Job 1-3: When Suffering isn’t Directly our Fault

Reading for Monday, January 05, 2009

 

The ability to assume personal responsibility for our own wrong actions is a step in the process of growing into spiritual maturity.  The mature person has the ability to reckon with what he has done and knows how to deal appropriately with its sorrowful aftermath in the wake of God’s discipline.  Yet, there is another type of suffering that is sometimes more difficult to deal with at times.  There is a type of suffering that we endure which seems to have no direct link to any sinful act that we have personally committed.  The reality is that all suffering is ultimately a result of sin; for if there was no sin, then there would be no tears as will be the case in heaven.  But the kind of suffering I am speaking of here is more direct in nature. For example, you find yourself in a terrible auto accident and then you earnestly ask yourself, “what have I done to deserve this?”  Then you think back to some word, some thought in the past and you begin to think to yourself, “is this now my punishment?”  Or you find yourself in the hospital with some terrible condition or disease and someone comes to visit you and asks you the question, “what is God punishing you for?” 

 

The book of Job is incredibly relevant to our day and age, particularly because we have a whole word-faith movement that is built on the notion that God those who truly believe will live lives free of sickness sand want and those who don’t measure up spiritually will perpetually live out the negative consequences of their spiritually failed condition.  This view discounts the entire truth that God uses difficult times and circumstances to conform his children more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 1:28-29). 

 

 Dr. Dennis Magary, one of my favorite teachers and the professor who taught a course I took on Job once told the story of a man who came to take his class on Job from outside of the seminary.  Dr. Magary, who is very personable,  decided to take the man out for dinner one evening before class.  The man told him how he had been struggling in his faith for a number of years.  He said it all began the day he lost his wife and children in an auto accident.  As he was mourning his great loss, a pastor and some deacons from the church came over to his home for a visit.  This man, thinking that they were coming to comfort him, was asked to sit down and confess to the pastor and the church leaders what he had sin that he had committed which would lead to the deaths of his wife and children. The man was devastated as he could recount no such thing that would require such retribution.  As time went on, he realized that his plea for innocence fell on deaf ears and he had not quite recovered spiritually ever since the incident.  The message of Job breathed new life into this man’s broken soul.    If you have found yourself on such a journey in your own spiritual life, this book might do the same for you.

 

 

One of the purposes of this book is that it serves as a balance between what theologians call the “law of retribution,” found in the OT (e.g., “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”) and God’s graceful nature.  God does not call Christians to live their lives awaiting the “other shoe to drop.”  God does not want his people to sit around and wonder if God is going to take away their children because of something they did eons ago.  The reality is that there are some types of suffering that we must endure which has much deeper meaning than that which we could ever come to understand in this life. 

 

 

One of the most significant sections of Scripture which deals with suffering, other than here in Job is found in an interchange between Jesus, his disciples and a blind man in John chapter 9:1-3.  The disciples came to Jesus with a very interesting question:

 

 

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (NIV).

 

 

This story of Jesus and the blind man parallels very nicely with what we find as  the underlying message of the book of Job. The reasons behind of our suffering can sometimes be a mystery but the root purpose is always God’s glory.  God can use our suffering redemptively and the book of Job is a giant piece of beautiful poetry which lays this out this truth in exquisite detail.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will flush this out in nice detail, Lord willing.

 

 

I would like to add a few other notes about the book which will help us understand why it has been placed, chronologically, before the patriarchal narratives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

 

 

Most scholars believe that the book of Job was formally written down between the seventh and the second centuries BC (my opinion is that it is definitely early given the reference to Job in Ezekiel 14:14).  While there is much debate about when the book was actually recorded from oral accounts, there is no doubt that the story goes back centuries before its recorded date.  There are many features of the book that parallel very closely the time period of Abraham.  The fact that God is referred to as Elohim rather than YHWH shows that it must have an early date.  The story itself probably dates back to a few generations after the life of Abraham.  One indication of this is the fact that the author mentions the Sabeans in 1:14. This group, we are told, attacked Jobs sons, daughters and put to death nearly all his servants. We read in Genesis 25:1-4, that Abraham took another wife named Keturah.  One of the children she gave birth to was named Sheba and the descendants of Sheba were the Sabeans.  Because of this, and many factors, such as wealth being measured in terms of livestock  places this story within a few generations after Abraham’s life.

 

 

So if Job lived just after Abraham, why place him in the narrative chronologically before Abraham? The reason for this is so that we can avoid breaking up the Genesis patriarchal narratives.  Placing Job here will accomplish the objective of placing it in the right time era without breaking up a section of Genesis which isn’t meant to be broken up.  In other words, it is more practical to do it this way.

 

At any rate, there is much to talk about in the first three chapters of Job.  We have the adversary (i.e., lit., “the Satan”) and his scheme to derail God’s man. We also have the interplay of Job and his wife and the long list of Job’s losses.  While I can’t write anymore on this topic at the present, I would love to hear your views on these subjects and others that you may observe. We will be; however, examining all of these topics over the next couple of weeks.  Thanks for reading along and may the Lord keep you in his perfect peace today.

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Job 1-3: When Suffering isn’t Directly our Fault”

  1. Tori Costa Says:

    You explained this topic very well! I love the story about the man in the Bible that is blind and the disciples ask Jesus if he or his parents sinned, and Jesus tells them he was blind so Jesus could he could show him the amazing work of God. It really shows God has a purpose for our life.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    You’re right Tori, God can take the most difficult circumstances of our lives and use them for his glory.

  3. Lisa Aleo Says:

    I am enjoying this study. Thank you. Upon understanding how God would allow pain and suffering to come to Job I realize how God sent His Son and watched Him die for us.

    When looking at pain and suffering I went back and reread the section from
    Gen. 1-3 “It was good” how the Bible is clear that some suffering comes as a result of sin; ours, someone else’s or something that happened before we were born. I believe God will give us wisdom to know the difference if we pray for it.

  4. Bruce Smith Says:

    Lisa, thanks for taking part in the study. You are absolutely correct in your point. Suffering is a result of sin, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. There is no time better spent when attempting to discern these things than on our knees in prayer. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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