The Job Assignment: A Gentle Proposal for Those Hurt by Others (Even the Church)

23 August 2023

I hurt myself today 

To see if I still feel 

I focus on the pain 

The only thing that’s real 

Hurt is everywhere. We feel the hurt caused to us. We fear the hurt caused by us. And we hurt ourselves as we rehearse the pain again and again. The Book of Job focuses our attention on a man who’s hurting. In the aftermath of trauma and spiritual anguish, Job’s friends come along and they make his pain even worse. Job tells them, “You’re all miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). Job not only gets hurt by his three friends, but the wider community (Job 30:1-14). Instead of encouragement, he received mockery. Instead of comfort, he got affliction.

Though the primary purpose of Job is theological, rather than therapeutic, it is still a book that offers much wisdom for wading through relational pain. As I reflected on the message of Job, I couldn’t help but think about the sad reality of “Church Hurt.” Though some would shift blame to the church and absolve themselves in all matters; and though some deny that they as individuals can cause hurt to a church; a glaring reality still exists: a church can cause hurt; pastors get it wrong; and in the process, our words and deeds can speak what is not true about God. This creates a mess of horizontal disappointment and dysfunction. 

These experiences can leave us feeling resigned to our hurt, often carrying it around and imposing it upon future relationships. We think that time is a healer, but the phantom pain returns and we learn that we’re not as healed as we thought. 

What can a hurt person do? How can you become someone who’s not a casualty to resentment? How can you stand tall and say “In God I trust…What can a mere mortal do to me?” Get your job assignment from the Book of Job. At the end of the book, we read: 

After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Then my servant Job will pray for you. I will surely accept his prayer and not deal with you as your folly deserves. For you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” Then Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. (Job 42:7-9)

First, Look to God. 

Though the battle is waged horizontally, it can only be won vertically. Job needed the voice of God to speak into his pain. Job needed his experience no longer to be footnoted with reports about God, but to be re-read and re-interpreted by a greater experience, of “now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Looking to God helps us take stock of ourselves. It humbles us into a place of honest self-reflection. This positions us to operate from an encounter with God, which saves us from the need to vindicate ourselves and assert ourselves over/against another. The effect of this encounter has the power to produce nothing less than a calm, differentiated, and even joyful posture in us. Encountering God’s ultimate reality helps us see that our pain isn’t “the only thing that’s real.” 

Second, think deeply about the atonement of Jesus. 

God was angry at Job’s friends. They deserved His crushing judgment. The way they hurt Job and spoke falsely about God was wrong. Yet, there’s even atonement available for them!Christians believe that Christ died for sinners, for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6-9). On the cross, Jesus’ blood made atonement not only for our pre-Christian sins, but our post-Christian sins as well (1John 1:9-10). The gut-punch is that even those who hurt us qualify for God’s atonement program. There is power in the blood. This actually heightens our awareness of how seriously God takes the sins done against us. He is angered. And that anger is so real that God is really merciful. Jesus is the substitute sacrifice for actual (not abstract) sins. Thinking deeply about Christ’s atonement has the ability to extinguish our anger. This, by no means, sweeps sins under the rug. Instead it sweeps them onto the cross with Jesus where real justice is served. Those who hurt us can either embrace Christ or trample His blood. In both cases, God’s judgment is enough. 

Third, pray for those who hurt you.

Job is invited into the work of a mediator; invited into the likeness of Jesus: “my servant Job will pray for you.” Instead of focusing on his rights, instead of focusing on his pain, Job shifted his focus to mercy. He prayed for his miserable comforters. Perhaps something like, “Forgive those who’ve trespassed against me.” Or, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” What a gift our hurts can be, if they make us more like our Savior! It’s been said that bitterness is the poison pill we take expecting the other person to drop dead. Prayer is the antidote that makes our bitterness die. And it just might bring the other person to life as well. Prayer re-humanizes those who’ve caused us pain. It helps us see them from God’s vantage point as a whole person, not as a two-dimensional villain. What good would Job’s vertical encounter be if it didn’t result in a horizontal encounter? As Job is invited to pray, he’s invited into healing and lightness of heart – no longer heavy with the baggage of resentment, but free. 

Lastly, let God do whatever He sees fit. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord brought restoration. It seems that things were patched up between them. We’re not told that they were “besties” from then on out. We do know that Job found comfort and community with many others (Job 42:11). The point is that whatever God wants to do, He can. “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). God can bring about radical reconciliation with those who’ve hurt us in this life or the next. It’s something that He brings about. We need only to be open-hearted and open-handed to His will and His timing. 

If I could start again, 

A million miles away

I would keep myself

I would find a way

By God’s grace, hurting people (and those who’ve caused hurt) can start again and find a way. “…And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:9). The pain isn’t the only thing that’s real. May we focus on the healing words of God and the healing work of Christ. May we pray like our Savior, and let God direct our path. 

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