Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.” Often, when we’re in the middle of an intense experience, we can’t make immediate sense of it. Insight comes later—if it does—as we look back. That is true for Job: his trust in God will be renewed near the end of his story, as he reflects on what he has undergone and encounters God’s vast and merciful mystery: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5).
This is true for us, too: meaning emerges over time, as we sift our experiences. It has been true for me in recent years as I’ve dealt with the physical, emotional, and spiritual complications of an incurable illness. It’s in the looking back that I see patterns of grace that weren’t evident in the hardest moments.
Even the structure of the book of Job encourages us not to draw conclusions too soon. The first two chapters and most of the last (42:7-17) are a Jewish version of near eastern folktales about the undeserved suffering of a righteous man. Such tales frequently included conversations between good and evil gods, conversations like the ones between God and Satan in Job (1:6-12; 2:1-6).
The folktale which frames Job’s story is told in standard Hebrew prose, while the remainder of the book contains remarkable poetry. In a rich literary conversation, the poetry questions the prose, and, by the end of the book, we will come to a more compassionate view of God’s dealings with humanity. We see, hear, and feel more, and more truly, than we did at the beginning.
It takes time to recover from trouble, to stand on firmer ground again, and to discover how our struggles have changed and, perhaps, enriched us.
When have you reached a conclusion about God or about how life works that you had to—or were able to—revise?
Spirit of God, guide me as I review my journey and learn from it. Show me the ways you’ve been with me. Amen.