Since the Fall, mankind has lived with the consequences of his sin. Part of those consequences is suffering. Most of the suffering that happens to man is due to the direct consequences of his sin. Thus, the one who is not a good steward of his money has a lot of financial instability, and the one who views pornography has a distorted view of love and many other negative consequences. These sufferings are what I call the day-to-day sufferings of man because these typically happen in the everyday sins we commit.
But what do we do with suffering that seems to come from nowhere? How are we to understand the diagnosis of cancer after following the Lord faithfully for years? How are we to think when our house was destroyed by a tornado and we lost everything? These types of suffering seem to not be a part of the direct consequences of our daily sins, but just seem to come from left field.
These sins I (and others) call the sufferings of the innocent. This does not mean that the one suffering is not sinful, but that their suffering seems to be coming without just cause. Take for instance my cousin Jameson. A number of you have heard what happened to my cousin Jameson when I gave my testimony here a few years ago. He was just a normal kid that did normal kid things, but he was diagnosed with leukemia around the age of 7 or 8. After going through chemo for a couple years, he was finally done with cancer. However, a couple days later they rushed him to the hospital and found out he was infected with Staph. Over the next couple days, he went through some of the most intense things I have ever seen. My mom and I were able to visit his parents in the hospital, and I remember everything about that experience. I remember specifically sitting there, looking at the many tubes running everywhere, and thinking to myself, “Why did this happen to him? Hasn’t he already been through enough?” Early one morning, he passed away, and it shook my whole family to the core. Yet, through his suffering we still had hope because he came to faith in Christ a few months before this happened. Praise God for his mercy and grace!
I tell you this story because most, if not all, of us have stories similar to it. In fact, it seems like a number of individuals of this church are going through times like this currently. There is some sort of big even that happens in our lives that takes us by surprise and causes a lot of suffering, more so than the usual day-to-day sufferings. How are we to think about these sufferings, and does Scripture address them at all? I believe the book of Job addresses this concept of innocent suffering. The passage we will be looking at this morning addresses this issue and shows us what it is that Job is suffering from. Not only that, but it gives us some comfort and practical advice as to how we are to deal with this suffering. This passage tells us that God is sovereign over everything, including our suffering, and that in his sovereignty he does not always give us the answer as to why we are suffering, nor does he give us the whole picture. Yet, we are still called to trust God and to patiently persevere through our suffering.
The way in which I want to go about looking at this text this morning is by first, looking at the text and walking through it so we all know and understand what is going on. Then, I want to give three points about the text with the last point being a point of application.
Walk-through of the text:
In the first 5 verses of chapter 1, we are introduced to Job. Job had a large family and was extremely wealthy. We see in verses 2-3 the vastness of his wealth: seven sons and three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants. One could look at Job and tell that the man was blessed by God. The passage says that Job was the greatest man in all the east. Not only was Job wealthy, he was also wise. The fact that he is described in verse 1 as one who fears God should remind us of other parts of Scripture, particularly Proverbs, where the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. This fear of God led him to worship the Lord faithfully, including sacrificing to the Lord in case one of his many children sinned against God.
In this next section, we as the audience get to peer behind the curtain and see what is going on in the heavenly realm. Within this scene we see that the heavenly beings (sons of God in verse 6) come before the Lord, including Satan. The Lord then asks Satan where he has been, and Satan replies, “From going to and from on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
The next thing is that God points out Job to Satan, noting Job’s character and his faithfulness to God. Satan then answers and accuses Job of basically having a false piety, one that is based on the blessings that God has given to him. God then consents to let Satan strike out against Job, although Satan is not to harm Job.
After this peek behind the curtain we go back to the earth to see what Satan does to Job. So, what does Satan do? He sends the Sabeans to take the oxen and donkeys and kill the servants attending them; he sends a fire (most likely lightning) to burn up the sheep and servants attending them; he sends the Chaldeans to raid the camels and kill the servants attending them; finally, Satan sends a windstorm to destroy the house where all Job’s children were celebrating, thus killing his children and the servants attending them. Job responds by mourning his losses and worships the Lord. In his mourning and worship, Job does not sin or charge God with wrong.
At this point, we are once again let behind the curtain at another summoning of the heavenly beings, and once again Satan is there. The same initial interaction happens here, just like in 1:7. Once again, God brings up Job to Satan and says that Job still holds on to his integrity, unlike what Satan said Job would do. Satan responds in 2:4-5 that Job will curse God if he is physically hurt in some capacity. God allows Satan to touch Job, but Satan cannot kill him.
Back on earth, we see that Job is stricken with sores all over his body. The text says they are “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” In order to gain some sort of relief, Job picks up a piece of broken pottery and starts to scrape these sores. To add insult to injury, he is doing this while in ashes. This was something done in the ancient near east, where an outcast was thrown outside the city into a heap of ashes as a way of insult. Job, the once wealthy man was now an outcast, reduced to sitting in ashes, mourning the loss of his possessions, children, and health.
To make matters worse, his wife starts telling him to just curse God and die. To his wife, Job would not heal from these sores and was therefore going to die anyway. So, why not go ahead and curse God? This is not what Job does. Instead, he says that God allows both good and evil to happen to man. In saying this, “Job did not sin with his lips.”
Now that we have looked over the passage and understand what is going on, let’s look at the first truth this text gives us.
In my suffering, I tend to feel as though things are chaotic and have absolutely no structure. When the very walls that are built around me for my protection start to fall on me and give way to suffering, things feel as though they are hopeless. My own little world is shattered, and I am left to pick up the pieces. It’s as if I am playing the infamous card game “52 Pick Up” with what remains of my life and there is no end to the brokenness. Maybe you feel the same way, maybe not. However, in those times of suffering, when we feel helpless, hopeless, and out of control, God is still in control of all things. When everything seems to be falling apart and crashing down, God is still the foundation on which we must set our faith. All other ground is indeed sinking sand.
We see in the heavenly scenes that God is the one in control, not Satan. God is the one who brings up Job to Satan in order to test Job. This seems to be God trying to get Satan to take a bet with him in order to test Job’s faith, and to prove that Job truly loves God for who he is and not for what Job can get from God. God is also the one who tells Satan in 1:12, “Behold, all that he has in in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” Does Satan strike Job? No, he strikes everything Job has, but he leaves Job alone. Again, God tells Satan in 2:6, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” Does Satan kill Job? No, he strikes him with some sort of disease, but does not kill him. Clearly God is the one who is in control of this situation, and even Satan must ask for permission to afflict anyone.
Even within Job’s responses we see that God is sovereign, and what is most important is that Job knows this truth and believes it. In 1:21 Job says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” Job knows that everything he had was a blessing from God, and that God took it away. God alone has the right to give good gifts, but he also has the right to take them away if he so chooses. This is a truth that we tend to struggle with in our suffering, and we sometimes accuse God of being unjust in taking these things away from us. However, they belong to God. Just as Psalm 50 says that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, all things belong to God to begin with because he is the Creator of all things and he alone upholds them by his Word.
As Satan roams the earth, he not only seeks to cause suffering and to turn others to his own will, he seeks those who can be his mouthpiece to speak to those in suffering. He uses them to pull our minds away from the beautiful truth that God is in control and that he does indeed bless those who follow him. We can see that Job’s wife is being used by Satan for this very reason when she tells Job to curse God and die. In Job’s response, he does not call her foolish because she most likely was a very wise and upright woman. However, in this instance she was speaking as someone who is foolish. God is sovereign, and Job will not let Satan convince him otherwise.
Throughout the rest of the book, the theme of God’s sovereignty is seen repeatedly. The Yahweh speeches at the end point us to this fact as God speaks in answer to Job’s questions. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God asks in 38:4. Even in his speeches throughout, Job does not falter and say that God is not sovereign. In fact, he seems to never give that option any credence. Yet, how often do we hear some big names in certain Christian circles speak about things that are beyond God’s control? When a big storm hits, and the news teams rush to get a Christian pastor’s take on it, how many have we heard say that it was beyond God’s control? Brothers and sisters, if someone speaks in this way it is wrong. It’s as simple as that. Nothing is out of the control of God.
This raises a question then: if God is in control, then does he cause our suffering? If God is in control, and there is evil in the world, then God must do some evil. This is the logic of our age. Let’s think about it. Who was the one who did the destroying of Job’s children and possessions? It was the Chaldeans, Sabeans, the lightning, and the storm. Who was behind these? Was it God? No, it was Satan. It was also Satan who struck Job with the sores. Where was God in all this? He was the one who allowed it to happen. God allows us to go through suffering; he is never the direct cause of it.
This raises another question: why do we go through suffering? The answer to this question is my second point.
II. We are not always given the whole picture as to why we are suffering.
As humans, we like to know why things happen or why we are to do things a certain way at work. We are curious beings who like to understand situations better. Yet, when it comes to our suffering, we are not always given the whole picture, nor are we always told why certain things happened to us. These answers are withheld from us. At the same time, we are often blindsided by the sufferings that come our way. It is rare that we even know what will actually befall us because we do not have the viewpoint that we have in reading Job. In our own lives we do not have the chance to look behind the curtain and see what is going on in heaven. We are not always given the whole picture as to why we are suffering. How does the story of Job show us this?
In his 1958 play entitled J.B., Archibald MacLeish retells the story of Job in a modern setting. J.B. is a wealthy banker with an enormous fortune and a wonderful family. Yet tragedy strikes when he loses the bank, all his properties are destroyed by bombs in a war, and his children die tragic deaths. However, these events happen over the course of a few years, unlike what happens to Job in Scripture.
Job goes through enormous pain and tragedy within a matter of minutes. We are told that while Servant A was speaking, Servant B came in to tell Job what happened. And as Servant B was speaking, Servant C came in to tell Job what happened, etc. He was getting the news before the other news had finished reaching his ears. Job did not have the viewpoint that we as the audience have, in that he does not know what is going on behind the heavenly curtain between God and Satan. Job is absolutely blindsided by all this news. To top it all off, in the middle of his grief and mourning, Job is stricken with sores.
Job’s situation also reminds me of the story of Joseph from the Genesis account. Joseph, being the favorite of his father, made all his brothers jealous and envious of his position with their father, Jacob. One day, they jumped him and threw him into a well and then sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph rose to power quickly within the house of Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her, and so Joseph is thrown into prison. He is there for a few years, but suddenly rises to power being only second to Pharaoh after telling Pharaoh what his dreams meant for Egypt’s future. Joseph’s predictions come true and there is a severe famine in the land, and his brothers travel down from Canaan to buy grain from Egypt. When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, they are afraid that he will kill them. However, Joseph says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. . .” (Gen 50:19-20a).
Most times we are left in the dark as to why we are suffering. Job is never given an answer as to why he is suffering, nor is Joseph. However, our response to our suffering is what matters most. This leads me to the third point.
III. We must trust our sovereign God and patiently persevere in our suffering.
Job is the epitome of patient perseverance and trust in God. In 1:21, Job responds to his suffering by saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job responds by worshipping and praising God, and rightly so. Job realizes that what has happened to him is by God’s allowance and he trusts that God is doing this for some reason. Throughout his suffering, Job patiently takes what is taken away from him and he perseveres. Satan does not win his bet with God. Job’s faith is not built on a false love of God due to the many blessings bestowed upon him. Rather, it is built on an intimate knowledge of who God is and trusting that God has a purpose for this suffering.
It is no wonder that James points to Job as someone to be imitated. In James 5:11, this is said of Job: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” In this section of his letter, James talks to believers about being patient during times of suffering, and that they are to imitate those who have suffered before with patience and perseverance.
Brothers and sisters, I do not know what each of you are going through but hold on and hold fast in your trust of God. He has been faithful in the past and he will be faithful in your present suffering. God was faithful to send us his son, Jesus, to die for our sins and to secure an eternal hope and everlasting life for us through his resurrection. Cling to that hope! Cling and hold fast to Christ! Look toward the day when we will be with him in eternity, where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering of any kind. Look to Christ and hold on!
Job looked toward that day as well. Job 19:25-27: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” This is our hope as believers.