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What Job Teaches Us About Suffering

Posted September 2, 2016
Christian LivingSuffering
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The old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” That is, when something bad happens in your life, make use of it so that something good still comes of it. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to make lemonade out of the lemons of life. Some lemons are so sour they leave us with a burning mouth for the rest of our lives. God purposefully inspired Scripture to speak to all aspects of this life, including terrible suffering and loss. The book of Job is one place we can turn to see what God has to say about dealing with painful loss and hardship.

The very first thing we learn about Job was that he was an upright man.

Job was faithful to God, honoring him and keeping his laws. Job was a righteous man who hated evil and yet, unknown to him, Satan asked God for permission to test Job’s faith. As a result, Job lost his children and all his worldly possessions. Satan inflicted Job with terrible suffering, both physically and emotionally.

Job’s wife and three of his friends told him that he must have sinned for such terrible loss and hurt to come upon him. Job’s friends were applying a principle known as the retributive principle. This principle basically says that if you obey God, you will prosper and be blessed, but if you sin you will have hardship and suffering. Despite his friends’ accusations, Job maintained that he had not sinned and was still an upright and righteous man before God. If this was the case, why did all these terrible losses come upon him? Didn’t God love Job? Didn’t God care about Job’s well being? Hadn’t God promised to reward the righteous? After battling his friends’ supposed wisdom, Job finally cried out before God in open complaint about his situation. Job didn’t hold back but laid out his frustrations and hurts before God, unabashedly asking why? Why was this terrible suffering happening to him?

God heard Job and responded, but not in the way Job expected.

Instead of reassuring Job and explaining what happened behind the scenes with Satan, God answered Job by asking him a long series of rhetorical questions. Was Job with God when he created the heavens and the earth? Was Job with God when he formed the monsters of the deep sea? Does Job uphold all aspects of creation by the word of his power? The answer to all of these questions, of course, was a resounding no! Job is not God; Job is a creature and God is the Creator. This fact rendered Job speechless and without a case in God’s court.

This, in essence, was God’s response. Even though Job was undergoing extreme suffering, he did not know about the proving of his faith before Satan. He did not have power and authority even over the things he once thought were his own. Job finally comes to an understanding of his own finitude and limited understanding of the ways of God:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know (Job 42:1–3).

His final words before God were ones of humility and acknowledgment that he was a creature whose knowledge and understanding were limited before an all-knowing God.

We learn two important things from Job.

First, we are allowed to bring our pain and loss before God who always hears his children. Second, we see that we do not always get to know the purposes of God regarding our lives. David also gives voice to his complaints before God in many of the Psalms. The fact that these cries of pain and agony are recorded in Scripture should encourage us that we too can bring our pain, loss, and hurt before God. Some people experience terrible and intense suffering while others live their whole lives suffering very little. Why is this? The answer is that God is the Creator. He knows everything and has purposes for everything that we, as his creatures, cannot always know.

The wisdom of Job’s wife and friends is not a prescription for how to avoid suffering in this life. We need to be aware that, in this life, the righteous will still suffer and the wicked will still seem to thrive. Yet, God provided a way for the suffering to one day finally end. In his infinite wisdom and knowledge, God made it possible for one man’s righteousness to be given to many so that many could inherit a life free from suffering (Rom. 5:18–19; Rom. 8:18–25). The book of Job ends with Job receiving even more wealth and possessions and children than he had at first. We can take heart knowing that the day will come when our own final restoration and renewal will take place in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:4).

Leah B.

Leah B. received a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry before turning to theology and receiving a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. She writes and lives in California.