Tyndale House Publishers
MY husband, David, and son, Matt, and I were working around the house on a Saturday morning when we heard the sound of helicopters and looked out the window to see black smoke billowing from somewhere in our neighborhood. A house, two culdesacs away, was on fire. David walked over to the house, checked it out, and came back sobered by what he had seen—the house had burned to the ground in a matter of minutes.
When you witness something like that, you can’t help but think, How would I respond if that happened to me? What would I do if I drove up to the house I had left that morning, and it had been destroyed?
It reminded me of a story I had read that week—a story of loss so astounding that most of us can hardly imagine it. It is the ancient story of a man named Job, a man known, perhaps, as history’s most significant sufferer.
Job was sitting at home one day when a series of messengers came and told him that all of his livestock and servants had been slaughtered and then that all of his children had perished as the building they were in collapsed. Then, as if losing everything he had and nearly everyone he loved was not enough, Job was stricken with painful sores all over his body.
As I read his story, I was amazed by Job’s response to pain and loss. Would I respond that way to tragedy? I wondered. I also noticed that Job was specifically chosen to experience great suffering. Evidently he was chosen not because he deserved to suffer or because he was being punished, but because of his great faith. And I wondered about my own faith—if I had the kind of faith that could withstand extreme, undeserved affliction. A faith that would remain when all hope was gone.
But that was before the affliction came. Before the devastating news that changed everything about my life. Before the painful anticipation of death. BEFORE HOPE.
THERE was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, and five hundred female donkeys, and he employed many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.
Every year when Job’s sons had birthdays, they invited their brothers and sisters to join them for a celebration. On these occasions they would get together to eat and drink. When these celebrations ended—and sometimes they lasted several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan the Accuser came with them. “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan.
And Satan answered the Lord, “I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.”
Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! You have always protected him and his home and his property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”
“All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.
Two weeks after the neighbor’s house burned down, I gave birth to a daughter we named Hope.
For years we had planned on that name for a daughter, but I never could have dreamed how meaningful it would become.
The doctors were immediately concerned by several “small” problems evident at birth—Hope had club feet, she was very lethargic and unresponsive, she had a flat chin and a large soft spot, she had a tiny indentation on one earlobe, she would not suck, and her hands were turned slightly outward.
On Hope’s second day of life, a geneticist who had examined her came to our room. He told us that he suspected Hope had a metabolic disorder called Zellweger Syndrome. Because she was missing something in her cells called peroxisomes, which rid cells of toxins, her systems would slowly shut down.
And then he dropped the bomb that most babies with this syndrome live less than six months. No treatment. No cure. No survivors. I felt like the air had been sucked out of me. While he was talking, I let out a low groan.
To be honest, it just didn’t seem real. Sometimes it still doesn’t. My husband, David, crawled into the hospital bed with me and we cried and we cried out to God. The next morning when I woke up, I was hoping that perhaps I had dreamed the whole thing—but I hadn’t.
We called our pastor and asked him to come see us that morning. I looked at him and said, “Well, I guess here is where the rubber meets the road. Here is where I find out if I really believe what I say I believe.” I knew I had to choose how I was going to respond to this incredible disappointment and sorrow.
In the days following the diagnosis, we learned how to feed Hope with a tube and awaited the anticipated onset of seizures. As we began to accept the reality that she would be with us for only a short time, I returned to the story of Job. I wanted to look more closely at how Job responded as his world fell apart.
Perhaps you’ve experienced your world falling apart. Maybe your marriage has ended, or your parents’ marriage has ended. Maybe financial disaster has come your way and you’re trying to dig your way out.
Maybe your child has rejected your values and rejected you. Maybe you’ve received the diagnosis you didn’t want. Or maybe, like me, you have faced the sorrow and loneliness of losing someone you love.
Do you feel as if your world has fallen apart? If so, you know what it is like to feel hurt and helpless and hopeless in the midst of loss. And perhaps you, too, are wondering if you will ever find your way out of this place of pain.
Throughout the pages of this short book, we’re going to look carefully at Job’s experience, because Job shows us how a person of faith responds when his world falls apart. We know Job was a great man of faith because the writer tells us so in the first verse of the first chapter, describing Job as a man of complete integrity who feared God and stayed away from evil.
And, later in the same chapter, God himself uses these same words to describe Job.
This introduction shows us that Job was devoted to God. He had impeccable character. We could even describe Job as God’s friend. In fact, when God endeavored to choose one person he knew would be faithful to him no matter what, he chose Job—with complete confidence. Job must have proved himself faithful over and over for God to have had that kind of confidence in him!
But Satan was skeptical. Satan thought Job was faithful only because Job was supernaturally protected by God and had such a comfortable life, and that if his comfortable life were taken away, Job would turn on God.
At that point, God gave Satan permission to hurt Job. We don’t want to hear that, because it just doesn’t square with our understanding of a loving God. But it is clear. God gave the permission and set the parameters for Job’s suffering.1
“‘All right, you may test him,’ the Lord said to Satan. ‘Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically’” (Job 1:12).
Do you wonder why God would give permission for Satan to harm Job? More importantly, do you wonder why God has given Satan permission to bring so much pain into your life?
Before we try to answer the question “Why?” let’s look closely at how Job responded as everything he had and everyone he loved were abruptly ripped away.
We’ll see that Job’s story is about much more than his suffering. Somehow, along the way, he discovered God in a way he had never known him before. And when his story comes to a close, we see that “the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. . . . He died, an old man who had lived a long, good life” (Job 42:12, 17).
Isn’t that what you and I want, even now, in the midst of our painful circumstances—to understand God like we never have before, to see him as we’ve never seen him before, to emerge from our days of suffering with God’s blessing and with a life that can be described as good?
How did Job move from profound pain to profound blessing? Let’s follow Job’s steps closely to discover his secret. Let’s examine each stepping stone along the way. Let’s follow him on the pathway of suffering so that he might lead us to the very heart of God.