What is God's Answer to Suffering

| Job 40:1-9; 42:1-6

Week of February 2, 2020

The Point:  God’s actions are often beyond our understanding, but we can trust Him.

Conversation between God and Job:  Job 40:1-9.

[1] And the LORD said to Job: [2] “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” [3] Then Job answered the LORD and said: [4] “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. [5] I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” [6] Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: [7] “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. [8] Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? [9] Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?   [ESV]

An Invitation of Job to Respond [40:1-2]. God first asks Job another question and then He exhorts him to respond to what He has said. The question is, Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Several things are important about this question. First, God calls Job a faultfinder. The Hebrew term refers to one who reproves or corrects. Job has made statements that have called into question the way God governs the world [10:3]. God has understood these statements as reproving Him or correcting Him for His governance of the world, or more specifically, for the way He has treated Job. Job has sought to contend with God. This word means ‘quarrel’ or ‘dispute’ and it is also the word used in the prophets for the covenant lawsuit God brings against His people because of their disobedience. Job has disputed with God over how God has treated him and he has sought a hearing before God to lay his charges before God. The name used for God is the Almighty. This name fits the character of God in the first speech who is powerful enough to govern the world and reinforces with Job his own lowly place as a creature of God. The exhortation to Job is, He who argues with God, let him answer it. Job has been arguing with God, a word that means ‘to set someone right’ or ‘to reproach someone for something’. Job has sought to reproach God for the way he has been treated and by arguing his case has sought to set God right in relationship to how he has been treated. The Almighty has now spoken and so God exhorts Job to give an answer.

Job’s First Response [40:3-5]. Job answers the Lord by declaring that he does not know what he should answer. If Job remains silent he would void his oath of innocence [Job 31], but if he continues to argue he leaves himself open to further divine rebuke. He calls attention to the fact that he is of small account. In light of the majesty of the Almighty and His power to govern the world, Job recognizes his insignificance before God and the panorama of creation. He has been left speechless, so that he does not know what he should answer. Job does not renounce anything he has said, including his avowal of innocence, but he also does not want to continue the discussion. He feels the impact of Yahweh’s speech and is reduced to silence. He places his hand over his mouth, a gesture of deference and respect that others had shown to Job by not speaking in his presence [Job 29:9-10]. Job had feared that if granted a meeting with God he would not find words to dispute with him [9:3,14]. His silence is not because God has beaten him down with His power but is due to the grandeur of God’s power in governing the world. In fact, he acknowledges that he has already spoken too much and that he will not speak any more. The Lord’s first speech leaves Job speechless.

The Function of God’s First Speech. The barrage of questions that God asks Job is meant to overwhelm him with the mystery, wonder, beauty, and power of God’s activity in governing the world. Part of the function of the questions is to show Job’s inability to do the things that God can do in His awesome control of creation. Another function is to demonstrate Job’s ignorance of the way the world operates. There are many things in the world that humans have little opportunity to see or to understand. Many of the questions are meant to evoke awe in Job [38:4], but this does not mean that Job’s lack of knowledge is also not in view. The first speech focuses on the wonderful way God governs the world over against the limited understanding of human beings, particularly Job, on how the world operates. Job has not spoken correctly about God’s design of the world [38:2]. The focus of the first speech is how God governs the world, but the emphasis is on the mysterious and wondrous way that the world works. There are several results that God’s first speech begins to produce in the viewpoint of Job. The curse-lament of Job in chapter 3 exposed the world of Job’s inner torment. Job wanted darkness to win the day so that he would not have been born. He ended the curse-lament with a self-centered focus by using a series of personal pronouns in 3:24-26. Job’s world becomes confined to his own suffering and he lost the broader horizon of life. God’s first speech shows Job the panorama of creation to move him beyond his truncated view that the world revolves around him and his suffering. Job’s suffering is not unimportant, but the world is a vast and glorious world beyond his personal experience. If Job is not able to understand the way God governs the world, there is no way he can understand the mystery of his own suffering. Several contrasts between what Job has said and the first divine speech highlights the mystery of the way God governs the world. Job had accused God of relentlessly hunting him down like a lion [10:16], a negative picture of his relationship to God. God states that He does hunt down prey for the lion [38:39], a positive action of God. Job complained that God did not hear his cry for litigation [19:7], but God reminds Job that even the raven’s cry is heard by God [38:41]. What Job perceives as negative actions of God toward him are positive actions that God takes toward His animal creatures. Job accuses God of afflicting him without reason while smiling on the design of the wicked [10:3], but contrary to Job’s claim the design of God exposes the wicked each dawn [38:15]. In 3:23 Job had felt ‘hedged in’ by God, trapped in his suffering, so that he had lost the purpose for life, but God shuts in the sea to limit and keep it under control [38:8]. These parallels show that Job has a limited, negative view of God’s actions toward him. Job’s response of silence recognizes that he cannot answer God because he is not able to explain how the world works. Job can answer many of the questions God asks because the answer is obvious – God is the only appropriate answer. So Job has a limited amount of wisdom, but the areas he does not understand are vast and significant. This theme reinforces the point of Job 28 that wisdom is only found with God. He is the only one who knows its place because it originates with him [28:20-23]. If God governs the world with wisdom, then Job must realize that even though he is suffering greatly, his suffering is not beyond the wisdom of God. This idea should lead Job to trust in the wise rule of God, even in his own life.

A Renewed Challenge: Do You Have the Power to Establish Justice? [40:6-9]. God’s second speech is introduced like the first speech. He addresses Job out of the whirlwind and asks a series of questions for Job to answer. The focus of the questions is different from the focus of the questions in God’s first speech. The emphasis of the new questions is highlighted in verses 8-9. In verse 8 the issue is whether Job really wants to condemn God so that Job can be right. This question gets at the heart of the issue that has troubled Job. He has declared his innocence over against the accusations of his friends that his sin is the cause of his suffering. But if Job is innocent, then the conclusion is that he is suffering unjustly, which brings into play the character of God’s justice. If Job is suffering unjustly, then God must be the blame. Job has made such a claim in 9:20, 24 and 17:1-6. Job and his friends are caught on the false dilemma that either his suffering is justified because of sin or that God is unjust in the way that He is treating Job. The friends argue that God is a just God and so Job must have sinned to bring about his suffering. Job argues that he has not sinned to cause his suffering, so God must be treating him unfairly. Although Job at times explores the mystery of God’s ways in the world and utters statements of God’s goodness, this false dilemma remains at the heart of the debate. In this second speech, God confronts Job with the accusation that He has treated Job unjustly. Will Job condemn God’s justice to make the case that he is in the right? The question in verse 9 relates to the issue of God’s justice. God asks Job if he has an arm like God. The arm is a symbol of power and so this question raises the issue of whether Job is as powerful as God. Also, God many times uses the power of his voice to accomplish His purposes [Ps. 29]. Can Job thunder with a voice like his? In other words, can Job accomplish his purposes in the world through a mighty voice like God does? The questions in verses 8-9 set up the rest of God’s speech that will focus on whether Job has the power to control the events in the world to accomplish his purposes. Power and justice go hand in hand. In order to establish justice in the world, power is needed. Does Job have the power to establish justice? What will this second speech of God say about God’s own power and justice?” [Belcher, pp. 291-299].

Job’s Confession and Repentance:  Job 42:1-6.

[1] Then Job answered the LORD and said: [2] “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. [3] ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. [4] ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ [5] I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; [6] therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”   [ESV]

“Job – Seeing Through Suffering [42:1-6]. As quickly as the whirlwind appeared, it vanishes. The voice of God is gone, finishing on a strange note; not a call to faith, but a statement of fact about the crocodile as the symbol of evil in the world [41:33-34]. God has revealed the character of Satan – fearing no one on earth, lording it over the high of the earth, and presiding over the pride in human hearts. Job is left with a decision. Can he affirm his faith in God knowing that Satan is still permitted to work evil in the world? Can he put his trust in God who will not answer his question why? Even more personally, can he believe in God who will give him no promise of immunity from the mysterious accidents of nature or from the deliberate actions of Satan whose obsession is to make him curse God and die? For Job, the question is no longer why but who. This is a two-sided question that every person must answer, whether suffering in innocence or devastated by sin: Who am I? and Who is God? Spiritually, the answer to the first question is a confession of need; the answer to the second question is an affirmation of faith. Job does not disappoint us. Who am I? When God first spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, He asked the question “Who is this?” [38:2]. Now, in a human confession of need, Job repeats the question and answers, “Who am I?” He makes a humble confession of need: I am weak [2], I am unwise and wordy [3], and I am unworthy [6]. Job needs to confess each of these deficiencies. Although he has not sinned, his pride has taken him perilously close to blasphemy when he demands that God come down to his level of power and understanding. God must have had him in mind when He closed His speech with the warning about Satan, he is king over all the sons of pride [41:34]. Job gets the message. His pride in his own righteousness has taken him within a hair’s breadth of Satan’s control. Therefore, before he can affirm his faith, he must confess his pride. Job is not confessing either the overt sins of the rich of which Eliphaz accused him [22:2-11] or the hidden sins of the hypocrite which Bildad tried to uncover [8:11-18]. He is confessing his reliance upon the power of his own righteousness and the wisdom of his own knowledge. Job had followed the traditional step toward faith – living blamelessly and uprightly, fearing God and shunning evil [1:1]. By all human counts, he was righteous and wise. His suffering, then, becomes the pivot upon which he can grow in faith or sink in cynicism. Job chooses to grow. Confessing that he is weak, unwise, wordy, and unworthy, Job progresses to an affirmation of faith that is big enough to include the question, Why do the innocent suffer? Who is God? If a person never goes beyond asking “Who am I”, fatalistic despair is inevitable. Only the redeeming grace of God can bring us through tragedy to an affirming faith that covers every contingency – known and unknown, useful and useless, good and evil. This is not a flippant statement of faith; it is a fact of life. To limit ourselves to the question “Who am I”, whether for ourselves or for humanity, will ultimately lead to the martyrdom of faith. Only by asking the companion question “Who is God?” can faith be resurrected, expanded, and affirmed. A creed of faith can be written out of the affirmations that Job speaks in response to the question “Who is God?” Two words are key to understanding Job’s affirmation of faith. One is the word wonderful [3], the other is the word sees [5]. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu expressed the grandest of poetic eloquence in their hymns of praise to the power and majesty of God. None of them, however, used the word wonderful to exalt His works. At the thought of His presence, they quaked with fear. Now we know why. Fear is the logical response to the justice of God; wonder is the experiential response to the grace of God. Mystery, wonder, and grace are inseparable. God expects us to marvel at the mysteries of His creation. More than that, He wants us to enjoy the wonders of His creation with Him. But most of all, He wants us to see the wonder of His grace and the mystery of His creation. Job crosses the threshold of wonder into the very presence of God. In the wonders of creation, he catches a glimpse of the grace of God. Before this experience, the power of God in creation provoked in Job the fear that is reputed to be the “beginning of wisdom.” Now, he advances in faith as a sense of wonder leads him into the presence of Wisdom itself. Seeing is the other word that opens up our understanding of Job’s affirmation of faith. Job confesses that he has relied upon the teaching-learning process in his approach to God: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear [5]. The teaching of his elders and the logic of his mind had served as Job’s way of knowing God. Out of the same oral tradition as Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Job had only extended their line of thinking on the straight line of human reason. They had become fixed in the tradition of orthodoxy that equated suffering with sin and prosperity with righteousness. Job had not really refuted their position; he had only extended it by continuing to conceive God within the limits of his own mind. Job demanded an answer from God on human terms. While protesting his innocence, Job was really demonstrating his arrogance. He spoke only with the authority of what he had heard about God from the oral tradition and what he had thought about God in his own mind. No wonder that God came to Job out of a whirlwind. A breakthrough is needed before Job’s faith can be transformed from hearsay to experience. Job’s own testimony is witness to that breakthrough: but now my eye sees you [5]. Throughout Scripture, the “eye” symbolizes the spiritual perception that comes from a life-changing encounter with God. While no mortal man can actually “see” God and live, it is possible to know His person and His presence so intimately that one can say, my eye sees you. Job’s self-confessed wordiness blurred his view of God – His person, His presence, and His purpose. Once he clapped his hand over his mouth and confessed his ignorance, he began to see clearly through to the person, presence, and purpose of God. All of the wonders of creation began to make sense. They are not just accidents of nature, or displays of power, but expressions of a person – God Himself. Through the seeing of the eye, Job’s world comes together. He has perspective. Proper perspective is gained only by “seeing through” to the center point to which all other parts are related. Job “sees through” to God. No longer does he rely upon tradition or hearsay about God; he knows God for Himself. No longer does he have to depend upon human reason to define the nature of God; he has been in the presence of God. No longer does he have to tremble in fear before the power of God; he has seen the grace of God. No longer does he have to demand an explanation for every mystery; he has put his trust in God. Through the perception of the soul, Job sees the answer to the question, Who is God? He is the God of grace. Job can now bear his suffering through his seeing. Knowing the answer to the question who, Job no longer needs to ask the question why. Why then does Job conclude his response to God by bowing and repenting once again? The answer is that one who “sees through” to the great grace of God bows humbly and repents sincerely. By bowing, grace lifts him; by repenting, grace liberates him. so, like the phoenix bird rising out of the dust and ashes with the colors of the sun, God will lift Job to his feet and set him free – reconciled, restored, and ready to serve others with new-found grace. Job has “seen through” to God.” [McKenna, loc. 6027-6160].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Analyze the conversation between God and Job in 40:1-9. In 40:1-2, how does God address Job? What does God accuse Job of doing? How does Job respond to God’s question? What makes Job speechless?
  2. What is the function of God’s second speech [40:6-9]? What is the false dilemma Job and the friends have been arguing? God first challenges Job’s knowledge. What does God challenge in this second speech? What is the purpose of that challenge? What are the different views of justice held by God and Job? What are the implications of God’s view of justice for the issue of whether Job is being punished for his sin?
  3. Describe Job’s confession in 42:1-6. What decision confronts Job after God finishes speaking? What two-sided question must Job answer? How does he answer? This same question confronts every believer when experiencing “innocent suffering.” How do you answer this question in the midst of your suffering? Do your eyes “see” God in the midst of your suffering?

References:

The Message of Job, David Atkinson, Inter Varsity.

Job, Richard Belcher, Jr., Christian Focus.

Job, Peter Bloomfield, Evangelical Press.

Job, David McKenna, Thomas Nelson Publishers, (ebook).