I've been trying to explain how God uses suffering for good in our lives.
The curious thing about Job: It is the oldest book of the Bible, the first book of the Bible ever written. And it deals with suffering.
God's first written revelation of Himself was through a story whose theme is suffering.
Why would God do this?
I think God wanted us to know, from the beginning, that He is not predictable.
That's right: God is not predictable.
We cannot control Him. All we can do is respond to Him.
Job was a really, really good guy. The Bible says,
"In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." (Job 1:1 NIV)
The Bible also tells us,
"His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, 'Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' This was Job’s regular custom." (Job 1:4-5 NIV)
(Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the book is dated so early... it had to be before the revelation of the Law of Moses when God explained how the Levitical priesthood was to function, since Job, who--presumably--was not a Levite, was offering sacrifices with impunity.)
Anyway, Job was doing everything right. The Bible even calls him "blameless and upright." What would you expect to happen to a man like this?
You would expect, I think, that such a man would receive blessings and honor from God. You would expect a good God, a loving God, a fair God, to look at Job and say, "Hey, Job! You are doing a great job there! Thanks for working so hard to live a clean life, a testimony to my righteousness. Just because you're doing so well, I'm going to shower you with riches and fame, and make your name great... my way of saying thank you!"
You might think that's what God would do. You might even think that's what God should do. But what does God do?
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12 NIV)
- Satan did not notice Job and ask for permission to torment him. God pointed Job out to Satan.
- God pointed Job out precisely because he was "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."
- Satan told God, in essence, "The only reason Job is so good is because you have blessed him so much. You made him rich, but if you take away his riches, he will curse you to your face."
When Job was stricken in every way and miserable beyond belief, three of his friends came to visit him and cheer him up (yes, I am being sarcastic). They looked at Job's plight, and their interpretation of it was this: "Wow, man. You must have really messed up. God would only do this to a really, really wicked person. What secret sin have you been hiding, anyway?"
Here begins, in the book of Job, a circular argument in which Job's friends repeatedly tell Job that God punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous, and that if Job will only repent and turn from his sin, God will surely start to bless him again.
This is the paradigm of their religion, and it continues to be the paradigm of most religion to this very day: Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. If bad things happen to you, say you're sorry and let the good times roll again.
With a religious paradigm like this, I say it's no wonder there are atheists. Because clearly we can look around and see bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people every day.
But from the very beginning of recorded scripture, God was letting us know that, no, this is not the way it is.
We cannot control God through our actions. We can never behave well enough to deserve and earn His blessings. Job's friends told Job that if he would just give up his sin and cooperate with God, God would give him mercy instead of punishment. However, in Exodus 33:19 (and quoted again in Romans 9:15), God does not say, "I will have mercy on the good people," or "I will have mercy on the sorry people." No. God says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy."
Right from the very beginning, God started teaching us that we cannot do this in our own power. It is not about what we do. It is about what He does.
Right from the very beginning, God used the suffering of Job to illustrate the strength of real, God-bestowed faith. In his own strength, Job surely would have cursed God and died. But God had placed His mark on Job. Job was one of His, one of the elect. God knew that Job would persevere through the suffering because God knew that the faith Job held was not faith from within Job. It was faith granted by God. That is why God could point Job out to Satan and have complete confidence that Job's faith would endure.
"Have you considered my servant Job... ?"
Right from the beginning, God used suffering to enable Job to develop the conception of an afterlife. It is quite fascinating to read through the book and see how tiny seeds of the idea of an afterlife grow and blossom in Job's consciousness until he can state with triumph, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes —I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27 NIV)
This development of thought is not unlike the logic Abraham used when he took Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. Abraham knew that Isaac was the child of the promise. God had made this perfectly clear to him. God clearly and definitely promised, covenanted with Abraham to make a great nation from the line of Isaac. So when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He was not asking Abraham to part with his son. He was asking him, (a) "Did I promise to make a great nation from Isaac?" and (b) "Do you believe I can and will keep my promise?" Abraham did. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham figured God would raise Isaac from the dead if that was what He needed to do to keep His promise, and Abraham had unwavering faith that God would keep His promise.
In a somewhat similar reasoning style, Job figured that (a) God is fair and (b) life is not fair, therefore, (c) there must be another life, in which justice is restored.
God used suffering to point Job towards everlasting life.
Ultimately, God used the suffering of Job to get a hold of Job's face and turn it upwards to where Job could experience God in a new and amazing way: God his Creator, Redeemer, Restorer and Savior. (Read Job 38-42, one of my ultimate favorite Bible passages.)
At the same time, God decisively trampled the pride of Satan by showing that faith from God can withstand any storm the evil one can muster... and prevail in victory! (This I get from John Piper, but I'm not sure where he wrote it so I can't provide a direct quote, although I'd like to give him credit.)
God uses suffering.
final post in series