The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit. (Job 37:23-24, ESV)
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the Book of Job. It seems snuck in there out of nowhere because there’s no real lead up or aftermath. Job is referred to elsewhere in the Bible, but ultimately, the Book of Job seems very self-contained.
Job is a very popular book of the Bible for sermons and discussions on why we suffer. It’s actually an exquisitely perfect book for this purpose – perhaps why it’s in there!
If you’re never read the Book of Job, it’s a bit long but worth a read. The version I’ve linked to is the ESV and I’ll explain why in a moment.
The Book of Job starts by telling briefly about Job, how he is very wealthy and a very righteous man. Job is described as a “man [who] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”. Then it goes on to tell how he has all sorts of wealth by way of servants, herds and flocks, plus a wife and 10 children. We’re told that Job is even proactive by offering sacrifices just in case his children had sinned. Again, “blameless and upright” in every sense.
The story then takes a very odd sounding turn, where Satan joins the “sons of God” who are presenting their selves before Him. God inquires where he came from and Satan says he was walking around earth. Then we see this verse:
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8, NKJV)
Now, this seems really strange. It reads as though God is literally offering up Job to Satan. Which, Satan then basically replies, “Of course he fears you! You’ve given him all this wealth! You’ve blessed him and all he has – but take it away and he’ll curse you to your face!”
God replies to Satan basically saying, “Fine. Do what you want with everything he has, but don’t do any harm to him.”
Satan proceeds to send in people who either steal or kill his children, flocks, and servants. Job is deeply hurt but does not sin against God.
Then, a little later on, the same thing happens. Satan shows up again, saying he’s been roaming the earth. God now tells him:
“Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” (Job 2:3, NKJV)
Satan responds in a similar way, this time basically saying, “Yeah, sure, but that’s because he values his life more than anything. If you cause him physical suffering, he’ll curse you to your face!”
God now basically tells him, “Do what you will to him, but don’t kill him.”
Job is 42 chapters long, but at the point above, we’re only into chapter 2.
Satan inflicts painful boils from Job’s head to his feet – covering his whole body. His wife even tells him, “Do you still hold your integrity? Curse God and die!” and he reprimands her foolish words.
Verse 10 tells us that through all this, Job still didn’t sin.
In verse 11, 3 of Job’s friends come to visit him and mourn with him. Initially they don’t say anything but then they start to pipe up and the next 29 chapters are two of the friends and Job talking. However, there is evidently a 4th person who is younger and is pretty much biting his tongue until chapter 32. The younger friend reprimands Job and his two friends and sticks up for God through to chapter 38, when God “speaks out of a whirlwind” and rebukes Job Himself (and what a rebuke indeed)! In chapter 42, Job repents and God rebukes his 3 friends (not the younger friend) for speaking wrongly of Him and Job’s wealth and family is restored.
As I mentioned, it’s a very fascinating book. The problem is that it seems to be frequently misunderstood, or not understood at all. The theme that I tend to hear in regards to the Book of Job is, “We may not always understand why we suffer.” I don’t know if this is even consistently followed up with something such as, “but God is in control of all things.” Now, that’s true. But stay with me!
The other argument I hear is typically from skeptics and unbelievers and goes something like this, “So when I’m suffering, it means that God is making bets with the devil?” – said in a sarcastic tone, of course!
Well, I have something that I’d like to point out to you that God opened my eyes to! But first, let’s examine what Job’s 3 friends were saying.
When I first heard the entire Book of Job via audiobook, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to understand what God reprimanded them for. I could understand why He said what He said to Job, but I didn’t see what the friends did wrong.
Later on, one of my favorite speakers happened to mention the Book of Job and in the process, explained. Job’s friends were accusing Job of being punished for sin. They had the assumption wealth, health and happiness came from good behavior, and pain, loss or suffering came from bad behavior. Therefore, Job was clearly being punished meaning he must have done something bad and he had to ‘fess up! This is why I linked to the ESV – the headers over each part of the conversation are very clear as to what is going on – so you won’t miss it like I did!
Job, on the other hand, was kind of basically declaring that he was righteous and therefore how could God do this to him?
God comes back at him with a sweeping, awe-inspiring response that in essence is saying, “Since when did you become God?” It is well worth the time to read even only that portion!
So then, what is the meaning of it? What is the meaning of our suffering, or even the meaning of this book?
Well, there are many possible reasons for suffering. I don’t think Job’s friends were wrong to conclude that it could have been punishment for some un-repented sin (though, assuming they were well aware of Job’s character they should have not assumed that anyway). Remember though, they were declaring that it was always the case. We do know that sometimes God allows hardship as a means of discipline or judgment but that is not the rule!
We could say that the real message of Job is simply, “We don’t know.” We don’t know why God allows suffering. We might retrospectively come to realize a possible reason, or even one of perhaps several reasons, maybe even during suffering we might realize a potential reason for it. We may never know the reason that we suffered because it may not become clear until after we’re dead. But ultimately, we just don’t know. Who knows the mind of God?
While I do maintain that the message of Job is in one sense ultimately, “We don’t/can’t know (because we aren’t God)”, I don’t believe that’s the whole message. Sure, part of the message is, “We don’t know, but we have to trust God that He will bring us through it.” That’s one common thing that I’ve seen in relation to the story of Job as it pertains to human suffering.
However, I also think that a lot of people ultimately miss the deep-down message. Now, maybe I’m underestimating. Maybe a lot more people have realized this. But I haven’t seen it much so I figure I’d share what God showed me.
God actually blessed Job in allowing him to suffer. Now, I don’t mean this at the end where God gives him back all his things. That’s a nice ending for Job, but that doesn’t mean that we can consistently expect the same result – especially not if we spend all our time complaining about our suffering!
But, how could Job’s immense, long suffering have possibly been a blessing? Sounds positively absurd, right? Well, to understand this, we have to think from what we know of God’s perspective and from our current perspective rather than from Job’s.
Still with me? Here’s what I mean.
We have the Book of Job. Job is famous as a righteous man and his story has been used countless times to help others. We take it for granted that we have this book in our Bibles, but Job didn’t know that people full millenniums later would be benefiting from his story. Job didn’t realize how God was blessing him with this alone. Job probably died with absolutely no indication of what all that was for. He may have died utterly perplexed as to the ultimate reason God had for that long period of loss and suffering in his life. Could there have been other reasons that God had that aren’t mentioned in the Bible? Sure! But we don’t need to know those other possible reasons to understand the definite reasons.
We can still see that Job has received a great honor. God not only allowed him an entire book of the Bible, but also that his story has been told for generations upon generations. His story has helped many people to take comfort in their suffering knowing that God is in control of all things. In short, God gave Job the great honor of using him to fulfill a much greater purpose.
That is why, no matter what situation we are put in and no matter how grim it may seem, it doesn’t mean that suddenly God is no longer in control and it certainly doesn’t mean that God no longer loves us. It means we have to put our trust fully in Him that He will not only take us through our situation but also that He has a reason and purpose for it, regardless of whether we ever realize it or not.
Any time that God can use us, we should be grateful and consider it a huge honor and privilege. To suffer and even die for Christ would be the greatest honor. This flies in the face of secular logic, but we have to remember that the Lord does many things we don’t understand at the time they are happening. I’m writing that as much to myself as I am to anyone reading this right now! I think we all forget that far too often.
To illustrate this, even to myself, every time I think about suffering in the name of Jesus I think about Rachel Scott. I didn’t know her by name, in fact I had to look her name up just to type that. But she is the girl who was killed at Columbine when they asked her if she was Christian. She didn’t denounce her Lord and Savior, and she paid for it with her life. But, here I am – not having known her at all, having only heard about her via the news, thinking to myself of how incredible it was that she did that. Despite being stared down by death, she did not reject Christ. As is now also the case with the recent victims of the Oregon Umpqua Community College shooting.
One of the most powerful responses I’ve heard to the question of where God is in the midst of our suffering, was said to a woman who said that she had prayed for God to share His mind with her. After praying the prayer, she said her health and the health of her family began to decline, with her suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time of the questioning. She wanted to know why she experienced such decline after praying that prayer.
One of the speakers gave a response to her direct question. He then sat down and his response was followed up by this response, by Muslim-turned-Christian, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi:
We so take it for granted that we wake up in the morning. What say do we have, that we wake up in the morning? We go to sleep and we wake up and it happens regularly, so we take it for granted, but there’s nothing we do to make that happen cognizantly. And we think about, momentarily, the malady that you mentioned that you have – the multiple sclerosis. We just act, so immediately we act. We see things, we can point to it, and it’s so natural to us. We don’t even think about what’s happening here. That your brain and your nerves function as electrical systems, and you have capacitors that allow your signal to go from your brain to your finger. And for your muscles to work at the very fast rate at which they do. And those capacitors, if they stop working, these myelin sheaths, you get multiple sclerosis. Just one small part of a very complex system can cause such devastating effects. And as painful as it is, I think one thing that you have probably learned is just how beautiful it is, and how much people take it for granted when this amazingly complex system works the way it ought to. Something we take for granted every single day. And I know when I pray, early on when I began to pray as a Christian. . . You know I was a Muslim, formerly, and part of my prayer was the 5 daily prayers. It was very scripted. Everything was scripted. The only thing I got to choose in my 5 daily prayers was which portion of the Qur’an to recite. So when I began to learn to pray as a Christian these improvisational prayers, I used to say, ‘What am I supposed to pray?’ And I’d look at my hands as I’m praying, and I said ‘I’ve got 10 things to pray about right here.’ Every single [looking at fingers]. . . What if I didn’t have these? My whole life would be absolutely different. And so, you have learned that message unlike many of the rest of us will ever be able to learn it. But the other thing that I learned in the process of transitioning from Islam to Christianity . . . was that God – according to Islam we don’t learn this – God did not stand apart from your suffering. He didn’t watch you suffer and say, ‘I want to see what she ultimately does. I want to see what way she finds for herself.’ God takes a look at our suffering, and says, ‘I cannot remain aloof from that suffering. I will enter into it.’ You know, Jesus could have come as a prince in the human sense. He could’ve come with power. He could’ve come at any time in human history. He chose to come at a very specific time when people had invented how to execute people the most painful way ever devised, the most humiliating way ever devised. God said, ‘That type of suffering which goes beyond all other suffering, that’s what I will choose to take on for myself.’ He entered into it. And why did He do that? Out of love for you. He didn’t watch you suffer and stand aloof. He took that suffering upon Himself so that He could show us what true love was all about. And you are learning this, in a way none of us the rest of us will. So, I praise the Lord for who He is, and I praise the Lord for who you are. You were designed before the creation of the world – this is also a Christian truth. You were designed before the creation of the world with every single aspect of you in mind. You are not incidental. You are not random. You are not an accident. You are a loved creation of God, and that is absolutely amazing. So, if I can encourage you with anything, it’s who He is, and who He’s made you to be.
My prayer tonight as I’m typing this, for myself as well as for you, is that we live our lives both in submission and in gratitude to Him. When we are facing tough times, it is easy to get dismayed. But we need not be dismayed knowing that we have Christ. He knows our suffering, no matter how big or how small, and His hand is over all things, and all things He’s worked towards His ultimate purpose. We can rest our faith in Him and trust Him in all things.