Why Job Suffered
by Tom Brown
Often, when I speak on healing and prosperity, people will ask me about Job. They'll question me, "If healing and prosperity belongs to us, why did Job suffer sickness and poverty?" That is a good question, and it deserves to be answered.
First of all, the book of Job was written as a play. Nevertheless, this is not a work of fiction. Job really existed. Ezekiel 14:14 lists Job as a real righteous man who once lived long ago. In this play called Job, we find eight characters: God, Satan, Job, Job's wife, Job's three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) and finally a young man named Elihu.
The play begins with the narrator telling the story about Job and describing him as the greatest man among all the people of the East. His integrity was world-renowned. He was so upright in the way he lived that even God bragged on Job. He told Satan to take note of Job's outstanding life.
Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. (Job 1:8)
Satan was disgusted with Job's lifestyle of holiness, so he told God that the only reason Job lived right and worshipped God was because he was so healthy and prosperous. Satan believed that if Job was sick and broke he would quit serving God. So God was going to prove to Satan that Job would serve Him no matter what kind of trials he went through. From there Satan destroyed everything that Job had-- his wealth, his children and his health.
It is this fact that God lets Satan destroy everything which causes all the controversy. Why did God do that?
Well, some charismatics simply blame Job's fears as being the open door to Job's trials. They point to Job 3:25, "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me."
"You see," some exclaim, "Job was operating in fear. This is why Satan was able to attack him."
It is true that fear can cause a lot of bad things to happen to us, but it is also clear that the book of Job is not teaching about fear. You cannot simply take one statement from Job and build an entire theory on it and say that Job lost it all because of fear. I believe that this interpretation is an over-simplified attempt to explain Job's suffering.
On the other hand, many evangelicals love this story because it proves to them that good men should expect to suffer. The trouble with their view is they forget to point out that Job was healed and blessed twice as much after his trial. In other words, Job did not stay sick or broke. He was healed and blessed.
James reminds us to consider the latter end of Job's life: "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:11).
Isn't it amazing that when people think of Job they think of his trials and not the end of his trials? Yet, James tells us to consider the victory that Job experienced, and to let him be an example for us--that if we are suffering sickness or poverty, we should persevere in faith and God will bring about victory for us, too.
Yet, that still doesn't answer why God let Job suffer in the first place.
WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
Some think that the book of Job is trying to answer the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Well, the answer is simple if you don't believe in God. You simply say that life is full of chances. Without God you don't have to answer the question. But for people who believe in God the question is even harder, "If God is love and has all the power to remove suffering, why does He allow good people to suffer?" Tough question, isn't it? In fact, not only is it tough to answer, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ANSWER!
What do I mean? Simple. It is possible to ask a question that can't be answered. I do it by asking a question with assumptions. An assumption is something that most people think is true but has not yet been proven. In other words, if I assume something is true, then I cannot ask for an answer to a question unless I am willing to forgo my assumption.
For example, a wife can ask a question with an assumption by saying, "I don't understand how my husband can be a good Christian and yet commit adultery?" Well, he can't be a good Christian and commit adultery. He can be a Christian and commit adultery, but he cannot be a good Christian and commit adultery. Do you see that a person can ask a question that can't be answered?
The same is true of asking the question, "How can God be love and have all power, and yet still allow good people to suffer?"
This question has three assumptions to it:
God is love.
God has all power.
Good people suffer.
To assume something is not necessarily wrong. In this case, are any of these three assumptions wrong?
First of all, is God love? Of course He is. The Bible says so. "God is love" (1 John 4:16).
Well, how about God's power. Does God have the power to remove suffering?
It is this second assumption that caused a Rabbi to write a best-selling book on suffering. Basically he said that God is love but is not willing to use his power for us. He prefers to let us live our own lives without His intruding on us. He sees God as a little boy who winds up a toy and then lets it go. He believes God made us and then left us on our own.
But this is not what the Bible teaches--either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Christians rightly refuse to believe that God does not become active in our lives. In the Bible we find that God helped Israel out of slavery, delivered Judah from its enemies and Jesus healed the sick and helped the poor. God is active in helping us.
So, the second assumption is correct. God has all power to help us. "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).
That brings us to the third assumption, "Do good people suffer?"
Job's three friends thought, "No!" They believed that if a person suffered it was because they sinned against God. So throughout the book of Job, they constantly try to get Job to confess his hidden sin. They were very eloquent, knowledgeable, but fault-finders.
Every time they tried to say something to convince Job that he had sinned, Job would come back claiming innocence. Job knew that he had not sinned. He knew that he was not at fault. He didn't understand why God was punishing him since he had not committed any sin.
It is clear from the first chapter that Job had not done anything bad; in fact, the opposite is true. He was more righteous than anyone including his friends. He was suffering not because he had done anything bad, but because he was the best man in all of the East. God was putting Job on display.
However, Job's friends did not know this. Instead of seeing Job as being the most righteous man among them, they saw him as the greatest sinner. How wrong they were! If only they had known the beginning of the book. They would have shut up.
Because Job was so righteous among men and yet he suffered, people assume good people suffer. In answering the question, "Do good people suffer?" you might answer, "Yes, of course they do. Job is the prime example. He was a good person, yet he suffered." So people think that the book of Job answers "Yes" to the question, "Do good people suffer?" But if the answer is yes, then God could no longer be just. How can God allow good people to suffer and still be just? He can't.
"Wait a minute! Are you saying that Job was not a good person?" you might ask.
Let me ask you, "Was Job a good person?" Yes!? Maybe!? Are you sure? Job was not "good" in the sense that the Bible describes what is good!
A rich young man came to Jesus and said, "Good teacher." Jesus interrupted and said, "There is no one good but God alone."
Paul writes, "...There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is not one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12).
The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that no one is considered righteous in God's sight. Now in man's sight, there are good people. Job was one of them.
The Bible says that Job was the best man in all of the East. That doesn't mean that he was righteous and good in God's sight. He was simply the best man from a human perspective, but even the best man is a sinner in God's sight, and that includes Job. A sinner has no right-standing or rights with God.
THE UNFORGOTTEN HERO
Do you remember the last character in the book of Job? Elihu is his name. He was not one of Job's friends. He was simply listening to Job's friends judging him and Job defending himself. As he began to listen to all four, God gave him insight into the true nature of Job's sufferings.
Out of all the human characters, only Elihu understood why Job suffered. It is amazing that I haven't heard anyone ever mention Elihu. We almost forget him. But the truth is, Elihu was the only one with true insight, not only into the sufferings of Job but, insight into the sufferings of all mankind. This is why Elihu is the last to speak concerning Job's sufferings. It is interesting to note that when God appeared to Job, He rebuked Job for not having insight and He rebuked Job's three friends for falsely judging Job. Yet God never rebuked Elihu. Why? Because Elihu was correct in understanding suffering.
Elihu begins by saying,
I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, "Age should speak, advanced years should teach wisdom." But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. (Job 32:6-8)
Notice, Elihu is about to give wisdom not because of any human understanding, but because God's Spirit gave him understanding. The first thing he does is correct Job's friends.
I waited while you [Job's three friends] spoke,I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his argument. (Job 32:11-12)
Elihu showed Job's friends that they were wrong in judging him. The second thing Elihu does is correct Job, but he does it in humility.
But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue. My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me. I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you. But you have said in my hearing--I heard the very words-- "I AM PURE AND WITHOUT SIN; I AM CLEAN AND FREE FROM GUILT.." (Job 33:1-9)
Elihu saw one fundamental flaw in Job: that Job believed that he was without®)3¯ ®)1¯original sin. Job was self-righteous. Yes, he was righteous as far as men are concerned, but he was not righteous as far as God was concerned.
Since Job thought he was sinless and not under the curse of sin, he could not figure out how he could suffer. This bothered Job. But Elihu points out the fact that Job was a sinner like everyone else and is subject to the curse of sin which includes sickness and poverty.
People erroneously think that the book of Job was written to try to answer the question: Why does God allow good people to suffer? But Elihu has no trouble with that question because he knows that there are no truly "good" people in God's sight. The thing that perplexed Elihu was not the fact that Job was suffering, but why weren't he and Job's friends suffering along with Job. In fact, Elihu is wondering why everyone doesn't suffer all the time since everyone is a sinner.
Elihu realized that sinners are under the curse of sin, and therefore have no legal right to get mad when they suffer. They should realize that they deserve to suffer and if they are not suffering, they should praise God even more because He is having mercy on them.
WHY ARE SINNERS BLESSED?
Elihu asked the right question, "Why does God allow sinners to be blessed?" The answer: Because God is merciful.
In other words, before Job had his trials, he experienced the mercy of God. But when Job had his trials, he experienced the justice of God--he only got what he deserved.
Immediately after Elihu spoke, God answered Job in a whirlwind and rebuked him for falsely accusing God of injustice. Job wisely repented.
You might be saying, "I understand what you are saying, but how can we claim our healing and prosperity, if we are sinners? Sinners, after all, have no right to healing and prosperity."
That was true, before the cross! But, through the cross, we have been made the righteousness of God, therefore we have right-standing with God. We are living after the cross. This is why God commanded Job's three friends to offer a sacrifice.
God appeared to Eliphaz, the leader of Job's friends, and told him, "I'm angry with you three. You and your two friends should take seven bulls and seven rams and go to Job and sacrifice a burnt offering. And when Job prays for you, God will show mercy on you all and not bring on any tragedy that Job experienced." God showed Job and his three friends that only through the shedding of blood is there forgiveness of sins.
This is the point: Before Jesus died on the cross for our sins, mankind had no legal right to healing and prosperity. They could only plead for mercy. But now since Christ has died for our sins, sicknesses and poverty, we now have a right to the grace of God.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRACE AND MERCY
Grace is unmerited favor. We do not claim healing and prosperity based on our good works, but based on Christ' good work on the cross.
Remember the scripture in the previous chapter of this book, 2 Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, he became poor for you." He became poor through His Substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, and because of it, we have access into God's grace, which is far better than mercy.
The Bible tells us to grow in the grace of God. Nowhere does the Bible say to grow in the mercy of God. Many people interchange the word "grace" with "mercy." They think these two are the same, but they definitely are not.
Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Notice that God's throne is the throne of "grace" not mercy. Yet at His throne people can receive both "mercy" and "grace." These are two different things. Unfortunately, most people are trying to receive mercy when they should be finding grace. Grace is better.
What's the difference between mercy and grace? Mercy is when God does not bring on you the punishment you deserve. Grace is when God brings on you the benefits that He paid for. The only similarity between grace and mercy is that both have to do with unmerited favor. However, mercy is not based on legal rights. Grace is!
Let me illustrate the difference. Suppose you are eating a nice meal at a restaurant, and afterwards, you go to the cash register to pay for it. When you reach into your pocket, you discover that you forgot to bring your money. You don't have cash, checks or credit cards. You apologize to the manager that you don't have the money to pay for it.
What do you need? MERCY! Let's suppose the manager has compassion on you and tells you to forget the bill. You enjoyed the meal without paying for it. This illustrates mercy.
What is grace? Grace is when someone gives you a gift certificate which entitles you to a free meal. So you go to the restaurant and order your favorite food, and you enjoy every bite of it. After the meal, you walk over to the cash register and hand the worker your gift certificate. Do you know what you experienced? Grace.
In both cases, you did not pay for the meal. That's unearned favor. In the first case, fear gripped you because you knew you didn't have the money. You were not sure what the manager was going to do to you. There was not assurance or peace until you were forgiven, but even then you still felt unworthy because the meal was never paid for.
You see, this is how the Old Testament saints, including Job, operated. They pleaded for mercy but were never sure if God would show it. This is why Job said that he was fearful of tragedy. He was not confident that blessings would abound in his life all the time, because he operated by mercy.
In the second case, you enjoyed the meal knowing that someone else paid for it. As long as you had the gift certificate you ate in peace and confidence. It didn't bother you that someone else paid for it. You did not walk to the worker at the cash register and say, "Oh, I'm so unworthy to have eaten this delicious meal. I am undeserving of it. Someone else paid for it and gave me this certificate. Do you suppose that you could accept this certificate on my behalf?" NO! NO! NO! A thousand times no! You went to the register without feeling inferior, knowing that the meal was paid for.
Friend, this is what the New Testament teaches about grace. God has already paid the price for your sins, sicknesses and poverty. You simply come boldly to His throne to find grace in your time of need. You already know that the price is paid. Just enjoy the benefits.
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