Saints Who Suffered (3): Job—Suffering in the Unknown

Why? The waves of confusion ebb and flow. They cloud your thinking and become physical. Pins-and-needles bubble in your joints and leave you weak. Sitting in the dark doesn’t help and doing anything just seems fruitless. When trials come, there are few things as debilitating as the waiting and the unknown. Such was the experience of dear Job, a man who suffered for reasons beyond his natural abilities. Job’s troubles are more relevant than ever to today’s Christian, and there are lessons in this eponymous book, our Bible’s oldest story.

Recounting the Scene

The circumstances are unusual, even by OT standards. An honorable man is singled out by supernatural forces, and a test is issued by his great enemy, the Devil. Allowed by God, Job’s world was pressed hard by the putrid hand of Satan himself (Job 1:12; 2:6).

Job was attacked from without and within and pushed to emotional and physical limits without warning. In a single staggering blow, his children, possessions and livelihood are lost to raiders and catastrophe. Unshaken before God, but barely recovered, Job’s skin is left crawling and raw from a Satanic strike. Even this doesn’t push Job to sin before God; he is indeed a remarkable man.

True to character, Satan incites others to fan the chapters of pain and suffering he kindled. In perhaps his most wrenching trial, Job’s friends spend the bulk of the book employing the character of God like a weapon. They test his spiritual limits and the accusations fly:

“You can’t be innocent, Job,” argues Eliphaz. “What have you done?”

“You need to repent, Job! You’re the problem here, or there wouldn’t be all this trouble.”

Zophar thunders, “You’re full of talk, and you deserve what you’re getting!”

“The light of wicked people like you should be extinguished!”

Volley after volley, Job defends his innocence and righteousness before God and vents his exasperation as to how he got here. He truly doesn’t know why he’s suffering. In chapter 32, Elihu sets the stage that will ultimately give Job the answers he seeks. More than the three friends, this young man points Job to the character of God. Aware of the pain and suffering, he exalts God and exhorts Job: “Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14 KJV).

Finally, with divine authority, God speaks from the whirlwind. All of Job’s claims wither and he replies to the Lord, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance?’ Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.’ I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6 HCSB).

The Reality of Suffering

Suffering for things we can measure, clear rights and wrongs, is a powerful curb. We change our course, mend relationships and set things right between ourselves and God. We expect Satan to kick at God’s work. But suffering for things we can’t sort out, like Job in desolation, fosters real despair. Job’s laments are filled with doubt, anxiety, fear, longing and confusion. This emotional suffering stirs the physical, draining the will and amplifying pain. The image of Job sitting in ashes and scraping his skin with broken pottery says it all. Studying his hollow eyes, listless sighs and broken spirit, even his opinionated friends held their tongues for a week.

Job feared God. His story tells us he wanted what was right and holy. He worshipped often, and he knew his Lord (Job 1:1,5). There were promises, hedges and blessings. God was his friend (Job 29:4). Given their closeness, it’s no wonder that he feels abandoned and hopeless when he can’t sense God in the darkness. Everything Job knew told him God was there in the gloom, but where? No one can see in this murk. There are no reassuring words; his cries echo in the silence. The temptation to give up on it all – his hope, himself, even his God – looms large. This is the reality of suffering in the unknown, and no one is immune.

The Response of the Sufferer

Twice over God points and says, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8; 2:3). There seems to be a deep satisfaction concerning Job in the heart of God. My servant. Surely these trials, bad as they were, were not the first to accost God’s servant. Here, through greater pain and loss, in the unknown, Job endured. He had always placed his confidence in God, and he would not give up on Him now. “See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord” (Jas 5:11 HCSB).

Another of the striking things about Job’s experience is that while he would not give up on God, Job did give up on his own senses. The way he knew, spoke, heard, saw and felt the world around him failed because of sin. It clouded his response to God: “I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … I had heard rumors … but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent” (Job 42:3-6 HCSB).

When Job lifted his eyes from his own experience and acknowledged God, it changed everything! “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 HCSB). Leaving his feelings behind, his peace and recovery came from God alone.

The Result of the Strife

In our own experience, when struggling with why trials come, we’ve come to repeat the simple phrase “God is God, and that’s ok.” Perhaps a crude thing, it’s a reminder of what Job learned: that we, our understanding and our feelings pale before the Almighty. In fact, they can become a snare to us and distract us from Him, the All-Sufficient One. Someone has said, perhaps by misunderstanding Scripture, that God will not give you more than you can handle. Maybe Job learned, and we can learn as well, that God will not give us more than He can handle.  Beloved, when the unknown floods our souls, we endure by knowing the God who is always good and always right. He is always there for the believer in the darkness.