Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible, written during the time of the Patriarchs before Moses put together the Pentateuch. It is a book of poetry and wisdom in which the main character, Job, beings with great wealth, family, and blessings and losses it all, and wrestles with the question, Why? Why do the righteous suffer if God is loving and all-powerful?
While there is wisdom throughout the Bible, there are three main books of wisdom, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. In Proverbs we see that God has ordered the world to be just and fair, the righteous are rewarded, the evil are punished. If you behave wisely you will be rewarded and live a peaceful, meaningful life of happiness. If you are a fool you will be poor, unhappy, punished and despised. Then comes Ecclesiastes who says that life is not fair, the righteous are not always rewarded, the wicked are not always punished. Someone can work all day, produced the best perfume ever created and out of nowhere a fly lands in the ointment and it is forever ruined and even if there was no fly in it, it would not last. Life is like smoke, it’s gone quickly and accomplishes nothing, and nothing ever changes under the sun. Job takes the idea of proverbs, life is fair, and pits it against the observations of Ecclesiastes, life is not fair, and asks the question, if life, which should be fair, is often unfair, how can God be wise and just?
It can be comforting to know that even from the earliest days of the human race we have struggled with the idea of suffering. We are not alone in or struggle to come to terms with the pain we experience in our lives.
We have been collectively groping for an answer to why suffering happens and how we are to navigate adversity. Job, who has suffered a great deal, asks this question first of his friends and later of God Himself. The answer Job receives comes from God dwelling with His people. Though God dwells in unapproachable light, He chooses to be an immanent presence for us always.
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. "Where have you come from?" the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, "I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the LORD asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan replied to the LORD, "Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, you may test him," the LORD said to Satan. "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Satan left the LORD's presence. - Job 1:6-12 NLT
When we are in the middle of suffering, what we want most is relief. We just want the pain to end, the misfortune to reverse, our loved ones to return, and the winning lotto numbers. We call out to God and plead, bargain, and parley with Him to intervene as if His back were turned away from us. What we forget, and must remember, is that our pain does not mean God has lost His authority and control. God is not absent, He is right there with us and fully in control of even the worst situation.
Job doesn’t know it, but his suffering has a higher purpose. God is proving that there is such a thing as real integrity in a relationship between God and man. Job suffers because of Satan’s attack on God’s character and reign. Satan implies that God is being manipulated by Job, and Job by God. By allowing Job to suffer, God demonstrates that goodness and righteousness are more than just enlightened self- interest. Job’s experience reminds us that the disasters and suffering that comes into our lives may have an eternal purpose of which we can know nothing about on this side of eternity.
God delights in His people, He boasts of their love and loyalty. When Satan came in from roaming around the earth God was the one to point out Job’s faithfulness. Like a father delighting in the ability of his children, God brought Job to Satan’s attention, not the other way around. Here we have a man living such a faithful life that the God of heaven points him out, not because of disappointment but because of His joy in Job.
Satan is quick to make the argument that Job is only faithful because God has blessed him. Satan is essentially claiming that God has bought his loyalty. In response, God allows Satan to prove that loyalty. Satan knows that he cannot act without God’s permission. What’s more, when God does permit Satan to act His permission comes with limitations. Satan does not have authority to affect Job’s health at the beginning of their debate. At this point Satan was only allowed to destroy all that he owned which included the deaths of every one of his children in the collapse of a house by a powerful wind.
God is not the author or cause of the pain in Job’s life, Satan was. But it was in the greater plan of God to allow Job to be tested.
When we suffer it is not because God has abandoned us. He is well aware of the brokenness of the world and the pain that our sinful choices bring us, and how the enemy seeks to wound us. But through all of our pain and suffering God is still in control.
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, "I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!" In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. - Job 1:20-22 NLT
Job’s response to all the suffering that came his way was not anger, but faithful worship. Our response to suffering should likewise reveal our faith in God to ourselves and others.
Job recognized that life and all of its good gifts have their origins in God’s kind and gracious provision. The same Lord who had the authority to give him what he had also had the authority to take it away. Knowing this, Job chose to trust God, and our suffering presents a similar opportunity for us. Our faith in God can shine brightest in our times of suffering and pain. Worship through clenched teeth with tear-soaked cheeks glorifies God in a profound way and cements our trust in God in our own hearts while simultaneously showing others the power of the gospel. Pain is but one more way to build trust.
The pain we face in our suffering is real, and we should be real about it as well. This is what Job did. Even as he maintained his faith in God during his suffering, he wept and mourned. He did not hide his pain or run away from it. He lived in it. Pain and faithfulness are not mutually exclusive, but faithfulness in the midst of pain is right and shows a deep level of commitment and trust.
Today's header image comes from the Bible Project website. The Bible Project makes excellent videos and graphics outlining every book of the Bible along with major themes and makes for a wonderful teaching tool. If you have need seen their videos I would highly recommend you do.