Sufferers and the Book of Job
The post below is an excerpt from my book Job and the Problem of Suffering.
The greatest satisfaction Job derived from his ordeal and subsequent encounter with God was the knowledge that God had been with him the entire time of his ordeal and the assurance that God, whose nearness he prized above all, was with him now, as it was revealed in God’s presence and dialogue with him.
When God’s silence ended, and when Job saw God with his own eyes (Job 42:5), Job experienced a joy and gratitude that can only be experienced by one who has suffered and grieved. It is this experience of gratitude and awareness of God’s tender love and care that empowers people who suffer to know that God is present during suffering and that he is more near and more comforting to them than the people who are around them. God also works through people to bring comfort and help and awareness of God’s care and love. When a person suffers, like Job did, the “Why?” question may be inappropriate. The purpose of suffering should be viewed, not in its cause, but in its result.
In conclusion, the book of Job teaches every believer the importance of serving God unconditionally. If it is only good people who get all the breaks in life and live free of troubles and suffering, then human goodness becomes purely selfish, and people would be serving God only for material reward. This is what Satan insinuated in the opening of the book of Job. Satan believed that Job served God because of the rewards he had received from God. The book of Job teaches that Job, a righteous, faithful, and good man suffered when he did not deserve to suffer. The book also teaches that people should not be good only to avoid suffering.
If a righteous person receives all the lucky breaks of life, then people would be good for selfish reasons, and true righteousness would disappear. Job suffered and his suffering proves that people serve God and live godly lives for other than selfish reasons.
Jesus teaches people how to love God, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). If people truly follow this command, they will love and serve God for unselfish reasons. It is this unconditional love and trust that God wants, and it is this unconditional love for and trusting of God that Job had. Job loved God not to receive material reward, or as Satan puts it, “for nothing” (Job 1:9). When people suffer, they may never know the reasons for their suffering. But in their suffering, they will discover that God loves them very much and that he is suffering with them. That is all the comfort sufferers need.
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.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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