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The Book of Job and the Problem of Pain

Being in the ministry presupposes many things that the believer needs to be aware of. People will see you as a representative of the Christian faith. This being the case, it is essential that the believer be able to, among other things, clearly explain what it means to be a Christian, and give a clear explanation of the truths of Christianity. As well, and no less common, the believer will undoubtedly be challenged to explain why, according to the Bible, God allows things to happen the way they do. Why does our God allow bad things to occur? The Christian must have a theodicy (theos, “God;” dike, “right,” or”just” to justify God”) which explains as well as possible the actions and allowances of the God of the Bible. There is suffering in the world, this cannot be denied. We must have some explanation as to why this suffering goes on the way it does.

The book of Job is a book that can help the believer to develop a true biblical theodicy. It is one that can be turned to in order to help in times of confusion, pain, and disillusionment. Being a Christian means being a bearer of the truth. We claim to have “good news.” To the outsider, if this “good news” does not have some hope in the midst of lives most trying times, it is really not good news at all. The Bible does not deny the reality of suffering (1Thes 4:13). It does not even deny that God is the one who brings about this suffering (Job 42:11; 5:18).

For me it is essential to boil the lessons of Job down to two golden eggs that we can take with us wherever we go. First, God knows about our suffering and is in control. Second, God has a purpose. This second one comforts us many times until we find out that it has a string attached. Although God does have a purpose, He may not let us know what that purpose is.

God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering

God knows about our suffering and is in control. That God knows our suffering is evident from the very beginning of Job. God was not ignorant of Job’s condition before the incidents recorded. He asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job” (2:3). God said that he was “blameless and upright.” God was aquatinted with all of Job’s ways. The Psalmist tells us that God knows when we lie down and when we rise. He tells us that God knows all our paths (Ps 51). At the end of the book, God’s speech makes it evident that He was there with Job the entire time of his suffering. He never took his eye of his servant. This is indeed a comfort to know that we, as Christians, can confidently state that we have a God that knows all our movements and all our pains. But this is not all. He is also the one who is in control of all the circumstances. Notice that it was God that Satan had to go through for permission to invade in the life of Job to bring about pain. It was God that gave him permission. The book of 1 Corinthians tells us that God will take into account our weaknesses and never let any pain come upon us which we cannot bear nor overcome:

No temptation [or test] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).

Because of this lesson, we can confidently state to those in pain or with questions that God not only knows about our pain, but He is in control of it as well.

God’s Purpose in Our Suffering

Not only can we be confident that God knows and is in control of our circumstance, but we can also be confident that He has a purpose in it. The book of Job makes this evident in the first chapters of the narrative. We are told that it is actually God who challenged Satan to consider Job as an object of testing. It was God who told Satan, after Satan challenged Him, that he could take away all his physical possessions as well as his health. This was done (and this is essential), not because God was not sure what Job’s response would be, but because he knew exactly what his response would be. God knew from the very beginning that Job would overcome and bring Him glory. Job was tried, tested, and approved. The New Testament has a word for this concept, “do,kimoj.” Louw-Nida defines this word as “that which is considered good, regarded as worthy.” It goes on, “for it is not the person who commends himself who is considered worthy, but the person whom the Lord commends.” God regarded Job as worthy of the test. Otherwise He would have never told Satan to consider him. God had a purpose to show Job to be “do,kimoj” and thereby bring glory to Himself.

But we must remember that Job never was told about the first two chapters of the book. He never knew the conversation that took place between God and Satan. He never knew why he suffered. Even after it was all over, God chose not to tell him why. God does not always reveal why things happen the way they do. In fact as he shows Job, He’s under no obligation to do so. This is probably the most difficult part of the lesson. It was for Job. We, like him, want to know exactly why things happen the way they do. Why did God let my child suffer then die? Why did I lose my job? Why is there hunger and starvation all over the world whenever there is more than enough food to feed them?

Let me share a piece of my life to illustrate. Seven years ago when I was still in seminary I checked my mail and found out that there was only one week left on my car towing insurance. The funny thing is that I did not even know I had towing insurance! I did not think much of it. A couple of days later my wife, my 3-month-old child, and I broke down on the highway directly between Dallas and Oklahoma City. It was really our in the middle of nowhere. I had to leave my car and get a ride. When we finally arrived home I was worried sick about how we were going to pay the towing bill. But then I remembered the notice that I had received in the mail. I rejoiced that God had brought that letter to me. I would have never known that I even had this insurance if God would not have let me know a couple of days in advance. I could clearly see God’s purpose. The event was clearly meaningful. Meaningful only until we found out that the particular insurance that I had would not cover this specific incident. My rejoicing was in vain. My dad had to pay the costs for the tow. The event was purposeless once again in my eyes. Why did God allow that to happen? I don’t know. Maybe it was for this very moment. But the fact remains that bad things happen and we, like Job, may desperately search for the reason for the occurrences but never know why.

Job is a wonderful book for all who seek to have further understanding of the problem of pain. We, as Christians, can plum the depths of Job’s masterful narrative and dialogue and be confident that none of our ways, none of our pains, not even any of out words or thoughts escape the presence of God. We can be confident that God not only knows our plight, but that He is in control of it. God is sovereign in the affairs of man (Dan 4:35). Most importantly, we can be assured that even when there seems to be no rhyme or reason why bad things occur, God has a plan and a purpose. Although we may never know this side of Heaven about the “first two chapters,” we can be confident that they are there and God is bringing glory to Himself through them.

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