Ask Steve: Job and the Response of Trust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Job and trying to understand the book and its difficult theme of righteous suffering. How should the righteous man respond to suffering according to the book of Job? 

Response: The book of Job is widely categorized as wisdom literature, mixed with elements of narrative, legal, lament, and other genres. As a wisdom narrative, the book of Job teaches the audience about the nature of suffering, especially as it relates to believers of Yahweh, and how one should respond to it. A thematic dilemma of the book of Job is how God can allow “unjust suffering” to come to godly and righteous believers who are innocent of anything that would warrant such pain. The mysterious nature of suffering paints a bleak picture of life and calls into question the wisdom of God, no less His goodness. It is a complex issue that has been characteristics of the lives of believers throughout history. The book of Job was not meant to divulge the cause or purpose of suffering in a righteous man’s life, since God never revealed His reasons in this book. Rather, the purpose of the book is to show, through the example of Job’s life, how people are to respond to suffering, which is continued obedience to and trust in God.

Believers must first respond to suffering by ascribing honor to God. Chapter 1 introduces us into the world of Job and describes his background, as well as the backdrop for what is about to come. Verse 1 states that Job was a man who was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” He was so blessed by God that he had “7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many…” Verse 3 makes the point clear: Job was the greatest of all the men of the east. Because Job so righteous and God-fearing, does that mean that he is entitled to a suffering-free life? Does Job’s material blessing indicate that God protects righteous, godly men with security and comfort? As the rest of the book reveals, we see that this is not the case.

Chapter 1 reveals how God made a wager with Satan, in which Satan was allowed to take away all of Job’s material blessings, including his very family. The purpose of the wager was to see whether or not Job would abandon God when things were not going well in life, and if Job truly served God because of his love for God or because of what God can provide for him. Despite the disaster and grief that came upon Job’s life, he did not abandon his loyalty to Yahweh. In 1:21, Job states, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In essence, Job didn’t blame God for his circumstances. This passages shows that not only did Job endure suffering faithfully, but he blessed the Lord amidst his experience of mysterious suffering. He persevered in his faith and obediently submitted to God and His sovereign rule. Since Job recognized that all things came from God, he understood the principle that God had the right to take such blessings away for whatever purpose He wills. God is to be blessed in all circumstances, even in suffering.

Believers must also respond to suffering by submitting to God’s providence. Chapter 2 describes how Satan moved next to strike Job down with a severe illness. According to verse 4, Satan believed that once Job had been plagued physically, Job would finally abandon God. The perseverance of Job in faith is the issue at stake once again, and God confidently allowed Satan to move forward in his evil agenda, because God ultimately uses everything for good in the life of the believer (Romans 8:28). Satan caused Job to be smote with sore boils. Grieved at the situation, Job’s wife demanded that Job abandon his integrity and curse God (2:9). Job responded by rebuking his wife, rightly admonishing her foolish thinking. Job states, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job once again withstood the temptation brought on by Satan, remaining obedient by not sinning with his lips (v. 10). This chapter shows that the righteous man is to respond to suffering with a heart attitude of submission to God, especially in the way God decides to distribute joys and hardships his life, knowing that God is wise and good.

The last, but not least, way that the righteous man must respond to suffering is by finding comfort in God rather than finding answers to suffering. Chapters 4 through 37 explore the ways that Job’s three friends, along with Elihu, try to “comfort” Job. After Job’s sad speech in 3:3-26, Job’s friends finally spoke (after 7 days of silence in Job’s presence) in order to defend God’s integrity. They accused Job of not repenting of a certain sin in his life, and it is because of those unconfessed sins that God is punishing and judging Job. If only Job would confess his sins and seek God’s forgiveness, he would be restored in health and blessings, according to Bildad’s knowledge in 8:5-6. The rest of Bildad’s speeches, along with Eliphaz and Zophar, are a variation of these themes: Job was wrong, God was right; Job sinned, God punished; if Job repents, then God restores. In helping Job discover God’s true character and intention, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar thought that they could comfort Job by helping him find the answers to his suffering. They thought that finding the answers to life was the key to solving Job’s dilemma and restoring peace to his mind.

This is not the case. Job became grieved by the poor advice of his three friends, telling them that they are of no help. They further aggravated the pain of Job with their useless knowledge (6:15-23). Job accused his friends of being poor consolers, stating, “Sorry comforters are you all. Is there no limit to windy words? Or what plagues you that you answer?” Job did not long for such words of wisdom, but longed for God (23:1-4). He wanted God not just for comfort, but for acquittal and vindication of his righteous character before his friends. God eventually came to Job’s rescue, speaking to Job in chapters 38, 39, and 41. In these chapters, God moved Job toward repentance, and ultimately stronger faith in Him. God also rebuked Job’s three friends for failing to inspire Job to find comfort and trust in God and stating false things about God’s character. That is why one of the major responses to suffering must be to find solace in God rather than trying to find answers or speaking presumptuously about His will.

In summation, the book of Job is possibly the most valuable book in the Bible that speaks about the nature of suffering and our response to it. Suffering is a prevalent issue amongst believers and unbelievers, and is the result of sin that has entered the world from the time of creation. The only remedy for suffering is trust and hope in God. In His timing, He will bring everlasting comfort to believers and put an end to grief. 

Recommended Resource: Job by Francis I. Andersen