I realize that as much as Job is an extreme example of trials, he is also an extreme example of faith. His faith was so deeply rooted that it was not as easy for Satan to sift him as he thought. So I realize that I’m no Job and that you’re no Job. I realize that the roots of some of our faith are barely below the topsoil. But I also realize that the substance of Job’s strength should be and can be ours. So I will expose Job’s roots, that is, show you the under-the-surface theological foundations that made him (and can make us) hold up under duress.
Know that Suffering Can Be Good
Since the fall of mankind, death and disease and sickness and suffering have entered our world. We live on a cursed planet with cursed people. So while suffering is linked with evil, it also can be linked with good. Sometimes suffering can be good because it is for our good. Job understood this. That is why, when the commodities of his comfortable life were snatched away, he didn’t view it as something purely evil. He didn’t say, “What’s the Devil up to?” or “Why has this great evil come upon me?” In fact, nowhere in his reactions and replies do we have the remotest suggestion that Job saw suffering as abnormal or immoral (or satanic).
Job realized that material and spiritual prosperity are divine gifts, and as divine gifts they can be freely given and freely taken away. He must have known that peace, prosperity, self-security, and happiness can become perils that threaten to hinder or prohibit one from undertaking and continuing the arduous journey of faith. He must have believed that suffering possesses the strange but beautiful power of liberating one’s soul from the seduction of safety and the love of temporal, perishable goods. In these ways, he anticipates the Christian necessity of cross bearing (Luke 9:23)—of persecution for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10), learning obedience from hardships (Heb. 5:8), and sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 1:29; cf. 3:10).
Trust in God’s Providence
It used to be you could use the words providence and God interchangeably. People took for granted the reality that God rules every aspect of the universe, every event of history, and every detail of our personal lives; that God even numbers the very hairs on our heads, as Jesus said. But since the Enlightenment and the rise of the scientific worldview, it seems now that only American insurance companies recognize something of God’s continuing activity in the world. To them, at least on paper, God can be credited (or “blamed”) as being the architect and builder of both personal calamities and national catastrophes.
Why is it more historical, scientific, and sophisticated to reason that if God is all-loving, then the existence of suffering tells us that he must not be all-powerful; and if God is all-powerful and yet such affliction exists, well then he must not be all-loving? People say that today, don’t they? And then they think they are so clever. They smugly wash their hands of God and Christianity and Jesus and religion. God-problem solved. Case closed. Debate won.
There are, however, at least two flaws in such logic.
- First, such a view refuses to fathom that human misery can in any way contain elements of divine love. Yet this is the message of our faith. At the very center of the gospel is God’s omnipotent love incarnate, a love that is pierced through the wood of an old rugged cross. A love that suffers, a love that dies!
- Second, such a view assumes that if suffering appears to be pointless to me, then it must be pointless. Sometimes we are so arrogant and ignorant. While we know from experience (as we look retrospectively to times of suffering in our lives and see the benefits of such times), we still assume that if our finite “minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any!”
Job had no idea what was going on in the heavens. He wasn’t privy to the chamber room conversation. And yet he gave God the benefit of the doubt. He knew who was the potter and who was the clay, and as the clay he didn’t say to the potter, “Do you know what you’re doing?” Rather, he was able to be cracked and battered about because he trusted that he was still in God’s hands. He trusted in the purposeful providence of God.
Believe in the Resurrection
Believe that this life is not all there is. We live. We die. And then there is the resurrection.
It is not apparent that Job believed in life after death, in a day in which all wrongs would be judged and made right. Yet as Job speaks with his friends, it becomes apparent that he believes in a bodily resurrection. This is nowhere more evident than in Job 19:25–26, where he answers his friends’ false accusations, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed [after this body is turned to ashes], yet in my flesh I shall see God!” Job held the belief that there would be a resurrection and that in that day there also would be retribution.
If we would look toward the afterlife and live in light of the resurrection like Job did, then our troubles would be far more tolerable. The apparent tyrannies of providence would be more palatable, for we would remember that God still “has time,” so to speak, to remedy any and all injustices of history. By looking forward to a future vindication and the joy that will accompany it, we can affirm Paul’s words in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (cf. Heb. 11–12).
This article is adapted from The Beginning and End of Wisdom by Douglas Sean O'Donnell.