In the opening scenes of the book of Job, angels gather before God in some sort of heavenly meeting. Surprisingly, Satan is among them. (“Satan” is a title that means “accuser.”) God speaks to Satan, asking him from where he has come. “From going to and fro on the earth…” Satan replies (1:7). Astonishingly, God suggests that Satan consider Job: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8).
Thus begin Job’s troubles, as unimaginable tragedy mercilessly crashes into Job’s life, leaving his children dead, his livestock lost to marauders, his wife set against him, and his skin infested with sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job is ruined. And thus the stage is set for the book’s deep study of God’s governance of the universe and man’s finitude within it.
More specifically, the book will wrestle with the complexities of God’s justness in the face of man’s often unjust experiences. Job’s suffering forces us to ask, Does God govern the universe according to justice? Does God reward the righteous with success and punish the wicked with disaster (as the book of Proverbs suggests)? If so, what about Job, a “blameless and upright man” who is enduring unimaginable disaster? This is the question the book of Job considers, but be warned: neat and tidy answers won’t be forthcoming. And this is intentional.
Remember, the wisdom literature of Scripture (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job) are meant to be read together. Each book complements the other. Proverbs details the moral nature of reality (moral decisions bring good results; immoral ones bring bad), Ecclesiastes communicates the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of reality (life is often unpredictable), and Job shows the inconceivably complex nature of reality that defies human quantifying and comprehension. Reading one book in ignorance of the others will leave us with an incomplete picture of reality and an inadequate understanding of wisdom. (Remember, wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and living in line with His revealed will.)
In Job, word spreads of Job’s plight. Friends come to comfort him (comfort that quickly turns into conflict, driving Job to complain, “miserable comforters are you all” (16:2)). When they arrive, they don’t recognize him, so disfigured is he from the sores that have scarred his skin and the grief that has crushed his spirit. They sit in silence with Job for seven days (if only they had never opened their mouths!). Finally, Job speaks, lamenting the day of his birth:
Let the day perish on which I was born…
Let that day be darkness…
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it (3:3,4,5).
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
Whom God has hedged in? (3:23).
Job can find no cause in himself for his suffering, but holds God fully responsible for his plight. One friend opens his mouth in reply:
Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same (4:7-8).
In other words, “Job, you are too quick to accuse God. The innocent don’t suffer. Bad things don’t happen to righteous people. The fault must lie with you.” Undergirding his words is the following assumption about how God governs the universe: God rewards wise and good behavior with success and God punishes evil and foolish behavior with disaster (essentially, an overly simplistic interpretation of the book of Proverbs, a misreading often repeated by popular health and wealth preachers today). Since Job has suffered disaster, he must have done something evil or foolish (see the fourth friend’s words in 34:11).
Job, while giving full vent to his grief (crying out, “I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul (10:1)), doggedly maintains his innocence:
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food (23:11-12).
Far be it from me to say that you (“friends”) are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days (27:5-6).
The arrows of the Almighty are in me;
my spirit drinks their poison;
the terrors of God are arrayed against me (6:4).
[God] has made me a byword of the peoples,
and I am one before whom men spit (17:6).
Job can find no cause within himself for his suffering and can only conclude that God has treated him unjustly. Job’s friends maintain God’s innocence and Job’s guilt as they argue back and forth for over 30 chapters, chapters well worth studying. The narrative reaches its climax with Job finally tiring of his “friends” and taking his case before God Himself, saying repeatedly, “If I have done anything wrong, show me! Tell me what it is so I can accept my calamity as Your justice” (see chapter 31).
Then God speaks, but not to answer Job, God speaks to question Job.
And then God speaks, but not to answer Job. God speaks to question Job. For four chapters God fires questions like the following at Job:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! (38:2-5).
Job is humbled. He replies,
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth (40:4).
The book concludes with Job being moved to repentance, his friends being chastised by God, (with God saying to them, “You have not spoken of me what is right…” (42:7)). Job is restored to health and prosperity by God, and God never tells Job why he suffered. Never.
The book of Job doesn’t answer why bad things happen to decent people… Job is an invitation to trust God’s wisdom when we suffer rather than to search for answers.
We are called to trust Him. And we have great cause to do so! While God does not answer why we suffer, He powerfully shows us Who has suffered for us: Jesus! While He does not answer why bad things happen to decent people, He does show us who has endured in our stead all the bad things brought about by human sin: Jesus. He does show us who lives for us, who forgives us, who ministers to us still today, and who will return to raise the dead, reunite loved ones, and renew the earth: Jesus. What we do know is greater than what we don’t know. So we walk in faith, trusting our Lord in the midst of an inconceivably complex universe that we can rely on Him to govern. – Pastor Conner