If you know anything about the book of Job, this might seem like an odd choice of passage for a thanksgiving message. Most of the book of Job shows a miserable man, deep in suffering, longing for death, looking for an explanation of why God would allow a righteous man to suffer so horribly. Job’s friends insist that God is just and that He would never cause such calamity to fall on an innocent man. There’s one problem; Job was innocent. God Himself acknowledges that Job was pure: He says in chapter 1 verse 8 “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Job clings to his innocence in the face of his so called friends accusing him of all sorts of wrong doing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever suffered as deeply as Job. I’m not trying to solve the problem of pain and answer why God allows His people to suffer evil. What I want to focus on is Thanksgiving. ‘Tis the season, after all. But how in the world can I find a reason to give thanks in the midst of Job’s misery and confusion? Let’s find out. If you will turn in your Bibles to Job 9, we’ll be reading a majority of the chapter.
Job starts his reply to his friend Bildad’s main argument: “Lo, God will not reject a man of integrity…Nor will He support the evildoers.” Here are verses 1-12:
Then Job responded,
“In truth I know that this is so;
But how can a person be in the right with God?
If one wished to dispute with Him,
He could not answer Him once in a thousand times.
Wise in heart and mighty in strength,
Who has defied Him without harm?
It is God who removes the mountains, and they do not know how,
When He overturns them in His anger.
It is He who shakes the earth from its place,
And its pillars tremble;
Who commands the sun not to shine,
And puts a seal on the stars;
Who alone stretches out the heavens,
And tramples down the waves of the sea;
Who makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades,
And the constellations of the south.
It is He who does great things, the unfathomable,
And wondrous works without number.
If He were to pass by me, I would not see Him;
Were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him.
If He were to snatch away, who could restrain Him?
Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’
Job’s response is, Who can defy God? His answer? No one. No one can bring a case or an accusation before the holy and powerful God. There’s a lot of praise here, there’s lots of acknowledging God’s qualities, but there’s no thanksgiving. In fact, it’s the opposite. Job laments that God is this way because God seems to be His enemy. He continues in verses 13-24:
“God will not turn back His anger;
Beneath Him the helpers of Rahab cower.
How then can I answer Him,
And choose my words before Him?
For though I were right, I could not answer;
I would have to implore the mercy of my Judge.
If I called and He answered me,
I could not believe that He was listening to my voice.
For He bruises me with a storm
And multiplies my wounds without cause.
He will not allow me to get my breath,
But He saturates me with bitterness.
If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him?
Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me;
Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty.
I am guiltless;
I do not take notice of myself;
I reject my life.
It is all one; therefore I say,
‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’
If the whip kills suddenly,
He mocks the despair of the innocent.
The earth is handed over to the wicked;
He covers the faces of its judges.
If it is not He, then who is it?
Still, Job clings to his innocence. I have a very important question for us. Is Job wrong to continue holding on to his innocence? Should he just admit his guilt and accept God’s punishment? No! No to the whole question! That question is entirely rubbish because it’s built on two false presuppositions. The first is that Job is guilty. He’s not! Job would be lying if he admitted guilt and came to God to repent. He has nothing to repent of! This is not to say that Job is a sinless being. We know from the testimony of all the rest of Scripture (and personal experience, if we’re honest) that no human person is without sin outside of Jesus Himself. However, what Job is right to stand by is that the current misery he’s experiencing isn’t retributive payment for any particular sins he’s guilty of. Job is right to cling to his innocence.
The second false presupposition is that God is the one inflicting these wounds and calamities upon Job. Who struck Job with curses? Satan! Not God! God, in His sovereignty, allowed Satan to only go so far in his handling of Job. God is not guilty of unjustly punishing Job. God has in fact spared his life from the full evil intention of Satan. Is that a reason for thanksgiving? Certainly. That God spares His people from the full assaults of the devil is no small mercy and deserves unceasing praise. But that’s not why I picked this passage. Let’s keep reading. Verses 25-35:
“Now my days are swifter than a runner;
They flee away, they see no good.
They slip by like reed boats,
Like an eagle that swoops on its prey.
Though I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
I will put my face in order and be cheerful,’
I am afraid of all my pains,
I know that You will not acquit me.
I am guilty,
Why then should I struggle in vain?
If I washed myself with snow,
And cleansed my hands with lye,
Then You would plunge me into the pit,
And my own clothes would loathe me.
For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him—
That we may go to court together!
There is no arbitrator between us,
Who can place his hand upon us both.
Let Him remove His rod from me,
And let not the dread of Him terrify me.
Then I would speak and not fear Him;
But I am not like that in myself.
Here we see the full dread of the situation fall upon Job. Unfortunately, he’s bought into the lie that God is punishing him. Job has drawn the logical conclusion. If God is punishing me for wickedness even though I am in fact blameless, then God must be unjust. As Job says in verse 22 “It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’” God is capricious. He can’t just put on a happy face and try to live out the rest of his life in peace. He can’t wash himself and clean himself up, before God or his fellow man. There’s no running from this. If God is unjust and has chosen to torture a righteous man, Job has nowhere to hide.
Here is where we find our thanksgiving. In this most unlikely passage, in the depths of Job’s suffering—even at the deepest complaint of his heart—we find our cause for celebration. What is Job’s deepest complaint? Look to verses 32-35. That God is spirit. That God is holy and separated from humanity. Job longs for a mediator between himself and God, one who could judge righteousness and wickedness impartially and lift the weight of God’s wrath off of Job’s shoulders. As it stands, God’s wrath crushes Job and the gulf between himself and God is so vast, he can bring no case before God.
Again, I don’t know what life has been like for you recently—whether it’s been a time of laughter and fulfillment and excitement or a time of deep suffering and struggle, or maybe it’s somewhere in between. Maybe you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to slow down and think about how you’re actually doing. I hope you don’t find yourself suffering as keenly as Job this thanksgiving. My last two thanksgivings have come in pretty miserable seasons of life for me. We have a comfort that is worth giving thanks over even in the depths of despair as deep as Job’s.
What is this reason for thanksgiving? The gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of Job’s deepest longing. “Oh, that one would mediate between me and God! Oh, that God were a man! Oh, that God would lift His wrath and spare me! Oh, that I did not fear God!” Every one of Job’s sighs in verses 32-35 are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God became a man; it says in John 1:14 “The Word (meaning the Son of God, the second person of the trinity) became flesh and dwelt among us,” He walked the earth right along side us. Christ Jesus did bring us to court, though notice how the roles are reversed. Though Job asserts his innocence and God’s guilt, Jesus asserts His innocence and man’s guilt. Yet, Jesus doesn’t do this to condemn us and prove His point, He dos this so that He might take on our guilt, that He might remove God’s rod from us. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God saw it fit to pour His full wrath on Jesus, to hold nothing back. Once that penalty was paid, that wage of sin that we deserved but Jesus absorbed, all enmity between God and His people was lifted. As Paul writes in Romans 5 “While we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:8). Paul’s conclusion? “We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). John puts it this way in 1 John 4 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Believer, if you are in Christ, there is no fear. Jesus has become your mediator. He has laid His hand on you and declared you innocent. He has removed all fear of condemnation and judgement from God. Hebrews 4:14-16 says this “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). No more fear. We draw near with confidence the throne of grace and receive mercy.
In the face of unfathomable suffering, in the midst of discontentment or busyness, even in the midst of happiness and laughter. No matter how much or little you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving—no matter how short or long your list of things is on your turkey feather—this gospel news is the reason to give thanks. I don’t know if the book of Job would be any shorter if Job had known this gospel reality. His circumstances would have still been disastrous. His friends may have still been fickle. As any Christian who endures long periods of suffering can attest to, one still cries out to the Lord with hard questions and bitter tears. But the gospel assures us that we call out to one who has drawn near—one who comes and sits in sackcloth and ashes beside us, and one who promises to make all things right. That news makes all the difference.
This news that Job now accepts, this Jesus who he is now in the presence of, is the answer to his desperate pleas—and ours. Christ is worthy of our thanks.