On November 5, 2006, a car was traveling recklessly near Lynchburg, Virginia. Simultaneously, Andy and Linda Barrick were driving home from church with their two children, Jen and Josh, when the drunk driver of the speeding car struck them head-on. Each member of the Barrick family sustained life-threatening injuries. Fifteen-year-old Jen was not expected to live through the night. However, God miraculously intervened. With traumatic brain injuries and multiple skull fractures, Jen lay in a coma for five weeks before she woke up and began her long recovery process.[i]
How can a loving God allow people that He created to endure suffering? That is a question for the ages. The problem of pain and suffering in the world presents an irreconcilable challenge to many people’s faith. For some, this problem is personal not philosophical. Does the reality of pain and suffering stand in the way of your faith in God? If it does, you are not alone.
The Man from Uz
Welcome to the Old Testament book of Job. It should not surprise us that one of the Bible’s oldest books addresses an age-old question about suffering. Job tells the story of a wealthy man who likely lived during the patriarchal period of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in the land of Uz, southeast of the Dead Sea (Lamentations 4:21). In a cosmic contest between God and Satan, Job loses his wealth, health, and family (1-2).
After Job affirms his faith in God (1:21, 2:9-10), he sits with his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—while they take turns debating the reasons why Job is suffering (3-38). A young man named Elihu joins in the conversation in chapter 32. Finally, God breaks His silence and answers Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (38:2-3). For the next several chapters, God takes Job on a tour of the universe and puts his human suffering into divine perspective (38-42).
While the problem of pain and suffering affects the world broadly, the book of Job answers the narrower question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” In other words, why do bad things happen to God’s people? Job was a good man who received the Lord’s highest commendation. God asks 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” (1:8). Of all people, why would Job suffer?
Sin and the fallen world in which we live answers the broader question about pain and suffering. Suffering was never part of God’s original plan. He is not a sadistic deity who enjoys inflicting pain on those created in His image. He is our heavenly Father, not a little boy who fries ants on the sidewalk with his magnifying glass. Nor is God the evil boy in the movie Toy Story who does horrid things to his toys.
However, God created us with free will. He knows that we will suffer the consequences of our poor moral choices and that such sinful choices have a ripple effect. One person’s sinful choice affects another, and so on. Imagine billions of sinful people making selfish choices, generation after generation, and you begin to understand why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. Furthermore, in a fallen world, the whole creation groans (Romans 8:22). Even nature is hostile in a world broken by sin. As Milton said, we live in paradise lost, not paradise.
The skeptic still concludes that if God is powerful enough to prevent suffering but does not, then He must not care. Or, if God wants to prevent pain but cannot, then He is not all-powerful. The book of Job presents an alternative, a God who is both all-powerful and immensely compassionate but who allows suffering for His wise purposes, which mere humans with limited knowledge cannot comprehend.
The Accuser of the Saints
The book of Job opens with Satan, the accuser of the saints, in the presence of God.[ii] After Satan admits “going to and fro on the earth,” the Lord asks him to consider Job, a righteous man (1:8). Satan challenges the underlying assumption that Job fears God for all the right reasons. “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:9-11). God gives Satan the freedom to test Job.
First comes news that the Sabeans and the Chaldeans raided Job’s many livestock. Another reported that fire fell from heaven and burned up Job’s sheep and servants. Still, another brought the worst news Job cold ever hear. All ten of Job’s children died in a tornado. How does a man of God respond to such news? Amazingly, the Bible says, “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” (1:20-22).
Job’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day gets worse. Chapter 2 reveals a second interaction between God and Satan where the devil ups the ante. “‘Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life” (2:4-6). This time, Satan attacks Job “with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). Job’s wife sees her pathetic husband scraping his sores and says, “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:9-10). However, Job did curse the day he was born (3:1-26). Can you blame him?
The Consolation of Job’s Friends
Seven characters appear in the book of Job: Job, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, Elihu, God, and Satan. The bulk of the book (3-37) contains counsel from three older men who heard of Job’s troubles and traveled from a distance to console him (2:11-13). Although well-intended, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sound like know-it-alls who lack compassion and empathy. Like Job, they are limited in their knowledge about life and theology. Moreover, their dogmatic rhetoric suggests they are blind to God’s ways.
Job’s friends have much in common, including a narrow theology that believes all calamity results from personal sin. In that way, they remind me of the disciples who asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Like a trio of tenors in perfect harmony, Job’s friends sing the same sorry song. Then, quickly, their consolation turns into polite contention. Sometimes their words are like arrows piercing Job’s heart.
While similar in their philosophy of pain and suffering, each of Job’s friends proposes their own unique angle on Job’s angst. Following Job’s initial lament (3:1-26), Eliphaz speaks first, perhaps because he is the oldest and perceived to be the wisest. [iii] Not surprisingly, he relies heavily on his personal life experience, using phrases like “as I have seen” and “as for me.”
For example, with an air of politeness, Eliphaz quips, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:8). In other words, “Job, you got yourself into this mess!” From his personal school of hard knocks, Eliphaz also shared, “Man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward” (5:7). He is full of pithy phrases that post well on social media but lack theological depth. Besides, someone should tell Eliphaz that too much reliance on one’s personal life experience ignores the fact that everyone’s experience is limited.
Bildad’s bloviated speeches appear in chapters 8, 18, and 25. He is more direct and less courteous than Eliphaz. He begins, “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” (8:1). Specifically speaking, “Job, you are a giant windbag full of words you should keep to yourself!” Who needs a friend like Bildad?
Unlike Eliphaz, Bildad relies upon long-established and inherited ways of thinking. Tradition and customs compel him. For example, he implores Job, “For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?” (8:8-10). Bildad appears to draw from the writings of ancient sages from the east, quoting them at length in 18:5-21.
Bildad would have found ease and comfort in the company of the Pharisees, whom Jesus crisscrossed by taking aim at the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:8-9). Job discovered there is nothing worse than being lectured by a Pharisee like Bildad.
Zophar speaks last among the trio of Job’s friends.[iv] His words have a shaper edge. He begins rudely, “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right? Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?” (11:2-3)
Zophar is the guy who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but he is absolutely sure that everything he knows is correct. For example, he says to Job, “Know then that God exacts from you less than your guilt deserves” (11:6a) and “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth (20:4). In other words, “Job, everybody knows this except you!” Zophar leaves no room for discussion, or another’s opinion. Words like rigid, narrow, bigot, dogmatist, radical, fanatic, and intolerant describe Zophar. He is a true believer but of things he knows nothing about.
A break occurs in chapter 32 when Elihu enters the dialogue. Elihu is a young man who offers the perspective of someone with less life experience than Eliphaz. However, he speaks with more passion and rage than either Bildad or Zophar. He is angry at Job for justifying himself, and he resents how the elder statemen left the matter of Job’s suffering unresolved, although they declared Job was wrong (32:1-5). Elihu’s discourse fills up six chapters, which is why some people view him as bigheaded, verbose, and full of hot air.
However, despite his bombastic nature, Elihu does lift the conversation about suffering to a level higher than his contemporaries did. He does not have the mind of God on the matter, but he does speak about the need for humility (35:13, 37:14-24) and patience (35:15) when tested by life’s trials.
The Voice from the Whirlwind
If one can endure the rhetorical ramblings of Job’s friends plus Elihu, chapters 38-42 arrive as a whiff of spring air. Finally, God speaks. However, when God speaks, He does so like a tornado rolling across the Texas Panhandle. He basically tells Job to sit down, shut up, and listen. If the book of Job was a collection of mere human reasonings on suffering instead of divine revelation, we should expect God to answer all of Job’s questions. However, He does the opposite.
During the next four chapters (129 verses), God questions Job, starting with, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (38:4-7). Simply put, “Job, you don’t know what you don’t know!”
That was enough to put Job back on his heels. But God was just getting started. He goes on to take Job on a tour through all of creation, each time posing questions for Job to consider. No answers. Just questions. Almost like a prosecuting attorney, the Lord God of heaven and earth leads Job to the appropriate conclusion through a carefully crafted rhetorical inquisition without ever revealing to him what was happening behind the scenes. The wager between God and Satan remained a mystery to Job. Otherwise, the need for faith would be negated, and that is the whole point of the book.
The space between our limited human knowledge and God’s infinite wisdom leaves room for faith, which God highly values (Hebrews 11:6). If Job knew what God knew, there would be no need for faith. If Job knew that he would be twice blessed after he endured many trials and that he would live for another one hundred and forty years, he would not learn to trust God during the hard times (42:10-17).
So, what’s the big idea we learn from this ancient book of wisdom? The big idea is also the big conclusion to Job’s story: Suffering requires humility and the patience of faith (42:1-6). Have you heard of the patience of Job? (James 5:10-11) If you lack both humility and patience during suffering, consider Job. Better yet, look to Jesus on the cross. Our Savior understands suffering fully.
Jen Barrick also provides an encouraging example. When she awakened from her coma after five weeks, she did not remember that two plus two equals four. She did not remember that she had a brother. However, she remembered the lyrics to every praise song she had learned and the words to every Bible verse she had hidden in her heart. Jen has suffered greatly, but she says, “I will never doubt my Lord and my Savior. He is the one healing me daily.”[v]
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 3, the Wisdom Books (Job through Song of Solomon) in our Store.
[i] Hope Out Loud, accessed on May 24, 2021, https://hopeoutloud.com/our-story/
[ii] This scene sheds some light on the activity of Satan in the world today. (1) God does not grant Satan access as much as the Almighty holds the devil accountable. Satan must appear before God. (2) Satan comes to accuse the righteous (Revelation 12:10). (3) Though Satan masterminds evil in the world, he does nothing without Divine permission. (4) Satan appears after “going to and fro on the earth” (Job 1:7), suggesting that he is not omnipresent. Nor is the devil omniscient or omnipotent.
[iii] Eliphaz the Temanite was one of Job’s three friends. Chapters 4-5, 15, and 22 in the book of Job record his speeches.
[iv] Zophar speaks in chapters 11 and 20, although some scholars believe 27:7-28:28 should be attributed to him. Otherwise, Zophar only speaks twice. Elihu interrupts his third speech.
[v] Hope Out Loud, ibid.