First, a reminder about what we have already heard.
Job is introduced to us as a righteous man. The Bible calls him “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). Job surely wasn’t perfect. But Job was pretty darn good, certainly not deserving of great suffering.
Unfortunately, great suffering is what Job got. Job lost his enormous wealth. Job’s children died. Job’s health gave way.
Three friends come to console Job. After they all sit in silence for a while, Job begins to complain about his suffering and how unfair it is. Job insists that he has nothing to deserve his terrible fate.
Job’s friends are skeptical. They say that God would not allow a man to suffer unjustly. They say that Job must have done something to deserve his misfortunes. They say Job should repent and hope that God will forgive him.
Job says they are wrong. Job says again that he is innocent. Finally, as we heard in our reading last week, Job appeals to God for a hearing.
Today we get God’s answer, and it is not what Job expected. “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man. I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding?’” And on it goes, for four chapters, 129 verses. I counted!
In all this, God does not actually answer Job’s question. At no point does God explain why Job has suffered. Instead God reminds Job over and over again of just how big God is and just how small Job is.
These are some of the most impressive chapters in the entire Bible. But we may well wonder how they help Job.
I was pondering that question this week. And I found an answer in a surprising place, in a book by Ray Hinton, a man who spent nearly thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Like Job, Ray was bitter—understandably so—at the injustice of his suffering. Ray renounced his faith in God, and Ray refused to speak to anyone in the prison for three years.
Then one night, Ray heard another prisoner sobbing. The man’s mother had just died. Ray was close to his own mother, and somehow this man’s grief moved Ray to compassion. Ray spoke to the man. Ray found out that the man’s name was Henry, and Ray offered Henry what comfort he could.
That was a grace moment for Ray. And now the grace was flowing, even there on death row.
Over the remaining decades of his unjust imprisonment, Ray continued to wrestle with bitterness and anger and despair, of course. But grace kept flowing, and Ray largely succeeded in his fight against his own negative emotions.
One day Ray, who was Black, learned that Henry was a member of the KKK. Ray learned that Henry was in prison for having lynched a random Black man, someone he and his gang picked up off the street for no reason other than his race. Ray could have been that man.
Grace was still flowing. Ray confronted Henry about what he had done. But Ray continued to love and support Henry, too.
Grace kept flowing. Ray was an agent of grace for Henry. And from Ray, Henry learned about the power of forgiveness and grace and compassion and love. When he had the chance, Henry confronted his father, also a member of the KKK, about the evil of racism. Henry told his father that Ray was his best friend, that Ray was helping Henry to become a better man. Before his execution, Henry’s last words to Ray were, “I love you.”
As Ray said in his book, “Death row had been good for Henry. Death row had saved his soul. Death row had taught him that his hate was wrong” (153).
Somehow, God’s grace had worked its magic even on death row. And it all started when Ray first looked past his own suffering to see the suffering of another human being. In that moment, Ray showed grace to Henry, and experienced grace himself.
That grace is the clue that shows us how God’s seemingly harsh words to Job could help to heal him.
I think of Ray as a modern day Job. Like Job, Ray suffered enormously. Like Job, Ray was upset not only at what was happening to him, but also at the injustice of it all.
Both Job and Ray wanted to understand why they experienced the things they experienced. Neither ever got a truly satisfying answer. Unfortunately, that is sometimes true for us too.
But the real question is not why we suffer. The real question for Job, the real question for Ray, the real question for us, is, how are we going to live in the midst of whatever suffering comes our way?
One option is to turn inward. During his long argument with his friends, Job was focused on his own suffering. Job became increasingly bitter and hostile as the book goes on. It is easy to understand why. Job had good reason for bitterness. But Job’s bitterness was eating away at his soul. Job’s bitterness would eventually have killed him.
Ray was in exactly the same spot during his first three years in prison. Ray was angry and bitter. Ray cut himself off from the people around him. Ray cut himself off from God. And again, it is easy to understand why. Ray had plenty of reason for his bitterness. But bitterness was killing Ray.
Job and Ray were trapped in their bitterness and despair. In that dark place, they both needed something to shock them out of their obsessive focus on the wrongs done to them, real though the wrongs were.
Henry’s weeping was the shock treatment Ray needed. Henry’s suffering helped Ray to see beyond his own suffering. In his effort to help Henry, Ray found grace for himself, too. God made that happen.
God’s words to Job, harsh as they may seem, were the same kind of shock treatment. God refused to let Job wallow in his own suffering. God forced Job to look beyond his personal pain to see the magnificence of creation. God forced Job to see God’s own glory. And by forcing Job to stop looking only at his own pain, God broke Job out of the prison of his self-obsession.
There are no easy answers to the question of human suffering.
But Job and Ray both learn, in their different ways, to live despite their suffering. Job and Ray both learn to stop obsessing on their own suffering and to see the bigger picture. That is the only way to true freedom.
God invites us to the same paradoxical freedom. The paradox at the heart of our faith is that we find our lives only when we are willing to lose them. We experience grace and love only when we are able to share them. That we can always do, with God’s help, no matter what we are experiencing. And that is Christian freedom.
 Anthony Ray Hinton, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, 2018.