A Purpose in Suffering

As we cracked open our Bibles this week to the Old Testament book of Job, some of our ladies began to ask some very thought-provoking questions. One asked how we could possibly know that word for word conversations between Job and his pals are exactly word for word. Was there a little court reporter sitting in the wings, typing all the dialogue? Another question arose about the sovereignty of God and why the Old Testament paints him in a sometimes terrifying way while the New Testament paints him in a more gentle, loving way. I love all of these questions because it means that we are digging deep in God’s Word, not just scratching the surface. If you’d like to study Job with us, I have plenty of extra books you’re welcome to purchase. It’s easy to follow along on the blog and study on your own! I hope you’ll join us in digging deep into this story of a righteous man who had everything stripped from him and had to decide if he would stick with God or turn away.

We started our study with the basic facts of Job. This book was most likely set in the time of the patriarchs – think Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order. If it were, Job would most likely be found early in between the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Job and his peers lived in the land of Uz, which today is the northern portion of Saudi Arabia. While no one knows exactly who wrote it, it was probably passed down orally for a while before it was written down. (This is what birthed the question about the little court reporter!) We can’t discount the fact that all Scripture is literally God-breathed. Meaning, even stories that were passed down orally, like Job or the story of Creation itself, are the literal words of Almighty God. 1 Peter 1:21 tells us how these prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they spoke and wrote the words of God.
The first and last sections of Job are written as prose, like a story being told. But the many chapters in between can be read as poetry. Many scholars believe that this is because of the way the book of Job was passed down orally over the generations. Poetry was easier to remember!
So why is this book included in the Scriptures? What purpose does it serve? There are several purposes. Old Testament Law was set up with a system of justice and fairness – an eye for an eye, if I kill your donkey, you can kill my donkey, etc. Job shows us that this is not always the case anymore- a new way is coming. We can never atone for our sins on our own – Someone would need to pay the price. This changes the whole system of “justice”. Second, the book of Job shows us the absolute sovereignty of God. Nothing that happened to Job happened without God specifically allowing it. Every single detail passed through his fingers before it came to Job. God is sovereign over all.
As we looked at Job 1:1-5, we discovered the character of Job – noble, upright, righteous, wealthy, rich, the greatest of all the people in the east. Job feared God and turned away from evil. And yet in the middle of his great worldly prosperity, Satan took it all away from him.
Before we go any farther, I want to acknowledge that many of you today are in the midst of painful situations. Maybe you’ve just gone through a painful time or maybe you’re in one now. If that doesn’t describe you then you can be sure that your painful time is coming. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the reasons for your pain and I’m certainly not trying to make assumptions about what you’re going through. If you’re hurting, I’m so sorry. I hope that our study of the book of Job will bring you comfort and encouragement.
As we read Scripture, we must remember that this is a book about GOD. Don’t read Job and immediately ask yourself how it relates to you. Instead, ask yourself “What does this say about GOD?” If we come at Scripture from this stance, it shines an entirely different light on every single thing, including suffering. Here’s what we can learn from the first chapter of Job. 
Your suffering has a purpose.
When it comes to suffering, there are two very similar purposes:
1.     Satan desires to destroy your faith.
2.     God desires to strengthen your faith.
When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your faith will either be strengthened or destroyed. Here’s the key: the direction your faith takes in suffering will depend largely upon the strength of your faith beforethe storm ever comes. That means the time you spend with the Lord now, when everything is fine, will have a large impact on the strength of your faith when trials come. The stronger your faith when things are going well, the stronger your faith will be when things are going badly. What will happen to your faith when the trials come? Will it be strengthened or destroyed? 
Another theme I see emerging in the book of Job is this:
Suffering always reveals who and what you worship.

Where is your treasure? In chapter one of Job, we see the most prosperous man in the east lose everything he holds dear. Yet in his grief, he worships. How can this be that in the midst of incredible pain and suffering, Job worshiped? This man valued God above his possessions, even above his children. He was ready to weather the storm because he had not put his possessions or his children or any other thing in the place that only God was meant to occupy in his heart. God was already on the throne of Job’s heart, so when everything fell away, Job’s faith in God remained steadfast.
That is not to say Job didn’t hurt. He tore his robes and shaved his head! He truly grieved over the losses he experienced. But in grieving the loss of his livelihood and his children, he didn’t sin. In his despair he remained true to the One who is Faithful and True.
As you read and study the book of Job, keep one thing at the forefront of your mind. This book, despite its name, is not about Job. This book is about God. What can we learn about His character through this book? Who is He? What are His attributes? What is He like? Why is He trustworthy?Remember, the whole Bible is about GOD and it was written so that we can know Him better. A benefit to knowing Him better is that we will rest in the shadow of his wings as the storms swirl around us.

I’d like to close with something from my own time with the Lord. Read Psalm 18. As you read this passage, ask yourself what this says about God. You’ll find so many attributes of our great God that I hope it will leave you hungry for more.

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