STUDY NINE: FAITH UNDER PRESSURE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

We saw earlier that God affirmed Job as a man of true faith (chapters 1 & 2). Satan, repudiating God’s affirmation of Job, and believing that Job’s faith was not genuine, was confident that if Job was subjected to suffering he would curse God to his face.

From chapter 3 onwards we have the record of Job’s response to his suffering and to the explanations and accusations offered by his friends. We see how his faith fared over a sustained period of time under the pressure of suffering, and under the additional pressures inflicted by his friends.

Often as we read what Job says our automatic response is ‘How could he say that!’ Some of the things he says we wouldn’t dare to say to God.

However, in 42:7 God told Eliphaz that Job had spoken about him as he ought, while the three friends did not, and we must keep this basic fact in mind as we read the book. We are now going to look at Job’s faith and how it endured. It is important that we do so, because it is not just Job’s faith that is being questioned and doubted. It is also our faith. The big question here is not about Job and his faith, but about the very nature of faith: is there such a thing as genuine faith that endures, that keeps holding on to God, no matter what?

If Job’s faith fails, if it comes to an end, then our faith also stands under threat of failure, under threat of coming to an end.

But beyond that is another even deeper issue: Was God right about Job, or was Satan right? From the New Testament, and from the Old, we read that both faith and right standing with God are God’s gifts. Does God’s gift of faith, and God’s declaration of acquittal and forgiveness hold? Or is God mistaken about the enduring nature of true faith, and Satan correct in saying that Job’s faith lacks integrity and will dissolve under pressure?

It is obvious in chapters 1 and 2 that God had no doubts at all about the integrity and endurance of Job’s faith. It was, after all, his gift to Job. But we, the readers, are confronted with the question: will it stand, will it endure under pressure? And, will our faith endure under similar accusations and similar pressure?

What is the nature of genuine faith?

 

A. JOB’S UNDERLYING ATTITUDE OF FAITH

Job’s basic confidence in God is expressed immediately after the suffering began.

Read again 1:21 and 2:10. What do you learn about faith under pressure from these verses?
1:21

 

2:10

 

Does your faith enable you to respond with similar trust in God and commitment to God when trouble comes?

 

 

What Job says in chapters 3 to 31 does not contradict what he says here, but is based on it, arising from it. It is this basic trust in God, including God’s utter sovereignty in all things, that prevents Job from giving in to the arguments of his friends, and that prevents him from succumbing to the pressure to give in and give up.

Satan’s intention was to force Job to give up on God altogether. The three friends’ intention was to make Job give up on his confidence that he was accepted by God, and to give in to the traditional theology of suffering that, given the amount of his suffering, it was obviously God’s punishment for significant sin.

And these are the two unthinkable options that confront us when we, believers, suffer various kinds of pressure:

Do I give up on God? Do I join the atheists and unbelievers and cast aside belief/trust in the God who has allowed this suffering to happen?

Do I give up on grace? Do I join the legalists and conclude that my actions/sins/failures/omissions have the power/authority to separate me from God’s love and attract his wrath?

 

B. TRUE FAITH DOES NOT RESULT IN LOSS OF FEELING

Although Job’s responses in chapters 1 and 2 calmly express his faith in God, it becomes clear in chapter 3 that the God-fearer, the person of faith, is not a super-human stoic. An alien, unwanted situation has crashed down upon Job, and it hurts. He is bewildered; he is confused; he is in agony; he wishes he had never been born.

Several truths are relevant here:

[1] People of faith do not escape suffering; we are still in this world, a world of sin, death and suffering, from which we will not be separate until Christ returns. We should not expect to be free from suffering - from sickness, accidents, disasters. Although God can and does graciously answer prayer for release from suffering, he does not always do so. Christians experience the same kinds of suffering as unbelievers. All humans, including Christians, die. See this study.

[2] People of faith are not called upon to be super-human in these situations - see 6:12: ‘Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze?’ Believers are like everyone else made of flesh and blood, mind and soul – physical injury hurts, emotional trauma hurts, relationship breakdowns hurt, financial hardship is difficult. Faith in God does not cancel the pain. In addition, believers are, perhaps more than other people, sensitive to the incongruity and the alien nature of suffering in a world created by God. Believers know that God is sovereign, God is good and God is loving. We know that suffering was not there in the beginning, and that suffering is not forever. With the martyred saints we cry ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true …’ (Revelation 6:10). How long until you intervene in a final and total way and end all suffering?

[3] Those who love most lay themselves most open to hurt. If we ever come to a point where we fail to feel pain when we consider the evil and suffering in the world, let us ask ourselves: have we also ceased to love - both God and our neighbour? We who know God are commanded to mourn with those who mourn, to empathize with those who suffer.

The person of faith, like Christ, though to a far lesser degree, and never as a substitutionary offering, bears, with great agony and suffering, the burden of the sin and suffering of the world. The person of faith knows that suffering is not what God created us for. We know that all the suffering, both personal and global, is here because of that original human choice in Genesis 3, and because we, the humans, repeatedly reduplicate that choice, and say ‘yes’ to the sin and suffering that God outlawed by his ‘no’ in Genesis 2:17. Sin causes suffering – to ourselves, to our neighbours, to our environment, and to God.

As part of this, as we have seen: the person of faith is allowed to cry; indeed, the person of faith ought to cry.

Job cried, and he cried out to God. Jesus cried. See this study for the heart of God for those who suffer.

What emotions and feelings are expressed by Job, and what caused these responses?
3:1 – 16; 10:18 – 19

 

3:20 – 22

3:26

6:2, 3

6:14 – 17

7:3, 4

7:6

7:11

7:13 – 16

10:1

10:15

16:6, 7

16:16

17:1

17:7

17:11

19:2

23:1

23:15, 16

27:2

30:15

30:17

30:24

30:31

To what extent do you feel, or have you felt, the same agony expressed by Job in these verses?

 

 

 

C. TRUE FAITH FLUCTUATES, BUT THE OBJECT OF TRUE FAITH REMAINS CONSTANT

Job’s faith has suffered a terrible blow; out of the blue, unimaginable calamity has come upon him, and it is completely unexplainable - except by the legalistic opinions of his friends. But to believe these would be to live by sight, rather than by faith. His faith remains intact. He never ceases to believe in the sovereign and almighty God. He never ceases to hold on to his faith-based relationship with God. But, as he grapples with his new and unexpected circumstances, he also grapples with what it actually means to believe. He does not know how to explain his terrible suffering. So it seems to him that his faith fluctuates; but, even though it is sometimes diminished and sometimes despairing, it is still faith in God, the sovereign Lord of all.

In the midst of his turmoil how does Job express his belief in God?
3:4

3:23

6:4

6:8, 9

6:10

7:7

7:11 – 21

 

Although he feels that his faith is seriously diminished (read 6:14 in several translations), Job still sees God as the ruler of the world, and because God is the ruler of the world it is God who is responsible for his trouble (6:4). He sees God as the One who holds the key to life and death (6:8 – 9), who could, if he so chose, bring Job’s life to an end. Even if his friends are right and God is punishing him for sin, it is still to God, not to himself, that he looks for forgiveness and pardon (7:21).

 

D. THE PERSON OF FAITH EXPECTS NOTHING FROM GOD AS HIS RIGHT, BUT DEPENDS ON HIM FOR EVERYTHING

[1] Job expects nothing from God as his right. Because he knows that God is wise, powerful, immoveable and Sovereign Lord of all, he knows that no one has any rights in God’s presence. No one can march boldly into his presence and demand this or that. He knows that even the God-fearing person, such as he himself is, cannot stand before the power and majesty of God. His only hope for acceptance is God’s mercy.

How is Job’s belief about God expressed in these verses?
9:3 – 10

9:14 – 15

9:19 – 24

 

Job knows that same truth expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 115:3: ‘Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.’

‘But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?
He does whatever he pleases’ (Job 23:13).

Because of this Job longs for someone who does have the right to stand in God’s presence - he longs for a go-between, a mediator, an arbitrator:

‘He is not a man like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to arbitrate between us,
to lay his hand upon us both,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot’ (9:32 – 35).

 

[2] Because of this great gulf between God and man, the man of faith also knows that he is dependent on God for everything. And that very dependence, that fact that God both created and sustains him, makes his current suffering even more puzzling – for why would God who created him now turn and destroy him?

Read 10:8 – 12. How does Job express this human dependence on God?

 

 

 

 

E. FAITH BELIEVES GOD IS IN CONTROL OF ALL THAT HAPPENS (12:7 – 22).

The Bible presents God as utterly sovereign. It is God, the one-and-only God, who is in control of all things. This is monotheism. Although the Bible also teaches us that Satan exists, and that Satan is the enemy, it never teaches dualism – the existence of two equally powerful supernatural beings. Satan is a created being, rebelling against God and God’s authority, but, even so, limited by God and God’s authority.

As part of this pure monotheism the book of Job affirms that God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists, and that he actively intervenes in human lives and nations.

What do these verses say about God’s involvement and control as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer?
5:9 – 15 (Eliphaz)

 

9:5 – 10 (Job)

 

12:7 – 22 (Job)

 

14:5 (Job)

26:7 – 14 (Job)

 

36:27 – 37:18 (Elihu)

 

 

38:4 – 39:30 (God)

 

 

This strong monotheism, however, is the reason for some of the puzzling questions that people raise about the existence of evil and suffering.

Why does a good God allow all the suffering?
Why does a powerful, loving God not stop the suffering?
Why did God make Adam and Eve capable of sinning?
Why did God not stop them?

In one way, dualism makes it easier to answer the questions: ‘Oh,’ we would say, ‘Satan did it. It’s nothing to do with God. God has no say in the matter.’ We would be relieved of these difficult questions.

But the book of Job does not leave us that escape route, and rightly so. Dualism, the existence of two equally powerful gods, leads to unbearable insecurity and leaves the final outcome fearfully open-ended. It also renders ‘faith’ quite impossible. We would not know which ‘god’ to trust, which ‘god’ to render allegiance to. Either God alone is God, and therefore sovereign, or there is no such reality as a god who actually is God.

The book of Job, and the rest of the Bible, teaches us that there is nothing outside of God’s control. There is no such thing as ‘beyond God’s control’. It simply does not exist. The one belief that is consistently held by every character in the book of Job is that it is this utterly sovereign God who has caused Job to suffer.

Read the following verses. What does each character have to say about who is responsible for Job’s suffering?
Satan: 1:11; 2:5

God: 2:3

Job’s wife: 2:9

Eliphaz: 5:17; 22:4

Bildad: 8:4

Zophar: 20:15, 23, 28, 29

Elihu: 34:10, 11

Now look at Job’s confidence that it is God who has inflicted him with suffering:
3:23

6:4

7:17 – 21

 

13:21

16:7 – 14

 

17:6

19:6, 8 – 13, 21

 

23:14 – 16

 

As we saw in the Prologue, God held himself accountable for the first round of Job’s suffering. He said to Satan ‘You incited me against him to ruin him without a cause’ (2:3). In addition, consistent with this:

Satan understood that God was sovereign; he could not harm Job on his own initiative. He could do so only with God’s permission and within limits defined by God.

The wife knew that God had done it, so advised Job to curse him.

The friends knew that God had done it, and viewed Job’s suffering as God’s just punishment for Job’s sins.

Job knew that God had done it, but he rejected the justice of applying the traditional theology of suffering to him and his situation. He knew that that theology did not always apply. But he knew no other way of understanding the suffering inflicted on him by God.

 

F. FAITH BELIEVES GOD IS JUST

Faith believes God is just, and a worthy object of faith, even though everything, on every side, is screaming out that he is unjust, even when black darkness presses in (23:17).

In 2:3, when God said to Satan ‘you incited me against him to ruin him without a cause’ his meaning is clear: there was nothing in Job, no sin, no wrong-doing, that merited punishment. God himself thus rejected the application of the traditional theology of suffering to Job. What is happening to Job is not a question of justice. But Job does not know this. And the three friends and Elihu do not know it.

The friends persistently apply the traditional theology of suffering to Job: that God, in his justice, is rightly punishing Job for sin.

Job firmly believes in the justice of God. He knows God is just. But he cannot understand, on the basis of the traditional theology of suffering, how what is happening to him is God’s justice. Indeed, it seems to him to be completely unjust. We have seen in his testimony his commitment to God and to God’s honour. We have seen how God-centred his life was. We have seen his awareness not only of his own imperfection but also of God’s acceptance.

In questioning the justice of his suffering (viewed from the perspective of the traditional theology) Job was actually correct. God was not punishing him for any sin. But he knows no other possible explanation. It is this apparent but inexplicable rejection and punishment by God that is Job’s deepest grief. He is desperate to talk to God about it face to face. He is confident that if only he can talk with God, if only God will respond to his cries, everything will be explained. Even though it is God who is responsible for his misfortune, it is also God to whom he looks for justice and acquittal.

How do these verses reveal both Job’s confusion over God’s justice and his confidence in God’s justice?
13:6 – 12

 

13:13 – 18

 

16:18 – 21

 

17:3

19:6 – 11

 

19:25 – 27

 

23:3 – 7

 

23:10

23:14 – 17

 

Even in the depth of his grief and confusion, Job’s confidence in God’s justice remains. For that reason he has courage to face God, even though he knows that he, as a human, has no rights in face of God’s sovereignty.

 

G. FAITH OVERRIDES AND REFUSES TO BOW TO LEGALISM

Job, the man of faith, refused to give in and acknowledge that the legalistic understanding of human relationship with God was the only correct understanding.

Job knew that God punishes the wicked.
He also knew that God does not always punish the wicked during their lives (21:7 – 15, 21 – 26, 29 – 33 ).

It is therefore not possible to look at a person’s circumstances and to accurately make conclusions about their personal wickedness or righteousness. It is not possible to say that suffering is always the lot of the wicked and prosperity the lot of the righteous. But that is exactly what his friends were doing. As Job pointed out (13:6 – 12), if they applied the same conclusions to themselves, they too should be suffering.

The traditional theology of suffering was true … but it only applied sometimes. Not all suffering is punishment for sin. Not all prosperity is reward for goodness. The visible evidence is ambiguous.

In addition, Job knew that there was another truth that superseded the traditional theology of suffering, so he refused to submit to the legalism of his friends.

Read these verses. Note how strongly Job rejects the conclusions of his friends.
21:27

21:34

27:3-6

 

Job’s relationship with God was grounded on faith, not on works. His works, as we have seen, issued both spontaneously and deliberately from his already existing faith relationship with God. As he states so emotionally in 27:3 – 6, for him to agree with his friends that God was punishing him for sin, would have been both wicked and deceitful. It would have been to tell lies about God. [Note Job’s opinion of his friends’ words:

‘Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him?’ (13:7)

Job knows that there is a ‘righteousness’ that has nothing to do with human perfection. A righteousness that renders the human conscience clear, a righteousness that renders a human totally acceptable to God, a righteousness that puts a human totally beyond the punishment decreed for the wicked.

Just how Job knew this we are not told.

Maybe he had heard of Abel, who by faith was, along with his offering, accepted by God as righteous (Genesis 4:3 – 5; Hebrews 11:4).

Maybe he had heard of Enoch, who by faith was commended as one who pleased God (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5, 6).

Maybe he had heard of Noah, who was heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Genesis 6:8; Hebrews 11:7).

Maybe, if he lived after him, he had heard of Abraham, who, by faith was credited with righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11:11, 17).

Nor are we told how clearly Job understood this righteousness that has nothing to do with human works.

And here we come to a very important truth: that Job’s faith anticipated Jesus Christ.

 

H. FAITH LOOKS TO JESUS CHRIST

Scattered through Job’s agonized words are remarkable anticipations of Jesus Christ:

Christ the Mediator
As we have seen above, Job longs for someone who has the right to stand in God’s presence - he longs for a go-between, a mediator, an arbitrator:

‘He is not a man like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to arbitrate between us,
to lay his hand upon us both,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot’ (9:32 – 35).

And he even dares to believe that there is such an advocate:

‘Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend’ (16:19 – 21).

What do we, because of Jesus Christ, now know with grand assurance that Job knew only as something that he so desperately needed, but, even so, trusted?
Ephesians 2:18

1Timothy 2:5

Hebrews 4:14 – 16

Hebrews 9:15

Hebrews 10:19 – 22

 

Christ the Saviour
Job knows that with God there is forgiveness, a forgiveness that means that sin is no longer taken into account, that sin is covered.

‘All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover my sin’ (14:14b – 17).

This awareness of both sin and forgiveness is a persistent theme of both Old and New Testaments:

‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit’ (Psalm 32:1, 2; Romans 4:7, 8).

‘If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared’ (Psalm 130:3, 4).

‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace that he has lavished on us …’ (Ephesians 1:7, 8).

For Job to have given in to his friends suggestions would have been to deny that with God there is forgiveness, a forgiveness that keeps no record of sins, a forgiveness that can be measured only by God himself.

Christ the Redeemer
If there is a price to be paid for sin, and there is, Job knows that it is a price neither he nor anyone else can pay. God himself alone is able to pay it.

‘Give me, O God, the pledge you demand.
Who else will put up security for me?’ (17:3)

‘I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!’ (19:25 – 27)

Even in his ignorance of the Old Testament, and of Jesus Christ and the New Testament, Job has this wonderful insight into the very nature of God. God is a God who makes himself visible to human eyes. God is a God who actually came and stood upon this earth. God, this God, is the Redeemer who himself paid the ransom that his justice demanded.

We know what Job did not know: that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, one with the Father, came to this earth to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We know what Job did not know: that we are redeemed not with the blood of bulls and goats, or with perishable things like gold and silver, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:13, 14; 1Peter 1:18, 19).

But even so Job longed for the day when he would see him – ‘how my heart yearns within me!’

 

I. FAITH TRUSTS GOD’S SELF-REVELATION

The person of faith trusts that God is a self-revealing God, and depends solely on God’s self-revelation for knowledge of God.

True faith is wary of any understanding of God based on human experience and observation.

True faith is wary of any understanding of God proposed by human traditions.

True faith rejects the agnostic opinion that even if there is a God, we cannot know him.

Job, faced with conclusions arising from these three perspectives, rejects them. He does not want human opinion. It is his confidence that God will speak, and it is his desire to find God, to meet him face to face.

How does Job express this confidence and this desire?
13:3

14:14, 15

19:26 – 27

 

23:1 – 5

 

23:8 – 10