It’s not uncommon for the book of Job to get recommended in times of suffering. The Old Testament, the first half of the Bible, contains sixty-six separate books, and one of them is the book of Job. It is one of the wisdom books of the Bible written to speak about humanity’s suffering and its relation to a perfect and all-powerful God. If you’ve ever wondered how to trust God when life is not fair, this is a great book to dive into. Job’s story invites us to consider what it means for God to run the world by His wisdom and how the truth can bring peace in our darkest moments.
At the beginning of the book, the main character, Job, is introduced as blameless, a man of complete integrity, and one who fears The Lord. Then we transport into the heavenly realms where God holds court with his staff members. God presents Job as a truly righteous man to which The Accuser, Satan, challenges God by saying that Job only loves and obeys The Lord because God has rewarded him. The Accuser says if you were to take everything that Job has then surely he would curse God. Maybe you can relate to this. I think it’s easy to look at the Christians who seem to be living perfect lives and assume that they are only Christians because they have not experienced the unexplainable pain and unfair hardship you’ve faced.
God agrees to let The Accuser inflict suffering on Job by saying, “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence. Suddenly, Job faces complete turmoil as everything is taken away from him. His animals die. His house collapses and all of his children are dead. Chapter one ends by Job continuing to worship God in the midst of pain and grief as Job says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 22 Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.
At this point, if you’ve never read the book of Job, you may have a few questions. I would bet that your top question is some variation of why would God allow The Accuser to inflict suffering on Job? I’ll revisit this so I recommend that you stay until the end. As we continue, chapter two includes more suffering. Job’s wife rebukes him, and before introducing Job’s three friends, verse 10b reads, Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.
I think this is where most people stop reading the book of Job. We stop reading at the end of chapter two, and the moral of the story is in the midst of suffering, we need to suck it up and understand that God works all things for good. You would be absolutely right if this book only had the two chapters. I think everyone gets the book of Job wrong because they stop there. I think the message is quite different when we keep reading. Let me explain.
Did you catch the difference between chapter one and chapter two? Chapter one ends with Job did not sin, whereas chapter two ends with Job did not sin in what he said. This is my speculation and interpretation, so take it with a grain of salt, but I cannot help but wonder why we read this distinction. Does that mean that Job sinned in his thoughts? Does that mean that Job sinned in his actions? As he experienced more suffering, did he begin to doubt God and begin to sin in his thoughts? It’s not a sin to have doubts, but the way we handle our doubts can lead to sin. I wonder if Job’s doubts led him to curse God in these thoughts. This is my speculation, but I wonder why we receive that difference in detail between the two chapters.
As we finish reading chapter two we meet Job’s friends: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They sit on the ground with Job for seven days in silence. We soon learn that this is the only good thing they do, remain silent.
Chapters 3-28 follow this pattern of Job speaking, one of his friends responding, and Job then speaking again. Their debate focuses on three questions: 1) Is God just? 2) Does God run the universe on the strict principle of justice? 3) How is Job’s suffering to be explained? The big assumption they make is that if you are wise and good, then God should reward you, and if you are unwise and bad, God should punish you. Can you relate to this? Have you thought about God in this way? I know I have.
Job argues that he’s innocent, implying his suffering is not divine justice, which he’s right about from what we saw in the beginning chapter. But what he concludes is either God does not run the world according to justice, or God is unjust. His friends argue God is just, implying that God runs the world according to justice, concluding Job must have done something wrong. This is why he is suffering. There is a lot of back and forth between him and his friends and eventually, Job gets fed up and takes it directly to God.
In his candid prayers and poems, we see Job’s true thoughts, feelings, and doubts. He goes from thinking God is just, but as he faces these trials and tribulations, he cannot reconcile that. There are moments where Job accuses God of attacking him (Job 16:9). There are moments where he believes God has orchestrated all the injustice in the world, but even as he utters that, he’s terrified because he wants to believe that God is truly just. In the book of Job, we see a man who has his doubts. I think the book of Job teaches us how to handle and accept our doubts. We see Job going back and forth with how he sees God and it’s quite relatable. We see Job’s entourage of emotions. We do not see a man who sucks it up and pretends that everything is okay, but rather we see a man who is vulnerable in the midst of suffering. We see a man who is honest about his doubts.
As we continue on in the book, God never reveals the ultimate reason for Job’s suffering. In chapter 38, God responds to Job personally. He first responds to the accusation that he is unjust and incompetent at running the universe by sharing all of the intricate details involved in the creation and existence of the universe. Sharing the details of the cosmos is to make a point about the earlier assumptions. To make an assumption about how God ought to run the world implies that Job and his friends have enough perspective to make that sort of claim. I think that is something we can relate to. It’s easy to conclude God is not all that good when He doesn’t seem all that good. When we cannot see everything the way God does, it’s easy to conclude that He is not a good God. We do not and cannot see things the way He does.
God continues in chapter 40 by sharing with Job that things are not nearly as black and white. The world is much more complex than we realize. God describes two creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan, to symbolize the disorder and danger in our world. The point is God’s world is amazing, but it is not perfect. Why is there suffering in the world? God does not explain why but He answers by saying that we live in an incredible world but it is not designed to prevent suffering. Job challenges God’s justice, and God responds by saying that Job does not have sufficient knowledge to make this claim. Instead, he invites Job to trust in God anyway. Trust in God’s wisdom and character. Trust that He is good even when things do not seem all that good. Job responds in humility and repentance.
We reach the epilogue in chapter 42. God says that Job’s three friends were wrong about their ideas about God’s justice, but He approves of the way Job spoke about him. He approves of Job’s wrestling and how he came honestly to God in his emotions, pain, and suffering. God approves of the way Job prayed and processed through this hardship. The book concludes with The Lord restoring Job’s fortunes, possession, and family, not as a reward for good behavior but simply as a generous gift. That’s how it ends. It does not necessarily answer the question as to why bad things happen to good people, but instead, it invites us to trust God’s wisdom in times of trials and tribulations. When we try to find reasons for suffering, we either simplify them similar to Job’s friends or accuse God based on limited evidence. This book invites us to honestly bring our pain and grief to God. We are to trust His ways because God actually cares and knows what He is doing.
The book of Job is heavy, and depending on the season of life, different parts of his story stand out to me. At this moment, what stands out is Job was a man who embraced his doubts and took them to God. I see a man who praised God but also questioned His goodness. I see a man who prayed with transparency and put his hope in The Lord.
April 2022 has been filled with more confusion and pain than I hoped for. I am struggling physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I do not even have the energy to elaborate on everything. Simply put, things are not the way I would want them to be, and as I read the book of Job, I see Jesus saying, “Come to me. Take it to me. Find your peace in Me.”
I am reminded that I can come to God with open arms. I can share all of my thoughts, feelings, and pain with Him, just as Job did. I do not have to pretend that everything is okay. Things are not okay. I do not have to pretend that pain does not exist. I am in pain. I do not have to pretend that I know why I am suffering, because I do not. When it hurts, and as it hurts, I can find my peace in Jesus. I do not have to pretend, but I can take all that I have and bring it to The Lord. There is another way to do life: seek Jesus. He loves you and cares deeply for you.