The Central Question of Job: A Broader Perspective On Suffering

Suffering, and questions about why God allows it, are the main thing Job and his friends talk about through the majority of the Bible book that bears Job’s name. We often say that it is a book about suffering. Since reading Philip Yancey’s book The Bible Jesus Readhowever, I’ve realized Job’s story is actually about a whole lot more than suffering.

Yancey says that if you’d asked him what Job was about, he would have once said, “It’s the Bible’s most comprehensive look at the problem of pain and suffering” (p. 46). But then he took a closer look. Job asks all the questions we want God to answer about suffering, but then the book points us to a completely different way of looking at the problem.

The Stage Is Set

The book of Job begins by setting the stage for a dramatic story. We’re introduced to Job, a man who “was blameless and upright, and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1, quotes from WEB translation unless otherwise noted). He had ten children and exceedingly great wealth, as we’d expect such a good man to have in light of God’s promises to bless those who follow Him. And then something happened.

Unbeknownst to Job, he becomes the central figure in a wager between Yahweh (God’s proper name, see Ex. 3:14-15) and Satan (which means adversary). The “god of this world,” who actively opposes all Yahweh’s plans, comes before Yahweh and issues a challenge in response to a question.

Yahweh said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is no one like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil.”

Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)

God holds up Job as an example of a faithful person. Satan challenges that Job only follows God because he gets something out of it. This begins what Yancey calls “a cosmic drama in heaven — the contest over Job’s faith” (p. 49). Satan has attacked God’s character, alleging that He basically bribes people to follow Him. God gives Job the opportunity to prove otherwise (p. 52). Read more

Lessons From Job: How to Interact with Hurting People

“They don’t need to say anything. Just be there.”

Those words, or a variation, come up again and again when I talk with people about what they need when they’re hurting. You’ll also find this advice in books, articles, and interviews talking about how to interact with grieving people. Don’t try to compare your pain to theirs, or explain it away, or slap verbal band aids on the wound. Just be there for them.

Whenever we think about suffering in the Bible, Job is one of the first stories that comes to mind. This man lost seven sons and three daughters all in one day, along with all his wealth. Shortly after that, Satan struck him “with painful sores from the soul of his foot to his head” (Job 1:13-22; 2:7-8, all quotes from WEB). Family, wealth, and health all gone in a moment. Job was about as low as you can humanly get. And so his three best friends came to comfort him and to teach us important lessons about how to interact with hurting people.

Comfort, Sympathy, and Silence

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come on him, they each came from his own place: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and to comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes from a distance, and didn’t recognize him, they raised their voices, and wept; and they each tore his robe, and sprinkled dust on their heads toward the sky. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. (Job 2:11-13)

Things started out well. 1) they cared about Job enough to keep track of what was going on with him and know he needed support. 2) they came to him for the purpose of comfort and sympathy. 3) they shared in his grief, weeping with him. 4) they didn’t talk; they just sat with him and waited to see what he’d need. Read more