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Making Sense Out of Suffering: Why Study the Book of Job

(Photo of the Lord speaking to Job in a whirlwind, courtesy of blueletterbible.org)

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold Job 23:10

It is an ancient yet ever-present problem: why is there pain and suffering in the world? Even more troubling, why do the righteous suffer and the unrighteous prosper? Theologians, philosophers, yes, everyday people have pondered this terrible reality.

All of us go through some degree of suffering. Some have a ‘high pain’ tolerance and others don’t. But for most people in the western world, no matter how intense the heat of suffering may be, always remember that in other parts of the world, they suffer in a manner we would know nothing about. Perspective is aways important.

More than one book of the Bible deals with the topic of suffering. The New Testament epistle of I Peter focuses on it. Yet no part of the Bible majors on this topic to the extent that the Book of Job does. In a sense, this 42 chapter Bible book is one beautiful, masterful poem that graces and inspires us with its words - God’s words - as we ponder its timeless message.

Job, a wealthy, righteous man goes through compounded, tragic, even horrific suffering all  in a short period of time. His lost wealth is replaceable, but his lost children were not. His friends come to comfort him and what ensues is an extended dialogue between them and Job. Eventually, the Lord comes into the picture and His powerful words shed light on this sobering subject.


HEBREW NAME

Iyyob which can mean ‘persecuted one.’

AUTHOR

We do not know who the author of Job is. What we do know is that Job came from the ‘Land of Uz,’ which is near Midian. Job very well could have been a Gentile who lived in the time of the patriarchs or later. Moses may have known about him and Elihu, but that does not mean he is the author.

PORTRAIT OF CHRIST

Jesus Christ is known as the ‘Daysman’ (9:33) and the living, visible redeemer (19:25).

THEME OF JOB

God is God in the good times and the bad. He is sovereign over every situation, including suffering, and redeems the righteous out of it all.

Pain, faith, and the role of Satan are held in the spotlight.

KEY VERSES IN JOB

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before himJob 13:15

Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: he will not afflict. 24Men do therefore fear him: he respecteth not any that are wise of heart  — Job 37:23-24


SUMMARY OF JOB

The Book of Job begins with an eye-opening dialogue between Almighty God and Satan in heaven (yes, apparently Satan has visiting rights in heaven, though he will lose them when cast to the earth in Revelation 12:9). God commends Job as His upright servant who fears Him and hates evil. Satan says that God’s hedge around Job keeps him faithful but if that hedge is removed and Job suffers, he will curse God to his face. God does not believe this lie yet gives Satan permission to test Job, knowing he will remain faithful. So Satan’s attack results in Job losing livestock, servants, and his 10 children, virtually on the same day. Yet Job did not sin.

The second conversation between God and Satan is that Job is commended for his faithfulness. Satan says that if he was physically afflicted, Job would turn against God. Again, God gives Satan permission to touch him physically but to spare his life. He is struck with boils from head to toe. He refused to sin with his lips.

Job’s wife is not exactly helpful or encouraging: She asks him how long will he hold onto his integrity? Then she tells him to ‘curse God and die.’ Before we are too hard on Mrs. Job, remember that she had just lost her 10 children. When Job’s blessings are restored, she will benefit, too.

His three friends come to ‘comfort’ him. They sat in silence for one solid week before speaking. Their names were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Once the week was over and the talking began, there was three debates. His friends say his suffering must be due to his sin (as if the righteous don’t suffer). He says he is being judged and God will vindicate him.

Job also complains that God does not hear him (13:3, 24), is punishing him (7:4), and allows the wicked to prosper (21:7). For 5 chapters Job does all the talking (27-31).

Elihu, though young, brings a mature perspective and strong rebuke. He reproves Job for justifying himself while correcting the 3 friends for condemning Job but having no answer themselves.

Finally, God Himself speaks to Job from the whirlwind (chapters 38-42). He speaks of his mighty power in creation, how as Sovereign he can control the uncontrollable. If Job can’t decipher God’s creative ways and acts, how can he possibly make sense of suffering - his and others.

Some important principles to remember in the face of suffering:

1)     Commit yourself to God;

2)     Trust God with all your heart, whether it makes sense or not;

3)     Have confidence that God will bring good to your life; righteousness truly has a sure reward.

4)     Suffering is a reality in a fallen world; sometimes due to one’s sin, sometimes due to one’s righteousness. The righteous must remain so and God will turn it around for their good. The sinner must repent, learn the lessons, obey the commands, and get right with God and others.

5)     Satan is a reality and this explains much about the reason for suffering. His rampage will not last forever and he will be thoroughly and irreversibly judged.

Yes, the good guys do triumph in the end.

End result: Job’s lost possessions are restored, including 10 more children. His 3 friends receive prayer due to their insensitive words. Young Elihu is not rebuked at all.

Outline of Job

I.      Dialogue between God and Satan; Job’s sufferings begin (1-2)

II.   Dialogue between Job and his friends (3-37)


III.  God speaks to Job and restores his fortunes (38-42)

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