The Stark Contrast of Two Suffering Saints

25 “My days are swifter than a runner;
    they flee away; they see no good.
26 They go by like skiffs of reed,
    like an eagle swooping on the prey.
27 If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’
28 I become afraid of all my suffering,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 I shall be condemned;
    why then do I labor in vain?
30 If I wash myself with snow
    and cleanse my hands with lye,
31 yet you will plunge me into a pit,
    and my own clothes will abhor me.
32 For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
    that we should come to trial together.
33 There is no arbiter between us,
    who might lay his hand on us both.
34 Let him take his rod away from me,
    and let not dread of him terrify me.
35 Then I would speak without fear of him,
    for I am not so in myself.– Job 9:25-35 ESV

Job has reached the end of his rope. His persistent pain and sorrow have left him in a hopeless state with no sign of relief in sight. He can’t imagine a brighter tomorrow or any hope of a reversal of his misfortunes. The days come and go, “swifter than a runner” (Job 9:25 ESV), and leave Job in an increasingly more depressed and defeated state. To make matters worse, Job has determined that God is behind it all, and he believes there is nothing he can do about it.

“If I decided to forget my complaints,
    to put away my sad face and be cheerful,
I would still dread all the pain,
    for I know you will not find me innocent, O God.
Whatever happens, I will be found guilty. – Job 9:27-29 NLT

Even if Job could force himself to put on a happy face, he doesn’t believe his lot in life will change. A forced smile won’t change anything unless God is willing to pronounce him innocent, and Job doesn’t think that is going to happen. For whatever reason, Job has convinced himself that God is against him. His unresolved circumstances have forced him to conclude that the Creator of the universe has it in for him, and Job feels ill-equipped to defend himself before such an august and powerful judge. The die has been cast, the verdict has been determined, and there is nothing Job can do to alter the pre-ordained outcome of an omnipotent God. But is he right, or is there a chance that Job has misjudged the Judge of the universe?

Job pessimistically states, “Whatever happens, I will be found guilty. So what’s the use of trying?” (Job 9:29 NLT). Even if he could find someone to mediate his case before God, Job doesn’t believe the outcome will be any different. He can try to clean up his act, improve his disposition, and put on a happy face, but he honestly believes that God will not relent or renounce His guilty verdict.

Job’s sorrowful state and gloomy outlook are not unique to him. There are countless others who have reached similar conclusions when faced with comparable circumstances. It was King David who wrote:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. – Psalm 22:1-2 NLT

In a similar fashion, Heman the Ezrahite declared his dissatisfaction with God.

O Lord, God of my salvation,
    I cry out to you by day.
    I come to you at night.
Now hear my prayer;
    listen to my cry.
For my life is full of troubles,
    and death draws near.
I am as good as dead,
    like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
    and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
    cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
    into the darkest depths.
Your anger weighs me down;
    with wave after wave you have engulfed me. – Psalm 88:1-7 NLT

Heman went on to accuse God of driving away all his friends, placing him in an inescapable trap, and repeatedly rejecting him. He found himself in a place of utter darkness and despair and could not understand why God would not respond to his cries for mercy and help. At no point in Heman’s psalm does he acknowledge the goodness and grace of God. But King David is different.

David’s grief is just as palpable and his despair is unrelenting and virtually unresolvable. Yet, he manages to catch glimpses of the goodness of God amid all the sorrow and pain. He is able to look back on his life and remember the many times that God had poured out His undeserved blessings.

Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb
    and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast.
I was thrust into your arms at my birth.
    You have been my God from the moment I was born. – Psalm 22:9-10 NLT

David understood his birth to be a gift from God. He had been raised by a godly mother who introduced him to Yahweh at an early age and, for that, David was grateful. His pain was real and his sense of despair and desperation was great, but David remained persistent in his belief that God would hear and deliver him.

O Lord, do not stay far away!
    You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
Save me from the sword;
    spare my precious life from these dogs.
Snatch me from the lion’s jaws
    and from the horns of these wild oxen. – Psalm 22:19-21 NLT

David doesn’t declare his innocence or accuse God of injustice. He simply appeals to God’s mercy and grace, and he promises to praise God among the assembly when deliverance inevitably comes.

I will praise you in the great assembly.
    I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. – Psalm 22:25 NLT

Though David’s suffering was no less intense than that of Job and Heman, his outlook on God was markedly different. His pain was just as real and his despair was just as intense, but he remained hopeful. He maintained His trust in the goodness of God. Even with all that was going on in his life, he was able to speak in optimistic and hopeful terms regarding God.

Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!
    Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
    Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.
    He has not turned his back on them,
    but has listened to their cries for help. – Psalm 22:23-24 NLT

David was down but not defeated. He was suffering but was still willing to find solace in the goodness of God. He was able to maintain a hint of optimism in the midst of all the sorrow because he believed that God would ultimately deliver him. He maintained a strong belief in the faithfulness of God, so he would continue to cry out and wait for God’s deliverance. David had full assurance that God hears the cries of His children and responds, and it was that belief in God’s goodness that prompted David to write: “His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done” (Psalm 22:31 NLT).

Job will end up saying something that gives the impression of faith but it is actually a declaration of resignation.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him. – Job 13:15 NLT

For Job, God was a last resort. He firmly believed that God might strike him dead, but he was willing to take that risk in order to defend his innocence. There is a stark difference between the theology of Job and that of David. One viewed God as his only source of hope and his ultimate executioner. The other viewed God as honorable, worthy of worship, and the ultimate source of his deliverance. David was down but not out. He was in despair but had not lost his faith in God. He cried out to God for help and promised to shout His praises when deliverance came.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.