God "delivers the poor in their affliction . . ." (Job 36:15a)
The Bible supplies no thorough solution to the problem of evil, whether "natural" evil or, "moral" evil, that is, whether it is in the form of suffering or sin. The answer the Bible supplies to the question of pain and suffering is more practical than it is philosophical. Consequently, the Bible has references to sin and suffering on virtually every page.
What is the relationship between Christ’s suffering and ours? How does the cross speak to us in our pain and suffering? How can it be reasonable, when pain and suffering overwhelms us, to continue to trust in God?
At the heart of the Biblical revelation is the very earnest assertion of the stark reality of suffering, sin, and pain in this world—with finality. There is no attempt to hide or gloss over the problems of pain and evil in the Bible. The Bible presents evil as real, and says that one can experience it and feel it.
Here is a universal truth: we see people all around us seeking happiness, peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning for their existence, and significance to their lives. They claim that they are seeking God. The truth is, they are seeking benefits from God, and not God himself!
Does the person of Job, and the book which bears his name, provide an answer to the question of pain and suffering? What did God say, and what did He allow in Job’s life? Let’s look at chapter one:
Job is introduced to us as one who lived in the land of Uz, located in the eastern part of Arabia near the Euphrates river. He is described as a man who is "blameless" and upright," and one who "fears God and shuns evil." The thought of doing evil was detestable to him. The fear of God in his heart was the governing principle which characterized his whole life. He was rich and prosperous; his abundant riches were called substance. His substance was described as his cattle, sheep, camels, oxen, and asses.
The writer of this book has permitted us a glimpse into the heavenly council chamber; there we are introduced to Satan, (the adversary), to God, to mankind, and to all of creation that is good. There the virulent alien thrust himself into an assembly of the sons of God, who came to present themselves before the Lord. (This could very well be Satan who thrusts himself upon the saints of God, to distract and disturb them with his diabolical evil).
God asked him, "Whence comest thou?" He responded, "I have been walking to and fro on the earth." In other words, he is saying, "I have been a fugitive and a vagabond, and could find no rest in my quest of an opportunity to do mischief."
God puts a question to him by directing his attention to His servant, Job. "Have you considered my servant Job?" (Job 1:8). Satan responded by saying, "If pain and suffering were inflicted on him, he will curse You to Your face and deny who You are." God granted Satan permission to afflict Job. The afflictions were Satan’s best shot at Job. He was limited in his affliction upon Job by God who said, "only upon himself put not forth thy hand (which is like saying), You are to take his possessions, but don’t touch his body. . . ."
Satan was allowed to take or destroy all of Job’s 500 yoke of oxen, 500 she-asses, 7,000 sheep, and the shepherds who kept them, 3,000 camels, and the servants tending them, and finally, was allowed to take all of Job’s seven sons, and three daughters.
In these series of personal tragedies, the devil had done all he desired to do to Job, to provoke him to curse, and renounce God. It would be hard to conceive of the magnitude of the disasters which befell him. Yet, he acknowledged the sovereign hand of God in all things in his life – both in prosperity, and in affliction; "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."
In chapter two the court is set, and the evil prosecutor—Satan, makes another appearance (2:1-2) as he did in chapter 1:6, 7. God asked him, "Whence comest thou?" and he answers as before, "From going to and fro on the earth," as if he had not been doing his evil work.
Again, God pointed him to Job, and said to Satan, "Hast thou considered my servant Job . . .who still holds his integrity?" The accuser answered, "Skin for Skin, and all that a man has, will he give for his life, put forth thy hand now and touch his bone, and his flesh, and then he will curse thee to thy face" (Job 2: 4-5). In other words, he is saying: "There is nothing like inflicting physical pain on someone."
Satan got what he wanted; his desire was to inflict so much physical pain on Job, that the pain would also affect his cognitive ability to think and reason clearly; and as a consequence, Satan reasoned, Job would "Curse God and die," as Job’s wife said. "He is in thy hands . . .only save his life," God said.
With his diabolical plan, he went to work on Job. He inflicted Job with painful and loathsome boils, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, so making him a burden to himself. Satan thought that the physical pain inflicted on Job would induce mental anguish in his heart, and depression in his mind, and that he would turn against God. But Satan was wrong again.
Job, writhing in physical pain, went out of the city, and sat on a heap of ash; there he took a potsherd (a piece of a broken pitcher) to scrape himself with. Even Lazarus had some ease from the dogs that came and licked his sores (Luke 16), but Job had no such help extended to him.
Job’s wife was brought into the picture; Satan used her as a spear into Job’s heart. Satan’s attack was twofold through her: (i) She attacked his integrity by saying, "Dost thou still retain thy integrity?" And (ii) She urged him to renounce and blaspheme God, and, "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9).
Job responded to his wife, in his integrity, by saying, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil also?" He argued for receiving "good" and "evil" from God. In so doing, he was pointing to God’s all-powerful, and sovereign rule in the lives of men and women, and in His universe.1
Job resisted the two attacks from his wife, and maintained his integrity, because he thought that her temptations were both mindless and foolish. Satan was, therefore, defeated; "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 1:22 and 2:10). God’s grace was very present in Job’s life through all the painful ordeals; it took root in his heart, and he did not utter any blasphemy or bitterness; he did not see himself as a victim, nor did he blame God in all his pain and suffering –Job trusted in the living God!
In the rest of the book we are introduced to Job’s four so-called friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, the young man Elihu, and finally, God himself. Each of the four individuals proposed a different attitude, and to each is a place accorded to self-opinion, in the Text.
Job’s "friends" said that he was suffering because he was sinful. They said that his afflictions were the divine penalty for his misdeeds. That is the conventional thinking about the wicked, which is repeated by the four individuals here. John Stott puts their summary this way:
"‘All his days the wicked man suffers torment,’ says Eliphaz (15:20).
‘The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out,’ says Bildad (18:5), while
Zophar’s contribution is that ‘the mirth of the wicked is brief’ (20:5).
From this basic premise they draw the inevitable deduction that Job
is suffering for his wickedness: ‘Is not your wickedness great? Are
not your sins endless?’ (22:5). But Job will have none of it. His
friends are ‘worthless physicians’ (13:4), and ‘miserable comforters’
(16:2), who talk nothing but ‘nonsense’ and even ‘falsehood’ (21:34).
And God later confirms Job’s verdict. He refers to their ‘folly,’ and
says that they ‘have not spoken’ of him ‘what is right,’ as his servant
Job has (42:7-8). . . .Elihu enters next. Although he is angry because
Job has been ‘justifying himself rather than God’ (32:2), he is different
on account of his youth. . . .his distinctive emphasis is that God speaks
in many ways (including suffering) in order ‘to turn man from wrong-
doing and keep him from pride’ (33:14, 17). So God makes people
‘listen to correction’ and ‘speaks to them in their affliction’ (36:10, 15).
Indeed, ‘who is a teacher like him?’ (v 22). His teaching is even a kind
of ‘wooing’ (v.16), in which he pleads with people to repent and so
seeks to deliver them from their distress."2
This article is continued in Part II
1 Matthew Henry offers a good exposition in his Commentary, on this chapter, p. 516-517.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Cross Of Christ, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove; Illinois, 1986), p. 328.
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