The book of Job tells the story of a righteous man who struggled with the fact that his God was tormenting him with a very painful skin disease. Throughout his life, Job had lived a godly life. He even made sure that his children’s lives were pleasing to God (Job 1:5).
Job’s suffering came after God praised Job’s righteousness before the Accuser. Satan challenged Job’s faithfulness by saying that Job’s love for God was a love born out of his prosperity and health. Satan told God that Job loved God only because of what he had. Satan also contended that if Job were deprived of his wealth and his health, he would deny God to his face. To show that Job was a man of integrity, God allowed great hardship to come to Job.
Throughout the dialogue with his friends, Job was very critical of God for the suffering he was enduring. Job called God his enemy. Job believed that he had no hope of vindication before his death. His desire was that, while he was still alive, he wanted to come before God so that God would declare his innocence.
Job’s desire was to speak directly to God, but Job could not find him, “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. Would he use his great power to argue with me? No, he would give me a fair hearing” (Job 23:3–6).
Job wanted to present his case before God. He had asked God for an audience; his only wish was that God would respond to his request. In his agony, Job waited for God’s reply. And God replied by manifesting himself to Job in a theophany.
Reasons for the Theophany
The reason for God’s revelation of himself to Job was Job’s eager desire to see God and speak face to face to him. Job said, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me” (Job 23:3–5). Job wanted to find God so that he could argue his case with him.
Throughout his dialogue with his friends, Job was very critical of God. Job said that God was destroying him, “’You formed me with your hands; you made me, yet now you completely destroy me” (Job 10:8). Job believed that God was treating him as his enemy, “Why do you treat me as your enemy?” (Job 13:24). Job believed that God had killed his family, “O God, you have devastated my family” (Job 16:7).
Job believed that God hated him, “God hates me and angrily tears me apart” (Job 16:9). Job believed that God was causing his death, “I have only a few days left” (Job 10:20); “soon I will lie down in the dust and die” (Job 7:21). Job believed that he had no hope when he appeared before God, “Although I am innocent, he would pronounce me guilty” (Job 9:20).
Confronted with an individual who was questioning divine wisdom with much ignorance (Job 42:3), God revealed himself to Job in order to deal with Job’s accusations.
Job 38:1—41:34 deals with God’s response to Job’s request for an audience with him. A theophany is a personal manifestation of God. In a theophany, God reveals his presence to a person. The Bible mentions several stories that show the immense depth of God’s love for humankind and how extraordinarily far he is willing to go to bring people into fellowship with him. The Bible teaches that God is not a distant God, that he did not create the world and then stood back to see what would happen. God is a relational God. God has a plan and a purpose for his creation, and he has been consistently working out his will throughout time.
The fact that God speaks and acts within human history and in the human world is the central truth of Israel’s faith. The people of Israel believed that God was in control of his created world and that he had the ability to affect what happens within that creation. Israel’s faith affirmed that God acted in the world and in the lives of his people.
The physical manifestation of God, the theophany, is God revealing himself to humans to communicate his divine will to them. In some theophanies, God walks among, and talks with, his people. Any appearance of God through a theophany reveals truths about God and his intentions for mankind. In the theophany, God manifested himself in various ways to demonstrate his power. The use of theophany is a way for God to become involved personally in his world. In the theophany, God’s presence is revealed in the fire, cloud, storms, or earthquake. When God revealed himself to Job, “LORD answered Job from the whirlwind” (Job 38:1).
God Questions Job
Because of the suffering he was enduring, Job was highly critical of God. Job wanted to know why God allowed suffering and hardship to exist on earth. In his desperate situation, Job asked for a response to his questions. So, God answered Job’s request and appeared to Job and presented his work in the world.
God spoke to Job from the whirlwind and chided him for questioning his wisdom, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?” (Job 38:2). In order to show Job how complex God’s work in the universe is, God asked Job several questions about the mysteries of creation.
God’s questions to Job were concerned with various aspects of creation. God asked Job where he was when he laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4). God asked Job about the structure of the universe (Job 38:6–7). Job could not answer because no human being was present when God created the universe.
God asked Job about the beauty of morning, because every morning recreates the glorious first day of creation (Job 38:12). God asked Job about the storehouses of the snow and hail where God keeps them in reserve “as weapons for the time of trouble” (Job 38:22–23). God asked Job about the laws of the universe, which God uses to regulate the earth (Job 38:33). God also asked Job about clouds, rain, and lightning (Job 38:34–35).
God asked Job many questions about the animals that he had created. God asked Job about the war horse (Job 39:24), about the hawk (Job 39:26), about the eagle who rises to the heights to make its nest (Job 39:27). God also asked Job about Behemoth (Job 40:19) and about the Leviathan (Job 41:12–14; 19-20).
Job’s Response to God
Confronted with the mysteries of God’s work in the universe, Job said to God, “I am nothing – how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say” (Job 40:4–5).
But God was not yet finished with Job, “Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them” (Job 40:7). God then asked Job a difficult question, “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?” (Job 40:8). This question was a direct challenge to the accusations Job had made against God.
In response to God’s questions, Job recognized that he was wrong about God. Job said to God, “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3).
Job’s words indicate that he recognized that God’s wisdom was beyond human understanding. Job also recognized that the things he had said about God were not true. His criticism of God was based on false assumptions; his criticism came out of his grief and pain. His criticism of God came out of a lack of trust in God. Job had misstated his case. Job realized that as the creator of the universe, God was aware of his situation.
Job mentioned the reason for his criticism of God. His knowledge of God was superficial and second hand, “I had only heard about you before.” But now, because of God’s revelation of himself to Job, things had changed, “but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5).
And seeing God made a difference in Job’s life. Job had a personal encounter with God and that encounter made Job realize that God was good and that, in his suffering, God was present in his life, aware of his situation.
Job’s experience with God was real, “I have seen you with my own eyes.” Job’s greatest desire was to see God, “I will see God. I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes” (Job 19:25–27).
This experience with God overwhelmed Job. He knew that everything he had said about God was wrong. Job needed to repent. Job said to God, “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance” (Job 42:6).
In God’s dialogue with Job, God never explained why Job was suffering and Job never asked God “why is this happening?” Instead, Job committed his situation to God, aware that he who had created him was aware of his suffering because his creator had appeared to him, and he had seen God.
On June 19, 2022, my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church, preached a sermon titled “Job: Why Is This Happening?”, a sermon based on God’s theophany to Job, Job chapters 38–41. Many of the ideas and words in the post above are based on Jeff’s sermon.
At the end of his sermon, Jeff gave eight reasons why God allows suffering:
Evangelism – God’s agenda is to help people away from God to reconcile to him. When people are confronting suffering, they turn to spiritual matters, they turn to God because they know that God is the healer of the body and the healer of the soul. A world without suffering would be heaven. C. S. Lewis said that “God shouts to us in our pain.”
Discipline – God allows hardship in order to grow people. Hardship and suffering produce character.
Dependency – God uses suffering to help people rely on him, to help people depend more on him and his grace.
Punishment – Many times suffering is the result of what people do. “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible” (Leviticus 5:17).
Validation – Suffering helps validate one’s faith. Satan believed that Job served God because of his wealth. Although Job suffered much, his suffering validated his character as a righteous man.
Appreciation – When suffering, people learn to appreciate Christ’s suffering on the cross. Without suffering, it would be difficult for people to appreciate the sacrificial suffering of Jesus.
Glorification – Suffering allows the power of God to work in the life of a person in such a way that the healing brings glory to God. When the blind man was healed, Jesus said, “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3).
Commiseration – People who have gone through a time of trial and suffering can express sympathy and compassion for the misfortunes of others.
There are many other reasons why people suffer. Sometimes people do not know the reason for their suffering. At times, God does not give a reason why people suffer. It is at this time that people must learn to trust and depend on God. God uses the brokenness of this world to accomplish his eternal purposes. When suffering comes, the sufferer must say to God, “Lord, I trust you.”
The Sermon: “Why Is This Happening” – A Sermon by Jeff Griffin.
You can watch next sermon on Job live by visiting The Compass Church online.
To access the fourth and last sermon on Job, “When Will This End?”, on June 26th, 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.
NOTE: For other studies on the Book of Job and the problem of suffering, read my post, An Introduction to the Book of Job.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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