Job understood suffering more than most humans. An upright man in God’s eyes (Job 1:8) and blameless, he still receives a massive slew of misfortunes. He loses his family, servants, home, and good health, left behind with a nagging wife and friends who claim Job brought this suffering upon himself.
Did Job suffer in vain? Does suffering have a purpose? This article will dive into unexpected lessons on suffering from the book of Job.
Who Wrote Job?
According the Crossway ESV Study Bible, the author of this book is anonymous (similar to the book of Hebrews).
Since the book records his death (Job 42:17), Job himself likely did not write it, according to this article from Thomas Nelson Bibles. Some candidates mentioned are Moses, Elihu, and Solomon, but mere speculation supports any of these authors. No matter who wrote the book, Job was a real historical character.
In the Bible, you can find the book sandwiched between the books of Esther and Psalms. Typically, scholars attribute Job to a category known as Wisdom Literature. The books in Wisdom Literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.), contain many passages and proverbs this theme.
Who Was Job and Why Does God Let Him Suffer?
Job, an upright man, likely lived during the time of the patriarchs or Abraham and came from the land of Uz (modern-day Saudia Arabia). He had accumulated a great deal of wealth and had a healthy family, but as the story progresses, we see him lose all of his earthly treasures in a single day.
As mentioned before, Job hadn’t sinned. God deemed him blameless. This does not mean that Job was perfect – as a human being he still struggled with sin the same way you and I do everyday. Got Questions explains in this article that “blameless and upright” can be interpreted to mean that Job “was a man of integrity who trusted God as his redeemer (see Job 19:25), sincerely worshiped the Lord, loved his family, and was consistent in his walk with God.”
So why does God allow him to suffer? Sometimes, even in Christian circles, people can assert that suffering can come from past sins and the after-effect of such sins. But what about Job? Why does God allow him to suffer so much when he didn’t do anything wrong?
Why Is Job Suffering?
To understand why Job suffered so much, we have to zoom out to a scene in heaven where Satan approaches God (Job 1). When God mentions to Satan about Job and his blameless ways, Satan essentially thrusts a finger at God’s nose and says, “it’s because you’ve given him wealth and a great family. Take that all away, and he’ll curse you.”
God allows for Satan to strike Job’s wealth and family, but Satan must, by God’s command spare Job’s life.
Job mourns but doesn’t curse God.
Satan returns in Job 2 and essentially says, “Well, he still has his good health. Take that away, and he’ll curse you.”
Once again, God allows Satan to afflict Job, this time with a horrible skin disease. Still, Job doesn’t curse God.
Readers may wonder why God allows Satan to afflict Job. We can see a number of possible reasons.
First, God may have allowed Satan to take away Job’s possessions and family as a test. Satan had, after all, claimed Job’s love for God was contingent on the prosperity he’d experienced.
Second, as we see in the story of Joseph, sometimes what someone intends for evil can be rerouted to something good (Genesis 50:20).
At the end of the narrative, Job not only receives a restored health but more possessions and a beautiful family, than that from which he’d begun in his former years (Job 42:12-17).
Third, God may have allowed Job to suffer to show readers that not all suffering comes directly from our sins. Because sin entered the world through Adam, we feel its effects in disasters that befall us (natural disasters, etc.), in which we didn’t play a direct role.
Because everyone has sinned, everyone feels the effects of sin.
But God doesn’t leave the narrative hopeless. He restores Job, just like he’ll restore the earth and those who follow him.
3 Unexpected Lessons from Job
1. Our Friends Don’t Always Give the Best Advice When We Suffer
Although his friends comfort him at first, they very quickly deliver their verdict: Job must’ve sinned to bring this disaster upon himself. Job defends his actions and says he never sinned, but his group of friends barrage him until God comes onto the scene and berates them for their unwise words (Job 42:7).
In a similar fashion, our friends may not know what to say during our times of grief, and will end up twisting the truth or sounding pharisaical. Phrases such as: “Heaven has a new angel now” or “maybe you’re atoning for some past sin,” ect not only downplay the agony of the sufferer, but they often misconstrue the truth found in Scripture. When your friends offer advice, make sure to double check it against Scripture. Even if they use Scripture, read verses in context and understand the author’s original intent.
2. Satan Has a Limit on His Power When It Comes to Our Suffering
Satan can only afflict us as much as God allows him to. Although he wreaks havoc on Job’s life, God doesn’t allow him to take away Job’s life (Job 2:6).
In our greatest hours of darkness, it can feel as though the devil has unlimited power, but he can only move when God gives him permission to move.
Often Christians can think Satan and God are evenly matched. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God has no equal. God created Satan. The created cannot overthrow an omnipotent creator.
Rest assured, God still has a wonderful plan for your life, and Satan cannot undo that plan.
3. God Doesn’t Always Provide an Answer for Our Suffering (But He Does Still Have Everything Under Control)
Job, although faithful, does want God to provide reasons for why he allowed him to suffer. God appears in a whirlwind (Job 38-42) and essentially, through a series of rhetorical questions, says, “Don’t question me. You’re finite and your mind can only understand the things of creation beyond a certain scope. I am infinite and all powerful.”
Nevertheless, he does restore Job. But, the first time I encountered the passage, I was somewhat frustrated Job doesn’t receive an answer, after all the suffering he’d been through.
However, this article by Rosemary Bardsley helped me to reorient my thinking about God’s response. God shows Job his unlimited knowledge and power to show him he has everything under control. It essentially calls Job to trust in God’s promises that he does have a plan for his life.
Can Suffering be a Good Thing?
Let me answer the question in this way:
Anything produced by sin is not inherently good. Death, illness, famine are not good things. They show us we live in a world that needs a Savior, even all creation groans for one (Romans 8:22-24).
However, good things can come out of bad situations.
Bringing back the example of Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery (slavery, an effect of man’s sinful nature, is bad). The wife of one his of masters falsely accuses him of attempted rape (lying, is bad), and they throw Joseph into prison because of these false accusations (Genesis 39:19-21).
Nevertheless, God produces something good from this bad situation. Because of his reputation in the prison as a dream interpreter, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dream about an impending famine, saves Egypt, and winds up second in command over Egypt (Genesis 41).
God doesn’t always provide a reason for our present suffering, and our friends and family members can often do more harm than good in terms of comforting us.
However, no matter what trial we’ve encountered, we can rest assured that God has everything under control. Satan only has so much power, and sometimes good can come out of enormous suffering.
Trust God, like Job had, and never give up in the face of great suffering. God is there, even when it doesn’t feel like that.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Max Nelson
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 450 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.