“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” - Job 42:2–6 (ESV)

The book of Job is a fascinating and humbling story of a man who is subjected to much suffering and wants to know why. The book is mostly a dialogue between Job and his infamous friends who accuse Job of sin and take the suffering as evidence for it. Job defends himself and is eventually vindicated. The reader is given more information about Job's suffering than Job receives. So, for the book of Job, we are offered a divine perspective.

The Big Idea of Job

The Big Idea of Job might be stated this way: seek God in suffering more than answers. A persistent theme in the book is Job's desire to have his situation explained to him. Job wants to know why, but he never receives an answer. Instead, his questions to God are countered with questions from God. Job asks in so many words, "Who are you to allow all this to happen to me?", to which God responds, "Who are you to question my actions?" Job concedes God's point, as we see in the passage quoted above. Job is full of people seeking to understand the "why" behind suffering. But the solution ends up being found in knowing God more than knowing facts.

An Outline of Job

The Book of Job can be divided into three parts. The first part covers chapters 1-2, the second part covers chapters 3-37, and the third part covers chapters 38-42. Although the book deals with great and profound themes, its flow is not difficult to understand.

The reader meets Job in chapter 1. He is presented as blameless, righteous, and rich. Job even makes sacrifices for his children, showing that his righteousness extends beyond a personal preoccupation but extends to others. The scene on earth being set, the reader then is brought into the courts of Heaven, where the sons of God come to present themselves before Yahweh. This includes Satan. Yahweh asks Satan what he thinks of Job and his righteousness, to which Satan responds that Job's righteousness is only circumstantial. Job fears and follows God because God has made Job's life easy. So God lets Satan attack Job, first destroying his wealth and killing his children and then afflicting Job with sores. In short, Satan turns up the pressure as high as it can go to try to show that Job's faith will crack.

Chapters 3-37 of Job consist of the dialogue between Job and three of his friends. Toward the end, a fourth person, a younger man, joins and speaks. The three friends argue that Job must have done something wrong to merit such a difficult life and such a drastic turn in his circumstances. But Job steadfastly refuses to admit wrongdoing. When the fourth man, Elihu, joins the debate, he rebukes Job for questioning God's justice and mounts an eloquent defense of the goodness and righteousness of God.

Job concludes chapters 38-42. Yahweh himself addresses Job. This is staggering. Up to this point in the book, God's role has been to remark upon Job from Heaven and to allow Satan to test him. But now that Job's three friends plus Elihu have had their say, Yahweh is ready to answer Job. And in answering Job, he answers all of us. Rather than answering Job's charges and confusion, and rather than explaining to Job about Satan's wager with him, Yahweh asks Job a long series of rhetorical questions designed to put Job in his place. Yahweh reminds Job that he is God and Job is not. And he does so in spectacular fashion. As a result, Job answers in the way that we read at at beginning of this article.

Job's response is not to complain that Yahweh never answered his questions as to why these things had happened to him. Instead, Job´s response is to despise himself and repent in dust and ashes. The book ends with Job interceding for his three friends due to their bad counsel and Yahweh blessing Job with double the wealth he previously. He also gives him the same number of children he had, presumably only matching the number since Job would see his original children again after his death.

The Benefits of Job

Reading Job is a humbling experience for the believer. It is hard to imagine ourselves in Job's position and not reacting worse than he did. Many of us can remember circumstances far less difficult than Job's to which we have reacted much more sinfully. Many of us have felt as though our circumstances were pushing us to a brink beyond which we cannot go. But Job shows us that our seeming natural response to want, even demand, to know the "whys" behind our suffering is not the way to go. Instead, we need to seek God in our suffering.

The example of Job's friends offers a strong warning against those of us who tend to see suffering as a sign of God's disfavor or anger. Job's friends make Job's suffering all about Job's sin while the beginning of the book makes Job's suffering not about Job at all. It is about Yahweh and Satan. Job's suffering is incidental. This humbling fact takes Job off center stage and puts him on the periphery of the story.

Job teaches us that the main thing we need in our suffering is a humble disposition to seek and know God. Once Job glimpsed Yahweh in the questions Yahweh offered, his disposition changed completely from one of questioning to one of repentance, submission, and trust.

Job did not err in expressing his pain to God. Sometimes, for those of us who hold a strong view of God's sovereignty in all things, we can talk as though any admission of pain and suffering is wrong. We believe that God works all things together for good for those who love him (Rom. 8:28), and therefore we believe that the fact that God allows us to suffer is good. Sometimes, we seem to go one step further and conclude from these things that we should rather experience pleasure in our suffering than pain. This last point goes too far. While it is true that can and should learn to rejoice in our sufferings as Paul teaches in Romans 5:1ff, Paul is making the case there that our rejoicing is motivated by the results of suffering rather than the sufferings themselves. In itself, suffering hurts. The pain is real. But seen from the perspective of God's sovereign and gracious plan to do us good, we can rejoice.

So how did Job err? God's questions in response to Job seem to indicate that Job was questioning God's goodness, justice, and faithfulness. Job sees God as having ceased to watch over him or be his friend (Job 29:1-4). Job concludes that his relationship with God has changed because his circumstances have changed. But they have not. Quite the opposite! Perhaps the greatest irony of Job is that his sufferings are not due to his unrighteousness, as his friends supposed, but due to his righteousness. Job's conclusion of his defense is that he cannot understand how he could deserve what has happened to him since he has lived righteously before God (cf. Job 31; 32:1). But what Job does not know is that his righteousness is precisely what made him a target of Satan (Job 1:8-12). Job's mistake was not in concluding that either he has sinned unawares or that God was unjust, but in allowing his suffering to provoke him to question God.

Perhaps that is where we need to land. For those of us who are in Christ, our suffering need never provoke us to question God. We may cry to God, we may lament and mourn our pain to God, but we need never question or doubt him. Our sufferings may push us to God but never at him. Our pain should provoke us to come before God but never against him. Job mounted a challenge to God to which God responded in spectacular fashion. This is in part a lesson to all who followed that we should learn our place relative to God. But it is not only to humble us. Job teaches us that there may be much more happening behind the scenes of our suffering than we could possibly even hope to be aware. Yet in all of it, we can trust that neither God nor his promises have changed a single bit. That is why we can seek God in our suffering more than answers.

On Job and Living for God Through Christ