Job's Wishes and the Gospel
If you were suffering and had three wishes, what would you wish for?
While this sounds like a typical hypothetical question, to a degree, we actually think about it when we are suffering. To be sure, we might not word it exactly that way. But in our trials we do say, “Do you know what I wish for right now?” When we are in trial, we often drift to think about what we would wish for, what would give us relief.
We are not alone. Job faced this very situation. As he and his friends argued about why he was suffering, he felt trapped. His friends were against him and he could not figure out why God did what He was doing. It felt like God was against him. All of this compels Job to makes a series of wishes about God that would grant him confidence in this turbulent time.
So what would you wish for if you were suffering? Perhaps we would want the trial to end and for everything to make sense. Perhaps we would wish for a thousand wishes so that we could ensure that things always go our way.
Job’s wishes though are different and more strategic. He wishes for things that, if true, would prove that God is right no matter what. Job’s logic is similar to our thinking when doing a puzzle. Puzzles can be daunting but often the strategy is to get some key pieces in place. It may be the corner pieces in a jigsaw puzzle or the alignment of certain squares and colors in a Rubik’s cube. Once these key pieces are in place, we know that the rest of the puzzle, as tricky as it may be, can and will be solved. In the same way, Job knows if God would do certain things, then even though Job is uncertain about all of his suffering and life, He is certain in the end God is right. He has done the greatest things to be right, so all will fall into place ultimately. Job, the expert on suffering, highlights what would resolve suffering in this life, not merely immediately but ultimately.
So what would you wish if you had three wishes and were suffering? Here are Job’s:
Job first wishes for forgiveness. Here is what he says in Job 7:20-21:
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself? Why then do You not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust; And You will seek me, but I will not be.”
In context, Job has been debating Eliphaz who argues that everything will be right in the end if Job repents (Job 5:24-26). Eliphaz’s logic reminds us of the danger of just telling people in suffering “it will all be good” or quoting Rom 8:28 to people in pain. Sometimes people want us to weep with those who weep and not a quick answer (cf. Rom 12:14-15). Job desired that. He declares against Eliphaz, “Oh that my grief were actually weighed and laid in the balances together with my calamity!” (Job 6:2). Job just wanted someone to understand the magnitude of his agony.
But that raises a problem. It appears God does not care about Job’s pain. Even more, Job wonders whether it really will be all right in the end as Eliphaz maintained. If God is a bully, if He does not really care, then why would He work things out for Job? That leads Job to wish that God would truly pardon his transgression (Job 7:20-21). Job wanted a thorough pardon, one that would make him right. For Job, if God did this, then Job knew God would work everything out in the end because He cared about solving the most critical issue: sin.
Job wished for forgiveness. He did not know if such exhaustive pardon would happen. However, the Bible declares to us that Job’s wish is granted. God does pardon our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). That is a demonstration of God’s lovingkindness to us (Psalm 103:11). That is why Paul knows God will work all things out for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28).
Sometimes we are like Job and we wonder if God’s cares. Job’s wish reminds us that God cares about the most critical things and has already worked that out. If God cared enough to resolve the hardest, most eternal, and most crucial thing, then we can trust Him for the rest. Everything can and will be solved.
Job has a second wish. He hopes for a mediator in Job 9:32-33:
"For He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him, That we may go to court together. There is no umpire between us, Who may lay his hand upon us both?"
Job has been refuting Bildad, reminding him that God is too great to put into a scientific box (Job 9:4-12). However, that too raises a problem for Job. If God is so mighty and brilliant, how will Job ever get a fair hearing before Him? It reminds me of my dilemma sometimes at The Master’s University. I joke that the professors here are so smart that even if I was right, I would still lose a debate with them. They would just outsmart me. That is Job’s fear with God. If God is not for him, then he will lose because God will just overwhelm him.
So Job makes his wish. Job wants an “umpire” or better yet, an arbiter, one who will ensure that everything will be done completely and correctly. For this to work, Job realizes that this mediator must be able to lay his hand upon “both,” that is both God and man. That is no small order. No mere mortal can just lay their hand on God much less restrain Him! This demands that this mediator be God Himself. At the same time, Job wants this mediator to lay his hand on man. That requires this person to advocate for Job; it would mean that this person must be human. Job wants a God-man mediator. Again, Job words this as a wish. After all, that seems impossible. How can one be both God and man? Nevertheless, Job knows if God can do the impossible, then He truly is on Job’s side. Providing such a mediator shows that God wants to understand Job and work for Job.
While Job may have thought this is a farfetched wish, the Bible declares, “Wish granted.” Jesus is both God (1 John 5:20) and man (Hebrews 2:9). And as such, He is our high priest (Hebrews 2:17-18) and our mediator (1 Tim 2:5). He proves that “if God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31) because Christ’s intercession silences all opposition (Rom 8:34). Again the wildest hope of Job is granted.
Sometimes we might feel that God is not on our side. We believe that His permission of suffering shows He is against us. But Job’s wish shows us the truth. God did the impossible — He provided a God-man mediator in His own Son — to show not only that He is on our side but how far He will go to be on our side. He did not even spare His own Son on our behalf (Rom 8:32)! If God has done this, He truly is for us and no one can be against us.
Job’s third and final wish is for resurrection in Job 14:13-15:
"Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, That You would set a limit for me and remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait Until my change comes. You will call, and I will answer You; You will long for the work of Your hands."
Job says this in responding to Zophar who speaks of God’s complexity (Job 11:1-20). Job retorts that he understands God’s complexity better than Zophar (Job 12:13-25)! But that raises a problem for Job. If God is so mighty, why can He not use His omnipotence and wisdom for the highest good?
What though would that look like? In thinking about this, Job concludes that God’s most mighty and good act would be a resurrection. Job though does not merely want life after death. He wants total transformation. He speaks of “until my change comes” (Job 14:14). The word “change” in context refers to a restoration of one’s prime of life (and even beyond that). However, Job does not merely desire a physical transformative resurrection, he wants a resurrection that establishes the richest relationship with God. As Job 14:15 declares, Job wants God and Job to talk and for God to actually long for Job. He wants a resurrection that will make all things right in every way.
For Job, this was a wish. He did not know if God would do this. But in the rest of Scripture, this is a wish granted. The Scripture reminds us that God will raise us from the dead with glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:54) and we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17). In light of Job’s wish, such a resurrection proves that God has used all His might and all His wisdom for our good. Everything can and will be resolved in the end.
Job knew he had a redeemer in heaven (Job 19:25) but he did not necessarily know how that redeemer would act for him. Overall, Job wished for forgiveness through a God-man mediator and resurrection. Job wished for the gospel. And that shows us something about the nature of the gospel. What does one, in the most intense suffering, really want? What does one in the most dire circumstances really need? What would give the ultimate relief and assurance that one needs? The gospel. Temporary relief from pain is exactly that. It only provides respite until the next trial comes. Even eradicating all suffering in this life does not ensure us about our final destiny. Moreover, it only gets rid of what is wrong and does not make all things new and right. Only the gospel can do that and Job, the expert on suffering, concludes that very truth. The gospel is the definitive hope in suffering for it assures us that God cares enough not only to preserve His people in this suffering, but to usher them unto an incorruptible and glorious inheritance (1 Pet 1:4). It is what alone gives a living hope (1 Pet 1:3).
Thus, the gospel may be old news for some of us but it never can cease to be good news. We need to recall that this is a wish granted. The gospel is God doing what people thought was impossible. And that gospel gives us assurance that even though we might not understand every detail or situation of our lives, God can and will work it all out. He will make it right because He has done so with the most fundamental and significant pieces of our destiny. All will fall into place in the end.
The larger context of the book of Job has explored why God is right. Job’s wishes show part of what makes God right is that He has done everything to make all things right and we can entrust in our souls to our faithful Creator (1 Pet 4:19).