Job and the Problem of Suffering
Jul 19, 2018 · Courtney Jacob
Financial crisis. Unexpected death. Terminal illness. Job loss. Inexplicable tragedy.
Each of us is deeply affected by suffering, both as individuals and as communities. When stress and anxiety threaten to overwhelm or when our hearts ache, we often find ourselves wondering “When will it end?” “Why me?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
There are many times when we wonder, plead, ask for explanations, and seek to understand why we suffer and, further, why God allows suffering to continue in our world. Whether these questions come out as faint, pain-filled moans or frustrated, angry screams, we can find solace and encouragement for our faith in the biblical story of Job.
Why Study Job?
The story of Job exemplifies our struggle to understand the problem of suffering. Job was upright and unwavering in his commitment to God, yet he loses everything—his children, his wealth, and eventually his health.
For some of us, his experience of suffering resonates profoundly. The amount or type of loss we’ve experienced drives us to meet Job in the pit of despair. For others, they have trouble relating to Job’s suffering because it is so extreme that it feels theoretical.
In his commentary Job for Everyone, author and Old Testament professor John Goldingay describes the book of Job’s unique approach to the human experience of suffering this way:
“It discusses the questions this kind of experience raises by adopting the form of a play, in which the different characters put forward different insights on how we might understand Job’s experience. This device makes it possible to express the different insights without having to claim that just one of them is correct. While some of them may be more or less illuminating in connection with Job’s particular story, none of them contains the whole truth, and none of them is wholly wrong.”
Studying the problem of suffering through the lens of Job allows us to examine the various explanations that well-meaning individuals offer in the most difficult of times. It also provides guidance for believers as we strive to comprehend the extent of God’s continued relationship with us and our world. The book of Job takes us on a journey through suffering that helps us engage and view it from multiple perspectives.
Multiple Perspectives on Suffering
When suffering hits, it not only affects the individual but also the family and community. Fittingly, Job gives us the opportunity to reflect on suffering and faith from multiple perspectives. We’ll discuss this aspect of the story of Job in our Groundwork series, “Job and the Problem of Suffering.”
First, we see from the view of afflicted, the ones who are experiencing suffering firsthand. In the character of Job we’ll recognize our own questions about suffering, and we may even identify with the defenses he offers and the reasons he expresses for not deserving the calamity thrust upon him. Here, too, we may be uplifted and encouraged by Job’s testimony of faith in spite of suffering.
Then we hear from those who indirectly experience suffering: Job’s friends. When we find ourselves in this position, we often try to offer comfort. Our intentions are good, but our well-meaning words and actions are not always helpful. In Job’s friends, we’ll recognize some of the common reasons given to explain experiences of suffering. We will then also consider best practices for comforting those who are experiencing suffering.
Finally, in the story of Job we have the rare opportunity to understand the divine perspective. God himself responds to Job and his friends. In an unprecedented way, we are granted a glimpse of God’s perspective on our suffering and receive his omniscient response to our own questions about suffering.
Job is for Everyone
Whether you are personally enduring a season or suffering or trying to faithfully walk alongside someone who is suffering, I invite you to engage these profound questions through our Groundwork series, “Job and the Problem of Suffering.”
- Why, God, Why? - Job 1-3
- Is God Punishing Me? - Job 4-8
- Consoling the Suffering - Job 32-34
- Choosing Hope in Suffering - Job 13-21, esp. 19:23-27
- God Answers Job - Job 38-42
Together we’ll identify the hope in the story so that we have confident faith in the goodness of God, especially when we face the problem of suffering in our lives.