The book of Job asks the age-old question: Why do the righteous suffer? This book is sometimes mis-interpreted because some people put too much focus on the first two chapters as well as the final one. The real meat of the message is found in the larger, more difficult to read section of chapters 3-41. In them, Job complains that God has taken everything away from him even though he is righteous. His friends say that because Job has lost everything, he cannot be righteous.
It's not that Job and his friends view God differently. In fact, they both have the same belief:
- That God directly causes suffering and prosperity.
- That God brings prosperity upon the righteous and calamity upon the wicked.
- That those blessings/punishments occur in this life.
Many people today have the same theology and doubt God when disasters pile up in their lives. We don't want to minimize the cry of hurting people, but this belief is just plain wrong. Right belief will provide some relief and a way to trust God in the face of disaster.
The Correct Theology
First, chapters 1-2 of Job indicate that God is not the originator of Job's suffering but Satan is. A reading of the entire Bible shows us that, beyond Satan's direct involvement, sinful humanity brings much evil upon others in this world. This is a consequence of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden but also our own sinfulness.
God's ways are higher than oursSecond, the idea that riches come to the righteous in this life and poverty to the wicked is wrong. We know this from experience. But why doesn't God operate the way we think he should?
That's our problem. We think we know best how God should act. God answers Job, though he does not directly answer his question, by coming and speaking to him:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:2-4 ESV)
Throughout chapters 38-41, God peppers Job with questions that he cannot answer to prove his main point. It could be summarized as "I'm God, you're not."
Job gets it. He answers God with this:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:2-6 NIV)
From God's response to Job and Job's response back to God, we learn:
- We are incapable of understanding God's ways.
- We should not impose our standards of justice on God.
- Our joy depends on accepting these facts and repenting of doubting God at any point in our suffering.
In the midst of your suffering, know that God sees everything and has a much bigger plan for you than you can see. He is also close at hand to bring comfort and walk through life's difficulties. If he does not change your circumstances, it does not mean that he is punishing you or neglecting you. Job did not doubt God's goodness while he questioned him. Let that be our example.
Bob Caldwell is Theologian-in Residence at Network 211