Why? Why does it have to happen this way? Why does my family member have to face death right now and suffer so much? Why is my job so shaky? Why has my retirement package shrunk? Why does a church go through struggles? The knowledge of God’s providence, something that Job eventually came to understand, doesn’t provide a simple answer, but it does enable you to be patient, thankful, and even confident. And God’s good providence provides reasons for deep thanksgiving.
Recognize that it is the Lord who gives and takes away. Even the upright suffer. Good things happen, by Gods common grace, even to bad people. God sends sunshine and rain on the just and unjust alike. Bad things do happen to good people. Some today respond to this by denying the sovereignty of God (as an alternative to denying his goodness–see the openness of God theology). The ancient world, at least in believing circles, could deny neither God’s sovereignty, nor his goodness and justice. That left them still wrestling with the problem of evil! We don’t know just when the Book of Job was written. It is wisdom literature, parallel to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. It may have been written around Solomon’s time. The setting of the book itself is more distant, both geographically and temporally. It seems to recount an earlier time (sometime between Abraham and Solomon). The land of Uz was east of Israel, perhaps Edom. Job knows the Lord. He uses the covenant name of God. Yet he seems to stand outside the line of the descendants of Abraham. He serves as priest to his family. There is no reference to the ceremonial laws of Israel. Like Melchizedek, he seems to have retained knowledge of the true God. Noteworthy about Job is that he is blameless and upright, verse 1. Job’s wealth (10 children, thousands of sheep and camels, hundreds of donkeys and oxen) was not an accident, but was part of the blessings that flow from fearing the Lord. Yet, as godly as Job was, all these were taken from him in one day. Put yourself in his sandals! That may not be difficult if you have just gotten a pink slip or if long-made plans are falling apart.
Acknowledge God’s hand in all that happens. Job recognizes that God is ultimately in control. As servants straggle in, each with more devastating news, Job doesn’t blame the Sabeans, the weather (or the weather man), or the servants. He recognizes that even his losses are not beyond God’s control. Job could have lashed out at the Lord, whom he recognized as sovereign. Instead, he saw that all that he had received from the Lord’s hand was by grace. He entered the world naked, and would depart it the same way, taking nothing with him. Any good he acquired in the meantime was God’s gift. Recognize that all you receive is from the Lord. That recognition doesn’t stop grief—Job tore his robes—but it does assure you that your suffering is not meaningless. God’s providence is not just about suffering. Job’s confession in Job 1:21 recognizes that the good he has received comes from God.
“The doctrine of providence is not a philosophical system but a confession of faith, the confession that, notwithstanding appearances, neither Satan nor a human being nor any other creature, but God and he alone—by his almighty and everywhere present power—preserves and governs all things. Such a confession can save us both from a superficial optimism that denies the riddles of life, and from a presumptuous pessimism that despairs of this world and human destiny…. God’s providence is manifest not only, nor primarily, in the extraordinary events of life and in miracles but equally as much in the stable order of nature and the ordinary occurrences of daily life.”Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, pages 618–619
Praise the name of the Lord! Praise God because he is sovereign. Job didn’t realize it, but his life was the scene of a battle between heavenly powers. The same is true of you. Our battles are not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, as Paul reminds us. That doesn’t mean we need to turn to trying to identify the particular dark beings and heavenly messengers around us. The Word keeps refocusing our eyes on God. The author of the book takes you behind the scenes to see what causes the suffering of Job. What may appear senseless to him has a reason. The accuser (Satan), is still trying to ruin the handiwork of the Lord. He points to the Lord’s most faithful servant, and accuses him of acting simply out of self-interest. One of the comforting lessons of Job is that although Satan may be allowed to do terrible damage, he can go so far and no further. He tested Job severely, but could not advance one inch beyond God’s permission. That assurance permeates Lord’s Day 10. You may ask, “Why is God allowing this? What lesson does he want me to learn?” Sometimes you may be able to look back and say, “That’s when I really learned to trust.” Other times you may never know in this life the reason for a particular trial. Yet Job reassures you that your suffering is not random or meaningless. This past week I listened to someone who had been through a severely abusive situation reflect on how she grew, over time, to appreciate that God had not abandoned her—although at times it had felt like that. You may be able to see only one side of the tapestry. God is still working his purposes. What he does is sovereign. What he does is right because he does it.
Praise the name of the Lord because of the perfect Sufferer. We don’t know how much Job knew of the coming Redeemer. At one point, Job 19:25, there is a clear confession of knowing that his Redeemer lives. You have the advantage of far greater knowledge of that Redeemer. That is what enabled Paul to rejoice when some took advantage of his imprisonment to preach Christ out of a motive of envy, Philippians 1:12–30.
“And now in this warfare we are engaged. The temptations of Satan are not to be escaped: no sheltered position, no seclusion from the world, no sacredness of occupation, can screen us from them…. If you yield to the tempter, you become his helpless prey. If you steadfastly resist him, confiding in the grace of God and the salvation of Jesus, he cannot touch a hair of your head.”
“It [Job’s confession, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives,’ 19:25] exalts the patriarch of Uz to a level with the patriarch of Ur, the acknowledged father of the faithful, and marks Job as no less conspicuously an example and pattern of faith than Abraham, — the one as distinguished and heroic in his constancy in suffering as he other in his unswerving obedience.”William Henry Green, The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded, pages 68 & 181
Job was a righteous man who suffered deeply. Yet, Job too was a sinner. He can bless the name of the Lord in his suffering, yet he goes on to complain about his treatment. There is a note of severe challenge in the Lord’s questions of him, 38:2; 40:2, before Job responds in repentance, 42:6. The author of Job gives you a glimpse of the unfolding plan of God. You have an even clearer perspective, for you have seen the plan of redemption unfold in Jesus Christ. You have seen the only perfect Sufferer. You have seen his agony in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, suffering that was in no way meaningless or random. You have seen him suffer so that Satan’s accusation against you can be proved wrong. And as you are united to that Sufferer by faith, you come to realize that before you share in his glory, you will share in his sufferings. They may not be as sharp or severe as Job’s but they are as real. It is only as you focus on Jesus Christ and see your suffering in the light of his work that you realize God has his purpose in what is going on in your life.
Why has God given you abundant reasons for thanksgiving? Why does God allow you to suffer the pain that you face this week? I don’t know. You may not know. But you do know that he is doing right, and that he will not allow you to suffer more than you can bear.