Archive for the tag “Job”

Book of Job, Part 3

Studies in Suffering: The Book of Job

CarsonBookBefore we conclude the survey of the Book of Job, I want to give you a resource on this subject that is worth its weight in gold – D.A.Carson: How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Baker Books, 1990. While Part One may require some careful contemplation, the rest of the work, particularly his section surveying Job, is extremely helpful and provides much more than devotional fodder. While it is certainly not the last work on this subject, this book is a must for every serious student of the Bible (that sounded like an endorsement to appear on a book cover, didn’t it!).

Job has asked for his day in court, and God is about to give it to him. But I wonder if, deep inside his soul, Job was really looking forward to this experience? Job knew and believed that God was sovereign and that he was good. And along the way, Job maintained his faith in God and his willingness to trust him in the midst of his pain.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him! (Job 13:15-16 NIV)

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10 NIV)

Would a man with such mature faith actually accuse God of wrongdoing? Perhaps, but there had to be fear and trembling at the prospect of hearing God’s response. To be sure, the text reveals his deep pain and his passionate quest for relief, which, by the way, is an appropriate pursuit of any healthy person who is suffering. Only mentally unstable people enjoy suffering! But as God ushered Job (so to speak) into the courts of heaven, he seated him in the witness stand. Instead of Job being the questioner of God, God began to question Job. As the trial progresses, the reader can easily imagine Job wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Chapters 38-41 record God asking Job questions that can only be answered in a way that exonerates God from any wrongdoing. God reminds Job that he (Job) is way out over his pay scale by questioning God, who created the stars, the animals, the weather patterns – creation itself. Job asked for answers to the hard questions of life; God gives him reasons to worship. If God is going to teach Job, or those who read his story, anything, it is that Job will know God, not all the answers. Notice how God reminds Job that he is not obligated to conform to Job’s theology.

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? (Job 40:6-9 NIV)

God overwhelms Job with his attributes and his action. He opens his eyes to the awesomeness of who he is. A great gift to Job was the realization that when we really know God, the answers to the questions we once believed so crucial to our survival are not very important at all. When we are overcome with things of the world, there is no comfort in God. But when we are overcome with God, there is comfort in the world, even a world with questions. Actually, that is an answer! But God does not stop with the drama of the heavenly court. The final chapter of Job tells of God’s intense mercy when he restores Job’s health, his family and his material wealth.

I cannot conclude a discussion about suffering and evil without reminding us that God is not aloof of our suffering. In fact, he took the initiative to enter into our fallen world in the person of his Son. In his birth, life and death, every type of pain and suffering became the experience of Jesus. We must also remember that God is in the process of redeeming the world from evil and restoring it (and us) to the new Eden, which we know as the New Heaven and New Earth. This world is not our home, we are only passing through. Along the way, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the joy of the LORD be our strength.

Book of Job, Part 2

Studies in Suffering: The Book of Job, Part 2

As we continue to explore the Book of Job, perhaps it would be helpful to establish a fundamental principle, aptly set forth by John Stott in The Cross of Christ, pg 312,

It needs to be said at once that the Bible supplies no thorough solution to the problem of evil, whether natural evil or moral evil, that is, whether in the form of suffering or of sin. It’s purpose is more practical than philosophical. Consequently, although there are references to sin and suffering on virtually every page, its concern is not to explain their origin but to help us overcome them.”

Job is an example of one who overcame the pain and suffering that visited his life. But his experience, while profoundly changing him, also has the potential of changing us. True, mature believers can prepare themselves for suffering. Chapter 3:25 clearly tells us that Job contemplated the possibility of suffering and was thus not really surprised when it came. That is probably why he was able to bear up at the initial experience.

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10 NIV)

Yet as the drama unfolds, Job struggles. Quite frankly, who wouldn’t with what Job knew and especially with what he didn’t know. He was hurting. In Chapters 4-31 the author gives us front row seats to the unfolding drama of his life.

Job is confronted with his presuppositions as his three friends, Eliphaz, Sophar and Bildad, contemplate their theology, the incorrectness of which is the point of the book. The text reveals that they believed that since all suffering is the result of sin, and blessings are the result of righteousness, Job must be hiding grievous sinfulness that must be confessed (4:5-8; 5:17-19). Job is obviously getting what he deserves. Yet Job is conflicted. What had he done to deserve this? (7:20; 8:2-3, 6). His only solution is to demand an explanation from God, or a verdict from the divine court, which he fully expects to be “not guilty.” (9:33-35; 13:13-22; 23:1-7). In Chapter 31, Job gets his wish and he states his case. Job is pure (1-4). Job is not deceitful (5-8). Job is not guilty of adultery (9-12). Job is always concerned about the welfare of the poor (16-23). Job has not trusted in his wealth (24-28). Job loved his enemies, was a good neighbor, was a fair businessman, was hospitable and an ethical landlord and a good farmer (29-40). Finally in Vs. 40 he rests his case. He presented a tight argument and his theology demands that God admit that he is unjust and that he needs to apologize for what has happened. WOW!!! Now before we get too hard on Job, look deep within our own souls! Do we ever vent like that? Certainly God is patient with us and even affirming to us when we let it all hang out like Job did. But Job’s conclusion is what this book is all about. Instead of demanding an apology, a fourth visitor to Job gives us a much more appropriate suggestion.

In Chapters 35-36 Elihu speaks some truth that we all should listen to.

“People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?’ He does not answer when people cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. How much less, then, will he listen when you say that you do not see him, that your case is before him and you must wait for him, and further, that his anger never punishes and he does not take the least notice of wickedness. So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (Job 35:9-1 NIV)

Although men cry out for relief from their pain, they do not pray. Does God listen to such empty pleas? Job is getting no answer because he is demanding that he himself be vindicated and he is attempting to prove God is being unjust. Instead we need to seek God in the midst of our pain. Then God will meet us and give us more than answers—he will give us himself. The point of the Book of Job is this: When we are overcome with things of the world there is no comfort in God. When we are overcome with God, there is comfort in the world – even when we experience undeserved suffering.

In my final post on Job, I will unpack this principle in detail from the text of chapters 38-41. But for now, let’s make a few conclusions.

There is much mystery when we walk with God. Are you OK with that? Do you trust God enough to be OK with not knowing all of the answers?

God is worthy of our worship, even when we suffer. We can take comfort that, in Jesus Christ, God suffered too. In fact, he willingly entered into our pain in Christ. For that he is worthy of our worship.

God offers us his presence in the midst of suffering. God is never so near as when we are hurting. If you are a parent, you know that you never care for your child more than when he/she hurts.

“God always gives his very best to those who leave the choice to him.” Hudson Taylor

Book of Job, Part 1

Studies in Suffering: The Book of Job

Since the inauguration of the current series of my blogs in September, we have surveyed the story line of the Bible from creation to the birth of the Hebrew nation, to their rebellion and discipline in the exile to Babylon and Persia, and finally to their return from exile. It has been a fascinating review for me that confirms the truth that God is sovereign and has a plan to rescue fallen humanity from sin and to accomplish his original intent for creating in the first place. But we now move from historical chronology to theological and philosophical contemplation. Today I begin a survey of the OT Poetic literature, often called the books of Wisdom—Job, Psalms (some scholars separate Psalms from the Wisdom genre), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. These works address the meaning of life as they contemplate the problems, experiences, beliefs, philosophies and attitudes of God’s people. I will deal with them in the order they appear in the Hebrew Canon. First is Job.

There is probably no subject that raises the interest of believers like pain and suffering. To be certain, there is some pain and suffering that is the direct consequence of foolish or rebellious decisions—such as was noted when we surveyed the discipline of the Lord on Israel. But Job takes the discussion of pain and suffering to a new level—that is, undeserved pain and suffering, or what some have called irrational suffering. The Book of Job tells the story of an extremely pious man, one who would put most of us to shame for his devotion to God. Yet, he suffered unimaginable pain and suffering because of the permissive will of God. (This term needs to be unpacked in order to be understood in the framework of a responsible biblical theology, an unpacking that I will attempt in future posts. I use it here because of the obvious permission God gave Satan to attack Job.) Lest I get ahead of the story, we begin with the opening scene which describes a conversation between God and Satan.

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12 NIV)

Notice that even though God gives permission, there is a limit beyond which Satan may not go (vs. 12). Satan responds with a whirlwind of destructive events resulting in the loss to Job of all he had that was of this world. But his integrity remained when he declared:

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.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:21-1 NIV)

In characteristic devilish persistence, Satan approaches God again with the challenge that if Job lost his health, he would curse God to his face. God again gives Satan permission to attack Job, once more with a definite limitation, and Job is faced with boils and sores from head to foot. Nevertheless he responds the same way. Now, the reader is faced with all sorts of questions and feelings when reading this account. Is humanity simply a pawn in the hand of God? It looks like this is a game to him. God initiated conversation about Job and put the idea of Job’s piety in Satan’s mind, which he undoubtedly knew would raise Satan’s ire. It appears that Job is an innocent victim and that God just stands by and lets this terrible suffering happen.

May I suggest that nothing God ever does is gratuitous and that this book addresses issues that have profound implications on how we understand biblical theology, all the while demonstrating God’s faithfulness to himself and love for us. Complicated ideas and concepts can be discussed very effectively by telling a story. I suggest that by telling this story, Job is given the immense privilege of being known in history as the one chosen to demonstrate how to understand the universal experience of undeserved pain and suffering.

For today, an application from the introductory scenes is that no matter what happens in life, God always sets limits. This may not be of much comfort to those of us who are presently suffering, but for those who are able to think with some measure of objectivity, consider that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. The world is evil, but it is not as evil as it could be. I am much taken at what appear to me as miraculous interventions in many of the pivotal battles in various wars of history. For example, why was Hitler taking a nap at the time of the invasion of the Allies on D-Day? A simple order from him and German tanks and aircraft could have wiped out the entire allied force. But his generals were afraid to wake him from his sleep. Then there is catastrophic death due to disease. Why did the plague stop before wiping out all of humanity? And how did Alexander Flemming just happen to discover penicillin?

“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer,” Fleming would later say, “But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

In both cases, I suggest that God was setting limits on pain and suffering. In similar fashion, I suggest that he sets limits on your pain and suffering. Be assured of his sovereign orchestration of all the events of your life. Suffering does fall within the boundary of God’s sovereignty, but take comfort that there is a boundary. Admittedly, this doesn’t answer some of the deeper questions of suffering. Next time I will begin to address these questions, utilizing the text of the Book of Job as our source for inquiry.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: