Is God good? When faced with pain and suffering, many people doubt the goodness of God.
The Book of Job
The book of Job deals with the problem of the suffering of a righteous man. However, the book does not offer a simple explanation to the issue of innocent suffering. The book addresses the reality of human life in which suffering happens for which we cannot assign a reason for the suffering and pain one must endure.
Job was a strong believer in God who patiently suffered extreme adversity. In the book, Job suffers because of the work of the Accuser who attempts to make Job deny God. However, many times, the meaning of human suffering, either the cause or the consequence of the suffering, may never be known.
The prologue of the book, chapters 1—2 deals with the work of the Accuser, the Satan, who is a member of the divine court whose work is to test the faith of believers in God. Throughout his adversity, Job’s faith was unmoved, even though he had to endure much pain and suffering for an extended period of time.
The suffering of Job has raised a question in the minds of people for centuries, “Is God good?” In times of suffering people begin to doubt the goodness of God. It is for this reason that the book of Job has ministered to many people over the centuries. Only a person who does not know God intimately can even think that God is not good. Those who know God intimately also know that God is good. In the depth of his heart, Job knew that God was good, but in his desperate condition, Job believed that he was not experiencing God’s goodness.
Job, The Man from Uz
The book of Job deals with a man who lived in the land of Uz: “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).
The location of the land of Uz is unknown. The land of Uz is mentioned four times in the Old Testament. Jeremiah mentions “all the kings of the land of Uz” (Jeremiah 25:20), but he does not say where the land of Uz was located.
The land of Uz is mentioned in Lamentations 4:21: “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom, you that live in the land of Uz; but to you also the cup shall pass; you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare” (Lamentations 4:21).
In Lamentations, the land of Uz is located in Edom. Uz appears in the book of Genesis as a descendant of Esau, “These are the descendants of Esau (that is, Edom) . . . Uz and Aran” (Genesis 36:1, 28). The presence of the name Uz in an Edomite genealogy indicates that Job also was an Edomite who was a descendant of Abraham through his son Isaac and through his grandson Esau. His three friends were also Edomites.
Job is introduced as a faithful worshiper of God. Job was “blameless and upright.” These words indicate that Job was a man of integrity. Job was a man “who feared God.” These words indicate that Job was a man who obeyed God and lived in close fellowship with him. Job was also a man who “turned away from evil.” This aspect of Job’s character indicates that Job was an honest man who avoided wrongdoing.
Job was a blessed man with a large family. He had seven sons and three daughters. Job was also a very rich and influential man. He owned 7,000 sheep and goats, 3,000 camels, 1,000 oxen, 500 donkeys, and a large number of servants. He was one of the most influential persons of his time, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).
Job’s First Trial
It was Job’s faithfulness to God and his riches that called the attention of the Satan, the Accuser. One day when the sons of God came before God in his heavenly council, the Satan, the Accuser also came and stood before the Lord. The LORD asked Satan, “Have you seen my servant Job? No one in the world is like him. He is a man of integrity: He is decent, he fears God, and he stays away from evil” (Job 1:8).
In response, the Accuser said to God, “‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face’” (Job 1:9–11).
Satan does not question Job‘s faith in God nor does he question Job’s integrity. The issue for Satan is the relationship between Job‘s godliness and his wealth. According to Satan, Job believes in God because God had blessed him and had made him a rich man.
Satan said, “Does not Job have good reason to fear God?” “Will Job still worship you if you take away all that he possesses?” You put a hedge [of protection] around him and his household and everything he has” (Job 1:9–10).
In order to show the Accuser that Job was a man of faith and integrity, God allowed Satan to take away Job’s riches, “The LORD replied to the Accuser, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him” (Job 1:12).
God’s permission for Job to be tested has deep implications for the proper understanding of God and the way he deals with people in the world. God knew that Job was a pious man, but why was God allowing Satan to test Job? Was it to prove to Satan that Job believed in God not because he was rich? Or was God allowing Job to be tested in order to increase Job’s faith?
God knew Job’s faith and integrity, but how would Job’s faith react when tested? Because of human free will, people have the freedom to choose how to respond to God when put to the test. In his article, “When Yhwh Tests People: General Considerations and Particular Observations Regarding the Books of Chronicles and Job,” Ben Zvi says the testing of Job may reflect Yahweh’s desire to know how Job would “perform under the stress of the divine test” (Ben Zvi 2012:4).
After Abraham failed to trust in God five times, God put Abraham to the test in order to know whether Abraham was willing to trust in God. When Abraham lifted his hand to sacrifice his son Isaac, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing the boy. God said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12).
“For now I know.” God knows everything there is to know, but human beings rebel against God and in many situations, they act against the will of the Creator. In his commentary on Job, Clines says that Yahweh knew Job and that he had the confidence that Job would be faithful when tested, but some times, people fail God when they are tested. Would Job remain faithful to God when tested or would he deny God? “The Satan has the right to ask the question, and Yahweh is in the right in having the problem probed” (Clines 1989:130). In the end, both Satan and God had the answer: “in all this misfortune Job uttered no sinful word” (Job 2:10 NJB).
Job’s misfortunes began when a group of Sabeans took Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who were taking care of them (Job 1:14–15). The second calamity happened when lightning killed Job’s flocks and the shepherds who were watching the flock (Job 1:16). The third calamity happened when the Chaldeans took Job’s camels and killed the servants who were caring for the camels (Job 1:17).
A fourth calamity came when a servant told Job about the death of his children. The servant told Job that while his sons and daughters were together eating and drinking, a great wind came from the desert, destroyed the house in which they were, killing all of Job’s children (Job 1:19).
Job’s afflictions were caused by human intervention and natural disasters. The Sabeans and the Chaldeans were used to afflict Job and to deprive him of his wealth. Lightning caused Job to lose some of his possessions. A great storm caused Job to lose his children.
In a moment Job lost his fortune and his children. He sat alone, grieving his loss. His mourning rituals consisted of tearing his robe and shaving his head. Job fell on the ground in reverence to God and worshiped him.
Instead of denying God, as Satan expected, Job remained faithful to God. When Job heard the bad news from the mouth of his servants, “Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother, and naked I will return. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away! May the name of the LORD be praised’” (Job 1:20–21).
Satan believed that once Job lost all he had that he would curse God (Job 1:11). But Satan was wrong. Instead of cursing God, “Job both acknowledged God’s lordship over all his possessions and sought consolation from the Almighty. . . . Job acknowledged God’s sovereignty over his entire life, both for good and for ill” (Hartley 77–78). Job did not impute his suffering to God, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22).
Job’s Second Trial
Once again, the Accuser and the sons of God appear before God. Once again God praised Job for his integrity and for his righteousness. God told Satan, “He persists in his integrity still; you achieved nothing by provoking me to ruin him” (Job 2:3).
In reply, Satan said, “Skin for skin! A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life” (Job 2:4). The proverbial expression, “Skin for skin,” although it is not self-explanatory, teaches that a person was willing to give up everything in order to save his life. Satan was saying that even though Job lost everything, Job did not deny God because he was healthy and strong.
To prove that Job was a selfish man, Satan asked God to make Job’s life harder: “stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2:5). Satan wanted to make Job sick, believing that Job would deny God for a healthy life.
Once again, God allowed Satan to afflict Job, but with one restriction. Satan was not allowed to take Job’s life. Job was afflicted with boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head and he was miserable and in much pain.
Job was in much pain because of his illness. His wife, perplexed by Job’s willingness to accept his pain and suffering in silence, pleaded with him to terminate his suffering by asking God to take his life. She said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9).
Cline says that her advice to Job was “humane and entirely for Job’s benefit.” He writes, “she feels that sudden death must be better for Job than lingering pain from which no recovery seems possible” (Cline 151). Hartley believes that Job’s wife “genuinely desired that his cursing God would shorten his misery, for she too was suffering and desperately wanted to end her husband’s pain” (Hartley 83–84).
But Job refused to curse God. He said to his wife, “‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
Job rebuked his wife because he knew that in life, every person experiences good and bad things, abundance and misfortunes. “Job knows that the faithful must express their trust in God regardless of the circumstances that befall them” (Hartley 84).
The trials of Job reveal a faith that remains strong when confronted with new crises, a faith that comes out of a deep trust in God, a faith that knows that God is present when one walks through the valley of the shadow of death.
The Causes of Human Suffering
If God was not responsible for Job’s suffering, who is? What is? The story of Job’s pain and suffering in chapters 1 and 2 reveals that there are four main causes of human suffering.
The first source of human suffering in this world is fallen angels, or, as the apostle Paul wrote, much pain and suffering are caused by the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, [by the] mighty powers in this dark world, and [by] evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Fallen angels, “the sons of God” of Genesis (Genesis 6:2), caused much violence and evil in the world in the days of Noah.
The second source of human suffering in the world is because of our fallen planet. Planet earth was cursed when Adam and Eve rebelled against God. When humans rebelled against God, sin entered into our world. Human sin produces much evil in the world, evil that causes untold pain and suffering to every human being on this planet. Natural disasters are also part of this fallen planet. Storms, lightning, tornados, earthquakes cause great devastations and bring untold misery and suffering to people everywhere.
The third source of human suffering is fallen people. Paul says that all people have sinned (Romans 3:23). Humans are fallen people and fallen people bring untold pain and suffering to people. Job’s suffering was caused in part by the Sabeans and by the Chaldeans. According to the prophet Habakkuk, the Chaldeans were a people bent on violence, and they caused much suffering in their wars of conquest (Habakkuk 1:9).
The fourth source of human suffering is caused by our fallen nature. Every human being is a sinner who has fallen short of God’s intention for his creation. People are predisposed to evil and rebellion. People make choices in life that eventually may cause much pain and suffering to themselves and to others.
On June 5, 2022, my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church, preached a sermon titled “Job: What Is Going On?,” a sermon based on Job 1–2. The post above is based on Jeff’s sermon.
In his sermon, Jeff said that when dealing with human suffering, God protects humans from suffering and allows humans to go through suffering. God put a hedge of protection around Job, and he also puts a hedge of protection around us.
Through this hedge of protection, God protects us from much suffering and from many evils. Most of the time, we are not aware that we have been delivered from suffering and from evil by this hedge of protection, the invisible hand of God.
At times, God allows suffering to come our way. God does not protect us from every evil because we live in a world where evil people live in rebellion against God, and because of sin, human wickedness has increased on the earth, and the inclination of their hearts is to do evil (Genesis 6:5).
Jeff ended his sermon by telling the compelling story of Anna Stafford, a story that has many parallels with the story of Job. Faced with the tragic loss of her four daughters, Anna Stafford said, “The Lord has given me my four precious daughters now he has taken them away; he will help me to understand and accept his will.”
Anna’s husband, Horacio, grieving for his daughters, found strength in God. He affirmed God’s goodness by writing a hymn of confidence:
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Video Presentation – Job: “What Is Going On?” – A Sermon by Jeff Griffin
You can watch next sermon on Job live by visiting The Compass Church online.
To access the second sermon on Job, “Why Is This Happening?”,” on June 12th, you can go to https://live.thecompass.net. The sermon will be presented at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:00 a.m.
For other studies on Job read the post Shattered: Finding Hope in the Book of Job
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Ben Zvi, Ehud . “When Yhwh Tests People: General Considerations and Particular Observations Regarding the Books of Chronicles and Job.” Pages 1–10. In Far From Minimal: Celebrating the Work and Influence of Philip R. Davies. London: T&T Clark.
Clines, David J. A. Job 1–20. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Word Books, 1989.
Hartley, John E. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1988.
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