The first thing I thought of when I read Job 23 was Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Okay, honestly, my first thought was the clip from The Outsiders of Ralph Macchio quoting it. I wasn't sure why, but I thought the poem would apply here. After reading it, there's no doubt in my mind that it does.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
The reference to Eden caught my attention, as did the painful nods to the the immutable presence of death and imperfection in the natural world after innocent and glorious beginnings. The most obvious connection is the golden thread woven through both; Frost mourned the loss of all that was golden while Job believed God's holy fire was purifying him of everything but gold. And I think they're both talking about the same thing.
Existence in this world can be excruciating. But it is corrupted with death and imperfection—so even though God created it and has ultimate influence and sovereignty over it, He remains entirely distinct from it to the point that His existence is empirically undetectable. And so, like a brain deprived of oxygen, all life separated from God is doomed to certain death.
God's holiness is both Job's lament and his praise. He knows that, although he can't see God, God can see him and will ultimately vindicate him. And God's separation from all living (aka dying) things provokes Frost's mournful song, but it also assures us of the hope we have in Christ.
For when God entered the world, He endured death, conquered it, forged an unbreakable bond between those who believe and the Holy God who loves them . . . and by the power of that connection we are assured a place with Him where there is no death and no imperfection. We will come forth as gold not, as Job had suggested in his case, because we have never strayed, but because the one in whom we place our trust has imputed His perfect righteousness to us.
Frost is right. The traces of perfection and glory we see with our eyes are but the last remnants of fragile, fading innocence. Nothing gold can stay.
But Job is right as well . . . by the Word of God, that which is worthy and holy and beautiful and powerful that has been implanted within us by our Holy Creator, that will endure forever. We will come forth as gold.
I really, truly love this chapter.