Understanding God Through Job
What do you remember about the Book of Job? A man loses all his stuff and gets sick, then God fixes everything because… Why? There’s a lot going on in Job, and it’s hard to get a grasp on it.
This past semester, Logan Balas, Ian McCullough and I took a course on the Book of Job through Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. What follows here is far from the full picture of Job, rather, an overview and a few points of interest from the book.
What the Book of Job Is Not
The Book of Job, unlike many New Testament books, is not a theology discourse. It is designed to be hard to understand, implying that it’s worth the effort to understand it. The reader must wrestle with it to get serious answers.
What Happens In the Book of Job?
In chapters 1 and 2, we meet a man named Job, who loses his possessions, children and gets painful boils all over his skin, all in a couple of days, because of a bet between God and Satan.
From chapters 3 to 37, (with an intermission in chapter 28), Job and four other men argue theology, trying to make sense of what happened to Job. 85% of the book is this back-and-forth dialogue cycle.
Then God speaks to Job for four chapters about God’s role in the natural world, pointing out that Job cannot do what God can.
Finally, in chapter 42, Job is satisfied by God’s words and stops complaining. Then God gives Job back double of everything he lost, without any explanation of why he lost it.
In chapter 1 God describes Job as, “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Satan insists Job only worships God because God gives him gifts of considerable wealth and comfort. Satan says Job will curse God if Job loses his stuff, saying God is not worthy to be worshiped. God essentially says, “let’s find out!” and allows Satan to torment Job.
This is the key issue in the book – is God worthy of worship? Or do His followers only like Him for the stuff He gives them?
Job, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and a fourth man named Elihu spend 35 chapters trying to make sense of what appears senseless: the intense suffering of an apparently righteous man at the hands of an apparently righteous God. They say, “How can this be? God is righteous; Job is righteous; Job is suffering. Only two can be true at once.”
Job’s cry is, “This should not be happening! I know I’m righteous, and I’m suffering. Therefore, I question God’s righteousness; He is not a just God.” That borders on blasphemy, but God doesn’t condemn Job. The only solution Job sees is in Job 19:24-27, where he wishes for a redeemer, a go-between, to arbitrate between himself and God.
The other men take the obvious answer, “Clearly you deserve this suffering because it’s happening. You must have done something wrong. Repent to God and He will restore you.” The problem is, from the first chapter to the last, we see God Himself say that Job did nothing wrong, and in fact spoke correctly of God through the whole book.
Summed up, God’s answer to Job in chapters 38-41 is, “I am God. You are not God. Look at all the wonders I do every single day. Trust me.” God didn’t answer Job’s, ‘why is this happening?’ God answered Job’s cry for relationship. Job 29:2-4: “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through darkness! Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house.”
God showed Job that He was with Job, and Job responds: “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
Job never learns why his sufferings took place, but he sees a God who is even greater than he knew. He puts away his arguments and is satisfied. If I asked Job why God put him through all that, I believe Job would say something like, “I cannot give an answer, but that question no longer bothers me.” He sees God to be worthy of worship.
Application 1: We can say some crazy stuff to God.
Job said some wild things about God. Take Job 6:7: “Know then that God has wronged me; And has closed His net around me. Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer; I shout for help, but there is no justice.”
But Job never gave up – he struggled with God, and God declared him right in doing so. We can also speak our true hearts to God. He won’t be surprised. He wants to hear from you. Tell Him what’s really on your mind.
Application 2: We know more about God than Job did – explore His truth.
God gave Job four chapters of words, and Job found peace, without ever knowing the reason for his suffering. We Christians have nearly 1,200 chapters of God’s Word to know His plan from the beginning to end, including the four chapters God gave Job!
I believe Job would be jealous of our broader view of God’s plan; we have access to “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12). As James 5:11 says, we “have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” As to what we may understand, Job 28:28 tells us to begin with “the fear of the Lord” and “to shun evil” for wisdom and understanding, even when it seems God abandons us.
Application 3: Be creative: let god become God in your life.
Job’s suffering is allowed by God. This means God’s definition of “sin” must be different than just “harm,” and His definition of “good” must be bigger than “lack of harm.” God rules the world with a bigger goal than “let humans be without pain.” This provides a key to understanding the book and to understanding pain in our own lives. Can you conceive of a God big enough that He can allow pain with worthwhile purpose in mind?
God calls us to lift our eyes and believe in great purpose, to live with Him in “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,” (Philippians 4:7) knowing something so glorious awaits us in God that is beyond our imagining. Ask God to give you wild ideas of what good He might bring out of the hardships in your life. And then ask Him to give you faith to trust Him in the times where you don’t see Him. As Romans 8:18 tells us, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
God is a wilder, weirder, and yet more intimate God than we can comprehend. Perhaps that is the lesson of Job: not a guide to navigating or minimizing suffering, but a showcase of God’s glorious, good weirdness. The God who can give attention to each sparrow and ewe and spinning star and rainstorm, and who knows even the number of hairs on each person’s head, will surely bring every one of His children safe and sound through the whirlwinds of life.