The Purpose Of Suffering

Andy Robison

You, like I, have probably heard the first two chapters of Job preached. Those sermons detail Job's early suffering, and then conclude with Job 2:10 stating that “in all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Well, up to that point he had not. However, by the end of the book, he sure felt like he had, for he was very grieved that he needed to repent (42:1-6). So where, if at all, did he sin?

Perhaps Job felt he sinned in questioning God. Job 3-37 is a record of the conversation Job had with his friends. His friends were not very good friends at all. They kept saying Job deserved his suffering. They were simply reflecting a common idea throughout all cultures: that only people who are bad or evil have to suffer – the idea of retribution. They kept trying to get Job to admit what he had done wrong. However, he had not really done anything wrong to deserve all that he got. So, he did two main things throughout his poetic discourses: 1) Maintained his innocence to his friends, and 2) Kept asking for audience with God, to question God as to why He would allow him to suffer. In the end, that is where Job felt like he sinned.

God let all the conversations go, and let all of Job's questioning go, until chapter 38. Then, God answered Job with a series of questions that were designed, seemingly, to put Job in his place. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (38:4) The point seems to be this: When Job got to be as smart as God, (God giving evidence of His wisdom through the power of His creation. Compare Romans 1:20; Psalm 19.), then God would feel like He owed Job an explanation. Until then, Job simply had to trust God.

In the end, of course, Job repented and was sorry. “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6). God rebuked the three wrong friends of Job (42:7-11) and blessed Job more in the end than in the beginning. 42:12-17. There is no direct statement in Scripture stating Job sinned, so I am certainly not going to say it. The greatness of the book lies, though, not in ascertaining the details of his every moment’s faithfulness, but in understanding the question of human suffering. The lesson is rather unsatisfying at first. We never find out why a good man like Job had to suffer. Thus, we never find out why righteous people of all ages have to suffer.

In the end, though, the lessons seem to be bigger and better than what we first desired. We find out that this world is a place of indiscriminate suffering. The righteous will suffer along with the wicked. Sometimes the wicked will even prosper (21:7-16), and the righteous will wonder why. We learn that our lot is to 1) know that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God (Chapters 38-41 are a great study in “Intelligent Design.”), and 2) that we simply must trust him to work things out in the end.

The New Testament (which Job was not so blessed to have) reveals more about God, indeed, working things out in the end.

James 5:10-11 draws the lesson from Job: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed, we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”

Who suffered more than the prophets? They were righteous!

This brings to mind 1 Peter 4:12-16, in which Peter contrasts suffering for righteousness' sake with suffering for evil's sake. His point seems to be that people will suffer one way or another. It is better to do it for righteousness' sake. The reward is relief. The recompense for suffering for evil's sake is only more suffering. (Matt. 25:46).

Then, there are two beloved passages in Romans 8. Verse 18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Then, verse 28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

God does not make bad things happen (James 1:13). However, He exercises His power to bring good out of those things. Our duty as His servants is to patiently endure. That is easier said than done – much easier said than done. It is easy for me to type these words. Putting them into practice is a difficult matter for which I must rely on His strength. He, indeed, offers it (Eph. 6:10; 1 Peter 5:5-7).

Life is hard on members of the Lord’s church. They take it on the chin from all directions. However, our study of the Scripture leads us to know “the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” -327 Suzanne St., Washington, WV 26181.

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