Suffering, A Witness to the Crime
The problem of suffering in the world is not the purpose of the book of Job! In our reading today, we are fully immersed in the cycle of speeches being made by Job and his friends. There are clearly two sides of the issue being discussed with no clarity or resolution being made. Suffering is a major character in the book, but it only serves as a witness to the larger issue regarding insufficiency of human wisdom and traditional faith of the ancient world.
Many people approach the book of Job looking for answers to their questions about the suffering of the innocent. The fact is, when you read Job, you will likely walk away with more questions about suffering than you had at the beginning. There is a theological tension within the book that was developed to produce discomfort for the reader. The idea is presented that only the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. This is reasonable, logical and supported by scripture in many other places. However, conflict exists when we hear God say that Job “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1), and he is the one who is suffering. For thirty-six chapters, this argument goes back and forth from defense to prosecution with no real resolution. The great thing we learn from our friend Job is to be comfortable within the tension between earthly wisdom and eternal faith. Job produces a form of anti-wisdom from which we can grow in our faith.
Job’s friends point out the common sense wisdom of his day, as in Job 8:20. In this vein of thought, suffering can only be understood as a result of sin. The opposite is true as well, that prosperity can only come from righteous living. Here are three perspectives on suffering for you to observe in the book of Job. In the prologue (Chapters 1-2) the reader has access to the divine perspective on suffering of which our hero remains unaware. During the dialogues (Chapters 3-37), the human perspective shows the limits of human knowledge and understanding, which are contrasted with divine and eternal purposes. In the epilogue (Chapter 38-42), notice that despite the suffering, God does not abandon the sufferer, but gently walks with Job to arrive at a new found faith which is greater than the one he had before. Only through suffering could Job grow to this place in his life.
So, why does suffering exist? What is its purpose? If God is holy, loving and sovereign, then why must we endure pain, disasters and hardships? It is not enough to say that suffering is a result of sin, which comes from free-will and the influence of a deceiver & adversary known as Satan. As we see in this book, Satan is a created being who is limited in his activity by God Himself.
So, as you continue to read Job, the question of suffering will get much more complicated! But don’t quit now, blessed are those who endure to the end…
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