I have been reading the book of Job, in the Old Testament, today. I must confess that I have found this a difficult book in the past, with its many speeches, and I found it difficult to know whether Job’s comforters were right about him. Now that I have finally got round to reading it in a modern translation, things are a little clearer. I would recommend it for its treatment of the problem of suffering – although I would read it in a translation like the NIV, NLT or The Message.
As you probably know, Job is one of, if not the oldest book in the Bible. It addresses the problem of suffering, of why the innocent suffer. We are told that Job is a righteous and blameless man, a man with lots of livestock, children, and money. However when God talks about his servant Job, Satan responds by saying that Job would not praise God in adversity. So it is that God grants permission to Satan to afflict Job, but does not permit him to hurt him bodily.
One by one Job loses all that made him rich, from his livestock to his children, but he does not curse God. Then Satan is allowed to attack him physically, and he develops painful boils all over himself, and even his wife tells him to “curse God and die!” It is after this, when Job has nothing left, when his life is in ruins, that his “friends” come to see him.
The rest of the book is full of speeches. Job’s friends declare that he must be a sinner, he must have done something wrong otherwise he would not be suffering. I know that I have felt that attitude when some people say that if we suffer mentally (or indeed physically) we must be secretly sinning, we must have some big wrong in our lives and, were we to repent of it, we would be healed of whatever illness is plaguing us. I remember long nights on my knees begging God to tell me what I had done wrong, so that I could stop doing it, and receive relief from my depression. It is an awful situation to be in, and, of course, wrong.
We know from the start of Job that he has not been sinning, that he is not being punished for anything he has done at all, and he continues to protest this when his friends accuse him. What used to confuse me about this book is that quite a lot of what Job’s comforters say is actually correct – but they misapply it, and certainly do not speak in love, comforting someone in their time of trouble. Job protests his innocence again and again and his friends continue to accuse him of sin, often in harsh language.
I don’t intend to go into the book in any great detail, because it is a long book and I am not adequate to the task of summarising it properly. To be brief – after his friends’ speeches, God himself talks to Job. The answer of why Job is suffering – which we know to be satanic, from earlier in the book – is never given to Job. What is revealed is Job’s self-righteousness and lack of humility before God. In suffering he accuses God of injustice – as I think we all have done when ill or facing some sort of trouble – but he is rebuked for this. God reminds him of how mighty he is, that he created the world and that no man can compete with him. He tells us that we really have no right to question God about why we are suffering, because we do not know what God knows. He affirms that you can suffer without being sinful, or more sinful than others. The book of Job is unrelenting in its teaching that suffering is not always our fault, and that there are those who should be suffering due to their sin who are not. God tells us that, while we may not know or understand why things happen, and how we can reconcile that with our belief in a God of justice, that he is sovereign, he is in control and, I believe, we will understand when we meet him face to face.
The Believer’s Bible Commentary has a list of things we learn from Job, the rest of this post is a quote from their commentary on Job 42:
- The righteous are not exempt from suffering.
- Suffering is not necessarily a result of sin.
- God has set a protective hedge around the righteous.
- God does not send sickness or suffering. It comes from Satan (Luk_13:16; 2Co_12:7).
- Satan has some control in the realm of wicked men (the Sabeans and Chaldeans), supernatural disasters (fire from heaven), weather (a great wind), sickness (the boils on Job), and death.
- Satan can bring these things on a believer only by God’s permission.
- What God permits, He often is said to do. “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”
- We should view things as coming from the Lord, by His permission, and not from Satan. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”
- God does not always explain the reason for our suffering.
- Suffering develops endurance.
- In visiting suffering saints, we should not be judgmental.
- We should make our visits brief.
- Human reasonings aren’t helpful. Only God can comfort perfectly.
- At the end of the Book of Job we see that “the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (Jam_5:11). We also learn that sometimes, at least, wrongs are made right in this life.
- Job’s patience in suffering vindicated God.
- Job’s patience proved Satan to be a false accuser and liar.
- “A man is greater than the things that surround him and, whatever may befall his possessions or his family, God is just as truly to be praised and trusted as before.”
- We should be careful about making blanket statements that do not allow for exceptions.
- Satan is neither omnipresent, omnipotent, nor omniscient.
- In spite of God’s allowing unmerited suffering, He is still just and good.
From other parts of the Bible, we get further light on some of the reasons why God allows His saints to suffer:
- Sometimes it is a result of unjudged sin in the life (1Co_11:32).
- It is a means by which God develops spiritual graces, such as patience, longsuffering, humility (Rom_5:3-4; Joh_15:2).
- It purges dross or impurities from the believer’s life so that the Lord can see His image reflected more perfectly (Isa_1:25).
- It enables the child of God to comfort others with the same type of comfort with which God comforted him or her (2Co_1:4).
- It enables the saint to share in the non-atoning sufferings of the Savior and thus to be more grateful to Him (Phi_3:10).
- It is an object lesson to beings in heaven and on earth (2Th_1:4-6). It shows them that God can be loved for Himself alone, and not just because of the favors He bestows.
- It is an assurance of sonship since God only chastens those whom He loves (Heb_12:7-11).
- It causes saints to trust in God alone and not in their own strength (2Co_1:9).
- It keeps God’s people close to Himself (Psa_119:67).
- It is a pledge of future glory (Rom_8:17-18).
- God never allows us to be tempted above what we are able to bear (1Co_10:13).
- The Book of Job: Daring and in your face about the problem of suffering. (adw.org)
- The Book of Job and the Implication for Understanding My World (cafn.us)
- Sermon: Sunday, October 7, 2012: The Book of Job, Pt. 1 (byproclamation.wordpress.com)