The book of Job is one of the books of wisdom literature in the Scriptures. The man Job is a righteous God-fearing non-Israelite, who somehow knew the God of Israel. Although it deals with his suffering, it ultimately points to the debate about who ultimately has true wisdom, God or man. Job’s sufferings provided the context and occasion for this debate: why did Job suffer; what was the solution to his suffering; can we say that we understand all the reasons for suffering and evil; and how does God control the universe.
What is the cause for suffering and prosperity? As a simplistic answer, the book clearly dismisses the retribution principle, which states that the upright will prosper because of their righteousness and the wicked will suffer because of their evil. The story of Job begins with God’s affirmation of Job’s integrity and righteousness. Even the Accuser, Satan, did not challenge this. Nonetheless, Job suffered and his sufferings were of the extreme kind, leading to the loss of his wealth, property, loved ones and even his health. He was not aware of the presence of the Accuser and he was perplexed as to why he had to suffer to this degree. This is a case of bad things happening to good people. It cuts through the validity of the prosperity gospel which claims that the righteous will always be blessed by God, enjoying prosperity, wealth and good health. Job, in defending himself against the accusations of his friends, queried why the wicked seemed to prosper and did not suffer much in this life. So good things can also happen to bad people.
After experiencing so much suffering, his friends appeared on the scene presumably to comfort him. However, they only added to his distress. For they ended up by concluding that Job was suffering for his sins and needed to repent to come out of these sufferings. Job, however, insisted that he did nothing that was so unrighteous to deserve all that had come upon him. To this, his friends were taken aback, feeling that Job was committing blasphemy and not honestly facing the situation.
We see in the long discourses of Job’s friends individuals who claimed to be wise but displaying the lack of true wisdom. In the conclusion of the book, God declared that they had not spoken what was right about God.
Job himself reasoned that if he did not act in an unrighteous manner, then God must be unfair to cause him to suffer so much. He demanded an audience with God to argue his case. Although Job initially was steadfast in his loyalty to God, he subsequently began to complain about God and His treatment of him. Job’s suffering in his sickness was rather severe and there seemed to be no end to his pain and agony. Emotionally, he had to endure the abandonment of his friends, his relatives and even his own wife.
This incident reveals that ill health is not necessarily due to sin and the fact that there is no healing does not mean that God is displeased with the one who is sick. It also points to the reality that God does not always heal. Nonetheless, Job’s severe suffering caused him to lament regarding his fortune and to continue to query why God was targeting him. Job finally admitted his lack of wisdom when God confronted him, realising that he was in no position to question the Almighty. He had to acknowledge that he was ignorant and God was both all-powerful and wise.
The book of Job tells us that suffering is often a mystery. It does not mean that the one who suffers is always sinful and deserves to suffer. It does not negate the fact that sin can lead to suffering. The one who suffers may in fact be one favoured by God and Job suffered precisely because he was declared as one who was a good servant of God. We may not understand fully why we suffer but the book teaches us to trust God and His wisdom in the midst of suffering, for God is perfect in His wisdom. He is perfectly good and loving.
We are introduced early on to the presence of the Accuser. When we look at the subject of suffering, we must not forget the reality of spiritual warfare and the role of a formidable foe in the person of Satan. The Accuser questioned Job’s motivation to be righteous: was Job being righteous in order to enjoy God’s blessings of material prosperity, good health, happy family and other benefits? What if these were removed? Will Job still maintain his righteousness and loyalty to God? Do we also strive to be righteous in order to enjoy God’s blessings? Do we quickly abandon God when we encounter pain and suffering? Do we only retain loyalty to God when He blesses us with good health, happy relationships among friends and family, and material security? Are we quick to complain, “Why is God doing this to me?” when we encounter sufferings.
One positive aspect in Job’s response is that he continued to pursue God to get an answer. He did not give up believing in God. He only wanted an answer to his perplexity as to why he had to suffer so. He did not agree with the accusations of his friends. He remained honest, not willing to agree to falsehoods in order to appease God and to get out of his suffering. He was also quick to repent “in dust and ashes” (42:6) when he knew he had overstepped his position. For he had forgotten that he was just a creature who had dared to question the creator, who holds all things together and has good reasons for all that He allows in this world.
The book of Job also gives a hint of one who also suffered innocently but suffered voluntarily, one who took on the penalty for the sins of the world in order to vanquish evil and death, to renew God’s creation to what He has desired from the beginning. This is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross, He corrected the ‘disorder’ of the world following the fall of man in Genesis. He also completed the task of restoring and installing God’s kingdom. Subsequently, all will submit to the Lord Jesus at His second coming as he brings the new heaven to the new earth.
Job’s cry for a redeemer and a mediator for his case has been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.