Bible Focus: Job
“He has blocked my way so that I cannot pass through; he has veiled my paths with darkness. He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side so that I am ruined. He uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me, and he regards me as one of his enemies.
“All of my best friends despise me, and those I love have turned against me. My skin and my flesh cling to my bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for God’s hand has struck me.”Job 19:8-11,19-21 CSB
Young children sometimes blame a parent for disappointments over which the parent has no control. Perhaps a ballgame gets rained out, or a play date gets cancelled, or a nasty sickness requires a quarantine. The child learns of the unpleasant change, and suddenly they vent their misery on the poor parent, who can’t control such hurts any more than they can control the spin of the earth.
We can easily laugh at that story, because we know that the child’s misery is overblown, and that human parents are not able to control everything. But when we experience real tragedies–those things that break our hearts, minds, and spirits–those of us who believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God might find it hard to keep ourselves from blaming him for our pain.
Have you ever been hurt so deeply that you questioned God’s caring, his goodness, his wisdom, or even his existence? I think most of us that believe in a loving God will eventually go through some kind of painful trial that makes us ask such questions. We can keep such doubts carefully hidden, but that won’t make them go away. We might ease our doubt somewhat by thinking that God doesn’t actively cause our hurts. But even supposing that’s true, God knew our hurts were going to happen, and he knew how much our hurts would hurt us, and yet he still let them through.
Job wasn’t perfect, but he faithfully walked with God. No one knows exactly when or where Job lived, but there is general scholarly agreement that he lived sometime after Noah and before the time of Moses. If that’s true, then the book of Job is probably one of the oldest texts of the Bible. It certainly explores some of mankind’s oldest questions regarding God and suffering.
Job was initially blessed and protected by God. Yet God took his protection away, allowing Satan to blast Job with misery. In the span of one day, Job lost most of his possessions to violence, and suffered the loss of all his children in a tragic accident. Soon after that, Job was struck with a plague that disfigured him and kept him in constant pain. His friends came to visit, and they couldn’t even recognize him. Satan was not allowed to kill Job, but Job was hurting so much that he wanted to die. So Job cried out to God, asking why he had been made to suffer these things.
If we believe in the same God that Job believed in, then Job’s reaction probably doesn’t surprise us. The Bible says that God’s power is absolute. He created the universe and sustains its very existence. God is never truly passive in what happens to us. Everything passes through his almighty hands. So what does it mean when we endure suffering? Why does God allow it?
Job’s friends wrongly concluded that God was punishing Job for sins he had committed. Job came to some faulty conclusions too: he felt that God was angry at him and was treating him unjustly. But even in his confusion and despair, Job hoped in God and longed for God:
But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. I will see him myself; my eyes will look at him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.Job 19:25-27 CSB
In the end, God personally showed up and spoke to Job. But God gave Job none of the answers he was seeking. Instead, God peppered Job with questions that Job could not answer! This odd approach didn’t discourage Job, though. He was overwhelmed at God’s presence. Job repented of his words, and pleaded ignorance: “Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know” (Job 42:3b). God then commended Job, restored him to health, and blessed him even more than before.
The story of Job leaves unanswered many of our questions about suffering. But here’s the good news: our sufferings in this life are not a good measure of how God feels about us. If we rely on that measure, then we would have to conclude that God hated Job, as well as many other godly people; and we would also have to conclude that God hated Jesus most of all. But we must trust the words of God more than our pain. We must rely on a better measure of God’s love than our sufferings; and there is no better measure of God’s love than the sacrifice of Jesus.
He [Jesus] was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished him for the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:3-6 CSB
Featured image by Lance Asper on Unsplash