Job and the Problem of Suffering

The post below is an excerpt from my book Job and the Problem of Suffering.

In the Epilogue of the book, after God’s revelation to Job, Job was forced to reconsider his entire situation. After the theophany, Job was not concerned with his friends; he was concerned with the words of God and his response to what he heard from God. Job’s dialogue with his friends reveals that Job’s problem was not that God was absent, but that God was silent in the face of his unjust suffering.

Job’s grief was not just from his suffering, but from his suffering in the midst of God’s stony silence, “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned cruel to me” (Job 30:20–21). And it is in Job’s cry for justice that he really feels God’s silence. It was only after Job’s desperate cry came close to doubting God’s justice, that Job was prepared to hear God speak. God did not respond to Job’s cry as Job wanted, but God revealed his presence and his care in the midst of Job’s grief and tragedy.

In the conclusion of the book, the author of Job directs his readers to look for God in the realities of suffering and divine silence. We should not mistake God’s silence for God’s absence. God is very much present even when he seems to be silent. God was listening to the dialogue between Job and his friends.

It was the silence of God in the face of his unjust suffering that most disturbed and disappointed Job. It was God’s revealed presence and voice that ultimately satisfied Job.

In his heart, Job probably asked for the reason God was causing him to suffer so much. Job’s friends did not ask the reason for Job’s suffering. They were confident that they already knew the reason; it was retribution for all of Job’s sins.

In his revelation to Job, God did not criticize Job for his doubts. Rather, God revealed the way he works in the world. Although God’s work in the world is just and effective, his work is beyond human understanding. In the end, Job realized that the relationship between humans and God must be based on trust, even when it is impossible to understand what God is doing.

In the end, it is difficult to understand human suffering. Suffering can be punitive, redemptive, corrective, disciplinary, used as a warning, or it can be the consequence of an evil act. Suffering can also be the road that leads to God and to a time of spiritual growth. Suffering, for Job, was a time of spiritual growth, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 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 42:3–6).

Job’s new understanding of the character of God is inexplicable, unless we understand that he found this new knowledge of God in the “valley of deepest darkness” (Psalm 23:4 TNK), a place where sufferers can find spiritual comfort. The answer to the question, “Why am I suffering?” is confined to the person who is actually suffering.

No two persons’ sorrows are alike and must be answered individually. Anderson writes, “There is a vast area of human misery which is neither penal, nor remedial, nor redemptive. It is just meaningless” (Anderson 1992: 187). Although in many cases suffering “just happens,” God works with the sufferer to bring all possible good out of suffering, and therefore the result of suffering can become meaningful. God grieves with us and works with us to bring all possible good out of our sufferings, “In all their suffering, He suffered” (Isaiah 63:9 CSB).

When people are suffering, it is hard for them to believe that God is present in their painful condition. What they need is a reason for their suffering. The book of Job teaches that God is in control of his creation, but he does not intend people to know everything he does in maintaining his creation. Humans are not capable of understanding all that God is and does. Humans must trust that God is aware of their suffering, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people . . . I have heard their cry . . . I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7). During times of suffering, people should look to God, for God is there, suffering with them.

My book, Job and the Problem of Suffering deals with the problem of suffering and God’s awareness of human suffering. You can buy my book on Amazon.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

NOTE: Did you like this post? Do you think other people would like to read this post? Be sure to share this post on Facebook and share a link on Twitter or Tumblr so that others may enjoy reading it too!

I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post by leaving a comment below. Be sure to like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Tumblr, Facebook, and subscribe to my blog to receive each post by email.

If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of Old Testament topics.