I’m reading the Bible in a Year (chronologically) again this year- and sharing as I go along. These two weeks have been in Genesis and Job.
Suffering is one of those things we can’t escape- sickness, cruelty, and all kinds of other things are symptoms of the broken world we live in.
In Genesis we read through the wonderful way God created our world and designed us, giving us the job to take care of it whilst enjoying his presence, waking with him and obeying the one rule he had for us. Yet Adam and Eve chose to listen to the serpents lies, let him plant doubt in their minds and the desire to be their own god.
By the time we reach Job we have already seen Adam and Eve and their descendants try to be faithful to God and struggle against their own sin and the broken world.
The story of Job gives us a glimpse into heaven in chapters 1 and 2 as the sons of God come into the Lord’s presence and he asks of Satan’s doings.
Job was different to us, he was righteous- means his sin wasn’t seen or counted against him (like us through Jesus). He wasn’t necessarily perfect but his sin had been forgiven and his righteousness is the focus as God presents him as upright in his eyes. I love that we get a glimpse into the spiritual dimensions and the perspectives that sheds on our own lives. From where Job was he couldn’t see or know the conversations in heaven but it reminds us that there is a whole spiritual side we often forget when we are caught up in the physical things happening around us.
I’ve enjoyed reading bits of the study guides and commentaries on the blue letter Bible app / website. We learn Satan is under God’s control. Whilst he does wander around trying to cause havoc God remains so much greater than Him. Satan isn’t the opposite to God- but he’s rather an opposite to one of the angels, God is always going to be much bigger.
What of Job’s view of all that happens to him though? He doesn’t have the heavenly view we do. At first he is quite accepting- God gives and takes away, and he resolved not to curse God whilst his wife thought he should. ‘why should we take good that God gives and not the bad’ he asks.
Friends come and sit in companionable silence – they see his suffering and initially don’t try to fix it or comment on it, but sit and see his suffering and share in it for a week. There are only a few lines about this week compared to the conversations that happen later, but this is perhaps the most useful and compassionate thing they are able to do as Job’s friends.
Then begin the human side of reasoning, of them all trying to work out suffering and the solution to the situation. Job feels God is attacking him and being unjust. His friends counsel him that it’s his fault and he should admit to his hidden sin. Throughout the whole to and fro all of them assume to understand God and how he acts. They understand that bad things happen as a result of sin and assume Job must have some hidden sin that he doesn’t want to face up to. (whilst we know that suffering is a result of sin in general Jesus makes it clear that the blind man wasn’t blind because he or his family had sinned). Because Job knows he is righteous he starts to assume that God is attacking him.
His friends counsel him towards repenantacne and a right relationship with God. There is lots of good stuff about what happens when we repent- but for Job it’s not applicable, but for us and his friends the truth is that we are our right with him when we come to him. It doesn’t mean we will get exemption from any hardships in life but rather that we get to have a true and rich relationship with God and his love and strength with us when hard times come along.
There are lots of references to Job wishing he had a human representative- I love that this points forward to Jesus. We can read it now and know that in our suffering and confusion we can cry out to Jesus and he listens and stands with us through it all. He empathises, he was a human who struggles through the most painful death and emotional anguish leading up to that. He truly understands suffering- but he also surrendered to his father’s will. He knew what the end result would mean, that we would be forgiven and reconciled, he curse broken and deaths clutch over us released. Unfortunately we usually don’t know the eternal value of our suffering in the same way but we can trust that God can use the pain we experience for good.
I’m still wrestling through all the tensions of the brokenness of the world, our responsibility in suffering and also God’s sovereignty in it all but I know that God’s ways are better and bigger than ours. We may never get to understand in this lifetime why or how things happen or the greater purpose or good that can come from them. But we do know that God is good and loving and his way is better than we can ever know.