God’s Sovereignty & Suffering

Reflection: Job

The Book of Job is synonymous with suffering, describing Job’s losses, conversations, and consequences. His traumatic predicament is an empathetically difficult situation for any of us to personally associate, and for that reason it makes for arduous reading through the manuscript. This is a perfectly understandable human reaction, as few are inured towards pain and discomfort. But the Book does not major on the anatomy of suffering alone.

Although Job’s experience forms the bulk of the material, Chapters 1 and 38 to 42 bound the issue of suffering, by centering us on God. Job is the unwilling marionette with an intractable task of discerning the objective of his travail, which he and his friends were unable to unravel, and neither would any of us, as our Creator’s thoughts are far higher than ours. In this case, the Divine-Satanic challenge is beyond the concern of mere mortals. Notwithstanding, Job is a rare human whose faith impresses not only his Maker but gained the attention of the latter’s formidable adversary. Moreover, the question of fairness to Job would also intrude into our consciousness, as it did with the Jobian participants, but with the Almighty at the center of the action, that question is irrelevant as God himself is the criterion of justice. We may question the judicial process as Job attempts to do, but the inescapable conclusion, with a lesson from the Book, is to let God be God.

The internalization of human suffering in its self-focus is normative, and God certainly does not upbraid him for grieving. Nonetheless, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar irrefutably deduce that suffering is the outcome for sin, resulting from our temporal condition. However, God let it be known that that is not conclusive at all. Surprise, surprise! Then again, it is quite possible that Job is sinning in the course of suffering, as Elihu determines, where self-righteousness and/or blame are assigned, thereby leaving God out of the equation. These interpretations are far more common in our human experience than we dare admit.

It would not surprise me if Job, whom God named as one of the three most righteous persons on earth (Ezekiel 14:14), felt an unspoken profound sense of betrayal in his devastation. His expectation of God’s protection was not unfounded with his prior highly respectable stature in society, his cumulative wealth, and excellent health – all evidence of God’s beneficence through the years. To be transformed into a social outcast overnight without any possible cause is unacceptable! Perhaps this skewed unconscious theology of a God who must bless, placate, and keep him out of trouble at his convenience gives a remarkable twist to what he knows consciously that God by no means promises that he will never suffer. Job’s foundational view of God’s authority is being sorely tested, and found wanting; and this may be true with any of us too. Conceivably Job’s fundamental beliefs and persuasions about his God can only be differentiated within himself as he goes through this furnace of suffering together with its intensifying debate. Without it, it is impossible for him to fathom the fallacy of his beliefs. But to his credit, his humility in accepting his lot without reneging on his Lord despite the pervading Divine silence, and immediate willingness to receive correction later proved God’s worthy trust in him.

Ultimately, suffering causes us to trust God for who he is, not what he does, as he promises to stand by us in the midst of our suffering. God remains our Saviour and Healer, but on his terms, not ours.

In the concluding verses, Job replies to the Lord:
I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.