Everyone has wondered why suffering exists. Natural catastrophes, death, diseases, and injustices abound. The good die young. The bad live on, and despite our best efforts, we realize we are powerless to control certain events and outcomes. We live in a broken world where sin abounds. While our freedom of choice can bear natural proportional consequences, we know suffering just as often has no fathomable explanation. While we cannot always explain affliction we know deep down it is not in vain. And although it has the potential to break us, our brokenness is grounds for being repaired. And not just being repaired but being made new.
Those who are in Christ can take hold of the promise of being made new from brokenness (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our world is broken, our people are broken, we are broken, and we would remain in that hopeless brokenness without a savior. Where our savior is central to all and everything, brokenness and suffering will be impossible to exist. And that does not include this world, but a world that is coming. Only when the enemy is defeated once and for all and the old order of things has passed away will every tear be wiped away and no death, mourning, crying, or pain be found (Revelation 21:4). A new heaven and new earth will replace this one and God will make everything that suffering, affliction, and evil has touched new before he will live and walk among His people (Revelation 21:1, 3).
We all want to understand why suffering exists but if we know it is going to exist on this side of eternity regardless, seemingly the better approach would be to look at how we approach it and what hope do we have from it. Job of the bible gives us timeless insights, truths, and answers through his story of suffering.
The Righteous Sufferer
Job seemingly had everything. He was upright, righteous, blameless, and filled with integrity. In addition to a near perfect character, he was rich in wealth, health, land, and family. He was married with 7 sons and 3 daughters. He obviously owned lots of land because he had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys. A multitude of servants waited on his every need. The bible says he was the greatest man in all the people of the east (Job 1:3).
Satan was roaming the earth looking for someone to test his power on and God suggests Job. God grants Satan authority to try everything in his power aside from death to cause Job to curse God. Anything. Satan makes the point to God that Job has everything a man could ever want and has been protected from every suffering or hardship in life so it is only natural that he will faithfully love God (don’t we do the same thing Satan did here… blame someone’s faithfulness on their lack of suffering?). Satan believes Job’s faithfulness and love for God will change when he brings suffering into Job’s life. With Satan’s intervention, the tides turn for Job from a man of blessing to a man of intense suffering as he enters a perpetual state of distress, agony, and despair; however, Job remains faithful and humble. How does he do this?
1) Job focuses on God’s Goodness and Sovereignty
Job receives a series of devastating messages that would send most of us into a downward spiral of grief, anger, and blame but for Job the devastation leads to him recognizing God’s goodness and sovereignty. Among the most horrific news he receives from a messenger is, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead” (Job 1:18-19). What can be more devastating than ALL of your children tragically dying at once? Just before this a messenger tells him people “attacked and carried off your oxen and donkeys, the servants were put to the sword, fire burned up the sheep, fire burned alive other servants, and raiding parties swept down on your camels and carried them off” (Job 1:24- 17). Job’s wealth and security are stripped from him and servants are killed by being burned alive and killed with swords. Like many people have suffered today through natural disaster and senseless acts, he lost everything that gave him his livelihood and security and provided protection, satisfaction, and help. Not only did Job lose his material possessions and wealth but he lost the people he loved and valued the most in heart-wrenching deaths.
Instead of Job cursing God from these terrible events, the calamity brings him to a profound and weighted statement: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away, may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). Job recognizes that everything, even life itself, he has acquired on earth is a gift from God and that when he dies he will take nothing with him. As James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from our Father.” He sees that truly the only possession that eternally matters is the Lord. Job grasps the truth that God has made everything in the world, determines every detail of our life, and is the giver of life, breath, and EVERY thing (Acts 17:24-26). He acknowledges God’s sovereignty and because of His perfect plan and control — despite his limited ability to see the good in it at the time — he should still praise Him through trust when he is facing trouble. Job knows that God knows far more than him, every detail past, present, and future, and that He is worthy of his full trust. Bitterness, anger, and entitlement is nowhere to be found in Job’s reaction to his hardship.
2) Job Relinquished Control to God
Job wasn’t flippant about or undaunted by his suffering, but he was surrendered to God and that made the difference. The bible says at hearing all of the bad news Job “got up, tore his robe, shaved his head, & fell to the ground in worship” (Job 1:20). Tearing a robe is symbolic of removal of authority and is a physical expression of deep grief, mourning, and sorrow while shaving the head is a sign of tremendous affliction and grief. Job realized HE was not in control and GOD had all authority and thus fully surrendered this situation to God. We see that Job wasn’t nonchalantly and joyfully proclaiming truths about God with a smile on his face; no! He was absolutely grief stricken! BUT In a horrible moment of emotional turmoil, he STILL relied on TRUTH. He did not let his emotions or circumstances get the best of him.
Job found when he was weakest emotionally, THAT was the best time to rely on God’s truths and strength and surrender control to Him.
He knew the power of God that would manifest through his weakness: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
3) Job Worships instead of Worrying
The most stunning part of his reaction to me is that he “fell to the ground in worship” (Job 1:20)! In worshipping Job is humbling himself before God by praising Him, honoring Him, revering Him, adoring him, exalting Him, focusing on Him, and glorifying Him!!! As we do in worship, he is fully focusing his attention on God. Can you imagine faith that strong? If we worshipped God instead of worried and relied on His truths instead of our emotions, we would come out resilient, strong, integrity intact, and more blessed than we were before. Worship when you find yourself worrying! Worship in despair. Worship in hardship. Praise God for who He is and all He has given you! This takes the focus off the problem and puts the focus on our Creator.
When our mind and energy is consumed with what we are worried about, we are worshipping that thing which only further exacerbates the fear and anxiety we feel about it. Worshipping God instead helps us remember God is in control and has our best in mind.
Physically and emotionally it puts us in a better place, making our Creator larger and our problem smaller.
4) Job refocuses after Satan deals his final blow
Satan sees that so far his schemes have been unsuccessful against Job as they have caused Job to 1)Recognize the sovereignty and goodness of God 2)Relinquish control to God and 3)Worship God. He then decides that taking away Job’s health is what will cause him to crumble because taking his wealth and family has not. Satan says, “Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you (God) to your face” (Job 2:4-5). Satan believes Job will change to cursing and blaming God when his health leaves him in agony and despair.
With Satan attacking Job’s health, he displays real, raw emotions. Job comes down with a terrible disease that is eating him away, covering him with open sores from head to toe. When his friends see him, they “hardly recognize him” and “weep aloud” (Job 2:12). Job is in agony and feels that at this point in life, being dead would bring him more peace than being alive. He says, “For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:24-26). We have all in some way or another seen and felt the effects of physical suffering whether directly or indirectly. Job curses the day he is born throughout most of Chapter 3 because of his physical agony. But even so, Job doesn’t curse God and his focus gets him through it all.
Despite losing everything, despite being in a raw emotional state, despite feeling agony, Job refocusing on his faithful God overcame his misery. Job had every reason in the world to give up and kill himself or curse and blame God. He had nothing left. No children, no possessions, no security, and not even his health. The words he says are filled with despair, agony, and misery. Even his wife and his friends were not supportive.
His friends blamed his calamity on his supposed wickedness when in reality his righteousness prompted Satan to attack him.
His wife who should have been encouraging him instead said, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). As horrible as his suffering was, Job still relativizes his suffering. In the midst of immense depression, suffering, and physical pain Job says in response to his discouraging wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). He recalls all the blessings, gifts, mercy, and love both seen and unseen from God and with that realizes he cannot be so entitled and proud to believe that trouble would never come his way. God is the great provider and creator. If not for Him, we would not even be here. Refocusing on the goodness God bestowed upon him, remembering God’s sovereignty, and humbling himself by casting away entitlement helps him again through his suffering.
5) Through Suffering Job Sees God & is Repayed in Abundance
Job did question God, he did cry out to God, he did despair of life, he did wonder why the suffering was happening to him, but never cursed God and his focus and trust in God was the key to his strength. I don’t know of a clearer picture of agony, torment, and pain of one person in the bible than Job. The enemy tried everything in his power to make Job come to the conclusion to kill himself, reject his faith, and curse God, but his power was not enough.
Job states that in the past he had only heard about The Lord and he lived his life according to what he had ‘heard,’ but now that that he has SEEN Him, his heart and life are drastically changed to glorify God (Chapter 42). His first reaction to God after seeing Him is repentance and brokenness as he realizes his questioning was all in vain and that God is all knowing, holy, and in control (sovereign) (Job 42:1-6). This same reaction is seen multiple times in the bible when people come face to face with God in all His glory. Job’s new found intimacy with God was far more precious than anything he had lost. As Gregory of Nyssa said, “To see God is to have never had one’s fill of desiring Him.” The suffering Job went through caused Job to see God and desire Him in an even deeper, more intimate way. He found the best treasure of life. He was seeking God through his suffering and therefore he SAW God for the first time. It is of upmost importance to remember that Job only saw the Lord because of the suffering he went through.
In the end, not only did he see God, but God repaid Job for all he had lost by using everything that happened to him for His good: “The Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. He blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen and 1000 donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. (42:10,12-13). After this Job lived 140 years; he saw his children and their children to the 4th generation (42:16). The Lord made Job successful again, he blessed him, and his intimacy with God went to new depths.
Instead of giving up on life in affliction, we must remember as children of God our suffering will end with reprieve, repayment, and rescue – whether in this lifetime or the next. Just as in the Garden of Eden where Satan enticed Eve by telling her she would have God’s knowledge if she disobeyed him, trusted in herself, and took control of the situation, so he entices us by tempting us to assume authority for our life instead of trusting it to God. No matter what schemes the enemy uses, God will always turn those around for our good and His glory (Genesis 50:20). In the end, Satan loses, Jesus wins, life is eternal, and everything in the middle, good and bad, works out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
A Legacy through Suffering
We are given one chance at life, and that short blink of an eye life ushers us into eternity. Sometimes I don’t think people realize how long eternity is and how there is no way to get out of it. Whether its spent in heaven or hell, we are all going to one or the other by our own choice. Life is like one grain of sand on all the world’s beaches compared to eternity. Eternity has no ending point, so relatively speaking, is there value in suffering for a short time on this earth? For most good things in life we have suffered to some degree, at some point. As real, raw, and weighty as suffering is, as Christians we must understand suffering doesn’t compare to the good that is to come.
Paul mirrors these truths as he says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us… For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:18, 22-23). From the beginning of time all of creation has been experiencing suffering and pain– for what? In preparation for what is to come and what we are to become whether in this lifetime or the next. As believers we have a taste of the magnificence that is to come in the midst of suffering through our comfort and peace from God, but those who do not know Christ are not afforded this comfort. This is why we must lead others to know Christ and the hope they can have in Him.
When this earth passes away or when we go to be with our Lord, our diseased, beaten down, broken bodies will be released from sin and suffering and we will be given new bodies. Everything that sin has touched will be made new. Death will have no sting and no victory because sin will be defeated once and for all (Corinthians 15:55-56). We can have hope and faith in affliction because we know eventually the pain is redemptive. If Jesus was made perfect and learned obedience through suffering, we as humans who fall a chasm short of perfection can benefit from suffering as well (Hebrews 2 and 6).
When our focus is on God through suffering, our faith is strengthened in the refining fire of affliction and produces eternal value and reward. “Now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold, which though perishable is tested by fire, may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7). The “refining fires” we go through in life will either destroy us or makes us impenetrably strong. The result will be defined by our response: turning from our faith and cursing God or trusting in God and His ways through them. We will go through tough times as Isaiah 43:1-7 reminds us. BUT God will be with us: “WHEN you pass through waters I will be with you; and WHEN you pass through rivers they will not sweep over you; WHEN you walk through fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze.” Nothing can overcome us eternally when Jesus is with us. As my pastor Perry Noble’s overwhelmed study states, God may not deliver us FROM our circumstances but will always deliver us THROUGH our circumstances.
Suffering doesn’t discriminate on race, religion, socioeconomic status, or gender. Maybe you have never suffered greatly but as Rick Warren says, spiritual maturity is deciding in advance what you will do. Maybe you are in the midst of suffering and needed to be reminded of the hope you have in Jesus. Maybe you don’t know Jesus and don’t have this hope to cling to, but you can know Him by surrendering your life to Him. Remember, Satan seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” but Jesus came “that they may have life and have it to the full ” (John 10:10). You have probably seen some Christians maintain a flabbergasting resolve and faith through horrible life circumstances – one that leaves you speechless and brings tears to yours eye as their strength is displayed. They can do this as can any person truly following Christ because the peace, joy, strength, promise, hope, and power that God offers is unmatched. Nothing compares. The Lord says that, “No weapon turned against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the LORD; their vindication will come from Me.” Isaiah 54:17. Whether in this lifetime or the next, vindication will come, faithfulness will be rewarded, and benefits will be realized of putting our hope in the Lord. Through trusting in His sovereignty, focusing on His goodness, surrendering control to Him, and worshipping Him, we can get through anything life throws at us.
For followers of Jesus,
Suffering will be Satan’s aim for our destruction, but God will turn it around and use it for our good.
Suffering will plague our world and our lives, but our hope will overcome it.
Suffering will cause us to experience anguish, but our impenetrable peace will cover it.
Suffering will create in us anger, but love will extinguish it.
Suffering will lend us to doubt, but the reassurance of our faith will defeat it.
Suffering will exist until the end of this world, but our promise fulfilled will eternally outlast it.
Suffering will not destroy those whose hope and strength is derived from the Lord.