Meaning of Words
A couple of days ago, I was looking through thousands of my scrapbooking paraphernalia and I came upon some clear Martha Stewart stamps that were quotes. I am a quote fanatic: I have a hardback book that is exactly 1144 pages long entitled “What They Said” which is nothing but quotes on every conceivable topic. I don’t only enjoy reading quotes from others, I enjoy creating my own. About two days before his birthday for the past 3 years, I start hand-writing 365 original thoughts or “quotes”, stress out about cutting the quotes into slips of paper and slipping them into some sort of glass container for Joe (to be honest here, though, I don’t think I’d have made this a tradition if he hadn’t had the genuinely appreciative and touched response that he did, or if he didn’t promise me he still reads one when he wakes up every morning. Still, you try writing 365 quotes with no cheating or outside help in 2 days and tell me how many you are able to write before you start thinking, “hey, haven’t I already written that?”). I love quotes. You see, I believe words are powerful. No, scratch that. I know they are. They have the power to make you believe something completely beautiful, to give you confidence or make you feel loved; they also have the power to totally destroy you and make you question and doubt absolutely everything. I’m not the only one who believes in the power of words. The Bible talks about it too.
Of course, many of us have heard the Bible’s warnings about how powerful the tongue is. Jesus said that if we were tempted to lie, it would be better for us to cut out our tongues. There are multiple passages that imply that language can be a weapon, and a powerful one. But there are stories throughout the Bible that demonstrate the same thing . Take creation, for instance. What brought the universe into existence? Well, the Bible says, God “spoke” and it happened. So words. Words created an extremely complex universe where the ground isn’t merely dirt but actually produces nutrients for both animals and man. For that matter, doesn’t John 1:1 say, ”In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”?
Can you speak and make something happen, without touching it? Can you look at a busted lightbulb, even, and say, “Change and give light” and have it happen, without changing the bulb physically? I can’t. Can you even look at the door to your house and say, “Open, Sesame” and honestly have it open? I can’t. No one can. Without going further, then, it’s a fact that words are powerful. But we can go on. Let’s take Job for a moment, since he’s on my mind.
The truth is, Job is a difficult story for me to grasp. I don’t really like thinking about him too much, to be honest with you, as there are plenty of aspects to the story that give me trouble. For one, I really don’t like the idea of God doing what initially sounds like, well, betting, with Satan, particularly when what’s being wagered is a man’s entire well-being. Although I don’t question God’s motives, and I believe that since He did it, it was something that needed to be done, I also sort of hit what my pastor, Dan Scott, describes as an “intellectual wall” when trying to figure out exactly why Job needed such a harsh lesson. Arrogance, maybe? Obviously, God thought that was an issue, because when Job finally said, “What are You doing?”, God responded by thundering back His own question, which, in essence, boiled down to this:
“Who do you think you are, questioning ME?”
So, while, at first glance, I just want to scowl, admit my severely limited capacity for understanding God and move on to a story that displays His more compassionate side, whenever I start feeling like a rotten piece of banana, I’m inevitably drawn back to the story of Job. There are multiple reasons for this. Number one, I’m struck by how much God had to have cared about and, yes, liked Job. When God pursues someone and first manages to get that person’s attention, what He’s initially after is to tell that person that h/she is loved and that God is not a figment of the imagination but is, in fact, quite real. Take an old friend of mine named Jason. I knew Jason in the ninth grade when we both attended a truly misguided and extremely painful Christian school, a school which gave even me (and I’ve got plenty of faith) a bad taste for the word “Christian.” Poor Jason, who was a self-proclaimed fifteen-year-old, hardcore atheist didn’t have a snowball’s chance. I took him on. Over lunch. In the gym. In between classes. Whenever I saw he did not have his infamous earplugs in (which he secretly used during the required Bible class), I talked to him. I felt so incredibly sorry for Jason, who I knew and could see was being hurt, not only by the kids and gossiping teachers at this school, but also by simply choosing logic over faith. He had a rational explanation for absolutely everything, and he would choose Bible stories that require faith and ask me to tell him how something like that could have even physically occurred. One day, after many discussions, I was irritated, and I said, “I don’t know how it happened, all I know is that it happened.” He gave me a skeptical look that said, “you can’t even prove your own belief”, to which I responded, “I believe because I believe the words in the Bible and because I may not be able to see God, but I feel Him. He holds my hand. For real. And the Bible says that what is holding my hand isn’t warm air or my imagination. I believe God’s words.”
Unfortunately, I never got through to Jason. But I know God was in pursuit of him and I know what He needed to do: wake that boy up in a dramatic fashion. God changes people, but first He just wants to make himself known to them. Job, on the other hand, already knew God. God didn’t have to prove Himself to Job. Instead, God had a different agenda for his servant: He needed to soften and to mold Job’s heart, not for his salvation, but for an improvement in Job’s happiness and sense of peace.
I realize reading that, the first question that will come to mind is, “how in the world could losing his children, his wife, his livelihood, even his health, bring him greater happiness or peace?” To know the answer to that question, I would have had to truly know Job. I would have had to be inside the mind and heart of a wealthy and successful but ultimately struggling Job. What I do know is that if Job had been where he needed to be, God would not have tested him thus.
God liked Job, God loved Job, enough to say, “you may be content but you’re not where you could be. I have the power to get you across this mountain that you may not even be able to see yet. And since we’re friends, I know you can withstand the journey. Hold my hand, here we go.”
And anyways, back to my original point (lest you think I forgot it), all Job had to do to stop the “journey” was to curse God. All he had to do was say God wasn’t real, and it would all end. God would have known that Job didn’t believe it. God would have known Job was just tired, hurting, scared and in all sorts of pain. He would have known that Satan’s influence had been powerful and that the words wouldn’t have been honest. Job would have been forgiven. And since Job knew God, he had to have known this. Yet, words weren’t meaningless to Job. Words weren’t something he could use in haste and then retract. Words were serious business. And he chose to endure all that Satan had to pour onto him rather than use mere words.
Indeed, words are powerful.
It brings me comfort to know that God felt Job was worthy enough to be strengthened, to be humbled. What about God? Could it have been easy for Him to watch someone He loved go through such pain and loss? Not for my God. Not the one who sent Jesus, who embodies compassion and empathy and love. No, it couldn’t have been easy for God to watch Job’s heartbreak. But Job’s ultimate happiness and peace and betterment was worth the cost of watching Satan pour down his power.
God only promises a safe landing, not a smooth passage.
The past month or so has been an emotional challenge for me. Ten thousand things pile up in my head; when I combine with that a memory that simply will not leave me alone and feelings of sadness that I find creeping in at odd moments, combined with doctors out the wazoo, and I’m just about done for. It’s been a long time since sadness of this degree has caught up with me, in any shape. I’m a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and I have these ideas of what is acceptable and what I should be doing, and especially troublesome ideas of what is and is not allowed (I’ll save you the trouble of double checking: I am 29). Just when I start to want to go to God and say, “Okay, if there’s a message here somewhere, I’m good and ready for it, cause I’ve about had my limit”, I think of Job. I scowl for a minute because it’s not my favorite story—until I stop to remember that God cared about Job enough to move him from a comfortable place to a higher ground.
Contrary to what others may think, I don’t want my life to be about me. It’s about my girls, and it’s about God, and it’s about my family. There are unquestionably areas to which I have some degree of arrogance. I think I’m smart, for instance. You want to debate about something? Bring it on. Unless you’re someone I admire and don’t want to offend (in which case you’ll likely see the diplomatic Tiffini, the one who smiles and says, “Okay. I see your point”), I’ll give you more than you can handle. I think I try hard, in a lot of areas. So, me and Job sort of have something in common in the area of arrogance. But it’s humility I seek. I long to be in the presence of the One who is much stronger, much smarter, much more powerful than I. I long to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit and I often picture myself standing in front of the brightest light I have ever seen. You see, just like anyone else, I want to be accepted, and I want to be understood, both of which are part of the reason I write to begin with. The truth is, though, maybe I can’t be either of those things, until God takes me through a storm I wouldn’t volunteer for. I’m good at convincing myself people, especially God, are angry with me, even when I haven’t done anything wrong. But was God angry at Job? He restored to him all that he lost. He got a new family, he grew richer (in every meaning of the word) than he’d been before the test , and I believe He probably grew closer to God. Why would God reward Job with all of these things if He’d been truly angry with him? He wouldn’t have, because He’s not just a merciful God, He’s also a just one. That must mean He brings storms our way for more than to show us He’s angry with us. It must mean He also does it to show us our hidden strengths and eventually the top of a mountain we wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have climbed without His assistance.
You see, words aren’t just powerful weapons. They are also powerful comforting tools. From the pages of the book of Job, in which there are a great many harsh words and harsh actions, there is also quiet words of strength, of faith, and of love. Maybe Job did endure some really, really harsh storms. But he didn’t go through them alone. God was there, holding his hand, too. And to have your hand held by Abba, the Father, is, I can tell you from experience, worth just about any cost Satan can name. The silent word of His holding my hand reassures me that one day I will be able to see that bright light and hear in person the most comforting and beautiful of voices say specifically to me, just as I am, “I love you.”