Sunday, 2 August 2009
Learning from the Suffering of Job
The suffering of a man named Job explains much about why character is more important in God's eyes than the discomfort and pain we experience in this life. Job was an exceptionally righteous man. He carefully avoided acts of transgression against God's laws. He behaved blamelessly. But, like all of us, he had weaknesses (Mark 14:38). He was not perfect.
God decided to test Job's character to see how his commitment to Him would bear up under adversity. The account of Job is in Scripture to help righteous people, when they go through discouraging and traumatic experiences, to learn to trust God patiently while awaiting the resolution of their problems.
God boasted of Job's righteous behavior to Satan. (Job 1:8). Satan responded, ". . . Stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and [Job] will surely curse You to Your face!" (Job 1:9-11). Later events proved Satan wrong. Job's character was not that weak.
God granted Satan permission to strip Job of his possessions and his family and to afflict him with excruciating boils (Job 1:12-19). Job at first accepted his plight, saying, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).
Later "Job's three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, [and] each one came . . . [to] mourn with him, and to comfort him" (Job 2:11). After a week of lamenting with him, they began to discuss his calamities and suffering. Job listed his complaints, showing the inequities of life. Later God agreed with him. Not everything in this life is fair and equitable.
Job's three friends, however, were certain that God was punishing Job for some secret sin, something Job could hide from everyone but God. Job vehemently denied that such was the case, and he was right. God later verified this also.
However, during his ordeal of loss and suffering, Job gradually came to resent God. This often happens to people in the midst of inexplicable calamity.
Many chapters relate the faulty reasoning and accusations of Job's three friends and Job's denials. Finally, one of Job's younger friends, Elihu, spoke up. He recognized that Job's perspective was flawed and distorted. Job had convinced himself that his afflictions served no purpose. He decided that God was simply not treating him fairly.
Elihu realized that Job was so obsessed with his innocence (Job 33:8-9) that he was finding fault with God rather than looking for lessons to learn from his trials. To Job's complaints Elihu replied: "Do you think this is right? Do you say, 'My righteousness is more than God's'?" (Job 35:2).
Instead of seeing his adversity as opportunity for patience and for letting God mold him, Job had grown in his resentment toward his Creator. He closed his mind to the possibility that he could learn something valuable from his suffering.
Job's principal objection was that God was unresponsive to him, that He was not properly acknowledging his righteousness.
God challenged Job, suggesting that he try to tame a sea creature, a great beast that was "made without fear" (Job 41:33-34): "Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line which you lower? Can you put a reed through his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook? Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak softly to you?" (Job 41:1-3, 4-10).
In the end Job saw that the basis of his problem was his lack of understanding and excessive confidence in his own righteousness. Then his view of God's fairness changed. He saw that His critical attitude toward God was wrong: "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . . I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3-6).
Job's experience is recorded in great detail so we can learn the folly of holding too high an opinion of ourselves. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud" (Proverbs 16:18-19).
Job's experiences can explain why righteous people may go through discouraging and traumatic times and be tempted to resent God for not obviously and quickly intervening on their behalf. Like Job, we can fail to understand that God sees far more than we see.
No matter how severe a trial is, we should never assume God isn't listening or doesn't care. He sees lessons we need to learn that are beyond our present understanding. We need always to remember some excellent advice from King David: "Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14). We should learn from Job's experience to maintain patient respect and trust in God even in the midst of our sufferings (James 5:10-11).