“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9 NIV
I God and the Problem of Pain and Suffering
● The first thing we need to remember is that God cannot be understood beyond what He has chosen to tell us through His Word—the Bible. His thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
● Secondly, man and woman were created and placed in a perfect environment in the Garden of Eden. Then man and woman disobeyed God. Thus sin entered the world. It was also the beginning of pain (Genesis 3:16). The first mention of thorns follow quickly (Genesis 3:18). And separation from God (Genesis 3:23, 24).
● Thirdly, the greatest difficulty comes when righteous people suffer. For example, Job.
● Fourthly, God chose to suffer to restore to man the relationship with God that was broken (Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Romans 5:10, 11). On Jesus was placed a “crown of thorns” (John 19:2, 5); perhaps symbolizing the fact that He became a curse for us to give us the gospel blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:8, 13, 14). We need also to remember that God hears the cry of His children and is concerned about their suffering (Exodus 3:7). Jesus too wept (Luke 19:41, John 11:35).
● Finally, God has kept a time in the future when He will dwell with man once again, and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
II The Opening Scene
Job is a book of highest literary quality. Its setting is in the land of Uz which probably was a place between modern Arabia and Palestine. Job probably would have lived very near the period of Abraham. By all means the Book of Job was written at a very early date.
The opening scene of the Book describes Job as a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil. He was very rich and was the greatest man among the people of the East. He had a right relationship with God (Job 1:1—5).
The scene now shifts to heaven (where God is). Satan seems to have had permission to come before God at that time (he also seems to roam through the earth. Compare 1 Peter 5:8). Surprisingly, God speaks to Satan about Job and gives him a “Certificate of Good Character and Conduct” (Job 1:8).
But Satan says that Job fears God only because God has blessed him (Job 1:9, 10). In other words, Satan was saying that Job would stop serving God and curse Him if the blessings were taken away (Job 1:10).
God then allows Satan to destroy whatever Job has (Job 1:12). And a series of disasters strike Job in rapid succession devastating him. He loses all his children and all his possessions in one day!
Job Worships: Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head to express his grief. Then he fell to the ground in worship. And said these memorable words: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21b NIV). And Job did not accuse God in anything that had happened to him. Job’s act of worship is to be noted because he worshipped God when everything was taken away from his life (Compare what David did in 2 Samuel 12:20).
III The Second Scene
When Satan comes again to God’s presence, God again asks, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 2:3) like the first time (Job 1:8). And certifies that Job still trusts in Him even though Satan brought disaster in his life. But then Satan says that Job will curse God if he himself will be affected personally with suffering (Job 2:4).
Then Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. It was so severe that he had to use a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself with it. And he sat among the ashes (2:7, 8).
IV The Difficulty
The real difficulty comes because we find that God was the One who was behind this drama of pain. It was God who called Satan’s attention to Job saying, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (1:8) in the first place.
The only reason for Job’s suffering, it seems, was that he feared God, shunned evil and led an upright life in right relationship with God! Remember that this happened during the early Old Testament times when prosperity was generally considered to be God’s favour on those who trusted Him.
V Satan’s Character
The very name “Satan” means “Adversary.” His main activity is accusing God’s children. We find this very clearly in this book (Job 1:9—11; 2:4). Satan seems to say that man (in this case, Job) will love and serve God only if God gives him prosperity. If prosperity is taken away, man will curse God. But Job refused to curse God (Job 1:22, 2:10).
Satan is again shown as the Accuser in the Book of Zechariah Chapter 3 (verse 1). Again in Revelation Chapter 12 (verse 10, his character is exposed as the accuser of God’s children; who accuses them day and night before God. One way to overcome him is by the “blood of the Lamb” (verse 11).
VI The Different Views
In the Book of Job different view points meet and clash. Here is a quick look into them.
|He considers the upright conduct of His children and brings other’s attention to it. He does not answer the question of suffering but points to His greatness, wisdom, sovereignty and glory (Chapters 38 to 41). He also is seen as the restorer of blessings in double (Ch. 42).||Always accuses God’s children and believes that people love and serve God only for the blessings God gives. Satan is proved wrong at the end because Job endured patiently (James 5:10, 11). Satan cannot act when God has put a hedge around His children (1:10).||Though he is sure that he has committed no sin to deserve this suffering, he never cursed God. Instead he worshipped God. But cursed the day of his birth (3:1). Job was self-righteous in his speeches but confessed later that he was wrong (Job 40:4, 5; 42:1—6).|
Three different kinds of speech are seen here:
One, God speaks words of commendation or praise.
Two, Satan speaks words of accusation.
Three, Job speaks words of self-defence or self-righteousness justifying himself.
|He argues: “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” (4:7) and tells Job that God is disciplining him (5:17). He argues again that the wicked man is the one who suffers torment (15:20). He accuses Job of wickedness (22:4, 5). He advices Job to submit to God so that he may have prosperity (22:21).||He thinks that God punished Job’s children for some sin they had committed (8:4). He says that the hope of the godless perish (8:13). And tells Job that God will not reject a blameless man (8:20). He also tells Job that it is the wicked who perish (18:5, 17). He also asks the question “How then can a man be righteous before God?” (25:4).||He thinks that Job has sinned. Therefore he advises him to put away the sin (11:14). He later tells Job that the mirth of the wicked is brief and the joy of the godless lasts but a moment (20:5) and goes on to describe how God will destroy the wicked: In the midst of his plenty, distress and the full force of misery will come upon him (20:22).|
The arguments of the three friends are along two lines:
One, Job has committed some sin and God is punishing or disciplining him.
Two, such great disaster that happened to Job happens only to wicked people; for it is the wicked that perish like this. They also consider Job’s speeches defending himself as “blustering wind” and “idle talk.” They argue that God is righteous and just and therefore cannot go wrong in punishing a person like Job.
Job counter -argues in 9:22 saying that God destroys both the blameless and the wicked in opposition to the argument that God destroys the wicked. In 21:7 Job points out again that the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power.
God finally said that these three friends of Job did not speak of God what is right (Job 42:7).
|He was a young man who waited for the older people to finish speaking. He was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God (32:2). He was also angry with the three friends for condemning Job even though they could not prove Job wrong (32:3). He argues that suffering is God’s corrective measure to keep a man from dying for his sins (33:29, 30). He also said, “Job speaks without knowledge” (34:35).||She said, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). But Job tells her that she was speaking then like a foolish woman (2:10). Job thus resisted that temptation.|
Elihu presents God as a disciplinarian. Because he is young he speaks with great pride and youthful energy. And Job’s wife thinks that it is better to give up holding on to God than to suffer like this.
VII Some Classics from Job’s Speeches
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21 NIV).
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10 NIV).
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15 NIV).
“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend” (Job 16:19—21).
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25, 26 NIV).
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10 NIV).
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NIV).
“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1 NIV).
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know . . . My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 5, 6).
VIII Job as a Man of Prayer
It should challenge us to note that it is again God who is calling our attention to the fact that Job could pray. The context was that Job’s friends had not spoken about God what is right. So God was angry with them.
But God also suggested a solution. He told them to offers sacrifices. Then He added, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (42:8 NIV). And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
It was AFTER Job had prayed for his friends that the Lord made him prosperous again giving him twice as much as he had before (42:10). We do know that Job was hurt by the words of his friends. For example, “You are worthless physicians, all of you” (13:4), and “Miserable comforters are you all” (16:2). Read also Job 19:21, 22. But Job was still willing to pray for his friends.
God cannot bless us if we keep praying for ourselves. In fact, praying selfishly is the curse of this modern generation of Christians. Job prayed for his friends who would have not escaped the anger of God had he not done so. So pray much for those whom you know. Then the blessings needed for your life will come at the time God wants it to come to your life!
IX God’s Rapid Fire Round
In Quiz competitions we often see a rapid fire round, which is the last round of the competition where a series of questions are asked rapidly to the participants. The participants have to think quickly and answer quickly.
In Job’s case God was the Quiz Master at the last round. Job Chapter 38—41 contains around sixty questions that God asked Job in rapid fire round style. It was an awesome display because God talked to Job out of the storm: Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.
“Who is this darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:1—3 NIV).
First of all, God tells Job that he was speaking words without knowledge and warns him that a rapid fire round is going to follow (38:2)! God talks about the beginning of creation, His wisdom, things unknown to man even today (for example 38:7; “while the morning stars sang together”), some examples from the world of animals and birds—and makes Job realize how little he understands of God’s ways!
It is interesting to note that God never answered any of Job’s questions. Instead God raised a series of questions to let Job know that his limited mind cannot understand the ways of God!
Then God asked Job, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:8).
Job’s Response: Job finally admitted that he spoke of things that he did not understand; things that were too wonderful for him to know. He further said that he had heard of God but now he had seen God in the storm. “Therefore I despise myself in dust and ashes” (42:6).
An encounter with God while He displays His glory always leaves a man repenting. See how Isaiah reacted when he saw the glory of God (Isaiah 6:5).
Till we see some glimpse of God’s glory, we talk big things. But once we get even a little understanding of how big our God is, how infinite His wisdom, how great His power and how exalted He is in His glory; we can do nothing but repent in dust and ashes!
X The Self-righteousness and Arguments of Job
Job was an upright man as God Himself testified. Yet perhaps Job had a self-righteous attitude. It is revealed through his speeches. In Job 6:24, he says, “Show me where I have been wrong?” In 9:21, he says that he is blameless. In 13:23, he challenges God, “How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offence and my sin.”
Dr. Henrietta C. Mears points out that Job’s self-righteousness is best revealed in Job Chapter 29 where in the space of 25 verses, the personal pronouns “I,” “my” and “me” are used fifty-two times!
XI The Patience of Job
One great lesson from the life of Job is “waiting for God.”
We live in a fast-paced world where everything happens in an instant at our fingertips. So we’ve lost the art of waiting. We are impatient with God and with men. We want quick results. But God is patient. And He wants us also to have patience in great measure.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Hoping in the Lord essentially means waiting for His time and waiting for God to act on our behalf; for He is a God “who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
James says that Job was patient in the face of suffering: “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).
XII Suffering and God’s Sovereignty
Job never knew why he suffered. Likewise, we might never know why suffering comes. Sometimes, as in the case of Job, suffering is God’s testing of our faith and commitment to him. The key verse in Job is “When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10 NIV).
See also James 1: 2, 3 where it says that “the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” So Job proves his faith by persevering while he suffered (James 5:10, 11).
God answers Job with a display of His awesome power and asks probing questions to make Job realize and admit God’s absolute sovereignty. “Will you trust Me because I am God, even though you don’t understand why all this happened?” is the big question God raised in His speech.
Job became willing to trust God in spite of not understanding God’s ways fully. Job finally accepts that God is God and that God knows what He is doing and that He need not explain all that He does (42: 2).
Certainty of Future Glory
Suffering is real. It is painful. Even Jesus suffered. He also told, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Paul was another person who suffered much for God’s kingdom. Yet he wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart . . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 17)! Hallelujah!
Job 9:10 Wonders and Miracles
Job 16:19, 21 My Advocate Is on High
Job 23:10 God Knows the Way; Tested as Gold
Job 28:28 The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom
Job 35:9,10,11 Songs in the Night
Job 38:2 Darkens My Counsel with Words Without Knowledge