Friday, April 9, 2010

Responding to Suffering Righteously

Though the many characters in the story of Job present various views on the reason for suffering and how to respond to it, no one character provides that righteous example. However, from observing Yahweh’s interactions with the various characters, we see that the book of Job teaches that the righteous man should respond to suffering by worshipfully and faithfully submitting to God’s absolute sovereignty in all things.

Though Job’s three friends mean well (Job 2:11)
, their faulty theology leads them into error and renders them a hindrance rather than a comfort. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar believe they have God figured out: He rewards the righteous and faithful and punishes the wicked and the unfaithful. While correct in a general sense, they erred by applying this paradigm absolutely. In fact, even before Job is afflicted we learn that his suffering will have nothing to do with his sinfulness (Job 1:8-12; 2:3-6). Thus Yahweh’s wrath is kindled against them (Job 42:7-8). And though Yahweh does not respond to Elihu’s comments, it is clear that his analysis falls short as well. Elihu’s main argument is that suffering is a purifying process (Job 33:8-12, 29-30), and while this certainly has some merit, again, in a general sense (cf. 1Pet 1:6-7; Jas 1:3), the opening chapters teach us that Job is not suffering to be purged of sin, but because God willed to make an example of Job to prove a point to Satan.

Job himself is probably the best example of the five characters throughout the narrative. There is much that we can learn from the ways he responded (Job 1:20-22; 2:10)
. In fact, Yahweh Himself commends Job for speaking rightly of Him (Job 42:7-8). However, Job’s proper responses are also mixed with foolish thoughts. He proclaims His hope in Yahweh regardless of circumstances (Job 13:15a; 14:7-14; 19:25-27), but in the same breath desires to contend with Him (Job 13:3, 15b). As the book progresses, his tendency to find fault with God’s judgment grows. For this he receives perhaps the most contemptuous rebuke in all of Scripture (Job 38-41).

Though not the perfect example of righteousness, we do learn from Job’s interaction with God how we should respond when we suffer. First, we should not seek to console ourselves by attributing our suffering to secondary causes. Job always recognized that God was sovereign in his afflictions (Job 1:21; 2:10; 12:9-10),
and he was commended for that (Job 2:3; 42:7). We should not seek to save God from His sovereignty. He means to be glorified in being recognized as the ultimate mover and determiner of all things (cf. Is 45:7; Lam 3:37-38).

We learn, negatively, though, that faith in God’s sovereignty should not cause us to blame Him or accuse Him of unrighteousness. We should recognize that we all deserve suffering as a result of our sinfulness (Rom 3:10ff). It is God’s mercy that we do not suffer continually (Mt 5:44-45
; cf. 2Pet 2:4).

Thirdly, we should not seek detailed reasons for our suffering, but trust God’s wisdom. Just as Job never knew about the spiritual battle revealed in the opening chapters, so also our suffering is often greater than ourselves. We should seek to saturate ourselves with the knowledge of God, and be satisfied in His sovereignty and goodness. He has a plan that cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2) which will bring about His greatest glory, which is our greatest good (Rom 8:28).
Thus, we should trust God’s goodness even when circumstances seem to contradict that. As Job did, we should accept good and adversity as gifts from Him (Job 2:10) and worship Him for His goodness (Job 1:20-22).

Finally, we should not wait for circumstances to improve before praising God. Instead, we should imitate Job’s example (Job 1:20-22)
; he was still on the ash heap covered with boils and sores when he was reconciled to Yahweh (Job 42:1-6). We should praise and worship God even in the midst of our sufferings, and thus demonstrate that He Himself is more satisfying to us than pleasant circumstances.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
- Psalm 73:26 -


Scripture Zealot said...

Excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Mike Riccardi said...

Thanks for your encouragement and for stopping by, Scripture Zealot. I hope to hear from you again!