Background: The book of Job, set in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is one of the world’s most enduring and profound books because it deals with enduring questions about man’s suffering. Where is God? Why do “good” people suffer? Why do “bad” people so often prosper? Where is God when it hurts? If one is good, shouldn’t he expect good things to happen? And if one is bad, shouldn’t he expect his wickedness will be justly repaid? In sum, if God is good, why are things in such a mess? Doesn’t God care? Or are the heavens silent? Are we alone in the universe? Are we, like the Kansas song, “dust in the wind,” at the mercy of elements beyond our control, just random material blown about with no reason for hope, no reason to assume we have dignity or worth?
These are profound questions, and they occur to us all, if we are thoughtful people. Well, Scripture does not evade these questions. To the contrary, Scripture is the place where these questions are posed, lived out by real historical figures, and where God demonstrates the answers.
The man Job was called “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). So the stage is set. We see a “good man” and we sense that he is about to endure hell. And he does. But we often overlook the important fact that when Job opens, it is God (not Satan) who starts the testing of Job:
The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and from on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:7-8)
God was the one who asked, “Have you considered my servant?”. God was behind it all. God was the prime mover. God was the author of the script that was unfolding. In other words, there was a reason for what was about to happen—and the reason was not blind material. It was the infinite-personal sovereign God.
And just within the first two chapters of Job, God permitted Satan to take Job’s property, Job’s children, and Job’s health. I think most of us would admit that if God allowed Satan to murder our children, destroy the property and possessions we had worked hard to obtain, and then ordained that sores break out on our bodies, we’d cry out to heaven, too, just like Job did. So Scripture does not evade asking the toughest of questions: Why, Lord, why? Is there no reason for the suffering? Do you not care?
Illustrations from Shakespeare: You remember Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, right? Like Job, Hamlet was enduring an existential crisis. He was debating whether there was any overarching meaning and significance to life, to his individual suffering, to his longing for justice from heaven:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mid to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to! (Hamlet, 3.1.56-63)
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune … Pretty bleak worldview. If the universe is a closed system, if there is no sovereign God reigning over the universe, and over our individual lives, then it is just as Hamlet laments—mere outrageous fortune. Just blind, random, accidental insignificance. Or as Macbeth puts it,
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, 5.5.24-28)
It is so important to follow ideas through to their ends. Job was not in a silent universe where tragedy happened for no reason. And Satan was not allowed to have the last word. And Job’s children were not lost forever. And Job’s wealth and possessions and dignity and friends were not taken, never to return. No! It’s important to read Job’s history all the way through.
God did answer Job by revealing his (God’s) presence, his (God’s) compassion, and his (God’s) wisdom and justice:
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold. And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more this his beginning. (Job 42:10-12a)
Job was not left without answers. He was restored. He was more than restored. He was blessed in the end. Why? Because the heavens are not silent. Because God is there and he is not silent. Because God is good, and because God uses evil in his sovereignty to bring about greater good.
Encouragement: I spend a lot of time reading the Psalms. There I see David, a man not unfamiliar with the highs and lows life can bring, writing this, and I think it’s a perfect dovetailing with Job’s themes:
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear
he also hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy. (Psalm 145:17-20)
Takeaway: Evil has a shelf life, beloved. God uses suffering, tragedy, and evil in his sovereignty. If you are an atheist, scream at the heavens all you want, but why? You don’t think anyone hears you. But for the Christian, he knows—like Job knew, like David knew—that God hears, God acts, and God is good. That is what the birth, life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ are all about. As Peter said, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23-24)
When we ask the question, “Have you considered my servant?” the ultimate servant was not Job; it was the Lord Jesus. Amen and amen.