I must admit that I somewhat dreaded coming to the book of Job. Not because of the topic, but because of the layout. Basically, you have nearly 30 chapters of people arguing with each other in literal circles, saying essentially the same things time and again.
As anyone who has been following this blog knows, this is intended to be more of a devotional commentary than an in-depth one, so I’ve debated long and hard how to handle this. I’ve decided to do this: I’m going to first hit chapters 4-31 as a whole, and then over the next few days go over those chapters again, and as things strike me from the individual chapters, I’ll talk about them. I’m not sure as of yet whether I’ll actually address each chapter in this blog, take them in chunks of 2 or 3, or skip over some chapters entirely. We’ll go as God leads.
Essentially what you see in these chapters, as I’ve said, is an argument between Job and his friends. When they saw his suffering and heard his complaint, they responded by telling him why they thought he was suffering. What they said can be wrapped up in these three verses:
When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. (Job 8:4-6)
In short, “Your children sinned, and that’s why they were punished. You must have sinned too, and you’re being punished for it. But if you’ll just repent, things will be all right.”
And throughout this whole section, Job’s friends talked about how God always punishes the wicked for the evil that they do, and that it is they who suffer on this earth.
But there were two problems with this line of reasoning. First, it’s gross oversimplification. For as Job points out, while the evil are indeed eventually punished for their deeds, it doesn’t always happen in this lifetime.
Furthermore, because of the evil that men do, others are affected. People go naked and hungry; they have their children taken into slavery; innocent people are murdered; and husbands and wives become victims of their partner’s unfaithfulness (chapters 21 and 24).
So to say that only the wicked suffer is simply not true.
The second problem was even more serious. Job’s friends were not only guilty of oversimplification, they were also guilty of making false accusations. In chapter 1, God had said concerning Job,
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 (1:8).
God was not punishing Job for any sins he had committed. In God’s eyes, he was innocent. So Job’s friends were dead wrong in accusing Job of evil.
Job called them on it saying,
Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong. (6:24)
And they couldn’t point out a single sin. Eventually, much later in the argument, in their desperation to prove they were right, they threw out accusations against Job that had absolutely no basis (22:5-9). They then concluded by saying, “You must have done these kinds of things. That’s why God is punishing you.”
What do we get from all of this? The problem of why the righteous suffer is not an easy one. But it is not going to be solved by simply saying, the evil are punished and the righteous are preserved. It’s simply not true.
There is something much deeper going on, which we see in chapters 1 and 2. Namely, that there are spiritual forces that have malevolent intentions against us. Add to that the fact that we are affected by the evil that the people around us do, and we see two additional reasons for why people suffer here on earth, besides God’s punishment on those who do evil.
Why doesn’t God do more to stop these malevolent spirits and evil people? God never answers that in this book. What answers he does give will be seen later in his response to Job in the final chapters.
But the second thing to take from this is to be extremely careful about making accusations against people, especially those who are hurting. Because not only will it hurt our relationships with them, but God himself takes a dim view of people who falsely accuse others, as we will see at the end of Job.
Dealing with the issue of evil in this world, and why we and people we love suffer is not easy. But let us be careful not to deal with it as his Job’s friends did, through oversimplification and false accusations.