Your Words Are Written

jobLeaf by Niggle

Here’s a follow-up on Job and work. Last time I compared Salieri (drawing on an illustration from Tim Keller’s book on work) to Job. I made the point that God uses our toil and frustration for his own purposes, even though we can’t always see how. Job’s suffering had an important purpose – to vindicate the goodness of God before all cosmic witnesses – but he was never permitted to know that purpose. I would add that while Job was probably not a real person, it’s difficult to avoid feeling that the inclusion of this story in scripture becomes, somehow, an extension of that purpose. The very line between fiction and nonfiction is blurred, and the sufferings of a fictional person gain meaning beyond anything he could have imagined, for they reach into the real world and establish a witness for God in time-space history.

This morning I stumbled across this passage in Job 19 (verses 23-27):

Oh that my words were written!

Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

Oh that with an iron pen and lead

they were engraved in the rock forever!

For I know that my redeemer lives,

and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

yet in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see for myself,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

My heart faints within me!

For centuries, Christians have marveled at this ancient proclamation of the gospel – not only the redeemer-mediator, but a redeemer-mediator who is both human and transhuman (he is transhuman because he “lives” even though he is not in the flesh, yet he is human because in his time he will come in the flesh) and a personal, bodily resurrection and restoration to face-to-face fellowship with God.

But what caught my attention today is the first part of the passage:

Oh that my words were written!

Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

Oh that with an iron pen and lead

they were engraved in the rock forever!

The editors of my Reformation Study Bible comment: “Job has an important message that he wants permanently inscribed for posterity. Through the inspiration of the Spirit his words are preserved for all time in the Bible (c.f. Mark 14:9).”

Think of that! Job, in crisis and perishing, cries out for the opportunity to write down the gospel somewhere where it can’t be erased. He survives his ordeal, lives the rest of his life and dies without knowing why God inflicted such sufferings on him. Though he is restored to health and wealth, and (more importantly) repents of his doubts about God’s faithfulness, he never learns the true purpose of his suffering: Through the very torture of his flesh and spirit, he was at that very moment engraving the gospel into a rock that can never wear away.

In his book, Keller draws on J.R.R. Tolkein’s story “Leaf by Niggle,” where an artist is frustrated in his desire to bring his artistic vision to fruition. When he reaches heaven, he finds that the tree he had been trying to paint is there. Keller tells us that through the toil and frustration of our work, we should remember: “There is a tree.” I’m leading a book group at my church through Keller’s book, and that statement has resonated with some of the people in our group more than anything else. We keep coming back to it – “there is a tree.”

There’s a tree for Job, too, and for us.

Tree image by Alan Lee

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