Job is not a make-believe story that happened once upon a time. He was a real man with a real family who encountered real affliction. Later in history, several prophets will quote from Job’s life as they address the needs of the people during their own difficulties. God did not remain silent at the time of Job’s suffering. At the end of the written account He questioned Job, and then in front of his friends, God validated Job for his pure heart and steadfast faithfulness. Job prayed for his friends, like the Lord told him to do, and everyone celebrated gathering at Job’s home.
And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. Job lived for another 140 years, seeing even his great-great grandchildren. Job’s time of trial was severe but he remained loyal to God and was incredibly blessed. I think his biggest blessing was seeing God. I love this little verse tucked in at the conclusion of Job’s story. Job said, “I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You.” How marvelously blessed we will be when it is our turn to see God with our own eyes! Jesus tells His followers that the pure in heart are blessed for they will see God.
Job 42:12-13 ESV
A fourth scholarly friend is a younger one named Elihu who chimes in to try to make sense of Job’s circumstance. He reflects and then claims, “If they listen and obey God, they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives. All their years will be pleasant. But if they refuse to listen to him, they will be killed by the sword and die from lack of understanding.” This response follows a familiar line of reasoning: people sin, and God’s mercy is that He shows them their sins (even if it takes a drastic situation) so that they can repent and be blessed. This is not untrue.
However, not all suffering comes directly from sin. Job is an example of a righteous person suffering. The world is a place of deep affliction and anguish for many people and suffering is not always related to choices within the control of any one individual. Jesus tells us that we will have trials and tribulations but to take heart, for He has overcome the world. Hold tight to Him in the pain. Through Jesus we too can overcome the hindrances of even deep suffering.
Job 36:11-12 NLT
Because of God’s majesty, Job chose to live his life to please God. His friends could not fathom Job’s great loss and suffering unless it was connected to sin; that was how they were able to make sense of what they knew. Job tried to tell them again that he was innocent. “…if I have seen anyone dying for lack of clothing or a needy person without a cloak, if he did not bless me while warming himself with the fleece from my sheep…then let my shoulder blade fall from my back, and my arm be pulled from its socket.” Job acted on his faith, cared for others, and was loyal to God. So why was he suffering?
It was at an Unreached Peoples conference in 2002 where Russell and I first met Simon and his sweet wife, Ai Ling. Native Singaporeans, they were passionate about God’s love and Kingdom going forth. Simon has had lupus since he was nineteen years old and he suffers bravely while continuing to live joyfully and sacrificially in spite of severe pain and medical uncertainty. Whether setting up a school to teach English in rural China, leading his house church in Singapore, or sharing God’s love in meaningful ways during his lengthy hospital stays, Simon and his family offer praise to God.
May you be as blessed as I was from reading excerpts of a correspondence he wrote at the end of 2011. “Ai Ling and I believe and want this illness for the glory of God… We do not want to waste my sickness but to make much of Him in it…We see Jesus more clearly for Who He really is since my lupus relapse… He cares about my lupus, cellulitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and every pain that I feel in my body. He cares about my anxieties and emotional stress and even how I look… Oh, how I pray that many more will know that Jesus did not come to give us an easy life, but eternal life!”
Simon is perhaps the most Job-like person that I know. His wife remains cheerful despite their many challenges. Their young daughter wants to grow up to help orphans. We often are left unsure of “why” we suffer, but we are assured of how to suffer. Simon’s response to life’s circumstances and his faithfulness to God offer perspective and hope. He lives for God’s majesty, like Job did.
P.S. Russell and I were blessed to visit Simon and his family in Singapore during the summer of 2015. His health remains unstable yet his faith is unshakable. I’m so happy to share that even while in and out of the hospital, Simon was able to complete his book, A Bruised Reed that Jesus did not Break. It is an inspirational story of his lupus and God’s glory. Those who read it will be blessed indeed.
Job 31:19-22 HCSB
Job looked back on his good life, the time before his intense suffering. “Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me…” Job lived a righteous life and he used his wealth and influence to care for his family and care for the needy people in his community. He recalled how he was highly respected among people of authority. “When they heard me, they blessed me, and when they saw me, they spoke well of me. For I rescued the poor man who cried out for help, and the fatherless child who had no one to support him. The dying man blessed me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice. I clothed myself in righteousness, and it enveloped me; my just decisions were like a robe and a turban.” Job will learn that God had not left him, but certainly those long days of testing were very hard. Remember, God is with us always. In all times, in all places, He is there. Remain faithful. If it helps, think about Job.
Job 29:4-5 NIV; Job 29:11-14 HCSB
Job’s suffering grew more intense and more personal. Painful boils covered his entire body and even his wife told him that he should curse God and die. But Job did not lose his integrity. Three scholarly friends came to visit Job and offered their theological understanding. They concluded that Job had sinned and that God was punishing him. One friend said,“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” There is truth in this statement; it just does not apply to Job’s situation. And later, God will let Job’s friends know that they were off track when it came to their accusations about Job’s life.
God’s people living in Babylonian captivity (and all who suffer unjustly now and throughout time) certainly could relate to the extreme adversity that Job faced. When suffering is upon us, each of us must choose how we will respond. If our suffering is a form of correction, we are wise and even blessed to accept the Lord’s discipline and change. If we suffer through what we feel to be unwarranted, may God give us the courage to suffer bravely. May we keep in mind that our affliction will not last forever and that God is with us during our suffering. It is interesting that I find myself today, doing edits on the entries of Job, on the heels of a three-day migraine. At times we can be very thankful that the Lord takes away. His grace saw me through another headache series, and it is during these times that I rely upon Him in more intimate ways. When the migraine is behind me, once again I’m blessed to enjoy sunlight, and noise and fully engage in the life He gives.
Job 5:17 NIV
Life became very challenging for Job. Within a few paragraphs we read that he had lost his livelihood, his servants, and each of his grown children had been killed. He was totally devastated. What would you do? How would I respond if I were Job? Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Great suffering just hit and what did Job do? He worshipped!
Job was full of sadness but his faith was strong. This is just the beginning of over forty more chapters of Job’s suffering. Until real tragedy strikes us it is hard to know how we will respond. It is wise to contemplate the truth that we live in an upside-down world and even as God’s children, we are not exempt from suffering. In fact, the New Testament teaches us that it is through our trials that maturity comes. When Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” can you picture along with me all that Job had lost? It is challenging to imagine his great loss and yet his faith is going to continue to be tested.
Job 1:20-22 ESV
The background of the story of Job is difficult to determine. His was a life of incredible suffering, tried faith, and restored blessings but the timeframe for when the book was written is hard to pinpoint. Job lived even before Abraham and it is possible that the account of his life had been passed down orally from generation to generation, each father telling his family. If ever God’s people needed a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of tremendous suffering, now was that time. Due to on-going national sin, the faithless, the unfaithful as well as those loyal to God were oppressed in Babylon and stripped of familiarity and of comfort. Turning bitter would have been easy, returning to God offered hope and the blessing of restoration.
Being reminded of Job’s life still spurs us on to much needed hope. Job’s story begins with a dialogue between God and Satan, and Satan posed this question: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t You placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” This sets the stage for what was a sobering and life-changing time for Job and for those in his sphere of influence. What did Job do when the hedge of protection around him was removed? We can learn so much from his integrity during hard times.
Job 1:9-11 HCSB