Job: A Case Study On Suffering, Part 1

I recall attending a one man theatrical production of the book of Job. For over an hour the Christian actor quoted from this biblical book of wisdom, dramatizing Job’s sufferings, the related speeches, and his eventual restoration. When you see a man writhing in pain and calling out to God for answers and justice, it leaves a profound impression. [1]

The tragedy of suffering is kept before us daily. We look back and remember the multitudes of soldiers have suffered and died to defend our freedoms. We look at the news and see mass murders through terrorism. We think of our own circle of friends and family and feel the pain of various kinds of physical, mental, and emotional affliction.

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, Paul Billheimer expresses the problem of suffering, especially for the child of God:

“In a fallen world [Gen. 3], suffering of some kind is universal. There is no permanent release or escape from it, either by rank, holy living, health, or wealth. ‘Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward’ (Job 5:7)… We are not surprised that the sinner has sorrow, ‘There will be trouble and distress for everyone who does evil’ (Rom. 2:9) … But why should the righteous suffer? Why isn’t every believer healed, and healed immediately? Why isn’t he carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease’? Why must he ‘fight to win the prize and sail through bloody seas’? It is difficult for most people to understand why sorrow comes to a saint.” [2]

The book of Job is our most lengthy Biblical answer to this mystery. Let’s briefly survey this book and draw out some essential lessons. These insights can help us to handle affliction with confidence and perseverance, rather than bitterness.

We are introduced to this patriarch in the opening of this epic:

“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:1-3).

So we discover that Job was blessed with a large family and great wealth (measured as it was four thousand years ago). He was notably a believer in God with exemplary righteousness.

Consider some biblical principles about handling adversity.

1. Sometimes—for reasons known only to God—innocent people are allowed to undergo intense and prolonged suffering without knowing why.

In one day Job and his wife lost virtually everything: all seven of their children died and all their wealth was plundered! The news comes to Job in horrid, precisely timed waves (Job 1:13-19). What would Job’s response be? In intense sorrow he agonizes, tearing his robe and shaving his head (according to the manner of grieving in the ancient near east) and then he testified,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

What Job did not say is almost as amazing as what he did say: “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).

In chapter two the weight of his loss becomes even heavier:

“So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes” (Job 2:7-8). This was more than his wife could bear: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!'” Job did not succumb to this pessimism; instead he managed to say, “‘Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).

2. Although we do not choose our afflictions, we can choose our reactions.

“That I may know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Phil. 3:10). May we draw upon Christ’s presence within us and respond with unwavering confidence in God.

3. Recognize the reality of spiritual warfare.

In this book of Job, the curtain of heaven is drawn back and we get a glimpse of the hostility of our adversary, Satan. In chapters one and two we see Satan trying to alienate God from Job and Job from God. This is the devil’s strategy against all of God’s people (1 Pet. 5:9). Although Job was not privy to this, we see that God had a hedge of protection around him. Satan could do no more than God allowed (Job 1:7-12; 2:1-7). We wonder why so much was permitted, but that is part of the mystery.

Spiritual warfare is an undeniable factor in our sufferings as Christians. Satan even deceived and destroyed one of the twelve disciples-—Judas Iscariot. The devil’s agenda is still to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10a). So, we are to put on the whole armor of God and stand against the demonic realm (Eph. 6:10-18).[3]

One of the devil’s infamous titles is “the accuser of the brethren.” Thankfully, he has been defeated through Christ’s redemption (Heb. 2:14; Col. 2:15; Zech. 3:10). Christ’s second coming will send Satan’s horde to their place of final incarceration. In the mean time, we need to appropriate Christ’s victory. As Revelation announces, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Rev. 12:10-11; see Eph. 3:10). Let’s remember that ultimately, our “enemy” is not circumstances or people, but Satan’s realm. [4]

Now back to Job. His sufferings are not finished yet. The next jabs of pain come from an unexpected source—his three friends. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar travel from their homes to comfort their decimated companion. The first week they comforted him by not saying a word!

4. Sometimes we comfort best by avoiding trite answers; just “weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15).

After Job’s heart-wrenching lament (ch. 3), chapters 4-28 contain three cycles of poetic speeches. In each cycle, the three “comforters” take turns speaking to Job, with him responding with a speech following each of theirs. [5]

5. We sometimes misjudge the cause and meaning of suffering.

Much of the material in the friends’ speeches is valid wisdom. [6]  They affirm divine justice. Yet, at the conclusion of the book God rebukes these “comforters” for being wrong about Job (Job 42:7). What were they wrong about? They assumed that 1) the wicked are always judged by God in this life; 2) the righteous are always rewarded in this life; and 3) Job’s afflictions must be due to his sin.

Let’s take a sampling from the comforters’ speeches.

Eliphaz tells Job,
“Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright ever cut off?
[meaning, “Job, you’re not in this mess because of your good behavior!” -Job 4:7].

And Bildad declared,
“Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice?
If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression.”
[The death of Job’s ten children is attributed to their sin! -Job 8:3,4].

And Zophar claims,
“But oh, that God would speak,
And open His lips against you,
That He would show you the secrets of wisdom!
For they would double your prudence.
Know therefore that God exacts from you Less than your iniquity deserves.”
[“Job, you’ve gotten off easy!” -Job 11:5-6].

These speeches just “turned the knife in the wound” of their friend.

6. Although the righteous are rewarded by God and the wicked are punished, these results are not always seen in this life. Psalm 73 addresses this dilemma.[7]  So we should not jump to conclusions about the cause of people’s afflictions. Identifying causes of suffering is usually best left up to the afflicted one and to God.

Job’s suffering in chapters 4-26 was intensified due to the pain of being misunderstood, criticized, judged, and rejected. Talk about adding insult to injury![8]

As New Testament believers, we can come to God for consolation for all of these afflictions (but hopefully not for all of these at once!). In Christ, God’s love and goodness comfort us in times of loss, protect us from the Enemy’s devices, sustain us through sickness, and defend us from unfair criticism:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-34).

As you reflect on the wisdom of the book of Job, reaffirm God’s sovereignty, His faithfulness, and His wisdom. The main lesson to carry away from this classic book is that when you don’t understand the “why” of suffering, keep trusting God.

Part 1 of 2

[1] The play was entitled, “Job Alive,” by actor Jason Hildebrand from Toronto. The patriarch’s name, Job, is pronounced like “jobe”.

[2] Paul Billheimer, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, (CLC), pp.26-27

[3] The devil cannot rob the believer in Christ of salvation (John 10:28-30), but he can tempt us to ruin our testimony, and forfeit potential blessings and rewards.

[4] Other opponents of the believer include this fallen world-system and the flesh (1 John 2:15,16; Gal. 5:16,17).

[5] In the third cycle of speeches (chs. 22-28), the third comforter, Zophar, doesn’t speak; he may have run out of remarks.

[6] Job 5:13 (Elihu) is quoted in 1 Cor. 3:19.

[7] The writer of Psalm 73 temporarily doubted the value of following God because of the apparent prosperity of the ungodly: “When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me— Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end” (Psalm 73:16,17). Thus his perspective was restored. He realized that God’s judgment may be delayed–because of His mercy–but will not be canceled.

[8] As the book of Job continues, we need to discern the role of the younger speaker, Elihu (chs 32-37), the intent of God’s direct revelations (Chs 38-42), the sins Job repents of, and the implications of the happy ending. Let’s focus on this next week.

Copyright 2001 by John Woodward. 2nd edition. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit the author and Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.