Few situations evoke the questions that suffering produces. The furnace of suffering within the book of Job appears intended to offer us much more than the shallow solace that our suffering could have been worse.
This book raises the stakes. We are invited to explore whether human piety can rise to altruism and whether God’s workings are merely simplistic computations. The conclusions impact how we understand life and live it.
As the prologue opens it introduces us to a pinnacle representative of pious humanity. Job was “a man blameless and upright, who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Why does such a person serve God?
While God’s high view of Job affirmed, “there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8), Satan sneered that Job’s piety was shallow and self-serving. “Extend your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 2:5).
Later Eliphaz accused Job of hindering meditation and breaking piety (Job 15:4) because Job had suggested that God does not always bless the faithful. By so doing Eliphaz seems to affirm the evil one is correct about some within humanity.
What about us? Why do we worship? Is our devotion to God rooted in the belief that God must pour out earthly blessings on faithfulness?
Job’s actions justified God’s faith in him. He refused to curse God. “In all this Job did not sin by what he said” (Job 2:10).
While the spirit world viewed through the furnace of suffering the assaying of Job’s piety, this same crucible caused those on earth to debate God’s nature. Who is God?
Job’s friends essentially claimed God’s justice means the wicked always suffer, while the righteous are blessed. Job denied this was necessarily so. Based upon his own experience, Job did not view God so mathematically neat and predictable. The blameless, he asserted, might suffer fiercely.
Why do people suffer? What does our experience of human misery suggest about God? What answers would we offer to the problem of suffering?
As this book closes, God says to Eliphaz, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Are we to conclude from this that God is unjust? Not at all!
Our messy world is governed by a righteous God. While God never desired Job to suffer, he did allow Satan to inflict it (Job 1:12; 2:6). Although the Adversary was certain this would crush Job’s piety, in the end Job’s attitude improved. Confessing he did not understand, Job repented of a self-righteousness at God’s expense (Job 40:8; 42:2-6).
If we allow ourselves to be drawn into the furnace, we seem to be encouraged toward several conclusions. Among these are while God is sovereign, evil sometimes causes the pure to suffer. We cannot fathom God. While we may never understand why, we do know how we should live.