Meditations in Job : 45. What hope
Job 17:15 where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?
Life is sometimes a battle. At the time of writing this particular meditation I am aware of a friend who is battling with negative thoughts that threaten to destroy him. I am particularly aware of him at this moment as I read the next portion of Job. Job is struggling. He’s just been having some remarkable revelations, coming to some remarkable understanding, but the pressure of physical stress and the mental stress of the browbeating nature of his ‘friends, threatens to overwhelm him and squeeze out of his mind any remnant of these thoughts of a friend in heaven. That’s what it’s like when we get in a major spiritual battle. We seek to take hold of the truth and declare it, hold on to it and live by it, but the shear pressure of immediate circumstances almost crushes us. Jesus knew this experience on the Cross: “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isa 53:5). For him also it was a double pressure: the awful physical anguish caused by the cross, and the mental and spiritual anguish as the powers of darkness railed against him (see Psa 22:12-) so much so that he declares prophetically in that psalm, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.” (Psa 22:14) Jesus knew what Job was going through!
In these verses he first of all turns back to the friends who are almost taunting him: “But come on, all of you, try again! I will not find a wise man among you.” (v.10) It’s as if he taunts them back, as if to say, Come on, is that all you can do, have another go! He ponders on what they have got to attack: “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” (v.11) It’s as if he says, Come on guys, whatever have you got to shoot at? My life has gone, my plans no longer exist, and any desires I might have had are past history! I’ve nothing left for you to have a go at!
He continues about what they do: “These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, `Light is near.’” (v.12) i.e. they twist the truth! He goes on, “If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness, if I say to corruption, `You are my father,’ and to the worm, `My mother’ or `My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?” (v.13-15). In other words, he looks death in the face and says, if death is all I have left, what hope have I? Now to get the full significance of that we have to observe that there is likely to be a footnote in your Bible next to the word ‘death’ that indicates that it really means Sheol, or the underworld. The belief in such an underworld is a belief without hope. Who wants to end up in such a gloomy place? That is no hope you want to cling to for the future. Bear in mind all of his positive revelations earlier on here about a friend in heaven speaking up with him and perhaps one day seeing him. That suggests a hope of entry to heaven; thus this present wondering is in fact a writing off of the belief in Sheol. It is as if he implies there has got to be something better!
For us today of course, we see the fuller revelation of Scripture and realize that our hope is in heaven, because of what Jesus has done for us. Job speculates: “Will it go down to the gates of death? Will we descend together into the dust?” (v.16). It may be very easy for us today with the revelation of the New Testament to be assured of heaven, but before Jesus came, that was not clear. The ‘it’ in this last verse is of course hope, we see as we reread the earlier verses. Is the only hope we have to go down to some netherworld? Philip Pullman, author of the children’s ‘Dark Materials’ novels, ends the last of the trilogy with the two children going down into the land of death where there are just ghostly figures, the ghosts of those who have died. Pullman’s answer to this dark world is to get the boy hero to cut an opening into an alternate universe and let the ghosts out where they turn to dust and get absorbed into that world. Another non-existence in another guise, but that is all an atheist is left with.
Other world religions have a variety of ‘after-this-life’ experiences but none matches the certainty that is revealed through Jesus Christ of a new world of utter goodness and blessing in the presence of God, where we still have personalities and are clearly beings with self-consciousness and self-awareness.
It is a measure of a person’s world view to see what hope they have after this world. It is a good question, what hope do YOU have? For many there is a blithe and naïve, well it will probably all work out all right. On what grounds do you believe that? No, that is blind faith and blind faith goes nowhere. Of course there are a lot of people who say there is nothing after we die, but that actually flies in the face of so much evidence. The world view that says we come back in another form, dependant on how good we were in this world, would scare the life out of me if I believed it. How could I ever know I had lived a sufficiently good life to merit even coming back in this life, let alone coming back as something better? No that is seriously scary in its uncertainty!
The promise that arises again and again in the New Testament is of eternal life that starts at the moment you come to Jesus Christ looking for the salvation that only he can bring. Because it is ETERNAL it obviously has no ending and so when we die we simply go on in a spiritual form into the existence we call heaven, in the wonderful presence of God. We continue on there, not because of our efforts, not because we go to church, not because we are good, but simply because we surrender our old life to God and receive this new life that God offers us because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross at Calvary nearly two thousand years ago. Simple, wonderful and true!