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

We Rejoice In Hope

Last week, we talked about learning to rejoice always because we know our God holds us (and everything else) in His hands. Shifting our focus to Him gives us the perspective we need to have true, lasting joy. It also gives us something else.

I quoted a definition of joy in last week’s post (titled “The Joy of the Lord”) that stated it is “acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful.” We could further simplify this definition by saying joy is a result of hope.

Hope in the Bible isn’t just a vague sense of wanting something with no guarantee it will happen, the way we often use it today when we say things like “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope this new superhero movie is good.” Rather, it’s about an expectation that you can count on being fulfilled. It’s intimately connected to salvation (Rom. 8:24; 1 Thes. 5:8), provides comfort in sorrow (1 Thes. 4:13), and is used as a title for God (Jer. 17:13; Rom. 15:13). And it’s essential to joy.

Hope, Suffering, and Joy

Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom. 5:1-2, WEB)

“We rejoice in hope,” partly because, as Paul says later in this letter “we were saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24). Our hope and rejoicing are connected with faith and grace, as well as the glory of God. Though we don’t yet see the end result of our salvation, we hope for it and we have joy in that expectation. But that’s not all we rejoice in. Read more

When You’re Crushed Like Dust

Have you ever felt like your spirit is crushed and your heart broken? Like you’ve been pounded into dust or smashed to smithereens?

Those are the definitions for the Hebrew words shabar (H7665, broken) and dakka (H1793, crushed). I bring them up because I want to talk about this verse from Psalms:

Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. (Psalm 34:18, WEB)

When you’re ground down like dust and broken into pieces, God is there beside you. We often want Him to prevent or remove bad things but it seems that in most cases His preference is to walk with us through hardship rather than stop it from ever happening. We are promised deliverance, but in His timing, not ours.

Suffering and Deliverance

Let’s read some of the context for this verse (you can click here to read the whole Psalm).

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but Yahweh delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, WEB)

It’s clear from this psalm that righteousness doesn’t exempt us from bad situations. In fact, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” and they have to cry to Yahweh for deliverance. That holds true for believers throughout the ages.

I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:11-12, WEB)

Here’s Paul, centuries after David, expressing the same truths. Those who follow God must expect to endure afflictions and persecutions, but they can also expect deliverance. Read more

Finding Hope In Lamentations Through Christ Our Passover

Lamentations is a depressing little book, at least on first glance. It’s composed of 5 poems of mourning that were once part of the book of Jeremiah, but were then isolated so they’d be easier to read in public. Traditionally, the Jewish people read Lamentations each year on Tish B’av, a fast day commemorating the destructions of the temple in 586 BC and 70 AD.

The first poem speaks of sorrow, weeping, misery, and desolation that has come upon Israel. Jeremiah describes the Lord as righteous for bringing such punishment to those who rebelled. The second poem is about the Lord fighting against Israel as an enemy. As a result, there is weeping, misery, and no comfort.

The fourth poem recounts more horrors that happened because of Israel’s sin. It talks about persecutions and punishment brought on them by the anger of the Lord. The fifth poem cries out to God to remember His people, recounting the punishments they’ve already suffered for their iniquities. It ends by talking about God forgetting and rejecting Israel, begging Him not to do so forever.

We now know that God answered this last prayer. He didn’t forget His people or cast them off forever. In fact, God the Father sent God the Son to die in our place and redeem us. The Word became flesh and brought about reconciliation between God and man as our Passover sacrifice.

Even without this perspective, though, Jeremiah was able to have a surprisingly hopeful outlook in the midst of incredibly difficult situations. In the third poem, nestled right in the middle of Lamentations, we find a determination to continue believing in the Lord’s goodness no matter what comes. That’s an outlook we would all do well to imitate. Read more

Eternity Has Begun

“Eternity has begun for us.”

That phrase was used in a message on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles this year, and it kept cropping up in conversations and sermons throughout the rest of the week where I was keeping the Feast.

In my churches, we teach that people who are not called today will get a chance at salvation after the second resurrection. The books will be opened, giving them understanding of the Bible, and then after an unspecified period of time they’ll be “judged according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-13). For those in God’s household today, though, judgement has already begun. This is our chance at eternal life.

Eternity Has Begun | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Great Responsibility

Those of us who’ve responded to God’s call and entered a covenant with Him have been given great gifts of understanding. After we receive an invitation to become firstfruits, God teaches us “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). The kingdom of God is a mystery that isn’t shared with just anyone yet, and for a very good reason.

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

The more someone knows, the more they’re accountable for. Today, God is working with a select few — people He knows can make it if they will truly follow Him and love with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Even so, we’re warned quite clearly that there will be people in the churches who think they’re serving God but still don’t “get it.”

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

We can’t follow God however we want, even if it looks good from the outside, and expect to make it into His kingdom. We have to follow God the way He commands, and cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Run To Obtain

As God gets to know us on our walk with Him, He’s purifying and molding us into a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). At the same time, we’re being judged to see how we measure up. Are we growing? Do we desire a relationship with Him? Will we submit to His headship in our lives?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when He “comes in His glory” He will gather people before Him and divide them into two groups. By this time, the judgement is already made — He knows who is a sheep and who is a goat (Matt. 25:31-46). When we stand before Christ, it will be too late to try and convince Him you really were a sheep who just acted like a goat sometimes. We have to commit ourselves to His way of life now.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

God isn’t going to make you or me a firstfruit just because we showed up for church. There isn’t a participation prize. Not everyone who runs a race wins, and not everyone who claims to follow Jesus will be in His kingdom. We have to discipline ourselves to run in a way that qualifies us to receive the ultimate prize.

God wants people in His family who are teachable and humble — who respond to His work in their lives and take an active role. Only God can transform us, but we can chose whether or not to let Him. We can choose to strive for “an imperishable crown.”

Judgement Today

 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:31-32)

The uses of “judge” in 1 Corinthians 11:31 come from two different Greek words. “If we would judge” — diakrino, to discern (G1252) — “ourselves, we would not be judged” — krino, tried in a solemn judicial manner (G2919). If we would exercise discernment and take a good look at ourselves, we would behave in such a way that there was no need for a divine judicial ruling to correct and motivate us.

There’s still cause for hope even when we don’t exercise perfect discernment in judging ourselves. God’s first response when judging someone is to give them a chance to change, not destroy them. He judges and chastens us as a Father does His children (Heb. 12:5-11). It’s for our correction and growth.

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now, “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18)

“The time has come,” Peter said, and that was almost 2,000 years ago. The house of God is still going through “a solemn judgement, a judicial trial” (Zodhiates, G2917, krima). God is looking at us right now, refining us and correcting us to make certain of our character. He wants us to fill important roles in His family, and He won’t give us those roles if we aren’t a good fit — it wouldn’t be fair to the people God’s family is serving and teaching in the Millennium.

Becoming like Christ is the key to our transformation from someone who would be judged as a goat to someone who will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have to follow His example completely, develop a close relationship with Him, and learn to obey God’s commands. Hebrews tells us that even Jesus, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If God in the flesh had to learn and suffer, it follows that we will as well. Indeed, the context of 1 Peter 4:17-18 is suffering “according to the will of God” without being ashamed (1 Pet. 4:16, 19).

In a proper Christian context, trials are seen as a good thing because they are a tool God uses to bring us closer to Him. Suffering, chastisement, and judgement are part of the refining, discipline process of turning us into firstfruits. It’s meant as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — on the way to eternity.