If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, you can read them here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Part 2 contains the first two lessons and Part 3 the following two.
Lesson 5: “What For?” is a Better Question than “Why?” When it Comes to Suffering
For Job and for the Christian today, “What’s God’s purpose in my suffering?” is a much better question than “What caused me to suffer?” It’s better because it’s more helpful, and it’s better because it more than likely gets closer to what God is up to in your suffering. “Why?” wants to know cause. “Why?” wants to know where the suffering came from. “What for?” wants to know purpose. “What for?” wants to know where God is going with this suffering. It changes suffering from being the end to merely being a means to some greater end.
With this in mind, while God had no obligation to explain himself to Job, there are some clues as to what God was up to in light of a statement that Job made at the end of the book (and in light of the New Testament, which I will merely mention for your reference: 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 and 16:6-10, 1 Peter 4:1, and Hebrews 12:3-11). After God made it very clear to Job that God was God and that Job was not, Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). After suffering, Job knew God like he had never known him before. Job said, in essence, that his knowledge of God before his suffering was nothing compared to his knowledge of God after his suffering. And remember, Job was a very honorable, God-fearing man already. For Job and for many like him today, suffering has revealed God to them like nothing else. That’s difficult to write, but that was Job’s testimony. We would be wise to listen and beg God for grace to conclude the same when it’s our turn.
Lesson 6: It is Possible for Suffering to Reveal Sin When Sin is Not the Cause of the Suffering
Amid his horrendous suffering, Job said some things he never should have said. He basically challenged God’s righteousness. Not a good idea. Job’s words fully warranted God’s harsh response in chapters 38-41. In fact, they warranted much greater severity.
It is important, here, to understand that sin doesn’t simply appear from nowhere, nor do mere circumstances cause the human heart to sin. Sin is present within us (Romans 7:20). Circumstances merely reveal the sin that’s already there. This, I think, was what was happening with Job. He was an upright man, but he wasn’t perfect. Pride lurked in his heart somewhere. Doubt had taken hold at some deep level of Job’s inner man. He probably didn’t even know it. For sure no one around him knew it. Nevertheless, such pride and doubt is sin, and that sin was very suddenly revealed amid unimaginable suffering.
However, as I’ve argued thus far, Job’s sin was not the cause of his suffering. His sin was merely revealed by suffering. And Job repented for it. And his repentance was a very gracious gift from God. So God was not being harsh with Job in causing his suffering. He was harsh with Job only as a result of Job’s response to his suffering. But even that was grace. How? God wanted even more of Job. He wanted him purer than he was (and he was already blameless and upright!). God graciously allowing circumstances to reveal Job’s heart was the only way that Job could repent of the sin Job didn’t even know was there and thus move closer to God.
How good suffering is when it is at the hand of a God who, like a master surgeon, cuts open our chests to save our hearts.
Share Your Thoughts
1. How is thinking in of terms of God’s purpose for a particular situation more helpful than thinking of terms of what caused a particular situation?
2. How is it that God is good to us in revealing our sin through suffering?