January 31 – Job 4:1-9
Considering we’re in a series on suffering, we had to arrive at this question eventually: why do we suffer? Perhaps you’ve even felt this personally during this series—why do I suffer? As a disclaimer, we will not provide a full answer to this question, and interestingly, neither does the book of Job. Read the whole book and you’ll see, no specific reason for Job’s suffering is given.
At least, no legitimate reason. In our text for this week, Job’s friend, Eliphaz, tries to give a reason Job’s suffering. Even in his dramatic speech, Eliphaz’s basic principle shows through, “Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”(4:8) According to Eliphaz, those who sin incur suffering, so if you’re suffering, it’s because you’ve sinned. Much later in Job, Eliphaz will accuse Job of specific sins, assuming he must’ve done something wrong to bring all this suffering on his own head (22:1-11).
We might disagree with this position outright, but practically speaking, most of us operate according to this principle in our day-to-day, particularly when things are going well for us. This explains why we’re often so shocked and disoriented when God allows suffering to come into our lives. We’ll pray things like, “Why God? I thought we were good. What did I do to deserve this? I thought I was doing a good job. Aren’t I your child? I thought you loved me.” If, when we suffer, our relationship with God suddenly feels on the rocks, then it’s likely because we were holding the passive assumption that God will keep us from suffering. If we’re suddenly left wondering where we stand with God, it’s because we assumed our standing with him was being earned. If we doubt God’s fairness or justice, it betrays the fact that we’ve been treating our relationship with him as transactional. Simply put, if suffering disrupts our faith, it’s likely because our faith was based on our circumstances.
To be clear, this isn’t to say that suffering shouldn’t affect us deeply. Read the Psalms and you’ll see a multitude of ways in which grief is totally legitimized within a Biblical understanding. The real indicative is when suffering causes us to doubt or question God’s character, particularly his love for us, his sovereignty, and his plan.
This also doesn’t mean there’s zero relationship between sin and suffering. According to Genesis 3:14-19, mankind and all of creation is cursed because of sin. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, sin, suffering, and death entered the world. Because of sin we have illness and disease (3:19), our work is often filled with hardship and futility (3:18), and our relationships are fraught with tensions (3:16). Furthermore, certain sins can bring about temporal suffering—for example, murder incurs civil punishment, while abusing your body with drugs can cost you your health or life. So in a general sense we can say that all suffering is due to sin; because of sin, suffering and death entered the world (Rom. 5:12). And specifically, certain sins can directly lead to suffering.
And yet, not all suffering is directly tied to a sin. Take for instance the blind man in John 9:1-3. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” This foreshadows Jesus’ own death on the cross; though he was perfectly innocent, God chose to let Jesus bear the suffering of our sin. In these two situations, the individual’s sin or lack thereof didn’t directly bring about suffering. And yet God, by permitting suffering in both instances, was glorified when he produced mercy through suffering.
We’ll take another look at 1 Peter 2:19-25 this week to see how Jesus’ suffering, despite his innocence, can help us make sense of when we suffer. Peter encourages us to bear with suffering, pointing out that following a suffering savior calls us to a life of suffering too. That being the case, followers of Jesus should make every effort to develop our theology of suffering, not so that we can think our way out of it, but so that we can remain faithful through it. Ultimately, “the secret things belong to the LORD our God,” (Deut. 29:29), and the reason behind much of the suffering in the world will remain a mystery to us. Thus the most pressing question behind suffering isn’t one of circumstance, “why?” but one of God’s character, “can the Lord be trusted?”
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Job 4:1-9 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• Eliphaz claims that if you suffer, it’s because you’ve sinned (v.8). What do you think about that?
• What relationship exists between sin and suffering?
• When you are suffering or grieving, what is your interaction with God typically like?
• Could someone read 1 Peter 2:19-25 again? (we read it two weeks ago) How does this help us understand the relationship between sin and suffering?
• How can this text in 1 Peter help you worship God even in the midst of suffering?