Job, the Suffering Servant

I’ve never been a fan of movies that are meant to make you cry. I understand that there are many genres and that all of them have a particular audience in mind, but I never could understand why anyone would purposefully do that to themselves. I know that life is not a constant comedy. Things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. Heroes fail. People die. Things go wrong. Sometimes the things we need most in those moments are not a forced smile to escape our situation, but tear-filled eyes that are able to see through the fog of it all. With that in mind, let’s consider Job.

Job (pronounced “jōb”) is likely the oldest book in the Old Testament. The book is fundamentally an explanation of God’s place in the midst of the horrors and tragedies of the world. It is, in part, an apologetic to explain the dynamic of human suffering and the goodness and power of God. For man, this question is as old as time itself. As we shall explore later, the answer is ironically presented to us in the form of a question: “Where were you when…?” (Job 38:4)

The book is too rich to cover fully in a small article, but it deals chiefly with the place of man in the universe. Job is a godly man who is blameless through and through. If there was ever a person on earth who deserved nothing but God’s blessings, it was this man. Yet, Satan, seeking to demonstrate the weakness of man, uses suffering as a tool to pry at the contents of Job’s heart. He is rather successful.

Satan is successful in robbing Job of children. He is successful in plucking the wealth from Job’s estate. Even Job’s wife seemingly turns on him in the midst of his loss, though it must be added that she too was suffering. His closest friends begin well, in sitting with him as he was covered from head to toe in painful sores. But their place as an instrument in Satan’s hands comes forward when they espouse every sort of worldly wisdom which seeks to place Job in the seat of blame. However what follows is most unexpected.

God eventually meets the questions of Job with His own questions. We may expect a sympathetic response. We might expect a word of sorrow and empathy. But that is not what God offers. For some this appears to be unbelievable. That is likely because more often than not, people enjoy depicting God in their own image, instead of seeking to be conformed to His image. We create a god who is like us, rather than resting on God as He has revealed Himself on the pages of sacred Scripture.

We return then to God’s answer to Job. God ’s first words place the whole affair in perspective: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:1-4 ESV) Here we would expect gentle grace, yet we receive confrontation. Why? We forget our place. We are not on the same level as God. We are not little gods creating universes by our words. We are creatures, and fallen ones at that. The fact that God tolerates our continuous rebellion is nothing short of a miracle. But we think this too harsh an assessment. Much like gravity, our opinions are irrelevant; either way it holds us.

At this point in the conversation people may seek to run to the New Testament for something different. But this is not the case as we see in Christ’s words when Pilate killed some Jewish people as they worshiped, or when the Tower in Siloam collapsed. There we would have expected Christ to be soft-spoken. But we find these words instead, “do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5 ESV)

Why does Jesus say this? Tragedies remind us that we are all limited, finite creatures. We are God’s creation. We live in His world, and even more, we are naturally rebels. But rather than render unto all of us the justice we deserve, in God’s timing, and solely motivated by His character, He gifts us grace. Jesus’ words to repent are an act of grace. He didn’t have to warn anyone. He could have left them be. Yet He doesn’t. In mercy, He warns them, and us today that death comes for us all. But because Christ’s suffered in our place, death is not the end.

It is by the theology of the cross that we are able to see our suffering rightly. Church historian Carl Trueman wrote, “If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history, can be in line with God’s will and be the source of decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of God.”

Job’s suffering was not the last word. God’s calls for repentance was not the last word. Most graciously the book of Job ends with God’s benediction on the life of Job. It does not diminish his suffering, but at the same token, it does not make it the final word but a means of ultimately blessing Job and glorifying God.