The question Job faces is this: “Will Job serve the Lord for nothing when evil comes upon Him?” Job is never told why he is suffering or going through what he is — even by the Lord when He speaks to Job. Ultimately, the Book of Job and the Old Testament Wisdom Books simply call readers to submit to the Lord humbly.
Job is not finally given an answer to the problem of evil, nor is his question of why everything is happening to him ultimately answered. What is answered is God has His purposes for His children who are experiencing suffering.
Suffering exists because we live in a post-Genesis three world, where the Creation is cursed, and people are sinners by nature (Psalm 51), and choice (Romans 3:23; 6:23), and in need of the Lord who alone can save (Ephesians 2:8).
The Real Purpose of Job
The Book of Job calls Christians to trust in the Lord humbly. Whether during pain, suffering, or agony, the Lord will sustain His people through it all for His purposes and glory. Job was humbled by the Lord when He revealed Himself to Job (Job 42:5-6). Like Moses and Isaiah, it was God’s visible glory that humbled Job (Job 42:5-6).
Job received a reply, not to his question, “What is happening to me,” but an answer to the Who: God! Even so, the Lord never told him about why he was suffering. Job did receive confirmation that suffering is not always for sin, despite his friends’ insistence to the contrary, which is evidenced by the restoration of his blessings in Job 42:12-17.
In the story of Job, the Lord reveals His omnipotence in contrast to Job’s finite understanding and powerless as a created being. Additionally, the Lord’s infinite knowledge is contrasted with Job’s limited human perspective.
A Commentary on Human Suffering
While there may be many Theodicies (from the Greek word Theos (“God”) and the root dik (“just”) found within its pages, Job has more to say about how the problem of evil and suffering are dealt with than the problem itself. Bible readers can inspect Job’s example and should conclude that justice prevailed in the end because God not only made restitution to Job, but he found himself more abundantly blessed than he had been before his suffering.
Job’s affliction served as a discipline and worked to transform him into an even more righteous man. In other words, pain (in this situation) led to the greater good. Even the well-reasoned explanation of his suffering would have been wholly insufficient to Job amid his agony as the concrete problem of evil demands more than an abstract, philosophical answer. For this reason, despite the counsel of his three “friends,” Job cries out to God himself for a suitable explanation (Job 31:35).
Job Serves as a Critique of Theodicy
The Book of Job serves more as a critique of theodicy than a source of theodicy. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar defended God’s justice, often with very logical arguments and rational reasoning, and yet, God said of them in the end, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
The Lord’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind was. “Who is this that darkens counsel,” he asks, “by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). As God begins to question Job, He reveals Job’s ignorance and limitations of understanding: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). The entirety of God’s answer to Job is designed to emphasize man’s utter weakness and inability to comprehend the things of God.
Job recognizes that he lacks the wisdom to make sense of his suffering but finds comfort in how the Lord’s ways are above his understanding. If we use this lens to examine the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, it becomes evident why the Lord accuses them of speaking falsely.
Job’s friends boast of knowledge and understanding, but do not have any, nor do they honestly understand why Job is suffering. Furthermore, they hide behind their arguments as a means of avoiding the actual responsibility of a friend: Comforting the one who suffers.
The Lord’s speech to Job could be used to construct a theodicy based on the sovereignty of God; the clay has no right to question its potter (Romans 9:20-21). It would be imprudent though to take this argument and use it to escape the command to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
It was the three friends’ obsession with theodicy that rendered them “miserable comforters” to Job (Job 16:2). The tendency here is to reduce evil and suffering to a purely rational problem, especially a problem to which one claims to possess the solution. The main problem with that view is the book of Job criticizes this position precisely.
Suffering to Get People’s Attention
While Christians should be cautious about claiming to identify God’s purposes behind specific incidents of injustice and suffering, the Bible does reveal insight into how God uses evil and suffering. God may use evil and suffering to get an unbeliever’s attention and ultimately to draw the person to Himself (Zechariah 13:7-9; Luke 13:1-15; John 9).
Evil and suffering can also shock people out of their indifference to spiritual things, and sometimes even out of their false sense of control. In this way, problems may be used by God’s grace to bring a person to saving faith in Christ. As C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain so eloquently put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Suffering Can Be Used for Fatherly Discipline
God may use the results of evil and suffering to build the moral and spiritual character of His people or to express fatherly discipline (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 10:35; 12:4-11). Courage is forged only through facing one’s fears, just as steel must be refined by fire. For faith to grow, it often has to be tested by fire. God expresses more concern for His children than for their comfort.
Therefore, God uses evil and suffering to facilitate the believer’s moral and spiritual maturity. The Apostle Paul, who endured much evil and suffering, explains the relationship between suffering and character in Romans 5:3, “But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
A loving earthly father disciplines his children. Though unpleasant at the time, discipline is crucial to a child’s growth as a responsible person. God similarly allows evil and suffering to bring about discipline in the lives of His children. As the writer of Hebrews declares, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7).
The assuring guarantee for the Christian is that God does not allow evil and suffering to come into their lives without producing a greater good. Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
What Does This Mean?
Facing evil and suffering are never pleasant, but every Christian can take heart because Jesus and the Apostles taught that we would face suffering (John 15:21; 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 2 Timothy 3:12). Amid our suffering, we look to Jesus, the author, and the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Christians are indwelt and empowered for the mission of making disciples who make disciples with the full authority of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20). Take heart, dear Christian, the Lord is with you (Hebrews 13:5; 9) and His promises are yes and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.