Not Why? Who!Why do we as believers have to suffer? This reflection offers a context for understanding and dealing with suffering.
The setting for the book of Job is laid out in its first two chapters. We are informed from the start that Job is a blameless and upright man (see verse 1:1). This is an important detail to remember when you read the book; whatever happens to Job, it is not because of sin in his life or a lack of faith. The language used to describe Job is that of a man who is following God in obedience and trust. Next, Job's life is described in idyllic terms; this is a man with everything going for him.
Will we exhibit a trust in God who may not answer our, "Why's"?
In 1:6, the scene shifts from earth to the courts of heaven. There we find Satan coming before God to tell God all of the sinful things that people are doing on the earth (see verses 1:6-7). When the apostle John describes Satan in Revelation 12:10 as the accuser of our brothers, it is Job 1:6-11 and Zechariah 3:1 that he draws the description from. Satan, it appears, is given access to the presence of God where he stands and tells Him that God's people really do not love or trust Him.
In response, God points to Job as an example of a man who defies Satan's accusations. Not content with that, however, Satan seeks to cast a cloud of suspicion on Job's character. He declares that Job loves and serves God for strictly selfish reasons. "Take away all that makes his life comfortable and safe," Satan sneers, "and Job will deny you."
Knowing Job's heart, God permits Satan to attempt to prove that his accusations are true, and it is in this context that we are to understand Job's suffering. Job is allowed to suffer because of his righteousness. He loses all that he has: his wealth, his livelihood, his children, his home. He becomes diseased. He loses the respect of his wife. He is forced to live outside of the city in the garbage dump, an outcast from society. He is utterly destitute. Yet, Job maintains his trust in and dependency on God (see verses 1:22-22; 2:10).
The fundamental question to ask when reading the book of Job is the obvious one: "Why did Job suffer?" Looking back at Job from the perspective that God allows us to have, peering through the cracks of the curtain into the courts of heaven and overhearing the conversations between God and Satan, we learn that with suffering there is often mystery, unanswered questions, and things that we will never understand this side of eternity. There are things going on which we may never know about. Job didn't know that his suffering was because God had allowed Satan to afflict him in order to prove Job's faithfulness.
There is often mystery with suffering, but will there also be faith? Will we exhibit a trust in God who may not answer our, "Why's"? As many of us would in similar (and even lesser) situations, Job earnestly wanted to know the reason for why he was afflicted so severely. But when God responded, He responded in chapters 38-41 not with answers to the reasons why Job suffered but with a revelation of Himself.
By revealing who He is, in effect, God reminded Job that the primary quest for the believer on the face of unjust suffering is not an explanation for the question "Why?" but an answer to the question "Who?" Job was reminded of God's power, His wisdom, and His control over creation. In effect, God's answer to Job was, "This is the kind of God I am. I know what is going on and you do not. Your life is still under my control and care. Will you trust me?" And this answer was supposed to be good enough for Job.
The book of Job also helps us to understand that suffering is not always the result of sin, or even that it is God's way of purifying and/or teaching us. Job's friends limited themselves to this answer and it was for this reason that God condemned them. Additionally, a careful study of God's disciplinary use of suffering would seem to validate the claim that if one cannot honestly identify what God is leading you to repent of, then it is doubtful that this is God's purpose at the time. Surely, God does not punish without convicting. Punishment without conviction would be vindictive, as would punishment after confession and repentance.
My advice to those going through suffering would be to carefully go before God, honestly seeking His face and ask for His Spirit to examine your heart and life. If God does not convict you of sin or if sincere confession and repentance does not remedy the situation, then, in my opinion, it would be fair to say that there are other factors at work in this situation. The call, then, is to continue to love and trust Him, knowing that this response reveals Satan's accusations to be lies.
Glenn Penner is the communications director of the Voice of Martyrs Canada. To receive VOM's free monthly newsletter, please sign up at http://www.persecution.net.
Originally published in the Voice of Martyrs Newsletter, June 2004.
Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2004 Christianity.ca.