It is the classic work on the problem of suffering. For all the efforts of modern writers to explain “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” or “When Bad Things Happen to God’s People,” nothing touches the book of Job for realistically dealing with these questions. No, Job doesn’t give “the answer,” if that is what you want.
In fact, if you are demanding an explanation for the problem of suffering, the lack of justice in it, why the relatively innocent suffer and the obviously wicked get away with it and prosper, Job will probably not satisfy you. Psalm 73 actually addresses those questions more directly, reminding us that the famous quote attributed to William Gladstone and others, “Justice delayed is justice denied,” is not ultimately true.
In human affairs, delayed justice is, well, unjust and therefore not acceptable in our efforts to have a just society. But in our accountability to God, delayed justice is a good thing. Justice delayed resulted in justice satisfied by our substitute, Jesus on the Cross. But for those who reject the grace of our substitute, even God will not delay justice forever.
But back to Job. Let me give you a summary.
Round One: Job was a righteous man, not perfect, but far better than most. And God blessed him with health and wealth and family and position and honor. Then without explanation, it was all taken away. His children were destroyed. His wealth was stolen. Job was reduced to nothing. His response? Amazing!
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.
Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Round Two: Job was stricken physically, covered with sores from head to toe. He was left sitting among the ashes, trying to relieve his discomfort; the awful itching, by scraping himself with a broken piece of pottery. No relief from prednisone or Vicodin.
His response? His wife recommended, “Curse God and die!” But Job said,
“You are talking like a foolish woman.
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
The Back Story: What Job didn’t know was that God had made him a test case. Satan approached God and made the charge that no one truly loves and serves God except in a mercenary way. We only love and obey God when God makes our lives easy and prosperous. God bribes us with his goodness. If all that is taken away, we will reject God.
God’s response to Satan’s accusation was to highlight Job,
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 1:8-11
After passing the first test, still with no awareness of the “backroom deal” between God and Satan, thus no understanding of the cause, Job faced a new level of crisis.
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” Job 2:3-6
Few of us can say to another in crisis, “We understand what you are facing.” But the combination of bereavement, pain, and humiliation raises Job to that status. And he passed the double test that God gave him…. Until over time he had enough. After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job 3:1 All the pain of his loss and suffering poured out in a massive flood of regretting his very existence.
What do you say to a person in such suffering?
Job’s three friends initially modeled a great response. They went to be with him. They sat with him, saying nothing for seven days and nights. But after Job cracked under the pressure of his suffering, they could restrain themselves no longer. In three cycles of speeches, more than 25 speeches total in the book, Job’s friends gave the simple answer that suffering is obviously a judgment for some personal sin. “You reap what you sow” was absolutized as the only rational explanation. Job obviously sinned or this would not have happened. Job defends himself over and over again. The facts of his case do not support their conclusion, he argues. But they don’t let up, hammering him over and over, calling him to repent, while Job maintains his innocence.
The Gospel? Where is the Gospel in Job?
The book is an agonizing drama, but includes incredible nuggets of Gospel truth.
1. He [God] is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both. 9:32, 33
Job wanted what we would call a referee or an umpire, a mediator, to decide between two contestants. Job understands that this won’t work with God, yet he still longs for it. The only provision of this is in the incarnation of Jesus as God the Son becomes man. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men. 1 Timothy 2:5
2. Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. 16:19
Responding to Job’s claims of innocence, his friends don’t buy it. But Job’s ultimate appeal is not what others think, but what God ultimately declares. If there is any deliverance, if there is anyone who can proclaim our innocence, it will be from God, not from ourselves. That is a foundational truth of the Gospel. God is the source, the initiator, the means, the everything of the Gospel. And our only hope is that we will be declared righteous, the essence of the New Testament doctrine of Justification by Faith, first expressed of Abraham, Abram believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; also Romans 3:21-31
3. I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 19:25
I used this text to preach my father’s funeral. Dad’s reflection on it probably came more from Handel’s classic oratorio, Messiah, than from Job. The idea of a redeemer is prominent in Exodus, Leviticus, at the heart of the love story in the The Gospel of Ruth; further developed in Isaiah and other prophets. How much of this redemption did Job understand? Maybe not much, but certainly he expressed his hope in God for his ultimate salvation.
4. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet In my flesh I will see God. 19:26
How much certainty is there in the Old Testament of the after life? While it is more concrete in the New Testament, Job gives a powerful affirmation of life beyond the grave and that someday he will stand before his redeemer. Is this even suggesting the resurrection? Different translations give different impressions, but yes, I see the resurrection body here that is clearly promised to Christians. See 1 Corinthians 15.
5. The absolute sovereignty of God
After Job’s friends offer their advice, and are totally frustrated with Job that he doesn’t get it, God finally speaks. The speeches of a fourth and younger friend of Job, Elihu, in chapters 32-37 prepare us in some sense for God’s direct communication. But God’s response to Job in chapters 37-41 have the effect of silencing everyone, Job, all his friends, you and me. God is seen in his transcendence, answering to no one; reminding us that God does not owe us anything, inlcuding answers to our deepest questions. Rather, we owe him our complete trust.
Did Job sin? Yes and No. It was not specific sin on his part that led to his suffering. He was far more righteous than most others who did not face such calamity. But Job did sin by doubting God, by demanding answers from God, by requiring of God to answer to him. But Job also received the necessary humbling of God with grace and humility.
Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [“You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” 42:1-6
The details of the Gospel are revealed progressively throughout the Old Testament and only become clear in the revelation of the New Testament and the Gospel promises as fulfilled in and by Jesus. But don’t miss this great contribution of the Book of Job – God as the mediator, redeemer and absolute sovereign, including power over death. And for us the critical response of repentance and faith.