The book of Job may very well be the first book of the Bible ever written. Did you know that? This is what many scholars believe. The Protestant Bible has Job at number 18. The order of the books of the Bible (the canon) is a conventional (and useful) invention of man. It is not inspired. But if you were to read through the Bible chronologically (as to when it was written), Job may very well be in the first place. What if every Bible in print started not with Genesis, but Job? What an extraordinary thought. This would probably have enormous implications and drastically change the way we think about the Christian life. Why? Because this book of Job sucks! It’s a tragedy. It’s a dark song. For the most part, it is confusing and downright depressing. At least this is the way it seems. The book is all about the intense and undeserved suffering of one who deeply loved the Lord. It is about a man who loses everything and finds himself praying for his own death.
The book of Job is a jolt to reality and one we often shove to the back of our theology, if not the back of our Bible. If we could, we may place this book at number 66 with this message: “Read this book only if you get through all the rest.” Think about it. This is a book we hide in the shadows. Job is in the Christian closet. We either live in denial of its reality and its mysterious take on suffering or we feel embarrassed by it.
How many times have you introduced a friend to Christ and then immediately turned to the pages of Job? I don’t know how many times I have been asked by someone who is a novice in the faith what books of the Bible they should read and in what order. Have you ever been asked that? If someone came to you and said, “Should I start with Job?”, you would probably respond, “No, no! . . .We will get to that in a few years [if ever].” We treat its message as the exception, not the rule. It’s an “If necessary” book. It is kept right next to the fire extinguisher. We act as if it presents some strange experience of a poor distant man in ancient times. Like Mormons hide many of their very weird doctrines like deification (that we will all be gods one day have our own planet), we hide the realities of suffering in the book of Job (that we have to go through hell before we get to heaven). That is . . . until hell knocks on our door.
You see, we want to present the Christian life as one you enter into and find joy unspeakable immediately. We want this to be the case, not only for ourselves but for everyone who enters the gates of the Christian life. We want these gates to be gates of splendor, gates of laughter, gates that lead us to all our dreams. “Follow me to Christ and all your troubles will come to an end.” Peering through the gates of Job we see mostly pain, suffering, loss, and tears. It is a dark place of trials and tribulation. So many of us artificially replace the turmoil of Job with the successful bliss of Revelation 20-22. Why do we do this? Why are we so prone to look past so much of what the Bible says about suffering and opt of a Gospel of health and wealth? I would venture to argue that the “Health-Wealth” Christian movement (the one that says it is God’s will that you never experience sickness, poverty, pain, or loss) represents the largest movement in Christianity today. How unfortunate is this?
And you don’t have to formally be a part of this movement to be a part of this movement. What I mean is that the average person sitting in the average Evangelical Christian pew implicitly has a theology sans (without) the book of Job. Sure, we have all heard of it. Sure, we may have read it. Sure, we feel for the guy. But we don’t for a moment think that it represents anything near what the average Christian should expect. This is why we get so confused by suffering. When it comes, it’s as if some strange thing is happening to us. When we are blindsided by suffering, we are really blindsided. We begin to question everything for the first time. Our entire worldview goes through the crucible of our current reality. When we lose our job and cannot find another, we wonder if God loves us (a theology sans the book of Job). When our spouse suddenly leaves us, takes the kids, and slanders us, we question whether we are really Christians (a theology sans the book of Job). When our child dies of suicide, we wonder whether Christianity is even real (a theology sans the book of Job). When we get a bleak report from our doctor, we retrace all the bad things we have done in the past that God is punishing us for (a theology sans the book of Job).
A Christianity sans the book of Job is not Christianity. Heaven is not on earth yet. Death is the last enemy and it is yet to be vanquished. Our lives will be filled with varying degrees of heartache and pain. I am not saying that a Christian can never have a life without deep trauma seeded deep in its soil. I am saying that this is not the norm. The normal Christian life includes the book of Job.
In truth, the reality of suffering and God’s sovereign control of it is Christianity 102. Christianity 101 is about the God-man, Jesus, who suffered tremendously on our behalf. Christianity 102 is about how we follow in these footsteps. Let that sink deeply into your mind and become a part of you. Christianity 103 is about the glory that will come when Christ restores all things and pain will be no more. But 103 comes after 102. If you can’t handle this, I understand. The Bible is a hard book. Its message is a stumbling block to many because of this.
So important is the message of Job, I included “Suffering” as one of my chapters in my book on discipleship: Now That I’m a Christian: What it Means to Follow Jesus. This book is intended for new Christians. I only wrote ten chapters. Only ten! These included behemoth doctrines like “Christ,” “the Bible,” and “Prayer.” It was a no-brainer to include suffering. I did not even hesitate to make it a priority to teach brand new believers that a life with God included many trials and much pain. Not to be self-promoting, but I want you to know how much I believe this.
Whether or not the book of Job is chronologically the first book does not change the truth that it is God’s will to prepare us for suffering. However, if it was the first book, I imagine our ranks would narrow quite a bit (and this, relatively speaking, would be a good thing). The reality of the suffering of God’s people is filled in the pages of every book of the Bible, not just Job. We see this from the pain ballads in the Psalms to the tears of Jeremiah and from the cry “Why?” from the cross to the blood of the martyrs in Revelation. We must be ready to teach and learn this reality at the very beginning of our discipleship. Otherwise, we will have many, many blindsided Christians out there who are stumbling through this life confused and bewildered wondering why God hates them and groping for something new.
God does not hate you. He loves you deeply. More deeply than you can ever imagine. And God does not enjoy watching you experience the realities of a fallen, dark world. On the other side of death, his new world of perfect hope and joy awaits. Until then, he holds our hand while we go through the book of Job.