We all know that the first book of the Bible is Genesis. There we learn that the eternal, self-existent God spoke creation into being and declared it “good.” But with the disobedience of Adam, our first parents and all the created order fell under the dominion and devastation of sin. Tucked away in the aftermath of the fall is God’s promise of a Redeemer. These tenets set the stage for the history to follow that culminates with the appearance of that Redeemer in the fullness of time.

Genesis, however, may not be the first book of the Bible written even though it is the first book in the canon. That distinction, some scholars believe, belongs to the book of Job. While Genesis provides us with the account of the fall, Job plunges us into the deep end of sin, senselessness, and suffering brought on by the fall.

Job weaves together many themes that give us bearings for life in a fallen world. Foremost, we are shown the vast divide between the Creator and the creature. The book of Job does not primarily present us with a theology of suffering as it does theology proper, a study of God. God’s goodness is seen in His abundance of blessings, His wisdom in the hidden disposition of His providential working, and His sovereign might in the prominent name ascribed Him in the book (Shaddai).

When God eventually speaks to Job, it is not to answer his questions but to display His glory and in so doing to put Job in his place. Job responds by acknowledging and embracing his position in respect to God: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2–3).

Against the backdrop of this Creator-creature distinction, suffering and misery take center stage as Job reels under the onslaught of adversity and crippling weight of affliction. Job gives voice to many questions and struggles we have as we encounter trials of various kinds in our own lives.

There’s something else we learn, something endemic to life in a fallen world, and that is the prominence and pain of grief. When we meet loss, we grieve. In case of severe loss, our grief becomes like a black hole swallowing up life and light around us. The book of Job tells us something about grief and how to deal with it in its inevitability and invasiveness.

Acquainted with Grief

Who of us is not acquainted with grief? Our spouse of forty years succumbs to cancer, and we are crushed. Part of us dies with them. We grieve the loss of their presence, their conversation, their touch, their ear, the life forged by loving partnership over the years. Memories both haunt us and heal us, bringing tears to our eyes and a smile to our face. We lift our eyes to ongoing life without them and we wonder how we can press on.

We are introduced early on in the book of Job to his ten children, seven sons and three daughters. They would rotate hosting family gatherings. Job was continually attentive to them and concerned for their spiritual welfare. We also learn of the vast possessions of Job. He was a man of position and prestige. The picture given us is of one enjoying life in relationship with God and man.

Then came the avalanche of adversity. Job’s family and fortune were taken away in cataclysmic fashion. His body was afflicted with horrific suffering. His entire routine, everything that made life normal and satisfying, came crashing down. The only thing left standing was his integrity, and his wife urged him to cast that aside, curse God, and die.

The strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow are ours in our Redeemer.

As we survey the devastation of Job, we are reminded that loss in this fallen world extends beyond our most cherished relationships. While our grief may be most acute when it comes to the deaths of those we love, it extends to all sorts of loss and instability and impermanence that characterize life under the scourge of sin.

If we incline our ears, we can hear Job lamenting the loss of what life used to be when things were normal. He gives voice to his struggles and confusion and frustration. His grief is raw and unbridled. Like Job, our faces are red with weeping as anguish roils within us (Job 16:16).

Grappling with Grief

It has been observed that grieving is a process. People move from the initial shock of encounter with loss to experience all sorts of emotions and reckonings as they come to grips with that loss. In her seminal work On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identifies five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s not as though these stages are met like traversing the locks of passage in the Panama Canal, where we clearly and cleanly leave one stage to enter another, but we can relate to movement, momentum, and meaning in the grieving process.

We find various elements in the book of Job as he struggles with his suffering. His thought process can be found in his responses to his friends. We see anger, confusion, and despair. He wants to summon God before him to explain Himself while Job questions Him. He wrestles with the why of it all, not as an expression of unbelief but as an expression of faith.

For Job, the process of grieving begins with acceptance, not by way of resigning himself to fate but by faith that knows and trusts the God he revered. His initial response acknowledges that the anchor in the storm is the reality and agency of God.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:20–21)

Job begins not in rebellion but in recognition of God and submission to Him. When his wife urges him to forsake God, Job defers to God: “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’” (Job 2:10). In other words, Job ascribes to God the right to do as He wills, what he describes as a mark of wisdom and not foolishness.

Job’s acceptance of his position is not cavalier or without cost, expressed as some sort of religious platitude as we might hear as comfort from the mouths of those who attempt to console us in our grief. We hear the conflict of Job’s heart as he tenaciously holds to his faith while at the same time wrestling with his own doubts and pain. “Though He slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face” (Job 13:15).

Job processes his grief through the lens of faith he brings to bear at the outset. His acceptance of loss is not a final stage at which he arrives but the first page from which he begins in communion with the God he knew. All the emotions and thoughts that besiege him are processed from the position of wisdom-steeped acceptance.

At the heart of acceptance is the hope of God’s Redeemer. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27). This Redeemer longed for in Job is the same Deliverer promised in Genesis.

The hope that is an anchor in the storm is not wishful thinking for a better place or a better day. It is the hope of the gospel, the same hope extended by Paul to the Thessalonians when he urged them not to grieve as the rest of men who had no hope. Paul explains that hope in terms of the purpose of God bound up in the suffering and deliverance of His Son: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him” (1 Thess. 5:9–10).

It is this rest in God that enables Job and all who trust in Him to “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). By such acceptance, may we know the strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow that are ours in our Redeemer.

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