Forthright Magazine

Suffering – Assayer of Men and God

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.

The prologue of Job introduces a pinnacle representative of pious humanity.  Job was “a man blameless and upright, who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).  The question is, why does such a person serve God?

God affirmed a high view of Job, “there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). On the other hand, Satan sneered 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).

As the story unfolds, because Job experienced suffering he suggested that God does not always bless the faithful. Eliphaz responded by accusing Job of hindering meditation and breaking piety (Job 15:4). By so doing, Eliphaz seems to infer Satan’s derision was correct; some serve God because they believe this shields them against pain.

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 peering through the furnace of suffering viewed 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 do our experiences of human misery suggest about God? What answers would we offer to the problem of suffering?

As this book closes, God confronted a prideful self-righteous Job (Job 38:2; 40:2). Following God’s speech, Job confessed he did not understand and he repented of his self-righteousness at God’s expense (Job 40:8; 42:2-6).

Then God said 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, yet not a God controlled by simplistic principles. 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.

If we discover ourselves drawn into the furnace, several conclusions might emerge. Among these are while God is sovereign, the pious can still suffer. We cannot fathom God, nor all of his ways. While we may never understand why we suffer, we do know how we should live.


Barry Newton
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