How Grace Transforms
"So Job died, old and full of days."
Author of Job
When we suffer and ask "Why?" the only answer to our question is God's transforming grace. Job experienced this truth the hard way. In a long and torturous journey through physical pain, emotional despair, and spiritual loneliness, he dead-ended into his own self-righteousness. As a show of his pride, Job even dared to say that he could enter the presence of God like a prince coming before the king. With equal audacity he demanded that God come down to his level and defend Himself on Job's turf and terms. Somewhere on the way through this struggle, the question "Why?" was lost in a contest of wills.
Job had the arrogance to infer that he was right and God was wrong. Deeper down, he also entertained the notion that he was as wise and good as God Himself. It is no wonder God spoke to him out of a whirlwind. A still, small voice would not do. Job's rationalistic faith had led him into a power struggle with God not unlike the conflict that each of us knows when we pit our wills against God's will. So, we are not surprised that when God speaks He ignores Job's original question, "Why do I suffer?" and instead,
overwhelms Job with probe after probe into the question, "WHO AM I?"
After the first round of these questions, Job answers with reverential awe, "I shut my mouth." After the second round, Job joins the ranks of those who have seen through to God. He not only answers the question "Who is God?" with an affirmation of new-found faith but also turns the coin to ask the same question about himself: "Who am I?" Then seeing God wholly and himself clearly, Job bows before the greatness of God and repents of the pride that led him to believe he was as right, wise, and good as God. His ashheap becomes an alter as Job pours over his head the dust of his humanity and the charred remains of his pride.
Without the grace of God, Job must remain in the dust and ashes abhorring himself and repenting of his sins. Perhaps this is why so many critical scholars of the Book of Job insist that the Epilogue of Restoration (Job 42:7-17) be cut out of the text. Either they do not understand the meaning of grace or they fail to see the redemptive thread that runs through the Book of Job and leads to Jesus Christ. Their argument is that the restoration of Job reads like a fairytale that ends unrealistically with the line, "And so they lived happily ever after."
As another reason for excising the Epilogue, critics argue that Job's restoration after his repentance only proves that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were right all along. After all, doesn't Job's repentance and return to prosperity prove that God's justice works on the formula that sin results in suffering and righteousness brings blessing? More than that, doesn't Job's restoration to prosperity after repentance prove that Satan is justified in asking the question which provoked Job's suffering in the first place, "Does Job serve God for nought?"
If you follow this argument, God must have felt guilty about taking Satan's bait and so, when Job repents of being driven to the sin of self-righteousness, He responds by doubling his prosperity, his family, and his years. In this case, it is God, not Job, who needs to be forgiven!
As a child Elie Wiesel survived the Nazi Holocaust. For ten years he could not speak or write of the experience
because of his pain and anguish. When he did write, Wiesel entitled his first book Night. He tells of seeing a child twist and turn on the gallows for three days before dying. Forced to watch the innocent victim suffer and die, Wiesel hears a voice within him asking, "Where's God? Where's God?" The answer comes back, "God is on the gallows." For Wiesel, God dies with the innocent who suffer. Or at best, God must join Job, repenting in the dust and ashes.
As the alternative to leaving God and Job in the dust and ashes, some playwrights and authors have rewritten the ending of the story. Archibald MacLeish retells the story of Job in his stageplay J.B. The final scene shows J.B. and his wife reflecting upon the experience of his suffering. She says to him, "You wanted justice, didn't you? There isn't any . . . there is only love."
God and Satan, watching the scene from high above the stage, are both baffled. Together they ask:
Who plays the hero, God or him?
Is God to be forgiven?
Isn't He? Job is innocent
You may remember.
J.B. forgives God and as the curtain falls his wife wonders aloud:
The candles in the churches are out,
The stars have gone out in the sky,
Blow on the coals of the heart
And we'll see by and by.1
The message? With God needing forgiveness, human love is the only prospect for hope.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has also rewritten the ending of the Book of Job. After his infant son Aaron was stricken with the dread disease of progeria or premature aging, Rabbi Kushner suffered with the child until he died an old, gray, and wrinkled man two days after his fourteenth birthday. Throughout those years Rabbi Kushner kept pushing his faith for an answer to the question, "Why do the innocent suffer?" Because no answer came, Kushner
concluded that God is limited in His power to deal with the suffering of the innocent. Therefore, he shifts the burden of love to those who suffer. Of them, he asks:
Are you capable of forgiving and accepting in love a world which has disappointed you by not being perfect . . .?
Are you capable of forgiving and loving the people around you even if they hurt you and let you down by not being perfect . . .?
Are you capable of forgiving and loving God even when you have found out that He is not perfect . . .?
And if you can do these things, will you be able to recognize that the ability to forgive and the ability to love are the weapons God has given to us to lived fully, bravely, and meaningfully in this less-than-perfect world?2
Kushner's answer to the question, "Why do the innocent suffer?" is to conclude that God and the world that He created are both imperfect. He must be forgiven and the suffering of His world must be tolerated. Forgiveness and love are our only hope. So, reaching for these resources within himself, Kushner's final word is, "I think of Aaron and all that his life taught me and I realize how much I have lost and how much I have gained. Yesterday seems less painful and I am not afraid of tomorrow."3
Out of the dust and ashes of his suffering, Kushner's only hope is to muster the courage to go on living.
Grace is missing from all the rewritten endings of the Book of Job. If, however, you read the story of Job's suffering as a journey toward God's transforming grace, the whole scene changes. The drama is not complete without the ending as it is written. I loses its prophetic promise of the coming of Jesus Christ and the redemptive thread that confirms the Book of Job as part and parcel of the inspired Word of God. Moreover, unless we read the restoration of Job as evidence of God's transforming grace, we leave Him in the dust and ashes with Job limited in power, imperfect in character, and in need of forgiveness. If this is true, what word of hope do we have for those who suffer and ask "Why?"
Give up on God?
Forgive Him for being imperfect?
Blow on the coals of our heart?
Wait for the sweet by-and-by?
Face tomorrow without fear?
None of these answers is sufficient. None of them is true. Unless the ending of the Book of Job is read as a story of grace, we leave God and all who suffer in the dust and ashes without hope.
Only with grace do we have a word of hope for all who suffer. When God spoke to Job about the hippopotamus and the crocodile, He revealed His love and forgiveness as expressions of His grace. When Job bowed before God and repented of his pride, he put himself at the mercy of the Father. Forfeiting all claim to wisdom or righteousness, Job has no merit of his own. In dust and ashes, he confesses that he deserves the wrath of God. Except for grace, he has no hope. But by grace he has the promise of redemption and restoration. For all who suffer, then, the final question is not "Why?" but "Who?"
Grace for Grace
Grace is free, but never easy or cheap. Contrary to those to assume that God restores Job by a wave of a magical wand, Scripture tells us that Job is still on the ashheap waiting for God to make His move. Job is not restored magically or immediately. Instead, he has to wait while God goes back to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar with a word for them. Speaking to their spokesman, Eliphaz, God says,
My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.
No therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.
Startling words! God accepts Job who attacked Him and rejects the three who defended Him. Will we ever learn the lesson? God does not want to be defended by us. He would rather hear us angrily crying "Why?" than assuming that we
have all the answers. Job questioned God, but he never played God. So, despite shutting his mouth and opening his eyes, God still calls Job "My servant" three times in His commands to Eliphaz. What an example of His grace! Although Job almost gave up on God, God never gave up on him. Despite Job's anger, doubt, belligerence, and pride, God still claims, loves, and praises him. As costly as it is, only grace can do that.
Cheap grace is the bane of our contemporary spiritual existence. In contrast with those who would leave Job on the ashheap in a posture of submission and repentance, too often we skip the ashheap altogether. Much popular preaching shortcircuits the redemptive process by skipping from God's revelation to our restoration. We want prosperity without repentance. It is a manmade contingency that makes the sense of sin dull and the cost of grace cheap. We forget the "Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world." Even though Job lived centuries before the coming of Christ, the grace of God given to him when he deserved nothing is the same costly grace that bought our salvation in the death of Jesus Christ.
How do we know that the gift of grace transformed Job's life? We read that God "accepted Job" this is grace in itself because Job's behavior warranted the wrath of justice. But there is even greater evidence of transforming grace in Job's life. He gave grace as well as received it. This is the real story of his restoration not just the evidence of grace received in the doubling of his fortune, fame, and family, but the proof of grace that he showed to others. As always, we know that we are restored by grace when our relationships with foes, friends, and family are transformed by grace.
Grace Seeks No Revenge
After God tells Eliphaz that His wrath is aroused against him and his friends because they misrepresented Him, He offers them grace if they will make a sacrifice for their sin and ask Job to pray for them. What an ego-shattering command! All their pious and prejudicial judgments against Job
must be swallowed in the dust and ashes of their own repentance. The test of grace, however, rests with Job. Will he pray for his friends who betrayed him?
Put yourself in the same spot. Justice says that these turncoat friends do not deserve Job's prayers. Rather than comforting Job, they attacked him and accused him of every sin they could imagine to protect the orthodoxy of power. Who would blame Job if he turned his back and refused to pray for them? Or at least made them suffer a bit by letting them cower at his feet and beg for forgiveness before he prays for them?
The God of grace has made Job a man of grace. Instead of seeking revenge against his friends who betrayed him, he prays for their forgiveness and they are accepted by God. It may sound easy, but I am sure that Job had second thoughts before he prayed. Retaliation is always a temptation for a person who has power over the destiny of others.
As a college president, there were times when I was wounded by friends whom I thought were loyal. When the time came for their promotion or praise, the temptation was to get even. On one occasion, I remember suffering under unfair criticism for an administrative decision I had made. Persons whom I thought were friends had turned my decision into a personalized issue. I had the choice of retaliation by direct counterattack or indirect discrimination against them in promotion policies.
About that time, Ray Stedman came to campus for a Spiritual Emphasis Week. In his first address, he spoke on the text, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." His exposition emphasized the fact that whenever we seek vengeance for wrong, we commit the sin of overkill and, in the long run, damage ourselves as well as the person against whom we seek revenge. He went on to appeal for us to show the grace to others that God has shown to us. I took that message seriously and refused to seek revenge upon those whom I felt had wronged me, even though I had in my hands the power to do so. The lesson has stood me well. A working principle of my administration is that I will never use my executive power to retaliate against someone whom I feel has wronged me. Time and time again I have prayed for grace in
such moments, but to my knowledge, I have never violated the principle.
One of the books with which I am most proud to have my name associated is the reprint of The DeShazer Story. Jake DeShazer gained fame as a member of Jimmy Doolittle's crew that made a daring bombing raid against Tokyo during World War II. After thirty seconds over Tokyo, Jake's plane was shot down and he spent almost thirty months in a Japanese prison camp, tortured within a breath of death.
During those months of suffering, DeShazer received a Bible. He read it, believed it, and became a vital Christian whose faith sustained him when death seemed imminent.
With the end of the war liberation came and DeShazer enrolled at Seattle Pacific College with one goal in mind. He intended to go back to his captors and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. While patiently working his way through college as a married veteran, Jake rekindled the missionary spirit which had motivated the founding of Seattle Pacific College.
After graduation, he went back to Japan as a fledgling missionary. Hundreds and thousands of Japanese flocked to hear him. Yet, Jake DeShazer is the most unlikely hero or evangelist. He is shy and self-effacing. His speech is halting and his thoughts are as simple as a child's.
The Japanese came only to hear the strange message of love from a man whom they had tortured. Once Jake began to speak, however, the Spirit took over. Two of the guards who had brutalized him heard his message along with scores of others who came forward to seek Jesus Christ as their Savior. Later, in a Tokyo stadium before thousands of people, Jake DeShazer, the Doolittle bomber, stood arm in arm with Commander Fuchida, leader of the Pearl Harbor attack, as brothers in Christ. Only God's grace can do that!
Note the sequence of Job's restoration. "And the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed, the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10, emphasis mine).
In one simple sentence, Satan's claim is refuted. Job did not serve God because of the blessings he received. Certainly, he struck no bargain with God guaranteeing him prosperity
if he interceded for his friends. God's grace is given, not only independent of the merit of the receiver, but also without the guarantee of any return.
Grace Holds No Grudges
Fame follows fortune. The word that Job had returned to wealth with a doubled fortune must have been the talk of the country. In our day, he would have been featured on the cover of Time magazine as the Man of the Year. Such fame has its own magnetic pull. Needless to say, Job's family and friends, who had abandoned him when his fortunes were down, now return in droves to curry his favor.
Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.
How sickening. Fair-weather family and friends come and go as fame rises and falls. Many politicians are victimized by their fame. When they are in power, everyone wants to be identified with them. Washington, D.C., for instance, is known for a disease called "Potomac Fever." It is an addiction to political power which turns on name-dropping and personal contacts. But political power is as fickle as fame. A politician out of power is a nonentity whom the press ignores and old friends bypass. This fact of life is so disgusting that many qualified people avoid politics in order to retain their independence and integrity. Sad as it may be, family and friends who abandon us in our suffering will return to comfort us when we are healed.
God is also a victim of fair-weather friends. Someone once said, "If I were God and had been treated the way we humans treat Him, I'd have kicked this old world to pieces a long time ago." Job had a right to feel the same way. Here were his hypocritical family and friends, returning to comfort and console him when he no longer needed it! As they moaned and groaned over his past distress, he might have
stopped them in their tracks by asking, "Where were you when I needed you?" Certainly, Job remembered his plaintive cry for their help during his most desperate hour of need:
. . . I stand up in the congregation and cry out for help.
I am a brother of jackals, and a companion of ostriches.
This memory of his loneliness and humiliation had to haunt him. Instead of receiving help from his brothers and companions in the time of suffering, he had been abandoned as a laughable, ludicrous creature not unlike the jackal and the ostrich. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Job to sit at dinner after his fortune and fame had been restored with those same brothers and companions who had not only abandoned him, but mocked him as well. Worse yet, Job had to accept a piece of silver and a ring of gold from each of them gifts that he neither needed nor wanted.
What would you do? Justice says, "I have no food for you." Justice says, "I don't need your comfort now." Justice says, "Take your gifts and go."
Some years ago, I was among the hosts for Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist, whom we honored with a $25,000 award as a leader in the field of science. After her lecture and the presentation of the award, the hosting committee had lunch high in the revolving restaurant of the Space Needle in Seattle. As a personal gift to her, we gave her a sterling silver replica of the Space Needle giftwrapped in a silver foil package. Before Dr. Mead opened her gift she laughed and said, "Do you know that the final test given to British diplomats in training is to say 'Thank you' for a gift that they neither need nor want?"
Although she was delighted with her silver Space Needle, I have never forgotten her question, "How do you say 'Thank you' for a gift that you neither need nor want?" That is more than a test of diplomacy; it is a test of grace. "How do you say thank you to family and friends
who have abandoned you in suffering, but come back to insult your intelligence by eating your food, bemoaning your misfortune, and bringing you gifts after you are restored to health, wealth, and fame?"
Job gives us the answer. Grace holds no grudges. Because God accepted him despite his folly, Job accepts his family and friends despite their fickleness. Only grace can do that!
Grace Plays No Favorites
The economy of grace is multiple. God gives and gives and gives again. Of Job's later life we read, "Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning . . ." (Job 42:12).
His wealth, his cattle, and his years are doubled. Even the number of his sons is doubled according to the most accurate translation of the text. Only the number of his daughters remains the same. He had three who died in the windstorm and three who are born in his later years. To our surprise, they are singled out by name and noted for the fact that they are the most beautiful women in the land. The first daughter is Jemimah, a name which means "turtledove," the most beautiful of songbirds. The next daughter is Keziah, which means "cinnamon," the most fragrant of all the spices of the East. Last comes Keren-Happuch, whose name means "horn of paint," the cosmetic case for beautifying the face among the women of the land beautiful in song, beautiful in smell, and beautiful in sight.
To each of these three daughters, Job gives an inheritance equal to their brothers (Job 42:15). Hidden within these words is one of the most significant and far-reaching truths in the Book of Job. We must remember that Job lived in a patriarchal age in which women were of no account. Job's wife, for instance, is not mentioned as part of her husband's restoration. Yet, the fact that he had fourteen more sons and three more daughters tells us that she was waiting for Job
to come home; and if we can believe the old adage, "Like mother, like daughter," she must have been a beautiful woman. Nevertheless, in the patriarchal culture of the East, daughters did not share in the family inheritance. Even later, when the Law of Moses was written, we read, "If a man dies and has no sons, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter" (Numbers 27:8). So daughters had to wait in line for a share of the family inheritance and, even then, they received nothing unless there were no sons.
Job goes against the customs and the mores of his culture when he gives his three daughters full and equal shares of his inheritance while all his sons are still alive. According to tradition and law, they do not deserve it. Justice always says to the disinherited, "Wait in line." But grace answers, "Whosoever will."
By sharing his inheritance with his daughters, Job gives us another prophetic insight into God's redemptive plan. Grace makes no difference or distinction between men and women. Furthermore, in the symbol of the fourteen sons is foreseen the promise to Abraham that his seed shall be multiplied as the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea. But the daughters symbolize the Gentiles who do not share the promise given to Abraham and are outside his spiritual inheritance. According to the Law, daughters and Gentiles are like the dogs that get the crumbs from the table after the family has eaten.
Why then does Job break with tradition and the law? Grace has to be the answer. As God blessed Job with doubled wealth that he did not expect or deserve, Job in turn wants to share his wealth with all whom he loves. Grace plays no favorites. It is always breaking away from tradition and law as a gift to the least, the last, and the lost among us.
In a patriarchal age, grace gives to women;
In an adult culture, grace gives to children;
In an affluent society, grace gives to the poor;
In a "macho" world, grace gives to the weak;
In a Jewish nation, grace gives to Gentiles;
In a Christian community, grace gives to sinners.
Job's gift of grace to his daughters points to Christ's gift of salvation for all who believe. Especially those of us
who feel spiritually disenfranchised by our background or spiritually disinherited by our nature, the message of the Book of Job is that God's grace is for us. If we are enemies of God, grace seeks no vengeance. If we are betrayers of God, grace holds no grudges. If we deserve nothing from God, grace plays no favorites.
Job's story, then, is our story sooner or later, the story of every person on earth. When we suffer and ask "Why?" we embark upon a long and sometimes torturous journey of faith which can lead us to see through to God and receive the gift of His transforming grace. In turn, we become instruments of His grace forgiving our enemies who attack us, accepting our family and friends who abandon us, and sharing our inheritance with those who deserve nothing. Out of our suffering comes the promise of John's witness to the coming Christ, "From the fulness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another." (John 1:16). Like the waves of the sea, grace is the inexhaustible gift that is given again and again for all who suffer.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
His love has no limit;
His grace has no measure.
His power has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.4
So ends the journey of Job. It began with the question "Why?"; it ends with the answer "Who?" It began with a discipline of hearing; it ends with the relationship of seeing. It began with a look of fear; it ends with a sense of wonder. It began with the ring of righteousness; it ends on the note of faith. It began with the thunder of God's power; it ends with the whisper of His grace.
All who suffer and ask "Why?" will take the same journey. Along the way there will be blind turns and hazardous intersections, despairing pits and dizzying heights, lonely stretches and lighted signposts. Eventually we will bow
with Job on his ashheap, not unlike Pilgrim of Bunyan's tale bowing at the foot of the cross. When we do, there will be no thunder of God's power; we will hear only the whisper of His grace.
O let me hear Your whisper,
The Whisper of Your Grace.
Hearing, I will see You
I am transformed!
David L. McKenna
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