The book of Job is a brilliantly composed epic poem that wrestles with one of the core questions of the human experience: “Why do good people suffer?
Here’s the scenario. Job is a great guy. He’s rich, he’s powerful, he’s got a great family, and he is a truly good man. He’s a pillar of society. He’s on top of the world. And, he loves God. One day the accuser proposes to God that Job is only a God-lover because God has showered him with all the creature comforts of life. Take them away, he suggests, and Job would turn on God in a heartbeat.
So, God accepts the challenge and, in one day, Job loses everything. He goes from riches to rags overnight. On top of that, he becomes tortuously ill and writhes in agony day and night.
How does something like this happen? Where is justice? Where is the love of God? How could God allow a good man like Job to suffer in this way?
In order to wrestle with this question, Job is surrounded by his three “friends” Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad. For several chapters, Job volleys back and forth with these three men.
Here is a summary of the conversation:
Friends: “Job, everyone knows that good people prosper and bad people suffer. You are suffering, so you must be a bad person.”
Job: “I am not a bad person. Show me my wrong.”
Friends: “You have to be a bad person; otherwise you would not be suffering.”
Job: “Some friends you are. I wish I had never been born.”
Friends: “Why don’t you just admit you are a sinner, repent, and get on with it?”
Job: “Why don’t you just be quiet, admit that there is no justice in the world? And let me crawl in a hole and die. Oh, by the way, I am not a sinner and I wish God cared enough to let me defend myself.”
In the end the four men were left in a stalemate, with nothing left to say.
Once the banter had died down the young Elihu steps up and says:
“You all have it wrong. You are forgetting one important thing. None of this is about you. Your focus is on yourself and you are trying to fit the truth of God’s justice into your puny little box of what you think His justice should be. Take your eyes off of yourself for a minute and contemplate the vastness of God.”
Here is the crux of the message of Job. Notice on the chart that God’s unchanging glory arcs over the whole scene while the four “wise” men are living under a dark cloud of distorted understanding. Throughout the Old Testament, and well on to today, many people have slipped into a distorted view of God’s justice and the message of the Law. Remember that in Deuteronomy Moses set before the people life and death, blessing and curses. If you choose the path of God you choose blessings and life. If you choose the path of disobedience you choose curses and death. So, Moses urged them, choose life.
While this is obviously true and from the heart of God, it was sorely misunderstood and distorted. The vast majority of people heard these words and reasoned that this was an absolute, one-to-one relationship: If I do good, I prosper; if I do bad, I suffer.
While that may seem to make sense, it is not, in fact, what Deuteronomy said. Deuteronomy was not a promise that obedient people would never suffer pain and that disobedient people would never have a prosperous existence. Deuteronomy is a generalized principle that says that, in the big picture, it is better to love God, because He is the lover and author of your soul. Sometimes pain and suffering are actually part of God’s master plan. Jesus echoed the basic message of Job (and Ecclesiastes, for that matter) in Matthew 5:45 where He said, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
The story of Job shows us that sometimes good people do suffer. Why? Well…read the commentaries…
An Index to My Posts on Job
Click the title below to view all posts
Enjoy This Overview from the Bible Project
Resources for the Narrative Lectionary in Job
I preached through Job in August 2016 following the Narrative Lectionary. Here are the posts and sermons I created during the series. Feel free to use any of it to help you in your preaching, teaching, and personal study.
The first column displays the actual sermons with the PowerPoint and image pack downloads.The Second column displays my notes and “behind-the-scenes” posts.