Job Teaches Us How to Suffer

John Perkins  and Karen Waddles
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Job was a good man. He was so good that God bragged on him. God told Satan that there was no one as righteous as Job in the whole earth. Have you ever wondered what God says to Satan about you? Can He say that you are upright, that you fear Him, and you turn away from evil? He said that about Job. We get to see a little of what that looked like, as Job made sacrifices for his children. He made sacrifices to God just in case his children had sinned and had “cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). And Job did this continually, because his children seemed to have a party going on every day.

Job wasn’t perfect, but he was good. And it was expected that he would be blessed. And Job was really blessed. He had thousands of sheep and camels, hundreds of oxen and female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters who all were doing well. Job was a wealthy man. I think maybe that’s what made Job so special. He wasn’t just godly. He was rich and godly. He had not allowed his wealth to make him forget God. He was so zealous to please God that he even anticipated that his children might have done something to offend God. He was doing everything he knew to do to serve and worship God.

Blessing for Obedience, Punishment for Sin

It is believed that Job lived during the time of Abraham’s early ancestors and long before the nation of Israel was formed. The Moody Bible Commentary suggests that there was a body of oral truth that was passed on from generation to generation from the time of Adam and Eve.[1] Job’s theology about God would have come from this. And based on how his friends kept pushing him to admit to whatever sin had caused his misfortune, there was among the people an expectation of blessings for being good, and judgment for mistreating others and taking advantage of the poor. It is reassuring to know that some of the earliest writings in God’s Word wrestle with the “why do we suffer” question.

This idea was brought forward in God’s covenant with Israel much later. When they obeyed Him, He blessed them. If they disobeyed, they were subject to His judgment. As Moses prepared them to go into the promised land he reminded them, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out” (Deut. 28:1–6).

But if the people chose to disobey, there were warnings. “However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out” (Deut.28:15–19).

This idea of blessings for obedience and judgment for disobedience is seen again in the New Testament when Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind. They wondered if he had sinned in the womb or if he was blind because of his parents’ sin. Jesus blew their minds when He told them that the man’s blindness had nothing to do with anybody’s sin—it was to allow God’s power to be made known.

“We dare not look at someone else’s suffering and decide that they are being punished for their sin.”

And still today, when we suffer we often feel like God is punishing us or is angry with us about something. When we suffer, this is where the enemy steps in. He brings condemnation and doubt. He makes us question whether we really do belong to the Lord. We need to be careful about allowing him to distract us from what is really going on. The story of Job tells us that we cannot always draw a straight line from suffering to sin. We dare not look at someone else’s suffering and decide that they are being punished for their sin.

It’s His Story

I’ve read the story of Job again and again for many years. And I’m convinced that his story is not really about him at all. The story of Job is not about Job. It’s not about his friends. It’s not about his wife. (A lot has been said about her telling him to curse God and die. But it’s not about her.) The story of Job is about God. We need to keep our eyes on Him throughout the story of Job to see what He is doing. Job is responding, but God is initiating. Job’s friends are judging, but God is adjusting the limits of Job’s suffering— enlarging the boundaries that Satan can operate within. God actually suggests Job to Satan. However, it’s important to note that Satan is not a major player in Job’s story. In his commentary on Job, Francis Andersen argues the point strongly that Satan’s role in the story line is minor. “His place in its theology is even less.”[2] And he reminds us that Satan doesn’t show up at all after Job 2:7.

I love how Paul Tripp speaks of this in his book Suffering: “We don’t live under the sovereign control of the forces of evil. We live in a world that’s been terribly broken by sin but still sits under the power and authority of the One who created it. You may not see his hand, and it may be very hard to accept that what you’ve had to endure has come under God’s watch, but Scripture is clear about the nature and extent of his rule. The fact that God is in control tells us that there’s divine reason and purpose to all we face.”

God tells Satan just how he can attack Job. God tells Satan he can go even further, as long as he doesn’t take Job’s life. It’s all about Him. Job knew that. He said, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21) and “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).

One of the first things that I learned from the missionary who helped me learn how to study the Bible was something that has helped me so much. She said, “The Bible is about one person—and He is God. And it’s about the people who interacted with God.” As I am going through this last cancer journey I’m straining to keep my eyes on Him. When the pain is at its worst I try to keep my eyes on Him. God is at work. He is speaking. And just like he did for Job, He has already set the boundaries for my suffering. I cannot see where they end, but He knows.

In 1659, a Puritan writer declared, “God, who is infinite and matchless in goodness, hath ordered our troubles, yea, many troubles to come trooping in upon us on every side. As our mercies, so our crosses seldom come single; they usually come treading one upon the heels of another; they are like April showers, no sooner is one over, but another comes. It’s mercy that every affliction is not an execution, every correction not a damnation. The more the afflictions, the more the heart is raised heavenward.”[3]

It can seem like that. Just as soon as you get out of one storm, another one comes up. Paul David Tripp says, “Moments of suffering are always transformational in some way. No one ever comes out of the unexpected, the unwanted, the difficult, and the discouraging unchanged. You will not rise out of tragedy the way you were before it overtook you.” The hard waves of suffering are how our God changes us for His purposes. It’s how He chisels away at what does not look like Him and shapes us by His transforming grace.

How are you suffering right now? Are you able to move your heart heavenward? Are you able to keep your eyes fixed on Him? When pain is overwhelming it can be hard to pull your attention away from the pain and look to Him. It’s hard. When my son Spencer died, it was like that for me.

[1] Eugene J. Mayhew, “Job,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 697.

[2] Francis Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 88.

[3] Thomas Brookes, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, quoted in (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 585.

For Further Reading:

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