At The Gospel Coalition Bill Kynes from the EFCA’s Cornerstone church in the Washington, D.C. area wrote about the Book of Job and offered some unique insight. While Bill offered some different ways to think about Job there are still some challenges that exist for those who can be skeptical to the teaching of Job.
“Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons.”
10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil[b] that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money[c] and a ring of gold.
Job 42: 10-11 ESV
I don’t go to church much anymore especially after some of the experiences that I have had. But from time to time I will venture out and sit in the back and just listen. Its funny I saw this article by Bill Kynes at The Gospel Coalition and put it aside to write and reflect upon. This morning I decided last minute to sit through his service at Cornerstone in Annandale, Virginia. So I find it interesting that this is the next item to write upon in my growing pile. You can read the article called, “5 Ways to Rewardingly Read the Book of Job.”
Who is Bill Kynes?
Bill Kynes is the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free here in the Washington, D.C. area. Bill grew up in Tampa, Florida and attended H.B. Plant High School where he played football and was recognized for being one of the top high school and scholar athletes. At the University of Florida he majored in philosophy and played quarterback for the Gators. You can see his stats in the 1975 and 1976 season in this page here. Bill was later inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. After Florida Bill attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar where he earned a a M.A. in theology. Through hard work he earned a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside Chicago. Then he returned to England to study New Testement at Cambridge where he picked up his Ph.D.
Bill started teaching at Cornerstone in 1986, and in 1997 until 1999 he served as an adjunct professor in New Testament for Trinity’s extension program in Washington, D.C. Bill is active in the Eastern District of the EFCA. I wrote about the Eastern District in “Analysis of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America” and “Analyzing the Growth of Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism in the Evangelical Free Church of America: The Eastern District.” Along with Greg Strand he edited, “Evangelical Convictions” which was published in 2011. Again with Greg in 2014 he edited, “Gospel Truths: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada.” Then in 2015 he published “7 Pressing Questions – Addressing Critical Challenges to the Christian Faith.” Bill has also published in several journals to include The Journal of Theological Studies, Trinity Journal, and The Journal of Evangelical Theological Society. In addition the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone serves as a Senior Fellow at the C.S. Lewis institute as well as the board of Trinity. Finally Bill is married and a the father of four sons and due to his love to football also helps coach quarterbacks in the athletic program at Annandale High School. When it comes to The Gospel Coalition Bill serves on the council.
Evangelical Christianity Can Be Exceptionally Cruel
Before I start to analyze Bill Kynes article at The Gospel Coalition let me spend some time reflecting on the issue of suffering and evangelicalism. Its my experience that evangelicalism can be the worst place to experience suffering. On one side evangelicalism can be more of a rah-rah approach to faith and Jesus where suffering can be interpreted as a result of sin or people just don’t know what to say. In talking with a few people in writing this blog I have heard an occasional story about how their church of faith community responded negatively toward them. I guess that is what happens when you have a system that has no lament and and influenced by the prosperity gospel. With the Calvinists this dynamic changes but it also introduces new problems. Some of the stuff coming out of Desiring God about preparing for suffering are in my opinion quite foolish. How do you prepare parents for their daughter being killed by a drunk driver? How do you prepare someone who was affected by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? In both of those situations I would argue that you can’t. Yet either John Piper, Marshall Segal or others at Desiring God crank out articles that are often out of touch and reveals the bubble they live in. Another factor is that in Calvinism some seem to be drawn more to suffering and almost use it as a means to show off their faith. For me this seems warped. I know some have made the claim that Calvinism is the Islamization of Christianity. And that makes suffering worse in its own way. But Bill Kynes offers a take that I will comment on below. My comments will be in red.
We believe all Scripture is God-breathed, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16–17). But some books in the Bible present us with more difficulties than others.
To read Job well, you need to be prepared, for it is, in many ways, a difficult book.
In starting off let me say that I appreciate the admission about Job being difficult. Its also refreshing to hear something that is not black and white. To imply that it is complex is something about Job that needs to be said.
Job Is a Hard Book
Job is hard because it deals with a hard subject—suffering. And Job suffers terribly. His wealth, children, and health—not to mention his status in the community—are all violently snatched away. This is gut-wrenching stuff, not for the faint of heart.
Job is hard because it doesn’t necessarily give us the answers we want. We want to know why good and godly people suffer, and the book leaves that question entirely unaddressed. In fact, God’s own role in Job’s calamity is nothing but disconcerting.
Job in my opinion is a book that is oversold and used poorly. Phrases like “I don’t know” are often missing from many evangelicals vocabulary. A number feel insecure and when it comes to the Bible have to defend it repeatedly. This insecurity by many evangelicals to be critical of a book like Job kills any discussion with outsiders to the faith and those who are in a different state of mind. Job and indeed the Bible I would suggest does not have all the answers for life today. The Bible is oversold and in the process its limitations are shown. I appreciate Bill Kynes mentioning some of these themes in his article.
Job is hard because much of the book is in the words of Job’s friends, whom God will ultimately declare wrong in their speech. So how are you supposed to know what to believe? And, if you’re attempting to preach from the book, how can you build a sermon on their mistaken opinions?
Job’s friends in many ways remind me of the evangelical church. The evangelical church can do some heartless and difficult things in life when a person is suffering. While Job’s friends show the importance of sensitivity they are in the end rebuked. Yet in evangelicalism how often does this happen? When someone says or does the wrong thing how often does the evangelical church challenge them in a healthy way? Quite simply that just does not happen.
And what about Job himself? In the seemingly endless dialogues, Job’s way of talking to God seems more petulant than patient. He argues with God and complains about his situation. The book seems to be one long lament. Aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful all the time?
This comment by Bill Kynes is deeply insightful. One of the reason why evangelicalism is so toxic is because it lacks lament. You are no allowed a safe place to mourn or grieve or even ask why? One of the only Christian writers that I respect is Philip Yancey and he makes this claim in a couple of his books about suffering and loss. As I alluded to above many evangelicals always have to have a rah rah approach to God. How can you be disappointed with God or even ask why when that expectation of joy or excitement is the constant theme?
Job is also hard because 95 percent of the book is poetry. Poetic literature requires great sensitivity to the art of metaphor and simile, as well as to the subtle nuances of the various forms of Hebrew parallelism. Our ability to appreciate these features becomes all the more challenging when crossing the vast cultural distance that separates us from the book’s author.
I don’t have the knowledge in this area to comment on this point.
And Job is hard simply because it’s a long book with 42 chapters. And most of those chapters are both repetitive and downright depressing, with Job and his friends going on and on, arguing with one another, neither side giving an inch. It’s been said, “The traditional phrase, ‘the patience of Job,’ might better be [stated] as ‘the patience of the reader of Job.’” Maybe there’s truth to that.
Job as a book is long but when I think of seasons of suffering or pain those tend to be long to. Being in a hospital environment off and on for four months is draining. Watching my father deal with a brain tumor for 12 months and to see him decline to the point where I had to help him dress and more was also draining emotionally. On Twitter recently there was a discussion about grief and loss. A New York comedian spoke about how he still grieves the loss of his son form ten years previously. Loss has a lot of long term implications. The Washington Post wrote about this topic and I reflected on that as well in, “A Remarkable Article in The Washington Post on the Life Long Grief Process as Told on Twitter by a New York Comedian Michael Cruz Kayne.”
How to Read Job with Profit
Reading Job is hard, but it can be immensely rewarding. Here are five pointers to help you mine its rich treasures.
1. Appreciate the book’s literary form.
Job’s opening and closing narrative sections provide a framework, but the heart of the book is its poetic core. Job isn’t a detached philosophical treatise on the nature of suffering; it’s much more about the real experience of actual suffering, and what that means for one’s relationship with God.
The fact that it speaks in poetry rather than prose indicates that it’s meant to touch our hearts as well as our heads. Its poetic form reflects the emotional turmoil that Job experiences. And to appreciate its message, the reader must somehow enter into that emotion. You can’t read this book dispassionately and expect to receive what it has to offer.
You must allow yourself to feel something of what Job feels, as uncomfortable as that may be.
Hearing Joe described in a poetic form is unique. I have heard Job preached in different contexts but I can’t recall that being one of them. For me that offers a new way to contemplate Job.
2. Don’t rush through Job.
Job is 42 chapters long for a reason.
The emotional turmoil of pain and grief is long. There are no easy answers; no quick fixes. Healing takes time. And the extensive dialogue between Job and his friends, with its conflict and confusion, mimics the experience of real suffering. The book offers no clear answers to Job’s questions, which is what sufferers often experience in their pain. The book itself presents a picture of human experience in a fallen world, in which answers to these questions elude us, and we’re forced simply to trust God.
The book invites the reader into a long journey, and in that process our lives may be shaken up but ultimately transformed.
I feel like I am becoming like a broken record in saying this but pain and suffering can be long. Suffering can be emotionally draining. I recall dealing with my Mom’s illness and standing in the hospital room after briefing the nurse on my Mom’s medical developments and medicines. It was crazy as I felt like I had become a medical case worker. But I also had to think on my feet and discuss decisions with family or medical personnel. One change to medicine solved one problem but brought another. Then you would change the medicine again and it solved that problem but the old one came back. There were no easy quick fixes. And while the book could be used to describe the human condition the flaw I would suggest is to walk away with this simple notion of trusting God. There are no easy answers to pain and suffering but why must trusting in God blindly be one of them? And if the purpose of suffering is to transform people then why worship such a God that allows suffering to occur? Is that what cancer or child sex abuse about? A trial for yourself to be transformed? Why does a God like that deserve worship?
3. Read Job with an eye to its dramatic character.
Consider the function of the discourse on wisdom in Job 28 in the flow of the story. Could it be an interlude that the narrator provides before the final section? And why is the mysterious Elihu introduced suddenly in Job 32 after Job’s final speech? What clues does the author give as to how we are to judge Elihu’s role in the book?
This book is a masterpiece of dramatic art. Allow its composition to contribute to its message.
Not a lot to say about this section.
4. Read Job’s words sympathetically.
Job initially responds piously to his trial in words we’d all admire (Job 1:21; 2:10). But then his loss sinks in, and his words of lament and complaint quickly erupt like a torrent. The initial flash of light that Job experiences fades, and a deep darkness descends—a dark night of the soul.
Job’s protestations aren’t cool philosophical reflections; they’re the white-hot outbursts of one caught in a raging river of pain and sorrow. Recognize that though Job speaks harshly, he continues to seek God. More than anything else, he wants to confront God. He’s more concerned with a relationship than with answers.
And in the end, Job is commended by God. He perseveres in his faith (see James 5:11).
For me the important aspect is to ask questions. What good is a one sided relationship? Its funny but when I read what Bill Kynes has written about a person speaking harshly in that he is also pursuing God, Bill gets what 98% of evangelicals do not I would suggest. Those that act harshly, those who are skeptic or doubting and sometimes some people in pain are searching. When I had my faith crisis from 2009 until 2013 I was very abrasive and harsh with people. Part of that was the influence of Christopher Hitchens who challenged people to bait and clash with Christians. Other times it was out of anger with God. I recall one time in that faith crisis standing in my apartment at 2:00 in the morning trying to invoke the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and screaming at God to fuck off. Today I wonder what the neighbors thought of me. Those outbursts came from a period of pain and confusion.
5. Wrestle personally with the questions Job raises.
Do you worship God just for the benefits, or do you see God as worthy of worship simply because of who he is?
Let God’s revelation in the closing chapters challenge you with the central question of the book: can I trust God’s wisdom in running his world more than my own?
I think most people are afraid to wrestle with God. My take is that many Christians are lazy when it comes to critical thinking skills. They do not want to put in the hard work or wrestling with God over doubts, or the problem of pain. People want to be given answers they don’t want to wrestle with and ask that hard questions.
Unsettled Yet Secure
Yes, reading Job may unsettle you.
But it can also raise your eyes to God’s glory amid the mysteries of life in this world, teach you sympathy for those who suffer, and prepare you to face affliction with faith.
The Cruelest Part of Job is Chapter 42
There is one aspect to the Book of Job that is seldom addressed in my view that makes the story problematic. It also reveals the problem in taking the Bible literally. In the 42 chapter of Job it talks about how Job had his life restored and received more blessing as part of it. The book actually looks at all the animals that Job had and how they grew in abundance. From my perspective the message is that by persevering you will be rewarded by God. And that is seldom the case if at all for those who have experienced pain and loss. Often times they are still left grieving and mourning and dealing with the loss. . Take the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Yes the World Trade Center was rebuilt but the 3,000 people who died in 1 and 2 World Trade are gone forever. I buried my parents after watching them suffer and die in the hospital. Even as I type this I can still hear my Mom’s tearful cries in pain as medical staff changed her fentanyl patches. Their funerals will not be undone. The truth is that most people who go through profound loss will have to live with that loss. That is what makes the end of Job so cruel. Because the book is then turned back on the person. If only you had the faith of Job then you would have emerged in a way with much more blessings. The end of Job for me is an advertisement for the prosperity gospel when you stop and think about it. In the end the tables are turned on the person. And is that what a person who has experienced pain and loss need? A guilt trip? For me this highlights why the Bible at times can not be taken literally. There are flaws inside the Bible, the end of the Job is one of them.