Lecture 18: Suffering and Faith in God (Job)
Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
Job is one of the deepest books in the Bible; it is a hard read and almost all poetry. You have to spend a lot of time reflecting on it, meditating on it, mulling it over. It is also full of deep theology and deep philosophy. It deals with issues of hurt and pain, and with issues of the majesty, wonder, and power of God. The book of Job ask the question: Can you trust God? That is its ultimate question. The book of Job simply cannot be covered in one sermon, so I am going to walk through its basic structure and highlight his two basic themes, but I want to encourage each of you to read yourself. It is too deep to read through in one sitting, but I would encourage you to make it part of your weekly reading and give yourself a chance to mull over the poetry, and then mull over what is says and what it means. I cannot do that for you this morning. So, let’s look through Job.
Chapters I and II in the book of Job are its prologue, its narrative that sets the stage for what will come, and so we start in Job 1:1 and read, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Job is the best of the best, in other words. He is the best there is. Down in verse 6: “Now there was a day when the sons of God [(probably angels)] came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, 'From where have you come?' Satan answered the Lord and said 'From going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it.' And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have your considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil?'" Talk about painting a bulls eye on Job’s chest, right? Is as if God is saying, "In case you haven’t found Job, let me tell you about the most upright, the most blameless person there is on earth." And Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side. You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land, but stretch out your hand and touch all that he has and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. You see, Satan’s basic argument is this: the only reason that Job is blameless, the only reason that Job is upright is that God has blessed him so much, and certainly Satan is saying “If you bless anyone the way you blessed Job, ya they’ll be blameless and upright too.” That is the reason he is so upright.
It is in this short paragraph that the author lays out the two basic themes in the book of Job. There are many things going on in Job, but there are two basic things and they are laid out in his very first paragraph. One: Bad things can happen to righteous people. Bad things that are not their fault. We see that, and we see God painting a bulls eye on Job as he says to Satan, “Go at it, just don’t touch him physically.” Bad things happen to righteous people. The conventional wisdom of the day, and I think still today, is that pain and suffering are always due to sin. Right? Where there is pain and suffering there are many people who will argue, “Well there must be undisclosed sin in your life because there can be no pain and suffering apart from sin.” That is the conventional wisdom, but what the book of Job is going to teach us is that God allows pain even when there is no sin. The book of Job is going to teach us that God is free, that he is free to do what he chooses, even if you and I don’t understand it, and even if you and I don’t think that it’s fair. The word “Theoddessey” is often used in connection with the book of Job. A theoddessey is a defense of God’s character in light of human suffering. Theoddessey asks the question, “How can God be good and powerful and allow suffering in your life. That certainly is a lot of what’s going on in the book of Job. In his attempt to teach us that bad things can happen to righteous and good people. There is a second question in the book of Job, which is much deeper and more fundamental than theoddessey. The most basic question of the book of Job is this: Is God worthy of trust even if we are not blessed? There is the question given by Satan, right? He proposed to God that Job would not be blameless and upright if he were not blessed. Is God worthy of our trust, even if we do not get anything for it? Even if we are not blessed, can I believe in a perfect God? That is the second and more fundamental question in Job, Is God worthy of trust? Moving forward, Satan leaves the presence of God and destroys all of Job’s wealth. He even kills his children, and yet Job refuses to curse God and in that famous phrase in verse 21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” So Satan goes back before the presence of God and says, “Well the only reason he hasn’t cursed you is because you didn’t let me touch his body.” And God replies, "okay, you can touch his body, but you can’t kill him." So Satan puts sores from the top of Jobs head to the bottom of his feet. And Job’s wife says what Satan wants her to say. She says, “curse God and die.” Yet Job still, even with this kind of physical agony that is built up on top of all the emotional agony of losing your family and losing your wealth, Job refuses to curse God. In fact, in verse ten he says, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil? If I am willing to accept good from God should I not also be willing to accept evil?” All this calamity and all this pain, and in all this Job did not sin.
Then Job’s three friends come to console him, and there is a series of dialogues. It begins in chapter 3 with Job’s opening lament. He curses the day of his birth, he wishes he had never been born. Then in chapters 4 through 31 there are three cycles of dialogue. The first cycle contains friend one of Job who confronts Job and Job answers, then friend two speaks and Job answers, then friend three speaks and Job answers. That happens again a second and third time. As you read through these cycles of dialogues, one of the questions that is going to come to your mind is, with friends like these who needs enemies? They are there to console Job, but they are really harsh, because Job’s friends have God all figured out. Have you ever met anyone who knows everything? There is no mystery left in God, only theological arrogance. Well, Job’s three friends were like this and proponents of the conventional wisdom that said that pain is always the result of sin. God has no freedom to act in any other way. God must submit to my human understanding of cause and affect. If I am sinful, I will be punished, so if I am punished I must have sinned. There is no freedom for God to do anything else. He must submit to their way of thinking. You will see them saying this over and over again through these series of dialogues. They tell Job, "you sinned. Face it, admit it, confess it, and he will heal you." Jobs replies, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” Job can also be seen through these dialogues, and it is important to understand that Job maintains much of his faith.
Many of the answers that Job gives are great answers. The fact that Job is relentless in pursuing God, in crying out for an answer, is an attitude of faith at one level, because he believes that God is going to answer him. That is a statement of faith. He cries out to God to show him his sin, and that is a statement of faith, is it not? He does it several times. In Job 6:24 Job says to God, “Teach me and I will be silent, make me understand how I have gone astray.” See, Job is still a proponent of conventional wisdom. He still thinks there is a connection between sin and suffering, the problem is he knows he has not sinned, and so he is crying out to God and it is a cry of faith.
Later on Job expresses by faith his conviction that someday God will redeem him, and some day this will be over and he will be with God again. There is a lot of good stuff in Job’s answers, but somewhere along the line Job starts to slip and things start to change, and Job starts to demand that God answer him. In fact, Job puts God on trial, which can be seen in the legal terminology throughout this section of Job where he is saying, “I’m going to create a law court. God, you’ve got to come. I have a complaint against you and you must answer me.” In the process of Job doing this and insisting that he is innocent, Job shows the willingness to question whether God is actually innocent of sin. There is nothing wrong, is there, with crying out to God? There is nothing wrong with just opening up your heart and letting it poor out the pain and anguish, and the hurt and betrayal.
That is not wrong, just look at the Psalms. It is all the way through them. The Psalmist ends with statements of faith, but there are many examples like Job, where people open up their heart and cry out to him in anguish and in desperation because God is big enough. He is big enough to absorb our pain. But Job does step over the line when he insists that he is innocent and he is willing to bring into question the righteousness of God in order to maintain his own innocence. When God finally does speak to Job in chapter 40:8, he says this specifically, “Will you even put me in the wrong, will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” Job steps over the line, and in his desire to insist that he is innocent he is willing to question the very character and the innocence and the goodness of God.
These cycles of dialogues become shorter as you get deeper into the book. The second dialogue is shorter than the first, the third cycle is shorter than the second, and the third friend never actually speaks. It is kind of like the arguments are winding down. It is as if the friends say, “You know we can only say so many times you must be a sinner because your suffering.” And Job says, “There is only so many ways I can say I haven’t done anything.” So the dialogue is winding down, and then you find that there is actually is a fourth friend in chapter 32, a man named Elihu. He is a younger man and he had chosen not to speak earlier out of respect to his elders. But now that he sees that his older friends are done in chapters 32 to 37, he puts his two cents in and Elihu is much closer to the truth than are the other three. The other three are going to get Gods wrath, but God never gets mad at Elihu. There are certainly some things that Elihu says that are wrong. He still sees this firm connection between sin and suffering, but much of what Elihu says is absolutely right. He sees that the central problem was Job’s desire to justify himself and not justify God. Elihu points out that Job should have been concerned with the Almighty God and how God was running the universe than his own innocence. For example, Job 32:2 says, “Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God.” Later in chapter 34 starting at verse 5, Elihu says, “For Job has said, “I am in the right, and God has taken away my right; in spite of my right I am counted a liar; my wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.” Job’s desire is to justify himself, to declare that he is innocent, that he does not deserve this, that it is not fair! And in the process, Job questions whether God is really just. Look over in chapter 34:10-12. “Far be it from God that he should do wickedness and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not do pervert justice.” These are two of the most important versus in the Bible when it comes to theodicy. That God does not sin in his sovereign control of all things God. He is righteous; he is innocent. Elihu is pointing out that Job sees himself as living at the same level, at the same height as God. Job sees himself as standing before God, nose to nose and able to speak to him and demand an answer. “Explain yourself, God” is what Job is saying. Job is no longer living as a creature, he is no longer living in submission to his Creator, but he thinks he is standing toe to toe, declaring his innocence and questioning whether God is really right or not. If that were not enough, God speaks in Chapter 38.
God Speaks (38-41)
Here is God’s answers in Chapters 38 through 41. God starts in 38:2, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you and you make it known to me.” This is one of those passages in the Bible where I am really glad that I am not the character in the Bible. I am glad that I am not Job, because I would terrified if God appeared to me and said, “Who is the fool that is darkening counsel without words. Be a man, stand up, I’m going to ask you some questions. In fact I’m tired of you asking me questions. It’s my turn to ask you questions and I want an answer." Can you imagine how Job felt at the end of verse three? But God goes through two answers, and in chapters 38 and 39 Job points out that God is infinitely wiser than he. Chapter 38:4-5, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!” The great example of biblical sarcasm. The whole point in chapters 38 and 39 is that God’s wisdom is infinitely beyond Jobs. I suspect that God was going through this dialogue and Job was thinking, “Okay, I give, yes.” He was metaphorically waiting for God to take a breath, so when God finishes in 40:4, Job says, “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Basically, I was wrong God and will shut my mouth.
But God tells Job that there is more. In chapters 40 and 41, he makes the point that God is more infinitely powerful than Job is powerful. In verse 9, “Have you an arm like God and can you thunder with his voice like his?” And he goes on and he talks about the behemoth, Leviathan and other things, but the point God is trying to make is that He is infinitely wiser than Job and infinitely more powerful. In other words God says, “You and I are not equal. You and I do not live at the same level. You and I do not stand toe to toe, nose to nose, eye to eye at the same level. I am the creator, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and you are simply part of my precious creation. In God’s answer to Job, you can see what He expected of Job in the midst of his suffering. He expected him to cry out in anguish, cry out in your pain because He is big enough to take it. But God also expected Job to recognize his own limitations. Limitations because he is part of creation, and that it is not all about him. It is not all about me and my hurts and my pain, and “I don’t think it’s fair God”. It is all about God and is he just and is he righteous and is he truly wise, and is he truly powerful. That is what the issue is. God gives Job the same answer that Paul gave the Romans in Chapter Nine. In the beginning of chapter nine Paul has been talking about the sovereignty of God, the fact that God is sovereign, in control of absolutely everything. In chapter 19 Paul writes, “You will say to me then 'Why does he still find fault, for who can resist his will?'” In other words, you say to me that it is not fair.
If God is sovereign, if God is in control, then why am I going to be blamed for my sin. It is not my fault because it is God’s fault. That is the modern version of Flip Wilson’s old saying: “God made me do it.” Look at Paul’s answer, “But who are you, old man, to answer back to God? What does the molded say to its molder, why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? That is the answer: we are not God. He is God, and he is like a potter who can do whatever he wants with the clay, and the clay has no right. It has no right to say, “Your not being fair with me. I don’t understand. You must answer me God. I am innocent. Prove yourself innocent. The clay has no right to do that to its creator. In chapter 41:11, God says “Who has first given to me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” That is God’s semi-gentle way of saying, “I don’t owe you anything.” Now we are thankful that we understand that God is totally consistent to his character, that God will always do what is right and holy and just. He will never deny his basic character, and even if we are faithless he remains faithful. Thankfully we know all these promises of God, but when it comes right down to it, the potter is in charge and the clay does what the potter tells it to do. That is the answer in Romans 9 and part of the answer in Job.
The epilogue comes in chapter 42, and Job repents of his accusations against God in verses 2 and 3. Job says, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” I know that your sovereign God, and I know you are in charge. Then part way down through verse three, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” I am will to exist as your creature within the limits of creaturely wisdom of what you have allowed me to know. Then God restores Job’s fortunes many times over. That is the book of Job. At one level Job is a theodicy. It is the defense of God’s character, his goodness and his power in light of human suffering. Does pain only come from sin? No. Did Job deserve to suffer? No. Was Job wrong to cry out to God in honesty and in desperation? No. Was Job wrong to demand that God defend himself? Yes. Was Job wrong to be more concerned with his own righteousness than with God’s? Yes. There is a theodicy going on in the book of Job. But at a deeper level the book of Job is asking a much more fundamental question. Its asking the question is God worthy of trust even if we are never blessed for doing so? Is God worthy of trust even if we don’t know all the answers? Is God worthy of our faith even if our lives are filled with pain? Gordon Fee and Doug Stewart have written another book. It is a great book called ''How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour''. (I make no money from the sales of this book.) In it, they go through every book of the Bible and kind of hold your hand, give you the structure and answer some of the basic background information. It is a great book. This is their summary of the book of Job: "The brilliance of this book lies in the fact that, although it looks as though it were a theodicy, human beings putting God on trial insisting on explanations for his actions, it turns out in fact to be a theology. God putting human beings on trial as to whether they will trust Him. Not only when they receive no immediate benefits, but also when he does not give them the explanations they demand. And thus as to whether they will live within the bounds of creaturely wisdom. Is Job’s question ever answered? It is one of the more interesting questions of the book. Does God every answer Jobs question of “Why? What did I do to deserve this?” On one hand, the answer to that question is no. Job is never told, as far as we know, about chapters one and two. God never tells them Satan came into his presence and that He painted a bulls eye on Job and told Satan to go at it. In one sense Job’s question of why is never answered, but at a deeper more fundamental level the answer is yes. Job’s cry for understanding was answered, but it was not answered with information. That is the key here. Job’s cry of ''why'' was answered, but it was not answered with information. Chapters one and two are never explained. There is nothing like, “Well, Job, you had kind of plateaued a little. There’s not a lot of challenges in your life and you know grow into spiritual maturity through a little pain, so I’d…..” There is nothing like this that goes on in the book of Job. God answers Job not with information but with Himself. He says, “I am the answer to the question. In all my glory, and in all my wisdom, and in all my power, and in all my majesty, I am the answer. Not information about me. I am the answer. When we understand who God is, in all his majesty, and wonder, and power, when we understand that we don’t exist at the same level as God, when we come to grips with the fact that we are not his equal, when we come to grips with the fact that we cannot demand that God explain himself. When we come to grips with an understanding that he does not follow our rules. God follows his own rules. Then when we are presented with the vision of God and that curtain is pulled back and we can see him, at least a little bit of who he is, in all his majesty, and in all his wonder, and in all his glory, that is the answer. The person who demands that God answer his questions serves a god that is infinitely too small.
We serve a God who doesn’t always give us answers, but he gives us himself and he allows us to see him in his wisdom and in his power. And his call on your life and mine is not to say “I need information, I need facts.” But our response is one of faith that says “God when we see you and when we understanding who you are, even if we don’t understand everything, even if life hurts, even if it doesn’t seem that life is fair, You are. And even when we are not powerful you are powerful. In all your majesty, in all your holiness, and all your wonder. That is the response of faith to the problems of life. When our spouse of one year or 48 years dies, Job asks, "Do I still trust God? Job asks, when our daughter of three hours dies, "can I still trust God?" I am receiving no benefit for it, but can I still trust him. When we are not accepted by the kids at school, is God still worthy of trust? When our children go to a life of rebellion and sin, can God still be trusted? When my mom and dad are a dysfunctional mess, can I still trust God? When the jerk at work gets the promotion and you don’t, can you still trust God? When life makes no sense at all, can I still trust God? That is the question of Job, and Job answers not with facts, it does not answer with information, but answers with a vision of God. A pulling back of the curtain and helping us to understand who God is in all his wisdom and who God is in all his power, and who God is in all of his majesty and wonder and awe. And the person of faith says “I don’t need to know all the facts. I don’t need to figure it all out. All I need to know is God. And in God I trust.”
- Have you ever read Job before? What did you think of it then? #Do you ever wonder if Satan might be right about you? Are you a Christ-follower because he has blessed you? What would happen if you lost all your family and wealth? Hard to know the answer to that.
- Have you ever been in a situation in which the pain caused you to wonder if God could really be trusted? Share it with the group. What in particular made you question God? What helped you work through it (either in the past or the present)?
- Has your faith ever been questioned because of the suffering you were experiencing? How did it make you feel. What did you say in that situation? Would you say something different now?
- Do you think it is okay to cry out to God? To get mad? To get mad at God? To ask him why? To blame him? To accuse him? At what point do you walk over the line, like Job?
- Have you ever been Elihu to someone? Has anyone been Elihu to you? Share the circumstances. Was it helpful?
- How can we work toward a vision of God in all his wisdom and power so that when difficult times come, we will respond properly? Like Job we probably would prefer to learn these lessons before the trials come.
- What stops us from accepting the fact that God owes us nothing and we are not on his level and in fact have no rights before him? Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
- How has God — not information about him but a vision of who he is — been the answer for the suffering in your life, or has he?