Reflections on Suffering From the Book of Job

Larry J. Waters

Written by an unknown author, possibly the most ancient literary account in the Bible,1 the Book of Job is a mixture of divine and human wisdom that addresses a major life issue: Why do righteous people suffer undeservedly?2 The Book of Job is also a prime example of Hebrew wisdom literature3 that labors with the concept of theodicy,4 which is a defense of the integrity of the justice and righteousness of God in light of the evil, injustice, and undeserved suffering in the world. Some writers have suggested that theodicy is the theme of the Book of Job.5 If this is so, then the emphasis of the book is not totally on the man Job and his suffering, though he and his suffering are certainly central, but also on God Himself and His relationship to His supreme creation.

Job therefore is a book dealing with human suffering,6 even though the suffering of the innocent7 does not encompass the author’s entire purpose. It is also more than an ancient play written to portray the absurdities of life, the weaknesses of man, and the prominence of the sovereignty of God.8 The Book of Job shows that the sufferer can question and doubt,9 face the hard questions of life with faith, maintain an unbroken relationship with a loving God, and still come to a satisfactory resolution for personal and collective in- justice and undeserved suffering. These observations need to be addressed not only within the context of the suffering by the righteous man Job, but also because many believers today suffer and can identify with Job.10 As An- dersen points out, “the problem of suffering, human misery, or the larger sum of evil in all its forms is a problem only for the person who believes in one God who is all-powerful and all-loving.”11

Suffering, then, is the prominent issue that forces a consideration of the deeper questions posed by this concept, especially as it affects the lives of those who have a loving, intimate relationship with the true and living God. All the questions that relate to God, man, and Satan-justice and injustice, sovereignty and freedom, innocence and guilt, good and evil, blessing and cursing-are interwoven within the context of undeserved suffering. The Book of Job and its presentation of undeserved suffering, therefore, serves as a dependable, useful model12 for the believer of any generation in dealing with the problem of theodicy.

Is God to be held to a strict set of regulations based on human inter- pretations of His relationship with mankind? How does the Book of Job handle this question and its connection with undeserved suffering, while still demanding faith in an omnipotent, sovereign, and loving God? This study suggests several answers from the Book of Job in an attempt to (a) reveal the false theological method of Satan in regard to human suffering, and his role as the cause or “prime mover” of suffering, (b) show how the three counselors, while presenting some truth, follow a retribution13 or recompense14 theology as a method of explaining suffering that is related to Satan’s original attack on Job, (c) briefly present Elihu’s answer to Job’s suffering, (d) suggest God’s estimation of Job’s complaint and suffering, that is, a correction of the three counselors and Job himself, and (e) summarize the various lessons Job learned from his suffering.

Job is truly a wisdom book. The basic concept of wisdom has always been connected with skill and “know-how,”15 for “wisdom was the art of achieving,” and the “emphasis was on competence.”16 Wisdom (hm;k]j;/µk’j;) challenges readers to discover the “know-how” presented in the book so that they might achieve competence in dealing with the questions of suffering. From the Book of Job readers can learn how to challenge the false concepts related to suffering and how to maintain a loving and meaningful relationship, in the midst of suffering, with the sovereign God.

Only God “understands the way to [wisdom] and he alone knows where it dwells” (Job 28:23, NIV).


As Alden points out, blaming the devil for suffering is an all-too-common activity of many Christians.17 The message of Job deals not with “cause and effect”18 but with coming to the realization that “nothing happens to us that is not ultimately controlled by the knowledge, love, wisdom, and power of our God of all comfort”19 (2 Cor. 1:3). Certainly he is correct; however, this principle also often leads to blaming God for suffering. While Satan is the prime mover behind sin, evil, and suffering, it is also correct to point out that one cannot ignore the connection between Satan’s desires and God’s permitting him to carry out those desires. This friction is clearly demonstrated in the terrible troubles inflicted on Job. Satan was the cause, and Job felt the effect. God, however, was also at work in Job’s suffering. But this does not mean God is unconcerned about what happens to His people. “We must admit that God plays in a higher league than we do. His ways are far above our ways. God is greater in intellect, power, and knowledge than we are. So, His ways are usually past our finding out”20 (Job 28:23; Isa. 55:9). God does inflict suffering directly and indirectly for many different reasons: judgment, discipline, refining, and more, but Satan is behind much of human misery.

The book opens when the Accuser,21 after traveling throughout the earth, went before the throne of God. Satan challenged Job in three areas: Job’s righteousness, Job’s fear of God, and Job’s separation from sin (Job 1:8-11). Why does Job live righteously, fear God, and separate himself from sin? Satan alleged that Job fears God only because God protects and prospers him.22 The prosperity issue and its resultant retribution/recompense theology become a major focus in understanding suffering throughout the book (1:9- 10; 2:4; 5:19-26; 8:6-7; 11:17-19; 13:15-16; 17:5; 20:21-22; 22:21; 24:1- 12; 34:9; 36:11, 16; 42:10). The presentation of this false theology is there- fore found in Satan’s statements before the throne of God (chaps. 1-2), Job’s lament (chap. 3), and the three dialogue cycles involving Eliphaz and Job, Bildad and Job, and Zophar and Job (chaps. 4-31).

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