The book of Job provides a vivid illustration of the theology of suffering. In the beginning of the book, Job’s blessings are apparent. He possesses a large family, good health, many servants, flocks of multiple species of livestock, and is considered the greatest of all men in the East (Job 1.13). Job is not only cover story material for “Progressive Farmer” and “Fortune” magazines, he is more importantly a godly man, “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning from evil” (Job 1.1). In rapid succession, however, Job experiences numerous calamities. His livestock, servants, and children die, disease ravages his health, and his friends and wife become discouragers. Job wrongly believes in the retribution principle: “If a person is righteous, he will prosper; if a person is wicked, he will suffer.” The tremendous grief, loss, heartbreak, and discouragement cause Job to question his faith.
Believers and non-believers alike are often challenged by circumstances in their lives and pose the same question as Harold S. Kushner’s writing of the New York Times bestseller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” While the author’s definition of the word “good” may vary greatly from the truthful standard expressed in the Bible, the book’s popularity indicates that many people are perplexed, disappointed, and bitter because they believe that bad things happen to them undeservedly. Rather than being unfair, God’s Holy Word shows His sovereignty and provides the guidance required to accept the theology of suffering. A study of Job enables believers to understand God’s sovereignty so that they may be perfected in faith, allow their circumstances to bring glory to God, and offer hope and encouragement to believers of later generations.
To understand and appreciate Job’s suffering, a reader must first accept and acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Job’s problems arise unexpectedly and the author documents them so that readers will “have help in living through these calamities, bowing reverently and trustingly before the sovereign goodness of God.” Scripture attests to God’s rule over His creation (Gen. 1; Mark 4:35–41; Rom. 8:20–21), including Christ’s sustaining and governing of all things (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:15–17). As Creator and Lord, God has all authority and has no obligation to explain His actions to mankind. Satan, meanwhile, is hard at work creating havoc on Earth, but his power is limited. Satan must ask God’s permission to harm Job and his family (Job 1:12, 2:6).
The book of Job teaches that God’s ways are far more complex than a simple retribution principle. Readers of Job have a privileged perspective. They witness Satan’s scheming plans and his challenge to God, while Job must merely trust without knowing the reasons for his suffering. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are quick to criticize and blame Job for deserving his fate as punishment for unconfessed sin. Job’s “friends” do not grasp God’s sovereignty, incorrectly concluding that all...