As many of you know, the word excruciating refers to a tremendous amount of physical and/or mental torment. What you may not know is that the word is derived from the Latin excruciare which refers to the cross. In other words, as Jesus was dying on the cross, he was by definition in excruciating pain. It is at this moment of tremendous physical and mental torment when Jesus cries out: Eli Eli lama sabachthani, which is an Aramaic phrase from the Old Testament (i.e. Psalm 22) that means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
It seems to me that this is the most human moment of Jesus’ earthly existence. For it is all too human to question God’s ways when we experience suffering. As a matter of fact, questioning God when we suffer is literally the oldest story ever told. That is to say, according to many Biblical scholars the first book of scripture ever written was the Book of Job. This seemingly enigmatic book of scripture tells the story of a righteous man named Job who suffers tremendously, and as a result he agonizingly wonders why God would allow such hardship to occur. In short, Job attempts to answer the age old question of suffering humans everywhere: why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Job is a righteous man from the Land of Uz. The implications of being from Uz is biblically profound. Being from Uz connects Job directly with Abraham via Abraham’s brother Aram. This is perhaps why a plethora of scholars believe that Job was a contemporary of Abraham, and as such, the eponymous book of scripture is also from the same time period, circa 2000-2200 BC. Other scholars, however, contend that the Book of Job was written by Moses, who also wrote of Abraham’s time, but from a five hundred year distance. No matter which of these two scholarly opinions one subscribes to, the result is clear: Job was either written long before or around the same time as the other book biblical scholars believe to be written first, the Book of Genesis. The point I am trying to make with all of this is simple: Job’s story is quite literally the oldest story ever told. It is the story of human suffering, and why God would allow it to happen.
As Christians we believe that everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus in some way or another. The Book of Job is no different. More than just being the oldest story ever told, it is essentially the story of Jesus Christ. How can this be?
As Jesus said to his apostles, “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). We do not know for certain who wrote the Book of Job. What does seem clear, however, is that a man named Job did not write it. And furthermore, unlike Abraham who we know so much about — family, descendants, conquests, etc. — Job, as a real person, is much more of a mystery, and as such, his story gives one the feeling that Job is less an actual person in history, and more of just a character in a story with a moral, which is to say, a moral figure in a parable. What is more, if we look at Job’s story as if it is a parable we can begin to see Jesus. The point is that the story of Job can be seen as an analogy for Jesus’ life.
Most biblical scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was the first gospel written. Mark’s Gospel begins, not with Jesus’ birth but rather with his baptism at the age of 30. We read “In those days Jesus came from Nazarerth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending on him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven. ‘Thou art my Son; with thee I am well pleased’” (Mark 1: 9-11). Right after Jesus is baptized he goes into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. Or to put this all another way, in Mark’s Gospel we are introduced to a man God is exceedingly proud of, who then stands up to Satan. What is exceedingly interesting is that that description could also be applied to the story of Job. The Book of Job begins with the sentence: “There was a man in the Land of Uz, who name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1). This intro to Job, much like the intro in Mark, is likewise followed shortly thereafter by a meeting between God and Satan. We read in Job: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Whence have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nought?’” (Job 1:6-9). Satan goes on to challenge God, saying that Job’s love and loyalty is dependent on God’s protection and blessings and nothing more. Satan says to God, “put forth thy hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face’” (Job 1:11). God accepts Satan’s challenge and allows Satan to tempt Job.
Both Jesus and Job stand their ground against Satan and remain blameless in the sight of God. Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that they each must endure excruciating suffering. Job loses everything — his family, his wealth, his health, etc. For all intents and purposes, he loses his life. This loss of life is represented by Job cursing the day of his birth, saying that he wishes he was never born. Likewise, Jesus, too, loses his life at the hand of evil when he was crucified. Job and Jesus each take on the iniquity of the world; the former, in the sense that he endures all of the evil that the world has to offer, and the latter in the sense that he died for the sins of mankind.
Let us return to our original point, where Jesus and Job truly meet. As we already said, when Jesus was dying on the cross he asked God why he had forsaken him, which is to say, “how could you let this happen to me?” Similarly, Job questioned God amidst his own suffering, saying, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I say to God: Do not declare me guilty but tell me what charges you have against me” (Job 10:1-2).
As we case, both Job and Jesus question God when their suffering becomes too much to bear. Furthmore, each of them have people around them that throw fuel on the proverbial fire, and say incendiary things to undercut God’s actions even further. For Job, this comes in the form of his three friends that attempt to justify God’s actions by claiming that Job’s suffering is a direct result of his sinful actions. For example, his friend Eliphaz says, “As I have seen those who plow iniquity reap the same. By the breath of God they perish” (Job 4:8-9).
And as for Jesus, it comes from seemingly every one around him at the cross — the rulers, Roman soldiers, and even one of the men being crucified beside him all take turns questioning God’s allowance of suffering upon the righteous. In the Gospel of Luke we read:
“And the people stood by watching; but the rulers scoffed at him saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” (Luke 23:35-39)
Despite the insults and accusations leveled against them, Job and Jesus are both blameless in the sight of God and refuse to sin or curse God in any way. We read in Job, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we recieve good at the hand of God and shall we not recieve evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10). This understanding of God’s nature, which at times seems capricious and arbitrary within the limitations of our human brains, seems to be exactly as it is described in the seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, where it is written: “In the day of prosperity be joyful and in the day of adversity consider; God has made one as well as the other, so that man may find out anything that will be after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
And Jesus, much like Job, rises above the temptations of evil and the deriding of those surrounding him, when from his place of suffering on the cross he says, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
And that this is the point, isn’t it? We often think we know why or how things happen, but we are not God, and therefore we cannot know why He does what He does.
Toward the end of the Book of Job, God appears to Job in the midst of a storm and explains that man can never truly understand the ways of God. Both Job and Jesus suffer excruciatingly, to the point that they are each dead, so to speak, to the world. That is to say, Job lost everything and cursed the day of his birth and Jesus died on the cross. Nevertheless, in the end, despite their moments of questioning God amidst their suffering, God restores them each to life again. We read, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:12). And as for Jesus, we read: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the sciptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The message for all of us is simple: it is human nature to question God during moments of suffering. In fact, it is the oldest story ever told. Nevertheless, we cannot always see the larger picture and can never truly understand God’s plans. The point is that if we continue to have faith and trust in the Lord — in spite of everything, he will raise us up from the dirt and resurrect us from whatever hardship we may endure.