30 September – 6 October 2018.
When things go wrong in our lives, that’s already bad enough. But what makes our suffering worse is knowing that there will always be people around us who will see our pain and be happy. When bad things happen, there will always be a few hateful people who rejoice at seeing those disasters, who will spread rumours saying that we deserved this pain, and even gladly imagine our suffering.
A few years ago a friend of mine told me that he was resigning from his job at a bank here in Taipei to move back to Taichung to care for his elderly mother. But after he was gone, a bank colleague that he hardly knew started spreading false rumours that he was fired for being bad at his job. My friend was deeply upset by those lies. How was he supposed to defend himself and let everyone know that those stories were completely untrue? People don’t know what is happening in our lives, people don’t know what’s really going on, but they gossip anyway and spread false stories. How are we supposed to deal with that problem?
That’s the challenge that Job faces. Job’s life has fallen apart, and in the middle of all his suffering others are spreading rumours that he must have been an evil person, that he must have committed terrible sins, and that God must be punishing him. Not only do these untrue accusations add even more pain to Job’s suffering, Job also knows there’s no way he can defend himself against these rumours. In ch. 9 Job wants to be vindicated by God, he wants God to announce to the whole world that Job has not done anything wrong, that Job hasn’t done anything to deserve this suffering, and that he really is a righteous person. But Job knows that this is impossible, and that realization adds to his pain. There is no way he can get this vindication from God. Job thinks that God wouldn’t even listen to his request. And even if he did, what’s God going to do – write Job a reference letter saying that he really is a good person? It’s impossible. And so people will keep on gossiping. It’s this impossibility that pushes Job from suffering into even deeper despair. He is suffering, and there is nothing he can do to stop people thinking that he has deserved this suffering in some way.
Some of us may imagine that the best advice for Job (and for us too when we are in this situation) is simply to stop caring about what other people think. That’s a good step forward, although one that’s not easy to do. But in addition to trying to ignore other people’s gossip, it’s even more important that we ourselves don’t participate in this kind of behaviour. None of us really know what is happening in other people’s lives, and so gossip and rumours will always be damaging and hurtful. When we gossip, all we do is add even more pain to the lives of people (like Job) who are already struggling and suffering.
Job doubts that he could ever be vindicated and declared innocent, but at the end of the story that’s what actually happens. God himself rebukes those who spoke badly about Job, and God confirms that Job really is a righteous man. How embarrassed and ashamed Job’s so-called “friends” must have been to hear God rebuke them! But God’s rebuke is the fate that waits for everyone who participates in gossip.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis