Question and Answer: Anticipating Christ in the Book of Job

74F4DFB5-7271-42E3-ACC6-7C796D1FC5F1

In rereading the Book of Job, I once more find it both wonderful and troubling. Job is, at its core, a terrifying book: a man is selected for the worst trials imaginable (loss of family, livelihood, and health) not because he is wicked but, indeed, because he is faithful.

The Book of Job is, in this sense, a 40-chapter refutation of “prosperity preaching.” However unfair this seems, it reveals the justice of God; as supreme in goodness and the Creator of all, even apparently righteous men are unworthy of His favor. In recognizing this, Job reveals the true source of his righteousness as his faith in a Redeemer and Mediator.

Before declaring this faith, though, Job first presents a case in his own defense. It is important to note that, while Job does question God, he never curses Him. To engage authentically in prayer and lamentation is a marvelous privilege of God’s people and, throughout, Job seeks to “speak to the Almighty” and to “argue [his] case with God.” (13:3). While God does respond to Job’s cries, the ultimate answer to his charges and the resolution of his suffering is ultimately found in the Incarnation of Christ. If Job is an agonizing question regarding God’s justice, Jesus is the final answer proving God’s grace. 

In the ninth chapter, Job laments that due to God’s infinite perfection and power, not even the righteous can justly stand before Him and, in the tenth chapter, Job asks the following of God:

“Does it seem good to you to oppress
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the designs of the wicked?
Have you eyes of flesh?
Do you see as man sees?
Are your days as the days of man,
or your years as a man’s years,
that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is none to deliver out of your hand?
Your hands fashioned and made me,
and now you have destroyed me altogether.”

– Job 10:3-8

Job asks what anyone would in such a situation: How can you—You who are immortal, and all-powerful—understand what it is to be human? To suffer? To submit to the will of another? And yet, while God does not directly answer these questions in this book, He responds conclusively in His Word become Flesh: the Incarnation of Christ.

Job continues on to describe the care with which God brought him into being, which seems contradictory to his current suffering:

“You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.”

– Job 10:11-13

This parallels Psalm 139, in which David writes of the Lord’s constant care from the moment of his conception and both Job and David declare this a mystery “too wonderful” to truly comprehend, although both also question God in lamentation. These descriptions of God’s personal care for His creations also foreshadow the incarnation, in which Christ—the fullness of God knit together with human flesh—is miraculously conceived of the Virgin Mary. Like Job and David and every other human being, Jesus is clothed in skin, flesh, and bones. When Job asks, then, whether God has “eyes of flesh,” the initial answer is that God, as the creator of flesh, has proper authority over it. However, Job’s question foreshadows and is fulfilled in the Son of God made flesh: human eyes born of divine sight. 

Job does not stop there, though, but further qualifies his question, asking whether God’s time is as that of man. This, too, receives the answer of the Creator, who reminds Job that He created the days of man and holds them under His proper power. Again, the Psalms provide further insight:

“For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.”

-Psalm 90:4

In short, then, the eternal God is beyond the temporality to which mankind is subject. However, the Incarnation serves again as the consolation and answer to this cry. Christ’s life on earth marks the intersection not only of divinity and humanity but of eternity and temporality. Luke writes in the second chapter of his account that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” In this, we find that the Gospels not only proclaim Christ’s birth but mark his growth according to normal human physicality and aging. In being born, Christ consents to live according to human time, including its mundanity, growth, suffering, and—ultimately—its end.

Continuing to contemplate death, Job laments in the fifteenth chapter, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Now, this appears to be a rhetorical question and its answer is obvious to Job; nobody who dies lives again. And yet, a completely opposite answer is also obvious to those of us living today: Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, was buried, and yet rose again on the third day. More so, Christ’s followers are promised future resurrection as well. Although Job is caught in a seemingly hopeless situation and has not yet been provided the full answer to his suffering—the Incarnation of Christ—he yet anticipates this resolution by faith:

“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 shal 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

Job knows and hopes in a Redeemer who has yet to be born on earth and yet is the Word that spoke from the beginning. Job, crying and questioning from the depths of his suffering, yet looks toward the redemption and resurrection that will ultimately be realized in Christ.

When God speaks in the later chapters, He responds in questions that parallel those posited by Job. When Job asks how God can empathize with man, God demands that Job rightly express what it is to be God.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—
surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

-Job 38:4-7

Of course, in the face of such enormous questions of authority, Job can do nothing but declare God’s supremity as Creator and his own lowliness as creature. However, Job looks in hope toward a “witness in heaven” who “testifies for [him] on hight.” (16:19). Again, we find glimmers of anticipation, of hope in an intercessor who will speak for both man and God. We find then, that both Job’s questions of God and God’s questions of Job are answered and fulfilled definitively in Christ the Mediator.

Even these apparently rhetorical questions find their solution in the person of Jesus Christ. Only Christ, the Son of God, can answer that He was not only there with God in the beginning, but He was the Word that sang the stars into being. Indeed, He is the Morning Star and Cornerstone Himself, the Mediator through whom all that is made was made. Christ can truthfully answer that He not only took on flesh and endured the hardships of time and suffering but that He was and is and will ever be, for He is One with the Creator.

“But he knows the way I take;
when he has tried me,
I shall come out as gold.”

– Job 23:10

On Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5-7

This is probably the first year since I could hold a pen that I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions. After recently taking the enneagram and discovering myself to be the “Reformer” (wing “Achiever”) this is rather surprising. I love goals and lists and plans and I work, practice, study, and exercise consistently. However, while I did not set any specific goals and am continuing along more or less as usual, I did realize a few areas in which I need greater consistency.

The first of these is prayer.

My morning devotions center on the reading and rereading of scripture. (I highly recommend picking an epistle or passage and reading it daily for a month.) Although I love digging into the Word and pondering its truth, I fear I sometimes err on the side of intellect rather than faith. Recently, I was accepted to pursue a master’s in “Theology and the Arts” at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, so I am thankful for my ability to read scripture as an academic. However, as I enter the final semester of my undergrad, new friendships and relationships, and look to a future that’s both terrifying and exciting, I’m confronted with things that go beyond academic analysis.

A week ago, as I tossed and turned at that dreaded hour (see “Three o’Clock in the Morning”), I realized that what I needed was (and is) prayer and, being at a loss for the words to properly express myself, I turned to the Psalms: the most honest, broken, beautiful, truth-bound poetry ever written.

I am not the best at expressing my emotions; as a generally happy person, I try to avoid showing any other side of myself. When I pray aloud with others and even in private prayer, I find myself trying to reason myself to happiness. While I am quick to worry within my own mind and heart, I am slow to present these anxieties to the One who will listen and heal. In reading the Psalms, it became so obvious that prayer, while so often comprised of and resolving in praise, is also manifested in lament.

Lamentation is a concept I’ve been turning over in my mind for several years, but ultimately it’s something that cannot be solely rationalized. It’s a deep expression of incomprehensible emotions, yet it is not all chaos. As an artist, the psalmist begins with broken materials but eventually shapes them into order through poetic exploration. Wrestling with terror and enemies and uncertainty, psalms of lamentation reorient to faith and praise, for they and their writer are upheld by truth.

Why, then, should I be afraid to pour forth even the most confusing feelings of my heart? After all, Romans 8:26 assures us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Expressing emotion is not separate from studying and living truth; when even the most anxious of feelings are anchored in truth, they may be safely explored when in conversation with God.

Recently, I purchased a new journal (see “New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?”) and am finding it the perfect place to express and explore in prayer. Immediately upon writing and praying over the words (some of which made very little sense at all when put down) I felt a rush of relief. Worries are overwhelming when swarming in a sleep-deprived brain, but often once they are written in bright-colored ink, they seem silly. And they seem even tinier when presented before a sovereign God who promises to hear and help.

Before I set to journalling, one verse presided in my thoughts, but I feared I was misapplying it like some cliché cross-stitch pillow. But when I looked it up, I was struck to find it more applicable to my situation than I could have imagined:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

– 1 Peter 5:5-7 (ESV)

“You who are younger.” 

Hey, that’s me! I’m 22 and I have to admit that Taylor Swift had it just about right when she sang that “we’re happy free, confused and lonely at the same time / it’s miserable and magical.” But here in 1 Peter are words written not only to capture how it feels to be young, but to hold my hand through it. Indeed, it promises that the might hand of God will uphold me and provide in his perfect timing.

“Humble yourselves.” 

I do not know everything. Part of my problem with prayer is that it requires me to admit this. It requires me to beg, to acknowledge that from God all blessings flow and that I can do nothing to earn them. As I journaled through this passage of scripture, I used this command to humility to write out my uncertainties and admit my limited vision in submission to the omniscience of God. It’s amazing how kneeling relieves one’s burdens. 

“The mighty hand of God.” 

Remember his providence. I love journaling because it allows me to read back through the arc of my life. Worries that once seemed insurmountable are now laughable. Hopes I once exalted were disappointed and replaced with much better things. Reader and Friend, praise God for his faithfulness. Admit your anxieties, but never forget that an authentic prayer is not only honest to your situation, but to that of a God who is constant and caring. Prayers without acknowledgement of God’s worthiness and faithfulness are sorely one-sided. The lament Psalms decry man’s state, but ever return to the power of the Lord’s hand.

“Casting all your anxieties on him.” 

I made a list as I contemplated this line. I dumped ever single “what-if-worry” that flapped about in my brain like moths. It was a bit like a game of “Worst-case scenario” where my hypothetical fears got progressively more and more ridiculous, but by the time I was finished, I was laughing instead of worrying. With my Savior carrying my burden, I felt able again to “laugh without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).

“He cares for you.” 

This. This is blessed assurance. I’m a logical person and need to be rationally convinced of most things. I’m not sure how to respond to compliments sometimes because of this, let alone respond to a letter that speaks so plainly of God’s providential love for me. I am overwhelmed, no longer with fear, but with awe. 

What amazing, never-failing grace. How can I keep from praying?

I will fail (over and over and over again) to go to my knees. However, I have a God who cares for me so personally and perfectly, that I am responding to that love by committing to more regular prayer. It’s difficult: I have to humble myself, admitting that I am not always in control, not always perfectly happy, and don’t always know what’s going to happen. But, as my choir director so often says, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent.” 

That said, I am committing to practicing prayer, using study and scripture as a guide for expressing that which cannot be put into prose and turning it to praise.

Immediately: Eight Poems Based on the Gospel of Mark

In reading through Mark, I was struck by the recurring use of the word “immediately.” It is used to characterize many aspects of Christ’s ministry on Earth, but I was especially drawn to its use in relation to instances of healing. As I pondered this motif and these stories, I found myself understanding them with new clarity. In order to delve deeper into this idea of immediacy in Jesus’ miracles, I wrote a set of eight free verse poems exploring what the experiences of the individuals affected may have been like based on the details gleaned from the Gospel According to Mark.

Jesus Healing the Bleeding Woman, Roman Catacombs 300-350

Immediately

I. The Woman (Mark 5:21-34)

The crowd is throbbing

As my pain is

throbbing.

I have not come this far in years.

Twelve years.

Tears-

I cannot help them-

Begin to flow…

Flow as blood has

For twelve years.

I am so close.

But still feel so far and fears

Overcome me

As the people surround me.

They know.

They all know.

I see their glances:

Quick, horrified, averted.

I want to scream:

“Yes! See! See my shame!

Tell me, you proud, healthy,

Is it my fault?”

But instead I fall.

To my knees I am bent.

Beneath the weight of despair

I am kept.

But my eyes remain fixed

Before me, ahead.

I am fallen

And aching

But I am not yet dead.

My eyes catch

On a figure weaving

Through this throbbing, living sea.

As I rise to walk,

My vision fades.

I stretch my hand and fumble feebly forward…

A hem.

All I seek.

A hem to hem me behind and before

In healing safety.

My finger brushes

The rough cloth,

Not even for a breath,

But mine returns.

Immediately,

Blood dries and sight clears.

Love and hope and peace

Are all that flow

Not from, but over me.

Immediately,

I am again on my knees,

Not for lack of strength

But faith.

I tremble.

Yet this fear is new,

As I am made new

Immediately.

I cannot help

But want to sing,

“Oh, see! See! My shame undone!

See and know!

The saving One!”

Immediately.

.

II. The Man with the Withered Hand(3:1-6)

My bones lament

With hunger.

My eyes grow dim

From waiting.

Waiting for nothing,

Since who would help me today?

The sad irony of the Lord’s Day.

Synagogues and pockets full,

But hearts empty.

Even more empty than my hand.

At least I would to fill mine.

Another sad irony.

For I cannot.

I cannot even reach out

To work or to beg.

Why bother anyway?

You cannot pour from empty jars

And a broken pot like me-

A withered hand like mine-

Holds nothing.

Yet here I am,

Still waiting.

Waiting for someone

To heal and fill

And then,

“Come here.”

I lift my head.

A hand, not mine, reaches

As I cannot.

An order next:

“Stretch out your hand.”

Will the cruelty ever end?

Why does he mock me?

But then,

Immediately.

I watch fingers uncurl, lengthen.

Nails harden.

Palm fattens.

Muscles strengthen.

And it is my hand,

Yet not my hand

That is,

Immediately,

Opened and held out

For me.

The skin is softened,

Like my heart.

Immediately,

As limb is healed,

I am no longer empty.

Hardened hearts are whole jars,

Yet easily shattered.

Mine bends as my knuckles,

To take in life.

Immediately,

Hand restored, hope fulfilled.

I am sustained

And can sustain.

Oh, happy day!

Oh, sad irony cured

Immediately.

.

III. Jairus’s Daughter(5:35-43)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well,”

I hear the man say

To a woman kneeling.

Dealing with these commoners

Must be tiresome.

Some are calling him Teacher, after all.

He could be as me,

Lofty, a ruler.

I turn away,

But hear it again,

The word I hold dear.

“Daughter.”

Someone clutches my arm;

I am clutched by fear.

Dead.

In her bed.

Not sleeping?

No, nor breathing.

I stagger.

A gasp as one struck

Escapes my throat.

A wordless cry,

Yet I know he will hear.

Common or not,

I have to try.

My girl cannot just…die.

A man holds me back.

“Why trouble the Teacher?”

But I cannot just leave her.

And He heard,

And He knew

What had happened

And what I felt.

And He came.

“Do not fear.

Only believe.”

But can words alone dry

A father’s tears?

I know it is not sleep.

But then,

He spoke again.

His voice a lullaby.

“Talitha cumi,”

Commanding gently to rise.

Immediately,

Quicker even than on holiday mornings,

She did.

Eyes bright, arms outstretched

To wrap in embrace around

My once-stiff neck.

Immediately,

My daughter

Is born to me a second time

Of the water I wept.

Immediately,

She stands and,

Laughing and crying of joy,

We dance.

Immediately,

The Teacher, True Ruler,

Awakes daughter and father both

from death

And mourning dawns as morning

Immediately.

.

IV. The Leper(1:40-45)

Unclean,

I hide myself.

Lest I am seen

And sent away,

Purged from the city

While dogs and rats are allowed

To stay.

But they say

I am unclean.

I do not argue;

I am one of the unlucky ones

Who cannot hide his sins

Beneath a cloak of

Smooth, clear skin.

I am as unclean

Outside as others are within.

So I conceal my body,

But my spirit I’ll bear

An offering.

The sacrifice of Psalmist’s praise

Is not made up of lovely face

But a contrite heart,

Such a heart as mine.

Perhaps the only organ spared

But even it is broken.

Its pieces cry out

With my failing limbs.

Unclean,

But yearning.

I step out-

Painfully, timidly,

From where I’ve been

Hiding, waiting, dying…

Decaying though still living.

To my knees

I sink before You

To present my pitiful lot

Before You.

Its package fails, unclean.

But if you will…

You will?

Can it be?

At your word,

At your touch-

Ah, how long since I’ve been touched!

Oh fearful joy!

Immediately,

I am clean.

From that gentle press of the fingertips,

Life springs.

Immediately,

I feel it.

I feel it in nerves revived.

Shivering, pulsing,

Skin reforms before my eyes.

But even more,

Immediately,

My mangled heart

Laid at Your feet

Is touched too,

Molded and cradled

By hands invisible.

Immediately,

I stand humbled without shame,

Purified shell, Sanctified soul.

I am wonderfully remade

And run to present my whole self

Immediately.

.

V. The Paralytic (2:1-12)

People just keep going

Around, across, any way they can.

Stepping over me even.

But what can I do?

Nothing but what I am doing.

Lying here.

Still, in one piece

Yet shattered,

Feeling the full weight of despair

And at the same time

Feeling nothing.

Lying here, I can recall
When lying was pleasant

If it was with words to fool

Or women to love

In secrecy.

I fight the urge to laugh,

Bitterly.

Is it not funny how desires

So frequently

Turn to damnation

In a single, fateful

Instant?

The crowd is thick.
I watch as someone trips

Over the legs I no longer

Think of as my own.

As I am carried to the roof,

Still in my bed,

The thought crosses my mind

That maybe falling would not be so bad.

Yet even that end

Is not in my power.

They lower

Me down.

A face comes into view

Looking down but not in pride.

His eyes are sad

As if he sees

The past I wish to hide.

“Son,” he says,

Claiming me.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Immediately,

Though my body remains still,

My heart leaps

And my soul is moved.

Immediately,

Outrage erupts around,

But I hear only one voice:

The Authority

Who speaks again.

Immediately,

I obey.

Could I ignore

The One who says,

“Rise and walk”?

Immediately,

I stand and take my bed.

No more lying for me.

Walking even

Is not enough

If it is not with Thee.

In your movements

I will follow

Immediately.

.

VI. The Deaf Man(7:31-37)

I cannot tell

What these gestures mean.

Why do you all wave

Your hands at me?

I can only guess at

The words on your lips.

And can only make

Vain attempts

To do as you do,

To speak as you speak.

By your wrinkled brows

And worried looks,

I know I am failing.

Where are you taking me?

Who is this man?

Oh, do not leave me!

I cannot understand

Your mute tongues,

But do not forsake me!

Where is he taking me?

I try to shout

But fall into silence,

Not that I am ever not

In that painful, ringing

Silence.

We stop.

The crowd is out of sight.

The man reaches out.

I flinch,

Expecting a blow

As from the cruel youths

Who saw me as a game,

An object of fun for them,

Confused torment for me.

But no blow comes,

Just a soft warmth

As He covers the sides of my head

And the tip of my tongue

With His hands.

Eyes wide, bewildered,

I watch.

He sighs.

I feel His breath on my face

And see Him mouth a word.

No- more!

More than see!

Immediately,

before the word

Has flown from His lips,

I hear.

I heart it!

Immediately,

As He speaks,

“Ephphatha”

“Be opened,”

I hear!

And realize the crowd

Is out of earshot

As well as sight.

Immediately,

My newborn ears

Are tuned to one voice,

The voice of my Healer

And Master.

Immediately,

I do what is now natural,

Though moments ago,

Impossible.

I shout and proclaim

Of hearing and healing

Immediately.

.

VII. The Blind Man (8:22-26)

“Touch me, someone!

So I might know you are there!”

Greet me, anyone!

So I am not alone,

Isolated in my own darkness.

I’m begging,

Begging for more than food

Or loose coins you can spare.

It is light that I am starving for-

A light to show me out,

Out of this eternal, internal,

Personal night.

My heart yearns

Morning and evening,

Though both are to me

The same.

Oh, I shudder.

The chill of winter

And aches of hunger

Are nothing

To this ceaseless imprisonment

Within myself.

I cry out again…

Perhaps someone will reply.

“Oh, stranger friend,

Whoever among you, passersby,

Has any pity,

I entreat you

To touch me,

Hear me,

See me.

But what’s this?

I start suddenly

As a hand descends

And makes to guide me.

My pleading fades.

I follow in silence,

Trusting,

Though I know not

Who leads me.

Then a pressure

Against my eyes,

Those shutter windows

To my lonely soul.

Next a voice asks,

“Do you see?”

Immediately,

I am blinded

No longer by darkness,

But by light,

Dazzling and radiant.

Immediately,

I answer,

“I see, people?

Or are those trees?”

I blink and try again.

Immediately,

The man’s hands

Descend once more,

Unfogging the glass,

This time completely.

Immediately,

I see and am seen.

I am freed,

Released from my prison

Where I grieved

In midnight black.

The Son is shining and I see,

Immediately.

.

VIII. The Demon-Possessed Boy (9:14-29)

Horrors.

There is no other name

For the things I have seen,

And sat helplessly by…

Useless.

My son, ripped from my arms

By a force I could not fight.

I am his father!
Guilt stabs like a knife.
But how can I defend when

The enemy, invader

Makes war from within?
My own flesh and blood,

My beloved,

My son,

Cast into the flames

I was too slow to quench,

Then plunged into the water

Kept for the fire.

I am but man

And as such but dust.

How could I conquer a spirit

When my own is worn and weary

And losing hope?

Alas! Why do you come,
you crowd
, seeking spectacle?
You do not want to see

What daily seeks-

Through my son-

To destroy me:

Demon Doubt

Grapples for my soul

As the other strangles my son’s life

With his own fingers.

His demon casts him down,

Frothing, convulsing.

Mine pulls on me too,

But before it succeeds,

I cast myself down

In desperation

At Your feet.

Before the growing crowd,

Before You, my Lord.

“I believe, but oh!
Help my unbelief!”

Immediately,

Stillness falls.

Has death come?
Merciful relief?
Dare I hope for better?
It seems beyond belief and yet…

Immediately,

Quiet reigns

Where screams once were

And peace floods my soul,

Burning away fear

As two evils are expelled,

Far, far from here.

Immediately,

Your hand raises him.

The Son returns my son

Back to the arms

From which he was torn.

And in that moment,

Two faiths are born

Immediately.