I’ve spoken at more conferences than I can remember, and one of the highlights of these events is the book signing wherein attendees visit with the conference speakers and the speakers sign their books. These signings are a privilege because they give the speaker a glimpse at the impact his words have had on people. I’ve talked to seminarians, grandmothers, businessmen, and just about anyone else you can think of during these signings. On occasion, children have even given me pictures that they drew for me.
As enjoyable as these signings can be, there’s one phenomenon I haven’t been able to get used to fully, and that’s the request to sign one book that I didn’t write—the Bible. I’m happy to do it, however, and often the people who want me to sign their Bible ask me for my life’s verse. The first time someone asked me for such a verse, I was perplexed. “What’s a life verse?” I asked, never having heard of this tradition whereby people pick one verse from the Bible to base their lives upon. In any case, I chose Romans 12:12 the first time I was asked to provide a life verse during a book signing. This verse features one of Paul’s great summaries of the Christian life: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
When I think of what it means to be patient in tribulation, to be constant in prayer, and to find joy in our hope that lies ahead, I think of one person who embodies that triad of virtues more than almost anyone else in history. I’m talking about the most famous patient man of all time—Job. If ever a man was called upon to hang on to his faith and his devotion to God in the midst of travail, it was Job.
I’m sure we all know Job’s story well. It opens with a little glimpse into heaven. Satan challenged God and asserted with a perverse kind of glee that humanity had rebelled against its Creator and no longer stood on His side. The Lord responded by putting forth Job as an example of one man who still loved and served Him. But Satan countered that Job served God only because of what he could get from such service, so the Lord put Job to the test to show the Accuser that he was wrong. What happened was that Satan attacked Job more violently than he did anyone else in the history of the world except for Jesus.
To make matters worse, Job then had to deal with three “friends” who told him that he suffered because of his own sin. But Job patiently and repeatedly asserted his innocence, demanding to know the reasons for his suffering since he was a righteous man who hadn’t done anything to deserve such pain.
Job wasn’t patient in the sense that he had a plastic smile on his face and whistled through all of his misery and affliction. Instead, Job was patient in the sense that he did two things: he hung on and he refused to curse God. Job definitely complained—loudly—and he challenged God, asking Him many questions. But unlike his “friends,” Job always spoke rightly about God (Job 42:8). Moreover, in the midst of all his suffering, Job made what I believe is one of the most heroic statements a human being ever uttered. In the midst of abject misery he cried out, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).
Scripture says the just shall live by faith, which doesn’t mean believing something when you’re not sure if it’s true. It means that the just shall live by trusting God. Paul distills the essence of the Christian life when he says, “Rejoice in your hope,” since our joy is vested in the future that God promises for His people. Our joy as strangers and sojourners in this valley of tears is that God has prepared a place for us—a better world that will be consummated at Christ’s return.
Paul’s use of the word hope isn’t the way we use the term today to refer to things that are uncertain. He and the other biblical authors talk about hope that is certain, hope that cannot fail, and hope that will never disappoint or embarrass you (Rom. 5:5). The New Testament calls hope the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:13–20). Why? What is it that makes it certain? The answer is God’s sure promises and the demonstration of His faithfulness in the history of Israel, in the lives of the Apostles, and, most clearly, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Job had very little joy, but there was still a part of his spirit that rejoiced in the midst of his tribulation. Elsewhere he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and I will see Him standing on that day.” He knew that there is One who would vindicate his prayers, who would restore him some day. The exact details of the vindication he had in mind is up for speculation, for he lived long before the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ. But we do know that Job was certain of one thing, namely, that God would not allow his pain, suffering, and affliction to be the last chapter. Job groaned in the present, but he never lost his confidence in the future.