Job was a wealthy and upright man, who lost everything – his possessions, his children and his health. He didn’t understand why he was suffering.
‘Suffering’, and ‘the problem of pain’ leads to a perennial question — WHY?
Although there is an explanation, we may never find out ‘why’ during our lifetime. And so, we must always be ready for testing in our lives.
The key purpose of the book of Job is to show us that God is sovereign, and what true faith can look like. It also looks at the question “Why do the righteous suffer?”
Job forms part of the Poetry/Wisdom section of the Bible. All these books [Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon] are tied together by discussing the problem of the ‘righteous sufferer’. This overall topic looks at ‘THEODICY’ — the justice of deity. Tension is created between divine justice and human suffering based on a belief in what is known as the ‘retribution principle’. In simple terms this principle is based on the righteous prospering and the wicked suffering. If however, an apparently righteous person suffers, then doubt is cast on God’s justice.
Professor Frank Anderson in his commentary on Job brings it all together well in this quote:
“The Old Testament book about Job is one of the supreme offerings of the human mind to the living God and one of the best gifts of God to men. The task of understanding it is as rewarding as it is strenuous. For his help, the modern student has a rich legacy from the labours of the past. It is a tribute to the greatness of the book that the work of interpreting it is never finished. After each fresh exploration the challenge to scale the heights remains. One is constantly amazed at its audacious theology and at the magnitude of its intellectual achievement. Job is a prodigious book in the vast range of its ideas, in its broad coverage of human experience, in the intensity of its passions, in the immensity of its concept of God, and not least in its superb literary craftsmanship. It reaches widely over the complexities of existence, seeking a place for animals as well as men in God’s world. It plumbs the depths of human despair, the anger of moral outrage, and the anguish of desertion by God. From one man’s agony it reaches out to the mystery of God, beyond all words and explanations. It is only God Himself who brings Job joy in the end. And, when all is done, the mystery remains. God stands revealed in His hiddenness, an object of terror, adoration and love. And Job stands before him ‘like a man’ (38:3; 40:7), trusting and satisfied.”
Week Five - God Speaks
Job 38 – 42
Remember how Job had wanted this one-to-one with God, to ask Him a few things? Now he has his request, but who is the one doing the questioning?
Often we may want to put God in the witness stand and ask Him to justify himself, to explain his actions, to answer our questions of ‘Why?’
But here we find God asking Job to stand up and answer a few questions himself.
Suddenly Job has nothing to say. He has no defence against the almighty God. It even seems that he’s forgotten the ‘why’ questions.
Perhaps we need to consider that there may be something more important than knowing why.
Perhaps the more important thing is to know God.
When we can humble ourselves, and see that the ‘why’ question is only for God to know, then we can slowly begin to see that it’s actually how we respond to suffering that is important.
Think through the lessons Job has learned.
What does Job repent of? [42:3,6] Does this contradict his previous refusal to own up to sin?
God has maintained all along that Job was his faithful servant. And even when Job had lost everything, he learned to be content, and trust God. It didn’t mean there were no questions, but within the questioning, he remained faithful.
Satan’s attacks had been fruitless and Job has come out the other end.
What is the significance of the happy ending given so many stories in this life end in tragedy? [42:10-17
Spend some time considering how these verses might help you to relate well to God through suffering:
What is your personal take-away for your life from the book of Job?
Week Four - One Young Gun
Job 32 – 37
We’ve heard the faulty human wisdom of Job’s three old friends; and we’ve heard Job himself waxing eloquent, and then resting his case. We need to hear from God at this stage – but we have to wait for another person to weigh in with their own wisdom.
Elihu is a young upstart who has been listening to these conversations, and now wants to share his own perspective. He admits that he’s younger than the others, but goes on to point out their faults, and how they have made mistakes in their advice. He then goes on to make his own mistakes, but, in the midst of it all, he also comes out with some very helpful things.
One of Elihu’s great insights is that God works THROUGH pain.
God won’t deliver Job from the pain, because He has a special work that He wants to finish. So there is an element of …. ‘NOT YET’ Job. Sometimes God’s richest gifts to us come only through suffering. As we reflect on the work of Jesus on the cross we see how true this is. The Gospel is full of purposeful suffering. Jesus himself says that we are to take up our cross and follow Him. His way is the way of the cross.
So Elihu has brought us back to God. He has brought us to God’s greatness and wisdom, helping us to see that circumstances and pain are to be seen within a much greater context.
Not only do we need to hear the truth about God, we need to hear the very voice of God. Human comfort, and human rebuke may be one thing — we all need to meet and hear God personally in the midst of our own suffering.
Week Three - Job's Turn
Job 26 – 31
In times of suffering, so often we expend a lot of pain in asking the question “Why Lord?”
We’ve had many chapters of endless questioning — with no suitable answers coming at all. But real wisdom isn’t found by digging.
True wisdom isn’t about knowing the answers to what God hasn’t revealed — but it is found in living in the light of what he has revealed.
- What does it mean, in practice, to fear the LORD?
- What difference will that make to us when we’re suffering like Job?
Week Two - Three Old Guys
Job 3 – 25
Over these many chapters Job’s three friends come to visit and lend their views on his life and suffering.
After an initial week of sitting with Job in silence, Job breaks the quiet by expressing his sadness and depression, and cursing the day he was born.
What follows then is three rounds of discussion with these three men, as the conversation rotates around each of them, with Job replying. The friends wrongly assume that suffering always results from sin, and they try to persuade Job to repent, assuming that his suffering will end if he does.
The three friends were wrong, of course, and we know that suffering is not always a direct result of wrong-doing. Their attempt at pastoral care failed miserably, and ended up heaping guilt upon Job, and condemning rather than comforting him.
The friends tried to understanding suffering, but the explanation given by them is less than the whole answer.
Like his friends, Job also seems to be unaware that God has other reasons for allowing suffering.
- What is attractive about the idea that sin causes suffering – that the righteous are the ones who should prosper, and that the wicked should suffer?
- What would YOU have said to Job?
Week One - Job is Tested
- Do people mostly bring suffering upon themselves because of their poor decisions or is most suffering caused by forces beyond people’s control?
- Satan’s argument with God is that Job only believes because of his prosperity? How does prosperity affect people’s faith or lack of faith today?
- In the midst of affliction have you been tempted to give up your faith in God?
What was hardest?
What kept you believing?