeth Prata

Gustave Dore “Job speaks with his friends” 1866.

I had a conversation with a young person about the man Job and his suffering. He thought everything happened all at once to Job. I said that at first satan asked to harass Job’s stuff and God said satan could, but don’t touch his body. Since Job didn’t renounce God, satan went back to God and complained that he needed to do more, and God said OK you can touch his body but spare his life.

I was sure I was right, but afterward I went back and checked anyway. Yes, that is Job 1 and Job 2, a two-stage attack from satan against Job. I got to reading it over again a few times, marveling at this amazing scene. So much to unpack. Isn’t it thrilling that every time you read the same passage over the years, something different ‘leaps out at you’?

This time, I began thinking about the suddenness of it all. I wondered, “How old was Job when this happened to him?” He was an adult and had been married a while. He had 10 adult children, many flocks, and servants. He had routines (making atonement sacrifices for his adult children), and they had routines (visiting each other). Job did his routines “continually”. (Job 1:5).

So as Sophia used to say on the TV show The Golden Girls, “Picture it, the land of Uz, 4000 years ago…” Job is living his life. Nothing remarkable happened. Oh, probably the usual servant issues, animals dying, an occasional tribal raid. But his life was stable and proceeding apace as the years went on. Like all of us, we think how it is now is how it’s going to stay. This attitude is even captured in the Bible where people are mocking, saying “For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue just as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4b).

But it doesn’t stay like that. Apart from the certainty of God, the only permanent thing we can count on in this life is change. For Job, suddenly, BLAM! Life changed in an instant. We know why. He didn’t.

For us here and now, we sink into having the same attitude toward life. This marriage will last forever. This job will last forever. I bought my forever home. My health is good and will stay that way.

But then, BLAM! A drunk driver…a sudden onset disease…a boss closes the business…spouse hatefully departs or sadly passes away…

We all learn through reading Job about the sovereignty of God. The power of God. Man’s humble state before God. Not how about this also: the Book of Job teaches the fragility and the impermanence of life. How it is ALL in God’s hand.

Our lives here seem like they will go on the same. Until they don’t. One moment Job had ten thriving adult children and he was looking forward to next generations. Then not. He was rich, the next moment- poor. One moment a father, the next moment- no children or hope of grandchildren.

Now, we know the LORD graciously restored Job double what he had lost. (Job 42:10). He lived for 140 more years and saw his seed continue for 4 more generations. God did not have to do that. I’m glad for Job and Mrs. Job’s sakes that He did.

We read in the Bible verses like in James 4:14, ‘Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

Psalm 39:5, Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing before You; Surely every man, even standing firm, is altogether vanity. Selah.

Psalm 78:39, So He remembered that they were only flesh, A wind that passes and does not return.

We skim them and say ‘Sure, yah, I believe that. Life’s short.” But do we REALLY believe it? The truth of it doesn’t impress itself on us as much as this verse,

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to might, eighty years, (Psalm 90:10a)

and we think that is how long our life is going to be. We tend to think that our life will be long and “full of days”. It will follow a trajectory of growth to adulthood, a satisfying job, marriage, family, a long period of raising the family, then a comfy retirement and an easy death.

But God…may have other ideas about our life.

Life is short. Life in this flesh is impermanent. Life is fragile. Trust God, the permanent, unchanging One.

Author: poetry by Kay Cude

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