Patience of Job
We’ve all heard of the patience of Job.
Book of James called it to our attention in the West when King James translated it that way in 1611. But the word that James originally used primarily means endurance that is at least a bit stoic if not cheerful; when he means patience, he uses a different word. Question is, how cheerful or patient was Job?
To refresh, Job was a righteous, blameless, and incredibly wealthy man with a large family who, for no reason known to him, is stripped of everything he owns and loves including his children and his health. His wife tells him to curse God and die, but though his heart is broken, his integrity is not. He curses his birth, but not God. Three friends come to comfort him, but end up only debating, maintaining that Job must have done something secretly wrong to have earned such punishment.
As their arguments escalate, Job grows increasingly angry, sarcastic, biting as he verbally attacks them, shifting his focus to God, complaining, criticizing, even berating God for targeting him and letting the wicked continue to prosper. He feels and says everything we’d imagine he would, everything we ourselves would and have at times of our own greatest loss.
When God finally speaks to Job, it’s from a whirlwind—the power, mystery, uncontrolled chaos and uncertainty of everything we can’t understand. In breathtaking poetry, God never addresses Job directly, neither explains Job’s suffering or defends his own justice. He doesn’t respond to Job’s plea of innocence or enter into debate. There is no debate. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Life can only be accepted as it is, not explained or understood.
When Job replies, it is in full submission. But more than that, it’s in full release of his illusion of control—being righteous, pledging allegiance to God, assuming he knows how life works. Accepting what the moment brings is his first step toward trusting what he may never understand.
Job had to travel kicking and screaming through pain and loss, through his own impatience to anything that would look like patience to James. Or King James. Or us.