Why Do the Righteous Suffer?

February 2, 2014 / No. 3709

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we begin a series of messages on the book of Job by looking at Job chapter 1.
We do not know who wrote this book or when exactly it was written. It is considered to be the oldest written book in the Bible, and is believed to have occurred during the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land of Uz, where Job was from, was located to the East of Canaan.
The book of Job deals with the age-old question of human suffering, but does this from a believer’s perspective. The question is not general, Why is there evil in this world? but rather, Why do the righteous suffer? Why do God’s people suffer? Ultimately, this a question about God: Why does God bring suffering into the lives of His people?
In answer to this question, the book of Job presents an astounding doctrine of God as the absolute sovereign, who is just and good in all that He brings into the lives of His people. In this proper biblical view of God we find the answer to the suffering of God’s people. The answer cannot be found without reference to God, and must not come from an emotional response to the pain of human experience.
In many ways, Job chapter one gives us the thesis or summary of the entire book. It introduces us to Job, a just man; it tells us of the intense suffering that came on Job; and it gives us the keys to understanding suffering so that we respond to it in a godly way.
In this chapter we see, first of all, the man Job.
Verse 1 describes Job’s character by saying that he was “perfect and upright.” This does not mean that Job was sinless, for the Bible tells us clearly that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It does mean, however, that Job was spiritually mature, and that he was a man of unparalleled piety. Here was a man of integrity who was meticulous in his walk with God.
The foundation for Job’s piety is explained in the next words in verse one, “He feared God and eschewed (or hated) evil.” To fear God is to respect who He is, to honor what He says, and to embrace what He does. It is not the cringing fear of one who is terrified, but the loving reverence of a child before his father, a respect that leads to obedience. Fearing God, Job hated evil, because all that is evil is against God. Job realized that one cannot live a double life, and so he was constantly on the watch for sin, living a life of repentance, and putting away sin.
The godliness of Job comes out in this chapter in two ways.
First, Job was a man who took seriously his family responsibilities. How a man behaves in his private and family life is the real measure of his godliness. Publicly he may put on a good front, but how does he live at home, and how seriously does he take his covenant responsibilities?
Job is the father of ten grown children, seven sons and three daughters. Even though these children were grown and had families of their own, they were obviously a close-knit family, who loved each other’s company, and so in turn they had a family gathering in each of their homes. This in itself speaks well of the way Job had raised them. Whenever his children had these gatherings, verse five tells us, Job would spend the day making sacrifices for each of his children, and praying for them, for, said Job, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Two things are notable in those words of Job. 1) Job knew that his children were sinners who were susceptible to temptation, and 2) he prayed for them even though they had not committed any open sin—his concern was that even in their hearts they may have sinned against God.
Secondly, Job proved his godliness in the way he handled his earthly possessions. Job was an extremely wealthy man. In those days, a man’s wealth was measured by his property and possessions and the number of servants he employed. In verse three we learn that Job had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 1,000 oxen, 500 donkeys, and more servants than anyone else in the area. He was renowned for his wealth. Wealth always presents the temptation of being drawn away from God. Psalm 62:10 warns us, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” But this did not happen with Job. He acknowledged that all he had was given to him by God (verse 21—the Lord gave) and he used it generously to care for the needy (Job 4:1-4 and 29:12-17). There was no sin in Job’s being rich, and Job did not sin in the possession or use of his riches. How different from so many who are wealthy today. Because he feared God, and hated evil, he was very careful in the possession of his wealth.
Job’s godliness also received the approval of God. When God from heaven looked down on man, and saw Job, He was pleased. In verse 8, speaking to Satan, God himself says, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Is that what God would say of you?
Looking at all that is said of the man Job, we see his impeccable godliness. The Bible describes Job to us this way, not just as an example for us to follow, but to teach us that God’s people, godly people, do and will suffer in this world, to teach us that suffering is a reality for every one of God’s people. Becoming a Christian and believing in Jesus Christ do not give you an exemption from suffering. One of the popular heresies of our day, the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity gospel as it is known, is completely wrong here, and gives Christians a false hope. God’s blessings to the saved do not come in the form of earthly prosperity. Salvation does not mean we are freed from the pains of human life. Job was an upright man, who feared God, and yet he experienced unparalleled suffering in his life.
The initial bout of suffering that came on Job was sudden and enormous. In one day, Job was stripped of his wealth and bereaved of his ten children. In Job 1 we have a blow by blow account of Job’s suffering, as one messenger after another comes to tell Job that he has lost everything.
This dramatic description is set against the backdrop of verse 13, which tells us that on this day Job’s children were gathered in the home of their oldest brother eating and drinking wine. While they are eating together and having a good time, as we would expect, Job is on his knees in prayer for them. If we would look out Job’s window, we would see his servants busily working with the oxen turning over the soil, we would see the donkeys grazing quietly in the fields, we would see the flocks of white sheep on the hillsides, and we would hear the servants bustling around the camels as they load another export to be carried across the mountains. Everything on Job’s estate is running smoothly. It is a normal day.
Suddenly, Job receives a knock on his door that will forever change his life. In rapid-fire succession, Job receives bad news. One messenger tells him of an attack on the servants working in the fields; the donkeys and oxen were all stolen, and all the servants killed. The next messenger tells of lightning from heaven that burned up the flocks of sheep and their shepherds. The third of an attack from the Chaldeans in which all the camels were stolen, and the servants murdered. And, as Job is trying to come to grips with all this, the fourth servant bursts in with news of the sudden and catastrophic death of all his children in a fierce tornado that exploded the house of his oldest son where they were feasting.
We have to pause here and picture the scene. Just imagine! No, you say, “I can’t imagine.” The Bible carefully gives us the details so that we may have a sense of the enormity and suddenness of these calamities. All his hard earned labor is gone in a flash and his heart is emptied in the loss of his entire family of children. All in one day. What a devastating blow! We picture Job reeling as he receives the news, sitting numbed in disbelief, sobbing with his face in his pillow. Job, like us, was a real person. A man of like passions to us. He was not superhuman. Verse 20 describes for us the overwhelming grief of Job; we read, “Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground.” Here is a shattered man. Here is a man pierced through with pain.
He arose—that implies that he had fallen down to the ground at the news. Now he peels himself off the ground.
He rent his mantle. The mantle is the outer garment, the clean warm covering of the body, your presentation to others—your best suit. The tearing of the mantle is the action of a man in anguish, an announcement of utter grief and devastation.
He shaved his head. Hair in the Bible is always presented as a man’s glory. Shaving the head, therefore, is a symbol of the loss of all personal glory.
And he fell down upon the ground again.
Maybe some of us know some of Job’s pain, but I doubt that any have experienced such loss in one day. The Bible is teaching us here a very important lesson. God’s people do suffer, and sometimes their suffering is intense and extreme. As Job says later, in Job 14:1-2: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.” Grief and pain are a part of our life in this world and in themselves are not wrong. Verse 22, “In all this Job sinned not.” Troubles will come to us in life that will tear us apart and render us weak and helpless. This is the truth of God’s Word here.
But why? If you have your Bibles open to Job 1, you will notice that I skipped over verses 6-12. I did that on purpose, because I wanted you to see Job’s suffering first from his earthly perspective. In those intervening verses, we get a glimpse into heaven and a conversation between God and Satan, but Job did not see that, and so from Job’s perspective there is no answer to the question, why?
And that is the first and most important thing that we must understand when we go through the trials and sufferings of life. From our perspective, there is not always an answer. God does not always tell us the reason for our suffering. Yes, there are reasons, we are going to see what some of those are in a minute, but specific to our situation, and from our earthly perspective, we cannot and do not always know God’s reasons and purposes. There is a part of it that is always hidden from us, shrouded in the mystery of the will of God.
In the end, this is the main lesson in the book of Job. When Job’s friends come to him and tell him that there must be some sin in his life that is the cause of his suffering, Job begins to probe more deeply into the reason for his suffering and puts the question to God, and God finally answers him with a rebuke. In Job chapters 38-41 God interrogates Job and helps him to understand his place as a mere man before God. God asks, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” and continues with question after question in the same manner, hammering away at the inferiority of man, emphasizing to Job that there are so many things that man does not know and that man cannot do, that God does know and can do.
Finally, in chapter 40:2, God says to Job, “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?” And a humbled Job stops demanding answers from God for His misery, and says, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; Yea twice, but I will proceed no further.” And then again, for two more chapters God continues to contrast His own almighty power with the impotence of Job, till finally Job confesses that God’s ways are too wonderful for him to comprehend. He says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4-5).
What is striking, in the entire book of Job, is that God nowhere directly answers Job’s questions. He does not say, “Job, here is the reason that you have suffered.” Rather, in Job’s suffering, He answers Job with Himself. He gives Job a robust and exalted theology. And this is wisdom for the believer in his suffering—not the answer to why I have to suffer in a particular way, but who is God?
And now, going back to chapter one, we see a second reason for our suffering: the sovereignty of God. Why did Job suffer? Because God sovereignly willed it. We see this, especially, in the conversation of Satan with God, in which God takes the initiative, asking Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job? It was God, and not Satan, who initiated Job’s suffering. And Satan himself acknowledges God’s sovereignty when he says to God, “But put forth thine hand now and touch all that he hath.” Satan could not so much as lift a finger to touch Job, apart from the sovereign will of God. That is clear also in God’s control of the specifics of Job’s trials. First God says to Satan, “You may put forth your hand against all Job has, but you may not touch him,” and then later, “Behold, he is in thy hand; but save his life.” Satan was given permission to be the agent of Job’s suffering, but God set the bounds on what he could and could not do to Job. And what this tells us is that God is intimately involved in the details of our suffering. It may be that someone you know devises evil against you, it may be that you fall sick with a disease, but both the people who hurt you and the sickness that racks your body with pain are limited by the sovereign control of God. God does not suffer us to be tempted or tried above that we are able.
Another reason for our suffering is the testing of our faith. Satan certainly wants to test us. His accusation is that Job feared God only because of the good things that God had given him. Satan says to God, “Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made a hedge about him? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” The substance of Satan’s accusation is that faith is not real, that people believe and trust in and worship God only because God has given them good things. That the faith God has given us by the work of His Holy Spirit is not strong enough to endure the trials of life. But in the trials of His people God proves otherwise. He puts us through trials to increase our faith, to make it stronger through troubles. One of my favorite verses in the book of Job is found in chapter 23 verse 10, where Job says, “But he knoweth the way that I take, when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” The trials are sent by God to strengthen us, to mature us, to refine us, to increase our faith in Him. Whenever a believer goes through a trial he will always find that God by His grace supplies the necessary strength. As God said to Paul, who asked to be delivered from his trial, “My grace is sufficient.” A believer will come out stronger on the other side. Satan will try to shake us and tempt us to forsake God, but God will not leave us, and through the trial will draw us closer to Himself.
And that points us to another reason for our suffering—the goodness of God. In His sovereignty, God is always good and merciful to His people. Jesus teaches us that not a hair can fall from our head without the will of our heavenly Father. The trials we experience come from our father. Sometimes they are sent to chasten us, other times they are sent to strengthen us, but always they are sent from the loving hand of God. We must never suppose that God intends evil against us, and whenever we do, that is a sinful reaction to the trials God sends. In Psalm 77 the psalmist questions the goodness of God, asking, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? (Ps. 77:7-9). And then he says, No, those questions arose from my infirmity, from my sinful human nature. God’s promise is that “All things work together for good to them that love him” (Rom. 8:28). These are things we must believe, by faith, and they will come only when we have a proper view of the sovereignty of God.
So, what are the reasons that the righteous suffer? Well, we do not always know the exact reasons, but we do know that God is Sovereign, that God is good and loving, and that He will use them for our spiritual profit and growth in grace.
And knowing and believing these things, we will learn to respond as Job did at the end of this chapter, in verse 21. Job says, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In these words Job acknowledges the sovereignty, the justice, and the goodness of God. His response is a response of worship, in which he falls down before God, fixes his eyes on eternity, and acknowledges that everything he once had was a gift to him, not something he deserved. He came into this world naked and empty, and he will leave it the same way, and in between the Lord gives and takes, according to His sovereign goodness. And because of this, Job worships!