Some thoughts on the book of Job, in response to a friend’s question.
It is a troubling book. Depending on the perspective of the reader it may be comforting, but at the same time it raises many questions. Many scholars agree that it was the first book of Scripture written, pre-dating the writing of Genesis. I think this is so because the idea of balancing a belief in an all powerful benevolent God is difficult to reconcile with human suffering. It is especially difficult to reconcile with the idea of good or innocent people suffering. God doesn’t really give Job an explanation. But what it does provide us with is the understanding that God always has a different perspective than we do. We are always quick to question God about our suffering. But we never question God about his allowing Jesus to suffer. Considering that Jesus was perfect and in no way deserved his suffering should give all of us pause and appreciation.
We understand, of course, the purpose of Christ’s suffering. Rarely do we understand our own. I think Job is a book that allows us to work through these hard questions, and understand that human perspective is limited. Ultimately we have to trust our God. In the story, we are privy to a behind the scenes look at what is happening. The story sets Job up as in no way deserving his suffering. His friends insist that he sinned. As we often do when observing tragedy. We assume the cause is sin. Job teaches us that we shouldn’t be quick to assume the sins of others and suffering as a form of judgement. Satan was given permission to attack Job in various areas, but it is clear that he was only a tool. Ultimately God was involved in ordaining this suffering for reasons unknown to us.
This is where mystery and wrestling with Scripture comes into play. I believe ultimately, like all Scripture, it should point us to Jesus. In light of the gospel the questions aren’t “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” But “Why did God allow the worst thing to happen to the best person?” (Jesus) He allowed it to happen for our redemption and salvation. There are both proximate and ultimate causes to good and bad, and our perspectives of good and bad is limited because we are traveling through time and space. God is outside of it. Eternal. So by definition his perspective is always better than mine. So it really isn’t wise for me to define my circumstances as ultimately good or bad, although I can label them proximately so. But only God is qualified through his attributes to know what is ultimately “good” or “bad” for me. He may allow me to be “proximately/presently” sick to teach me patience (ultimate good). It is a feeble attempt at an explanation. I don’t pretend to believe that this necessarily brings comfort to those who are suffering. My understanding, like most everything else in this life, is at best, a work in progress.
Satan was convinced that suffering would cause Job to sin. It did not. Often it does. Suffering does one of two things for people, it draws them closer to God or pushes them further away. This too is a mystery. I have witnessed this phenomenon take place in the same family. With some drawing nearer to God and others drifting further away. But even a more mysterious phenomenon is that comfort causes everyone to drift from God.
I offer an imperfect analogy: when my children were little every time we had to wait in line, they assured me that it was going to take forever to get to the end of the line. Because of my maturity I could assure them that it wouldn’t be “forever” and when we arrived they were thankful they waited. As an adult my perspective was always better than my children. How much more so with God?
“We know that ALL THINGS work together for the good of them that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28