STUDY FOUR: JOB’S SUFFERING

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

The book of Job reports the spiritual journey of a man who suffered intensely. His suffering was the same kind of suffering as we experience in the normal course of our lives. But its intensity was far from normal. All in the course of one day, messenger after messenger came to report one disaster after another. Then subsequently more suffering was added. This was followed by even more, but not so immediately obvious, suffering.

But even if we have not experienced the extreme intensity of Job’s suffering, we can identify with it.

A. JOB’S SUFFERING

Research: From these verses make a list of the kinds of suffering experienced by Job:

1:14 – 15

1:16

1:17

1:18 – 20

2:7

2:8

2:9-10

 

What did Job suffer?

He suffered a spate of massive financial disasters in the loss of his herds, flocks and workers. (In his culture wealth was determined by a person’s herds and flocks.)

He suffered deep bereavement in the simultaneous deaths of his ten children.

He suffered an extremely painful physical disease.

He suffered the pain and stress of a wife who could not understand him and his faith, and could neither sympathize nor empathize with him. All she offered was despairing, godless advice.

He suffered loss of social status and respect.

He suffered social exclusion and derision.

And, as we will see in further chapters in Job:

He suffered misunderstanding and injustice in the opinions expressed by his friends, which reflected the opinions of his community.

He suffered a deep sense of being isolated, alone in his suffering, alone in his pain, in his grief. There was no one who understood. No one who had compassion. And, as we will see later, those who had previously held him in high regard now mocked him. Those from whom he had expected comfort, now accused him of gross wrong-doing.

And, worst of all, God, God around whom the whole of his life had revolved, and by whom all of his life had been governed, was now silent. Unreachable. Unresponsive. Uncaring. Day after day, night after night, Job’s prayers went unanswered.

He is totally alone. At least that is what it felt like.

But, beyond the way it appears, beyond the feeling of desolation and desertion, there remains a deep consciousness that he is not alone. He knows that God is there, even though there appears to be no evidence of this. And it is this certain knowledge and trust that God is there and God does care, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that drives his passionate appeals, that fuels his questions, that generates his daring boldness.

 

B. OUR SUFFERING

Suffering is normal. At least it is part of the ‘normal’ world that has been in place since Genesis 3. [For a study about the origin and pervasiveness of suffering go to studies 1, 4 & 5 in Suffering Revisited.]

What kinds of suffering have you experienced or observed (list under these headings)?

Financial loss and/or hardship

 

Attacks by people

 

Natural disasters

 

Death (including violent death) of business/work associates

 

Death of family members

 

Personal physical pain/illness/accident

 

Social exclusion

 

Loss of reputation

 

Lack of understanding on the part of close family/friends

 

Negative advice, hopelessness, false accusations, on the part of close family/friends

 

A feeling of isolation

 

A feeling of being deserted by God.

 

C. JOB’S PERSPECTIVE ON HIS SUFFERING

When Job experienced all of this, he did not have the written word of God. He lived before any of it was written. He had no knowledge of Jesus Christ. He did not have the apostles’ explanations of the salvation we have in Christ. He did not know about the Lamb of God, slain before the creation of the world. And, as we have already seen, he had no awareness of the enemy.

But he knew God. And he believed in God. And out of that knowledge and faith he responded to his suffering.

Read 1:20 – 22 and 2:8 – 10. List all of Job’s actions and reactions.

1:20a

1:20b

1:21

1:22

2:8

2:10a

2:10b

Here we observe Job immediately after the two bursts of suffering. We learn:

From chapter 1:

[1] He responded in keeping with the culture of his day: He ‘tore his robe and shaved his head’, expressing his grief in response to the loss of his assets, his workers and his family.

[2] He worshipped God, not just verbally, but ‘he fell to the ground in worship’. He bowed himself down before God – in this he acknowledged that God is sovereign, and he himself a dependent creature.

[3] He expressed the truth: that everything he had previously had was God’s gift to him; and that it was God who had taken it away, just as surely as it was God who had given. This is consistent with God’s sovereignty and freedom.

[4] He committed himself the praise the name of the LORD, even in the midst of his suffering and loss. Even here, where it is God who has taken away the blessedness he had previously given, Job’s overriding concern is God’s honour.

[5] In all this, Job did not sin, by charging God with wrongdoing. Even his ‘the LORD has taken away’ was a truthful and God-honouring statement, upholding the absolute sovereignty and authority of God. Job was not blaming God for something God did not do. Nor was he saying that it is wrong for God to take away what he has given. He affirmed that God is indeed God, who has the power and authority to do whatever he chooses to do. (Read Psalm 115:3).

From chapter 2:

[1] He responded in keeping with his culture: When afflicted by suppurating sores, he isolated himself from his community, going out to the city dump where he sat among the ashes.

[2] He recognized the foolishness of his wife’s suggestion, and rejected it. [Note that his wife actually identified the key issue: did Job’s faith have integrity? Satan had twice made the accusation that it didn’t.]

[3] Job expressed the integrity of his faith in his reply to his wife: ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In other words ‘I believe in God. I believe he is sovereign. I am committed to him. Regardless of what he does to me, I will still not curse him.’ By these words he affirms his former statement ‘May the name of the LORD be praised’ (1:21).

[4] Again, in all of this, Job did not sin in what he said. So again we have Job’s words affirmed. What he said - that both the ‘good’ and the ‘trouble’ are ‘from God’ - was not considered to be a sin.

 

D. LOOKING AT JOB’S STATEMENTS

We need to pause here and think about our reactions to Job’s words. His words have built-in challenges, both to our beliefs and to our response to suffering.

What is your response/reaction to these things that Job said?

‘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’ (remember Job’s situation when he said this).

 

 ‘You are talking like a foolish woman’ (‘You talk like any wicked fool of a woman might talk’ – New English Bible) [The word translated ‘foolish’ refers to moral deficiency; see NIV footnote.]

 

 ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

 

 

These responses challenge us:

Is our God as big as Job’s God? Or is our God someone we can fit neatly in a box designed and constructed by ourselves? And who does only the things we think are okay for our ‘God’ to do?

Is our faith as big as Job’s faith? Or is our faith as limited as our perception of God?

And hard on the heels of these challenges, comes another:

Why is it that we feel threatened or offended by Job’s bold assertions and faith?

We know that Jesus Christ died in fulfillment of the good, eternal, sovereign purpose of God. God sent his Son to die. God planned the death of his Son, even before he created the world. And we are saved – forever reunited with God – through that death. How is it that we are upset when Job states that ‘trouble’ is from God?

We, even more than Job, ought to have no difficulty in responding as he did.