The Suffering Man
In 2011, I’ve decided along with my wife to read through the Bible in a year. We’ve implemented a plan that takes us through the Bible chronologically. We’ll see how it goes and if it’s easier to see the plan of God in the world by doing it this way. I’ve never attempted to read the Bible this way before, and I’m hoping that God blesses us in this.
The first book we read was not Genesis, but rather Job. The book of Job is a timeless story of a man going through suffering. Most commentators believe the book of Job to be the first book written by Moses, therefore it is the earliest recorded Scripture. Job himself lived sometime between Noah and before Abraham, roughly between Genesis 6 and 12. I’m assuming the compilers of our reading plan decided Job to be a better starting point than Genesis because the events of Genesis find their completion much later than the life of Job.
Job is an interesting book and by reading it first, the tone is really set for us to understand the rest of Scripture. The book is about a righteous man who endures incredible hardships by the hand of Satan with the permission of God Himself. The question that emerges from the book is a question that we read often in Scripture, and hear often today; ‘Why are the wicked left unpunished?’ Job 21:7-26 really capture the heart of the question for Job. He says:
‘Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful?’
‘His (the wicked man) sides are filled out with fat, and the marrow of his bones is moist, while another dies with a bitter soul, never even tasting anything good. Together they lie down in the dust, and worms cover them.’
Job’s friends have been telling him that God judges the wicked and that bad things happen to those who sin. Good things, they said, happen to those who follow God. It’s interesting to me that at a very early time in history, men seem to have felt the same things we feel today. Job states matter-of-factly that it does not seem that bad people and good people receive their due respectively. Like us today, he asks ‘where is the justice?’ I find it amazing that God dealt with this question right from the beginning. He spared no time in addressing this question, and indeed uses this question to set the mood for the rest of the Bible.
In the midst of Job’s sufferings, and in the midst of his questioning of God’s justice, he makes an important acknowledgement. In 19:25 he confesses ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.’ Again in 21:30 he recognizes ‘the wicked is reserved for the day of calamity; they will be led forth at the day of fury.’ He looks to the future for justice to be executed. There is no due date for justice. It is in God’s nature to judge rightly and He has promised us that all wrongs will be made right. It’s fascinating to me that before any written Word of God, Job knew this. Job also knew what would be revealed later, that ‘the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’ (28:28)
When God answers Job, he alludes to more than 70 things which demonstrate the power and knowledge of the LORD. He establishes quite concretely the fact of His sovereignty over all things. The book provides us with a confident knowledge of two things: God’s sovereignty over all things, and the righteous judgement of the wicked by the LORD. When we read the Bible then, we ought to keep these two things in mind. God is sovereign over His creation, and He will make all things right one day.
If anyone says that suffering is evil, or a mark of sin in a person’s life, that person is clearly wrong. The book of Job confirms to us that God uses suffering in our lives to try our character. Jesus confirms that ailments may not be the result of sin, but for the purpose of glorifying God. It also lets us know, subtly, that we can approach God with our heartfelt questions and doubts. We can address the LORD with our serious concerns. We follow Him because of who He is, but we can also question Him, and He will not deny us an answer.
Suffering happens. Those who willingly disobey the LORD may live seemingly happy and prosperous lives; but judgement is coming. Judgement is a blessing for those of us who choose to obey and trust in the LORD.