For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. [James 5:10-11 (NLT)]
Within the first two chapters of the book of Job, a man whose life had been blessed with health, wealth and family loses his livestock (meaning his livelihood), along with his servants, ten children, and health. Although James cited Job as an example of patience and endurance through suffering, we really don’t know how long Job’s pain and anguish lasted.
We do know Job’s friends sat and mourned in silence with him for seven days but we don’t know how long it took for the news of his loss to reach them or for them to travel to Job. Once Job’s friends start talking, we have thirty-five chapters of dialogue followed by four more chapters of God questioning him but no way to know if it all took place in a day, several days, or even months. The only clue to the length of Job’s suffering is when he complains of being assigned “months of futility” and “long and weary nights of misery.” [7:3] Those sound like the words of someone suffering from a chronic illness but he could have been speaking figuratively—that it felt like he’d been in agony for months. Whether days or months of misery, Job maintained his faith the entire time.
In Chapter 38, God finally appears. Rather than answer Job’s questions, God asks questions of His own and Job realizes how limited his knowledge of God is. Accepting that God alone knows what is best, the man finally understands that he can’t judge God’s actions or question His reasons. Submitting to God’s authority, he repents and says, “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” [42:6] After God rebukes Job’s friends, demands a sacrifice, and has Job pray for them, Job’s life is restored. God blesses him with health, a long life, twice his original wealth, and ten new children. It’s a real “happily-ever-after” ending!
What if Job’s story ended another way? What if Chapter 42 ended at verse 6 with Job’s repentance for questioning God? What if his health, wealth and family had not been restored? Instead of Job’s misery dragging on for several months, what if it dragged on for years? As Job continued to suffer from pus-filled boils all over his body, insomnia, nightmares, fever, and pain, how would Job’s next chapter read? After all, fairy tale endings are few and far between. Would Job remain faithful if his adversity lasted his lifetime or would he turn bitter? Would he still be able to say, “Praise the name of the Lord!” as he did in Chapter 1?
Perhaps the answer is found earlier in Job’s story, in Chapter 19. Even though he doesn’t know why he’s suffering, Job expresses confidence that God would vindicate him from his friends’ false accusations. Moreover, Job is certain that death would not be the end of his existence and that he eventually would see God—if not in his lifetime, then when resurrected in the next. After speaking with God in Chapter 42, Job knew that God had not abandoned him and had heard his prayers. He understood that God’s infinite wisdom was behind the unpredictable and arbitrary nature of life, and he no longer questioned the why of his misfortune. Even if health, wealth, and family had never been restored, by Job 42:6 the most important thing Job had was restored—his relationship with God. The lesson found in the book of Job is the same whether or not his suffering came to an end. Had his suffering continued, I think Job would have endured—would we?