"There is a kind of ministry that is without words, and sometimes the best way to help others is to simply share with them in their pain. As the preacher of Ecclesiastes said, there is 'a time to speak and a time to keep silent'" (Eccl. 3:7). - Jake Bier
COVID-19 has brought the whole world to its knees. It is a world-wide pandemic in which none of us are completely immune: not to the disease itself nor to its effects. The novel coronavirus is fearful for many reasons. We face the loss of economic health and activity, the loss of social comfort from our friends and family, and for our loved ones or ourselves, perhaps the loss of the ability to breathe, which is life itself.
These same catastrophic losses that we are facing mirror the biblical story of Job. The story of Job seems almost surreal. In one day, he lost all of his wealth and all ten of his children. A few days later he was sick on his death bed—except things were so bad he didn’t even have a death bed … just a pile of ashes.
The book of Job doesn’t just tell the story of natural disasters but also reveals what was behind the scenes—a very real Devil. At this point, many people may scoff and dismiss the book of Job as outdated. After all, this is a day where we believe in science. Christians do not and should not discount science. But if we are paying attention, we realize that science isn’t enough. Science is observation in its simplest definition. The book of Job invites us to consider that there is more to calamities than what meets the eye.
In order to arrive at a Scriptural approach for interpreting Scriptures, the interpretive method must be exegetically derived from within the Scriptural text. Otherwise, there can be no claim to hermeneutical certainty, because any externally derived interpretive method can be preferred and applied simply by exerting presuppositions upon the text. In the case of an externally derived hermeneutic, presuppositions leading to that hermeneutical conclusion create a pre-understanding that predetermines meaning independent of the author’s intentions. The outcome, in such a case, can be wildly different than what the author had in mind.
If the Bible is merely a collection of ancient stories, legends, and myth, interspersed with mildly historical accounts, then the stakes are not particularly high. The greatest damage we can inflict by a faulty hermeneutical method is of the same weight as misunderstanding the motivations and activities of Mark Twain’s adventurous character, Tom Sawyer, for example. In such an instance we would simply fail to recognize the aesthetic virtues of a creative work.
However, if the Bible constitutes an actual revelation from God, then it bears the very authority of the Author, Himself – an authority that extends to every aspect of life and conduct. These are high stakes, indeed. If we fail to engage the text with the interpretive approach intended by its Author, then we fail not just to appreciate aesthetic qualities, but we fail to grasp who God is, and what He intends for us to do.
You recall how the story goes—God and Satan are having a discussion about a man named Job. He was a man of great character whom God had given much wealth and blessing. God commends Job, and Satan accuses Job, betting that Job would deny God if God would simply allow difficulty in Job’s life (1:7-12). God allows Satan to test Job, and Job loses all of his wealth, most of his family, and his health.
Job is, of course, unaware that he is being tested, and is deeply frustrated by his change of fortune. He feels that he has done nothing to deserve these tragedies, and he speaks out—essentially proclaiming his innocence and the unfairness of the situation. Thankfully, Job has three friends who come to the rescue. They all have the same message: this could only be happening to Job if he had done something wrong. They understood that God would not allow such things to happen to an innocent person.
If you search for “suffering” on Amazon in the books section you will find almost 11,800 results. If you search for “help for suffering” on Google there are 151 million entries to choose from. Indeed the world is a place full of suffering people looking for help. You cannot make it through more than four chapters in the book of Genesis without encountering suffering in the lives of the first two people God created and the first family they made. In reading through the pages of Scripture one encounters suffering at almost every turn. Ironically, it is Job, the oldest book in the Bible, which solely addresses the subject of suffering and how God relates to it and the sufferer.
Tackling this rich, long and sometimes puzzling book, Christopher Ash has written Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. This is the most recent installment in Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Staying true to the series, Ash writes with the heart of a pastor as he seeks to show the reader the glory of God in Christ through suffering in the life of Job.