#WCSK Episode 0.4c: Why suffering? A case study of Job

Job: A case study

Any discussion about suffering and the Bible would be incomplete without a mention of Job, the title character of the Old Testament book. Why? Because Job is a textbook on how suffering interacts in a world ruled by a sovereign God.

My advice to all those who have never read Job: read the book in its entirety to get the full story. To those who have read Job, I suggest reading it again. What follows will be a very succinct and focused analysis of some of the key points made in the book of Job. This analysis will assist contemporary believers who seek some meaningful answers and actionable advice when it comes to dealing with suffering. Certainly, this final part of WCSK episode 0.4 is not meant to stand by itself but is meant to be taken along with the rest of the lesson. I hope that the pieces of information you discover here will build upon your existing base of knowledge and grow your faith.

For those of you who want a quick synopsis of the book of Job, here it is:

Job is an upstanding guy. He is not sinless but is a dedicated servant of The Lord. By the permissive will of God, the devil inflicts massive suffering on Job, who loses everything except his life and his wife. Job is broken and frustrated and cries out to God in anguish. God is silent. Job lashes out some pretty scathing critiques against The Lord. Furthermore, during this time, Job gets some bad advice from his friends. Finally, God answers Job. Job had made many complaints and asked God several questions. God then asks Job questions, questions Job cannot answer. For instance, God wants to know where Job was when the foundation of the world was set. Job is speechless and ends up repenting. God chastises the friends who gave Job bad advice, and at the end of the book, God restores Job and blesses him with more than he had before. Job dies at an old age after living an abundant life.

#WCSK Suffering Job Satan Eliphaz Elihu

The first thing to realize about the book of Job is that, chronologically, it is one of the earlier books in the Bible. Some scholars even date the time of the book’s authorship to before Moses, the one who wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—the Bible’s first five books. The point is that the canon of Scripture tackles suffering very early. Job was also a real person and is referred to by other Bible authors.[1] Job is from the land of Uz, which implies that he was not an Israelite.

In Job chapters one and two, we are given a prologue or setup to the story that follows. This information is highly interesting because we are privy to it but Job is not. Even at the end of the book of Job, he still does not know about the positive words God expressed about him, about the role Satan played in his sufferings, or about why any of these things happened in the first place. Job never gets a clean answer to, “Why am I suffering?”

On three separate occasions, the text tells us that Job was blameless and upright and one who eschews evil.[2] In Job 2:3, God even admits that He has no cause to destroy Job. This makes what follows hard to wrestle with because, let’s be honest—it is a hard pill to swallow when blameless people suffer and an easy pill to swallow when guilty people suffer. Job is not guilty; he is labeled upright by God Himself.

Job 1:6 (KJV) says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.” Everyone knows that Satan (the devil) is the universal bad guy. Notably, Satan is one of the few words that is the same in Hebrew as it is in English. The word means adversary or one who withstands. Job 1:6 says that Satan came to present himself to God. God did not present in Satan’s court, nor did the two sit down in equally sized chairs at a round table. Satan, a subordinate to God, had to give The Lord an account.

Hence, we do not live in a dualistic world where there is a supernatural evil force that equals a supernatural good force. Satan can only do what God allows him.[3]

 Job 1:7-12 records an exchange between God and Satan. Satan expresses his goal and his intent for the future if Job has his hedge of protection taken away: that Job will curse God. In other words, in Job’s anticipated suffering, Satan wants Job to turn away from The Lord. He wants him to get frustrated, to get upset, and then to tell God, “I’ve had enough of you.” Has Satan used this plan before? Had this plan worked before? Satan wants to prove that Job’s trust in God is based on something that falls outside of God.[4]

And yes, God takes the initiative and brings Job up in discussion with the devil, but from these verses, Satan is clearly the one who is the proximal cause of Job’s suffering. This means a link exists between Satan and suffering. This is not an all-inclusive link but a link, nonetheless. Hence, when a person raises an angry fist against God for calamity and says, “I hate you,” they are not only doing what Satan wants, but they are also ignoring the link between the adversary and their suffering.

Therefore, when we read the story of Job, we cannot say that chance, odds, or karma caused his suffering. We also cannot say that God turned a blind eye or that God couldn’t have done anything because the text clearly indicates that God set the boundaries of Satan’s activities and was watching over the entire scenario the whole time. Satan makes a wager, and at the end of the book, he loses his gamble—Job does not curse God. In fact, Job is closer to God than at the beginning of the book. It’s important to note here that Satan may want certain things to happen, but he is not sovereign. He’s a pathetic gambler who will always lose in the end when he dares to wager against God Almighty.

God grants Satan’s request to harm those around Job. After Satan leaves God’s presence, he then goes and starts making trouble. In Job 1:13-19 (NIV), we are told what happens:

“One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

The text then says Job tore his robe and shaved his head: signs of anguish. Job did “not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”[5] Instead, the response of Job is captivating; once again, he is not privy to what is going on in the spiritual realm. In verse 21 (NIV), he says, “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’s response here informs us today how a blameless and upright person responds to suffering: by resting in the sovereignty and grace of a loving God who defines the boundaries of our experiences and who will never permit calamity to strike us beyond what we are able to handle.

After this event, Satan presents himself once again to The Lord, and one more time, God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”[6] God reiterates that “there is no one on earth like [Job]; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason (emphasis added).[7] The phrase translated without any reason comes from the Hebrew word hinam, meaning “causeless or groundless.” Satan then suggests, “skin for skin,” meaning if he is allowed to harm Job himself, then Job will turn his back on God. God grants the devil’s request but informs Satan that he cannot take Job’s life. The text then says the following:

“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”[8]

Once again, even after he is struck with calamity, Job refuses to blame God for his trouble. Interestingly, he also attributes his affliction to God, even though Satan is the one who was trying to prove a point. Looking back to Job 2:7-10, is it just coincidence that both Satan and Job’s wife wanted him to curse The Lord? Is it also coincidence that Job’s wife was spared so that she could accuse her husband and suggest that he curse God? After all, doesn’t Mrs. Job have a valid point—how can God really be sovereign and good when disaster strikes?

Thankfully for us, Job addresses these issues in what he does. He certainly does not model for us behavior that attributes his troubles to something or someone else. Instead, he attributes his pain to God and then delivers his worries right back to God’s doorstep. In modernity, the implication is that the best way to deal with suffering is to bring it to the foot of the Cross because Jesus is the ultimate example of unjust suffering and the expert in affliction that is groundless (hinam).

At the end of Job 2, three friends come to visit Job: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They see that Job’s suffering is so great that the man they once knew is unrecognizable. By sprinkling dust upon their heads, they demonstrate extreme mourning and suggest they believe Job will soon die. They sit in silence for seven days and seven nights because they see how great Job’s suffering truly is. Job finally speaks in the next chapter. Chapter 3 is an extended lament that is echoed in Psalm 88. Job’s anguish is evident, and he begins to question if life is meaningless. He asks, “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?”[9] In his words, we can sense a great deal of cynicism, nihilism, and when Job makes statements like, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?”[10]—perhaps a suggestion that God has a perverse sense of humor. It’s almost as if Job feels as though he would be better off without light, without hope, and in total darkness so when engulfed in the depths of the shadows, there would be nothing else to which he could compare the experience. This is exactly what unresolved pain does: it makes you pessimistic about life and about God. Especially in modernity, when an increasing number of people are averse to the idea of God in general, the question we should be asking people is, “Why do you feel that way?” or “What sorrowful experiences have you had that shaped your perceptions of God?” What you may find underneath a recalcitrant, tough outer shell of hostility is someone who is generally hurting and has run away from The Lord in order to protect him or herself.

Note, however, that throughout all of this, Job is still speaking to God. Job doesn’t attempt to reconcile his dilemma by proclaiming that God does not exist or that God can’t exist because of all the pain. He reconciles divine love, divine providence, and the reality of evil with God. Although Job is crushed, he remains aware that he will never be able to reconcile evil and suffering by himself. It is through faith that he is kept by God’s power[11] and therefore able to stand in the midst of affliction. As a created being, Job looks to the Creator for answers. The only other path would leave Job to his own devices, and the inevitable end result would be perpetual frustration because, in this case, suffering is for nothing. This upward gaze toward The Lord compels Job in the latter half of the book to ask, “Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?”[12] After considering the awesomeness of God, he concludes by saying that “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”[13]

God is still silent at this point in the book, but it is worth recognizing the very real and very possible outcome: when some people suffer—even the upright—some will arrive at the perilous conclusion that God is a bad guy or that silence means God is disinterested in a person’s predicament. Job 3 has been memorialized in Scripture by God for a reason, and part of that reason is that all Scripture is profitable for teaching.[14] How does this chapter profit us? Well, it tells us that we, as Christians, have to be aware of the danger of what suffering can do to a person, and we must therefore be sensitive to the calamities of others. Some people can endure much, never waver, and will end up stronger on the other side of their seasons of suffering. Some people, on the other hand, may have nervous breakdowns. And some people may just break. We ought to be wise, attentive, and sensible advocates, prayer partners, intercessors, crutches, and ears when people, for example, begin to question the day they were born as Job did in Job 3:11.

Furthermore, God let Job speak his mind, and God remained silent so that you and I and all those who read the Bible could realize that God does allow his chosen ones “room to vent”—He isn’t necessarily hasty to reprimand. Job was a normal human being, and he expressed the emotions one would expect when a normal human being is severely afflicted. As stated above, when we bring such afflictions to God, He can not only relate to our suffering,[15] but He has such a vested interest in our pain that He sent His Son into the world for our sakes.[16]

What happens next is that all of Job’s pals give their “advice” regarding Job’s predicament. I will not devote too much time to what they say because as Job 40 makes clear, these friends gave Job bad advice. What is clear is that all three men knew God and had a general understanding of what a worshiper of God is supposed to do. By modern extension, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar can be thought of as contemporary believers who give advice to a Christian friend who is suffering. Keep in mind that for all three friends, they, like Job, do not have full comprehension of why Job’s situation is happening—only God, Satan, and we as readers know.

Eliphaz’s argument is, essentially, that karma is true—that a person reaps what they sow.[17] As Galatians 6:7 (KJV) tells us, this is partially correct in that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Eliphaz thus implies that Job is not innocent and that confessing his guilt will bring an end to his suffering.[18] But while God is just, He is also full of grace, and in a world full of mechanistic tit-for-tat justice, there would be no room for Christ. From Job 1 and 2, we know that Job is upright and blameless. Jesus was also without sin[19] and suffered tremendously. This breaks Eliphaz’s formula into pieces. So, while Eliphaz may have genuine intent, Job makes him out to be a storm that causes a lot of commotion but ends up doing much harm while adding no value. Eliphaz reveals to us four things: (1) Often, life is not merely black and white. (2) Well-intended Christians can do more harm than good. (3) God doesn’t operate in certain ways just because we say He does. (4) People do not necessarily suffer in direct proportion to their sin; that sliding scale works both ways, so some people may have lots of sin and rarely suffer while others may be blameless and suffer much.

The core of Bildad’s argument[20] is that God will not pervert His justice, and therefore Job must in some way be wrong because The Lord does not cast away those who are good. When Job tries to make a case for himself, Bildad responds as though he has been offended personally.[21]

Job neither denies God’s justice nor His sovereignty, and he recognizes his subordination to God. He says that he cannot “answer him one of a thousand.”[22] In fact, Job says this is exactly the problem because no one could ever withstand the perfect justice of a perfect God. He says, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.”[23] How can anyone be justified in God’s court? Job says that he needs someone to, “mediate between us, someone to bring us together”[24] who can plead his innocence for him. This directly exposes a need for an advocate, a paraclete, a witness, an intercessor[25]—in other words, Jesus.

The final “friend,” Zophar,[26] fails to put himself in Job’s place and condemns him without compassion. Zophar says that Job’s sins are the cause of his troubles.

With silence from God and accusations from friends, Job has yet to have someone plead for him and make a case for him before The Lord. Even though Job has only silence to work with, he still makes the timeless proclamation in Job 19:25 that “I know that my redeemer lives.”

Before The Lord answers Job, we hear from Elihu, a fourth counselor who apparently was sitting on the sidelines while the other three men gave their two cents. Elihu was younger than the other three[27] and gave deference to the age of his elders. Elihu gives four poetic speeches from chapters 32-37, and we are told what motivated Elihu to speak:

“The wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.”[28]

The other three men were unified against Job. Elihu stood against Job and the three. Everyone states they are playing for team Yahweh. Additionally, at the end of the book of Job, God rebukes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for what they said, but He is silent when it comes to Elihu. So what does he say? His main point is that God is just and He will not bend the universe to accommodate wickedness.[29] Still, suffering is instructive in that it opens the ear of the oppressed.[30] In other words, suffering is not for nothing.

In regard to sin, Elihu says it may not always cause suffering, but suffering can cause a person to sin. It is from this stance that Elihu basically tells Job, “You whine too much.”[31]

Chapter 38 is when God answers Job out of the whirlwind. The entire dynamic now changes because whether it was Job or the three friends talking, everyone had the chance to go on the offensive. Yet when it comes to talking directly with God, how can he who is vile contend?[32] God makes clear His own majesty and, by comparison, the “speckedness” (my word) of man. Consider The Lord’s words to Job:

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? … Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it? The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?[33]

The tone leads any sensible person to realize that sometimes, the best course of action is to be silent and simply bow before the magnificence of God.

The end of the book of Job concludes with repentance and restoration. In Job 42:5-6 (KJV), Job says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” In Job 42:7, God tells Eliphaz and the two others that they did not speak what was true. God’s wrath was kindled against the three men. Subsequently, God restored Job, his family, and all his possessions, giving him twice as much as he had before.[34] And why did Job repent? Putting everything together, we can now deduce that in the course of his trial, sin was committed. Repentance requires knowing that you have done something wrong, and at the beginning of the story, God had no reason to harm Job. Thus, Job’s sin resulted from his suffering when he went too far and reproved God.[35]

At the end of Job’s trials, he now knows God better and has a richer relationship with Him. He bears witness to a pattern of forgiveness in that even though he, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar now all deserve God’s justice because of sin (see the irony?), God gives them room to turn from their ways.

Throughout the book, endless speculation is offered in order to explain “Why does suffering exist?”—yet their answers did not yield any tangible dividends, did not help Job, and did not bring anyone closer to God. Instead, God and His Word proved sufficient, and that sufficiency did not provide and explanation for the question, “Why suffering?” Moreover, there is an archetype of forgiveness in the book of Job by which God forgives Job and the three friends[36] so all four characters in this story walk away with a newfound appreciation of The Lord. God is more forgiving than the three friends of Job thought—and they presumed to speak for Him and His justice!

So, whether we are talking about drawing closer to God, trusting Him in the midst of adversity, executing repentance and receiving restoration, having a greater appreciation of who God is, reading a book of the Bible that clarifies what to say to those who are afflicted, learning how suffering is experienced out of proportion to sin, learning how suffering can cause sin, or how suffering is compatible with a just and loving God—the Book of Job reveals with crystal clarity that suffering is not for nothing and all things work together to serve the timeless purposes of a sovereign and loving Lord.[37]

The story ends with Job’s life renewed through the grace of God. Most of the story is about theodicy—divine goodness and providence in view of evil. At the end of the story, it’s not evil or suffering that prevails—it’s the hesed (grace) of God. In the end, what Job could be certain of was that while he may not have understood why all of this happened to him, he could be sure of and trust the God who gave him renewed life.

Conclusion

When I take a step back and think about Job, the one issue that has always amazed me is that Job did not have access to the full canon of Scripture. Job didn’t even have access to the book named after him! He couldn’t do what you and I can do today—open up and read the good news in the Synoptics, the uplifting words of Philippians, or, if we accept the earlier dates of the book of Job’s composition, read the Psalms that generate hope in times of despair. Job had none of that, yet in spite of this, he was a man who stood firm in his faith. He did so despite the lack of the Word, the lack of a prophet, the lack of a priest, and the lack of a promise of a resurrection. To me, that seems like a supernatural gift that transcends the word “faith.”

I hope this case study on Job, and WCSK episode 0.4 in general, has been helpful. I hope I have been able to provide the clarity and meaningful answers that someone was looking for.

In the spirit of answering tough questions, please join me in the next few weeks for the next episode of WCSK (0.5) where I will search for a meaningful answer to the critical question, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?”

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

 

[1] Ezekiel 14:14, 20; James 5:10-11

[2] Job 1:1, 1:8, 2:3

[3] Job 1:12

[4] Job 1:9

[5] Job 1:22

[6] Job 2:3

[7] Job 2:3 (emphasis added; NIV)

[8] Job 2:7-10 (NIV)

[9] Job 3:11 (KJV); c.f. Psalm 88:15

[10] Job 3:23 (KJV)

[11] I Peter 1:5

[12] Job 28:12 (KJV)

[13] Job 28:28 (KJV)

[14] II Timothy 3:16

[15] Hebrews 4:14-16

[16] Luke 19:10

[17] Job 4:7-8

[18] Job 4:7

[19] II Corinthians 5:21; c.f. Hebrews 12:6

[20] Job 8:1-6

[21] Job 18

[22] Job 9:3 (KJV)

[23] Job 9:20 (KJV)

[24] Job 9:33 (NIV)

[25] Job 16:18-19

[26] Job 11:1-20

[27] Job 32:4, 6-7, 9

[28] Job 32:2-3 (KJV)

[29] Job 34:12

[30] Job 36:15

[31] Job 34:16-25, 36:26-30

[32] Job 40:3-5

[33] Job 38:4-8, 28-33 (KJV)

[34] Job 42:10

[35] Job 40:2-6

[36] Job 42:7-17; c.f. I Corinthians 13

[37] See Romans 8:28

2 thoughts on “#WCSK Episode 0.4c: Why suffering? A case study of Job

  1. hi WCSK you are doing a very good job, please keep up the good work that u are doing, i have just finish reading Episode 0.4B how to deal with suffering enjoyed every moment reading it i have learned a lot. Thank you . May God bless you an everyone that is taking the time to make it happen.

    1. CHESadaphal says:

      Thank you!

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