“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’ “
– Job 1:8, NKJV –
If I were summarizing the book of Job in one word, that would be the one. “Why?”
Why, God, is everything going badly for me? Why, God, am I suffering when all the evil out there seems to be winning? Why am I the one with the trials when my unbelieving friends seem to have nothing but good times?
Immediately, voices chime in. “We deserve nothing but condemnation from God. It is only His grace that gives us less pain than we deserve.” Everyone seems to agree. “Wrong choices have consequences. You must have done something wrong, and now God is chastening you.”
There is truth–or at least some of it–in these typical statements. Of course, no human except the Lord Jesus was ever truly undeserving of any punishment. This is true. But that second analysis is, according to the book of Job, often untrue.
Certainly, God deals with us as His children. He does discipline us at times (Hebrews 12:5-11), but is that the only reason we suffer? Because we sinned?
Jesus’ disciples had this question too:
” Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.”
– John 9:1-7, NKJV –
Jesus’ answer? Sin wasn’t the cause of this man’s blindness. His temporary disability was so that God’s healing work would be put on display.
When I recently read through the book of Job, I experienced something very strange. You would think that Job’s story might make me uncomfortable. In the first two chapters, God grants Satan permission to send all sorts of pain and grief into righteous Job’s life. In fact, Satan didn’t even start the conversation–God did. “What do you think my servant Job? He’s the most righteous man alive.”
Satan sneers. “Well, if You hadn’t blessed him so much, Job wouldn’t love You at all. I bet that if You took all those blessings away, Job would sing a different tune. He’d curse Your name.”
And so God said, “Do it. Just don’t touch his health.” And a chapter later, God lifts even that stipulation, merely forbidding Satan to kill Job.
Whoa. Hold on. What? God just hands over Job just like that? HIS child Job? The man who serves him with a pure heart?
Job is full of theories about God’s reasons. Job’s three “friends” who come visiting during the course of the story–Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad–all have the same idea. Job must have done something terribly wicked.
Their thought process went something like this: God is just. God punishes sin and blesses righteousness. Therefore, Job must have sinned–and pretty badly–for God to do this to him.
But they were dead wrong.
Pastor Mark Dever has this to say about Job’s friends:
“Most of the book consists of Job’s friends saying to him, ‘Hey, Job, I know you look virtuous, but there must be some sin here. Otherwise you would not be experiencing such severe punishment.’ But so far were Job’s friends from being right, that, ironically, someone could have said to them, ‘Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, this suffering might have come on you had you been more virtuous!’ We the readers know that God did not allow Job to face these trials because of Job’s vices–but because of his virtue! God looked over the world, wanting to brag on part of his creation of Satan. And he chose to brag about Job….No, this is not a Pelagian man-can-choose-what-is-right theology. Job is God’s own workmanship. God had caused Job to trust him, and God knew that he did.”
– The Message of the Old Testament, page 477 –
But, as Pastor Dever points out in his discussion of Job, God never told Job why. From Job’s perspective, things just went bad. He didn’t get a message from heaven explaining the reason for his trials. He didn’t get a Divine apology. He didn’t get to read about “this heavenly court scene that we are allowed to peek into in the first chapters of the book. All the evidence he has for trusting God in these trials is the fact of God himself, and Job trusted that God” (The Message of the Old Testament, page 476).
And yet, as I said earlier, I finished the book of Job with a very strange reaction: Job’s story gave me intense satisfaction and peace.
Why? Because, as much as we want to find meaning in our suffering, sometimes we can’t. Like Job, we can’t see into God’s mind. Like Job, when things go bad, we wonder why God is doing this to us. When we’re serving Him with all our hearts, we wonder why He lets things go wrong.
And the book of Job tells me the only reason I can understand: God is putting his handiwork on display. Sometimes things go wrong and the only reason we can know for sure is that God is being glorified in our pain.
When God allows our comforts to be stripped away, our health to fail, and our hearts to break, all we have left is Him. And his praise is shouted to the ends of the earth when we discover something in our pain: He is really enough. He really satisfies.
Pain puts our trust to the test. As Job was tested, he asked God why. God did answer him, in a way. In a swirling whirlwind of responses, He revealed His glory to Job in chapters 38-41, listing His mighty works, creative power, and incredible wisdom.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
” ‘Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ “
– Job 38:1-7, NKJV –
I would summarize God’s response like this: I am God. You are not. Trust me.
And that is why the story of Job makes me smile. This foundation is unshakeable. No matter what gets thrown at us, we can trust that God’s glory is being put on display.
What will tomorrow bring? I don’t know. But whether bright with joy or clouded with sorrow, I trust the God who brings all things to pass. I trust Him with the whys I may never know. Whatever may come, it will be for His glory and my good.
I believe it with all my heart.
“What does this mean for us, friend? It means that we do not trust God because we are clever or holy but because his character is trustworthy.”
– Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament, page 477 –