Following a morning devotional time during a mission trip, one of my students found me and announced with a great deal of frustration and fury, “Job sucks”. After asking this student several questions, I learned she'd chosen to read Job during her quiet time and quite frankly, it had upset her. She didn't like it; Didn't understand God's character in the book; And didn't find it comforting – at all. Though this student continued reading this book, she never really got over her distaste of it.
Shortly after returning from this mission trip, my student leadership team – which included the aforementioned student - gathered to decide what topics they wanted to discuss in our youth ministry during that school year. As always, I introduced this process by reminding my team that no topics were off-limits; That in our youth ministry, we're not afraid of questions, nor are we afraid of discussing difficult things. After all, I want my students to know that “Sometimes taking the Bible seriously means confronting the parts we don't like or understand and sitting with them for a while..." (Rachel Held Evans in A Year of Biblical Womanhood ).
Since I wholeheartedly believe faith grows when we confront the parts of Scripture we don't like or understand, I wasn't surprised when the student who'd attempted so valiantly to read Job on her own suggested we discuss it in our youth ministry. Other students quickly latched onto this idea and before long, it emerged at the top of our list of probable topics for the year.
Knowing that I wanted to do some justice to the story of Job, I elected not to cover it in a single week. Instead, I decided early on to save it for a six-week Lenten series, believing that this would allow students to sit with the difficult parts of this book and in some mysterious way, find God there. I also trusted this timing was somehow God's design for this series and that it would come at the perfect time to minister to someone who desperately needed it.
Though I've seen it time and time again, I was still amazed by students' responses to this straight-up exploration of Scripture. They dove in. Rather than attempt to run from the difficult parts, they faced them head on and allowed them to prompt deeper and deeper questions, some of which we eventually answered and many of which we did not. Both students and leaders alike seemed content with that.
As great as this series was, my favorite moment came as we discussed Job 9:32-35, which reads,
“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to mediate between us,
someone to bring us together,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”
In response to this passage, I had planned to ask students three questions:
1. According to Job, when it comes to our relationship with God, what's the fundamental problem? Why?
2. According to Job 9:33, how can this problem be overcome?
3. Read 1 Timothy 2:5. What mediator does God provide us with in order to overcome the problem Job identifies?
Before I could even get to the third question, one of my students exclaimed, “Wait! Isn't that what Jesus did for us?”
It was a moment that took my breath away. To see students connect the Old Testament and in particular, troubling parts of the Old Testament, to the Gospel is sacred.
As if that wasn't enough, however, I experienced another breathtaking, equally sacred moment a week after this series ended, on the day my world fell apart. On that morning, I woke up with these words from Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name stuck in my head:
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
These words are recorded at the end of Job 1, just after Job's world falls apart. Having learned he's suddenly and unexplainably lost everything that once mattered, he immediately chooses to worship God.
Only weeks before, my students and I had wrestled extensively with these words before singing Blessed Be Your Name as our closing prayer. We concluded that though we may not like or understand the God who both gives and takes away, Job's response – in the midst of his own tragedy – was a remarkable and powerful one.
In the days since my own tragedy occurred, I've found myself frequently meditating on and repeating these words. During the times when my faith has faltered and wavered, they've sustained me, giving me something to say to God when my own words seem absent or inadequate. They've also given me something to cling to. For now, I know I'm choosing to believe these words on an intellectual level but I'm trusting that one day soon, my heart will once again know they're true too.
As it turns out, this series on Job really did come at the perfect time to minister to someone who desperately needed it... I just didn't know when I scheduled it all those months ago that that person would end up being me.