Wrestling with Suffering (Job 2:11-31:40
A Perspective on Suffering
Wrestling with Suffering
Job 2:11–31:40
It's one thing to experience a sudden tragedy—like the loss of a child or the discovery of some dreaded disease in your body. It's quite another thing to experience the relentless misery of that loss for months or even years afterward.
In the heat of battle or the immediacy of a crisis, strange things can happen. Women have been known to lift automobiles off of their pinned husbands after an accident and then later collapse under the shock of what's happened.
Soldiers have been known to get a leg blown off by a land mine and run on the raw stump back to safety, but then cry like a baby at the pain of surgery and healing.
There is a spiritual counterpart to this physical phenomenon. In the stunned moment of tragedy many a Christian has been given the grace to sustain the burden with a genuine word of faith: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
But then later in the silence of an empty home or walking through the devastation that follows the crisis, the person who showed such faith and strength collapses under the weight of unanswered questions and grief.
And that is a reminder that it is one thing to bear a sudden tragedy. But it is quite another to suffer its pain for weeks and months and even years afterward.
In one afternoon Job had lost his ten children and all his wealth. Shortly afterward he was afflicted with a horrid skin disease. In both these tragedies he kept his faith and revered the sovereign hand of God. In 1:21 he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." In 2:10 he said, "Shall we receive good at the hand of the God and shall we not receive evil?" He affirmed the absoluteness of God's control over all things, and he bowed in submission to these heavy blows.
He did what Sarah Edwards did when she received word that her husband Jonathan had died at the age of 54 from a smallpox inoculation one month after becoming the president of Princeton College in 1758. She picked up her pen and wrote to her daughter Esther whose husband Aaron Burr had died six months earlier:
My very dear child, What shall I say! A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had [your father] so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be. Your affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards. (Marriage to a Difficult Man, by Elizabeth Dodds, p. 196)
But Job's faith and reverence were not rewarded by a quick healing of his disease.
Notice what we read in
Job 7:2–3
Job's misery has dragged on for months. So the question now arises: Why? Hadn't Job demonstrated that God was his most precious treasure, even more precious than health? God's honor had been upheld. Why does not God now restore the fortunes of Job? Why not now skip to chapter 42 where the happy ending comes?
I think that answer is that God has much he wants Job (and we at his expense!) to learn, not only about suffering, but about God. So let's see what we can learn from Job in the aftermath of his crisis.
We begin at
Beginning there, and extending through the next 29 chapters, Job will be responding to what these three friends have to say about his suffering. The section begins with a speech by Job in chapter 3 in which he laments ever being born. Then, his friends show up to help him understand what's going on and why he's experiencing what he is.
  1. basically, it's a theological debate over why bad things happen to good people as one by one, they take turns to argue their point. First, Eliphaz speaks, and Job responds.
  2. Bildad will speak, and Job will respond. Then the Zophar takes a turn, and Job responds, and that cycle repeats itself three times, until finally, in the third round, Zophar runs out of anything to say, and the argument comes to an end, and still all the questions are unanswered.
Then, after this extended conversation comes a long speech by a young man named Elihu and that is chapter 32 through 37 and we'll look at that next week.
Then the Lord himself has a conversation with Job in chapters 39–41 which we will look at in two weeks.
And finally the last chapter describes the reversal and restoration, which we will look at in three weeks.
But today my goal is to help you digest an overview of these long speeches and try to determine what the author of the book of Job wants us to learn from them, and from Job's responses to them as he endures month after month of misery.
Let me try to boil all of these lengthy conversations down to some manageable material. Let's being with
1. The First Cycle
In many ways, the first couple of chapters, which tell us about the noble, and I would say, surprising responses of Job are a little bit misleading because in public opinion, from what we see in chapters 1 and 2, Job comes out looking pretty good.
But the thing that prompts Job's friends to get involved in the first place and make their speeches is what we find in chapter 3 where Job has this outburst of emotion.
Job 3:1–3
Obviously, Job is now a long way away from where he was when he was worshipping through the pain. Job has now had some time to evaluate everything that has happened, and all these weeks of pain and questions and confusion have now taken their toll on Job's faith, and where he once worshipped, he now questions God.
verse 11, 20
Job cannot see any reason now for why he should have ever been given life or why his life should be preserved if there is going to be so much misery. And so he protests that the day of his birth should never have been. And of course this is a protest against God, because, as he's already said, he understand that "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" (1:21).
So when the three friends of Job hear this protest, they can't stay silent any longer. At the end of chapter 2, they hear of his demise, and according to verse 11, they decide to come and mourn with him and perhaps provide some comfort.
When they get there, they are shocked by what they find. He is unrecognizable, and they are so overwhelmed, they immediately go into mourning by weeping and lamenting before the Lord. they tear their clothes and cover themselves in ashes.
And they sit down beside Job and nobody says a word for seven days. When someone finally does speak, it is Eliphaz, and he spells out a theological principle that runs through all the speeches that his friends and he make.
Eliphaz's Principle
We see it first in
After offering a few kind words, and making sure Job is up to discussing the situation, he lowers the boom
Job 4:7–8
In other words, Eliphaz says, "Trouble comes to those who sin, but the innocent do not perish." That means, in his estimation, suffering is the result of sin, and prosperity is the result of righteousness.
And to his credit, he does point out that all men are sinners,
Job 4:17
And, notice, he also admits that some suffering is the loving chastening of God.
While those are good theological points, the problem with the theology of Eliphaz is how he applies it. He makes this assumption that Job is suffering because of sin in his life, and he is very insensitive and superficial in how he says it.
In fact, he rebukes Job for being impatient and dismayed.
You, who have corrected others, can't take the heat when it comes upon you? Job, you need to remember, what goes around comes around! That was an unnecessary rebuke to a righteous man who is hurting. That is the insensitive part of Eliphaz' application.
Then he insinuates that Job has not really sought God the way he should.
In other words, if you were spiritual like I am, here's what you would do. And he implies in that Job would be delivered if only he would commit his way to God.
In other words, if you were spiritual like I am, you'd do what I'd do and that is commit it to the Lord! That is both arrogant and superficial! It is too simple to say, "Just commit it to the Lord and your fortunes will be restored."
And Job knows it's too simple, and besides that, it doesn't answer the hard questions of why some suffer in an extraordinary way even though they have not sinned in an extraordinary way, but in fact may be godly and upright people.
It doesn't answer why some prosper in an extraordinary way even though they are extraordinary sinners.
Job's Protests
In other words, Job says, "I'm not trying to avoid God's Word! I love God's word and live by it." He is confused because he can't find any sinful source for his suffering, and he doesn't see any end to the pain.
In fact, he returns the rebuke of Eliphaz
You're so smart, you explain it to me! But you're simple explanation doesn't explain what's happening.
Next Bildad gets involved.
Bildad's Admonition
If you thought Eliphaz was tough on Job, just wait until you hear what Bildad has to say!
He takes it a step further to say, "Your children were guilty of some unknown sin, Job, that's why they were crushed in their house."
And the same goes for Job
HE actually calls Job a hypocrite who has forgotten God! And the problem must be that Job is not pure and has not called on God as he should.
So Bildad admonishes Job in
If you were all you claimed to be and all we thought you were, then obviously, God would come to your rescue and bless you for being righteous.
Job's Argument
9:1-0, 22–24
Job never surrenders his belief in the sovereignty of God, but he knows it's too simple to say that things go better on this earth for all the righteous.
Job insists that he is not guilty as charged. He is righteous. In fact, he is confident that he can stand before God and argue his case, and in chapter 10, he tells us what he would say. A part of that speech is found in
Then, in chapter 11, along comes the third friend
- Zophar's Rebuke
He rebukes Job for claiming to be innocent
Chapter 11:4–6
You think what you're going through is bad, just be glad you're not getting everything that you deserve!
Then he tells him to put away his sin so that God might restore him
So according to all three of his friends, Job is suffering because he refuses to put iniquity far from him.
Job's Response
In chapters 12–14, Job responds, and you can tell by his sarcasm, he's getting a little weary of all these accusations.
In so many words, Job says, "Everybody knows you guys are the smartest people on earth and when you die, all of this amazing knowledge will die with you! But I'm smart too! Your theology is simple that everybody knows it. You've not said anything new or helpful, and it doesn't go deep enough to explain what's happening.
In fact, he calls them "worthless physicians in 13:4
He longs to argue his case with God
He says their theology is simple and won't stand up
And with that, the first cycle of speeches comes to an end, and the next two do not reveal any new arguments. The friends continue to become more and more harsh and insist that suffering is a result of wickedness and sin.
Eliphaz: it is the wicked man that writhes in pain (15:20).
Bildad: it is the light of the wicked that is put out (18:5).
Zophar: the joy of the wicked is short (20:5).
Then, in the last speech of Eliphaz in chapter 22, the former gentle friend attacks Job with brutality:
verse 5-7, 9
And the result of that is
verse 10
But none of that was true. He's resorted to making things up to support his weak theology.
In fact, it's all so preposterous that when Bildad makes his last speech in chapter 25, he can only manage six little verses about the general sinfulness of man. And when it is finally Zophar's turn to round out the third cycle, he has nothing to say at all. The theology of Job's friends cannot sustain itself, and it collapses.
Job is a good man. Yet he suffers far worse than many wicked people. The correlation of wickedness and suffering in this world simply does not hold.
And what should have led Job to do what his wife tried to get him to do and just end it all, instead, leads to
Job's Rebirth
Something happens deep inside of Job through this long conversation with his three friends. When chapter 3 begins, we find him in absolute dismay, crying out against the wisdom of God in giving him birth, and wanting to die. All of these long months of disease and pain and loss had almost defeated the initial stand of faith that he took at the first.
Added to what he was suffering physically, he then has to defend himself against stinging accusations and lies and bad theology as over and over these three friends brutally attack him and his family.
But little by little you can watch his faith regaining its strength as he fights against the superficial theology of his friends. And finally, his faith finally breaks out into victory in chapter 19.
In every speech up until then, Job had expressed the conviction that he would certainly die and go to Sheol in misery. He longs for it. But there is a gradual change in the way he talks about dying.
It's first seen in his response to Eliphaz.
Then in his response to Bildad, he is still in deep despair.
Then in his response to Zophar, Job again faces the certainty of his death in suffering and cries out to be released to die.
But this time he asks a question in verse 14: "If a man dies, shall he live again?"
Also in his second response to Eliphaz, the reference to Sheol is one of question rather than despair.
And finally, he comes to an answer
Job is finally sure that beyond the grave he will meet God as a Redeemer and not an angry Judge. He will be redeemed from all his misery, even if it will only be after death. There will be life and light not just death and darkness.
Now, this confidence that he will live again and see God doesn't answer all of Job's questions or solve all his theological problems. He still is utterly perplexed as to why he should have to suffer as he does. His suffering goes right on. God seems utterly arbitrary in the way he parcels out suffering and comfort in this life.
But this new-found confidence of life after death does enable him to hold fast to three of his cherished convictions, namely, the sovereign power of God, the goodness and justice of God, and the faithfulness of his own heart.
And with those convictions he holds out against the simplistic doctrine of justice in the mouths of his three friends. He finally puts them to silence.
And in chapters 26-31, we are left with the voice of Job praising God. He begins with
- the mysterious power of God:
Then he moves to the unsearchable wisdom of God:
28:12– 23
And finally, he affirms his own integrity:
So what does this lengthy passage of Scripture teach us? Let me offer five suggestions. First,
1) True theological statements can be false.
If you take most of the statements of Job's friends separately, they sound like good theology. But their application is shallow and insensitive. We put a high premium on good theology, but you can take Biblical truths and apply them wrongly, just as the friends of Job did.
My dad used to saym "Boy, you can take that Bible and prove anything you want to." That was the trap the friends of Job had fallen in to.
2) Suffering and prosperity are not distributed in proportion to the evil or good that a person does.
Job makes two statements that illustrate the is truth. One is found in
Other translations handle this verse differently, and when you look at it in the original language, it appears that Job was saying, the "the wicked are spared in the day of calamity." On the other hand,
And sometimes it seems to be that way. The evil get by with everything and seem to have no problems while the saved are ridiculed. That's why we are told to judge nothing before it;s time for judgment. But the just and blameless man is a laughing stock (12:4). Therefore let us not judge one another before the time. After all, those who prosper most may be the worst among us. And God will even everything out when the time comes.
That's where the third truth comes in:
3) However things may appear, God is still on the throne.
It is amazing to me that the most common thing y people today say to explain the mystery of suffering never occurred to Job or to his three friends.
None of them ever suggested that God wasn't in control.
As we saw last week, when Job talked about all the tragedies that came, it was the Lord who gave and took away. He was on the throne and Job accepted that. And apparently his friends did as well.
Today we limit God at the drop of a hat. After all, He couldn't have willed the sickness, or the explosion, or the death of a child. But to believe that is to also believe that God is not in control, therefore, He is a limited God with limited power and limited ability to control things. But Job and his friends never go there. They may agree on other things, but on this they agree: God reigns. No matter what happens, He is still large and in charge!
And no solution to the problem of suffering that brings that fact into question will ever satisfy the heart of a saint. By the way, do you really want to explain all the suffering and heartaches and tragedies in the world by saying that God isn't in control of them? I don't want to live in the world that God does not control.
4) There are things going on that are hidden from man.
We read these verses a moment ago
28:12–13, 23
We see through a glass darkly, even from our New Testament perspective (1 Corinthians 13:12). But faith always affirms that no matter how chaotic and absurd things may seem to our limited view they are in fact the tactics of infinite wisdom.
5) We must trust God
When Job finally returns to his faith, he uses two words in that great statement of faith that we read a moment ago that will change how he deals with his tragedies.
How do you know, Job? I know by faith. That is his confession. I will trust God. may God help us to do the same.
If thou but suffer God to guide thee,
And hope in him through all thy ways,
He'll give thee strength, whate're betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days:
Who trusts in God's unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
All are alike before the Highest;
'Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low;
True wonders still by him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.
Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving,
So do thine own part faithfully,
And trust his Word, though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee;
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted him indeed.
Let's pray.
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