(…continued) It would have been easy, of course, for God to explain this all to Job, but God chooses not to do that– not for Job, and not for us, either. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God is always making such deals with Satan and that is what leads to all of our suffering. The Bible lists many reasons for suffering. Sometimes God is punishing sin, sometimes it is our own sin that brings on our suffering, sometimes God uses suffering to teach us something or to guide us into greater faith, sometimes (as in Job) the devil does cause the trouble, sometimes we suffer from the sins of others, and sometimes suffering is just the result of accidents. These and other sources of suffering are described in the Bible. But hardly ever in the Bible, or in our own lives, is the precise reason explained in any given situation. The book of Job is a realistic book in every way. The problem of suffering is one we all face, and in the end, Job is given no more of an answer than we receive. But one thing does become clear. Job and his friends all were wrong in their understanding of the cause of suffering. God does not reward and punish us in direct and precise proportion to our good and bad deeds. That is karma, a belief found in Eastern religions. The Biblical understanding of suffering is far more complex.
We might not like the story behind Job’s suffering, this seemingly casual conversation between God and Satan out of which came the severe testing of Job. But we need to ask ourselves how we are going to approach the Bible. Are we going to come at God’s Word with our limited understanding and serve as judges over God and His Word; or, are we going to let the Bible be the judge of us and our way of seeing things?
No one wants to suffer, but perhaps we make the mistake of approaching life with the expectation that all should go well for us. Therefore, anything that does go wrong is God’s fault for which he is accountable to us. But perhaps there are things more important to God than our uninterrupted happiness and bliss. Maybe God isn’t as concerned about our pleasure as he is about our faith. There certainly is more in the Bible about faith than there is about pleasure. And one of the lessons in the Bible is that oftentimes the more God blesses us, the less faith we have and the less we pay attention to God. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of what is often told to children, that life isn’t just a picnic or a party, and we might as well expect trouble.
The book of Job teaches us that far from being a party, life is a test in which our faith is challenged and strengthened. There is much of that image of testing in the Bible, along with the image of life as a battle. In chapter one of Job, Satan stops in for what looks like a casual conversation, but its not casual and its not friendly. There is tension in the air all the while, and from the very beginning the reader knows there is a battle going on, a battle between God and Satan, and between good and evil. At stake is the decision in one man’s heart between trusting God or cursing God.
This is a battle that we are all familiar with, a battle that starts very early in life. You can see it already in a two year old. She reaches for something she knows she’s not supposed to touch. Her parents say, “No!,” and she stops, hand still outstretched, and looks back. She’s thinking, and you can see it in her eyes– this lifelong battle between right and wrong is already going on. She may lower her hand and obediently go on to something else, or she may in a sudden act of defiance go for it, grabbing the forbidden item, and be off running. There is something in us from the beginning that wants the safety and comfort that comes from obedience. There is also within us is this sometimes irresistible desire to defy and disobey and do what we know is wrong.
Life, as we well know, is not a picnic. It is indeed more of a battle, a test, says the Bible, and the strange setting of the book of Job gives us a little glimpse into that. We are allowed to see a fuller picture of Job’s suffering. We do not get to see the fuller picture or the ultimate purposes in our own suffering.
It is for us to learn from all of the Bible’s message that God is for us and not against us, and in all things God can be trusted. As it says in Romans chapter 8:28, “In all things, God works for the good of them that love him.”
Job 5:7 — Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 16:22-17:1…11 — (Job said), “Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me… My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.”
Job 27:8 — For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, when God takes away their life?
Job 14:14 — If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
Job 19:25-27 — I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
James 1:12 — Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Ephesians 6:10-12 — Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
O Lord, grant us patience in troubles, humility in comforts, steadfastness in temptations, and victory over all our spiritual enemies. Grant us sorrow for our sins, thankfulness for your benefits, fear of your judgment, love of your mercies, and mindfulness of your presence, now and forevermore. Amen.
–John Cosin, Bishop of Durham (1594-1672)