It is written:
Job 3:11-Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
The patriarch Job was a righteous man, but one who suffered greatly. When we read through the Book of Job, we are made aware quickly of the great “wager” (as some have termed it) between God and Satan regarding Job. However, there is no indication that before and during his suffering, Job had any notion of this “wager.”
The question is often asked, “Why would God make such a wager?”
While there is no indication that God explained His reasons to Job regarding the suffering that he endured, there is a profound statement of Job regarding his suffering.
Job 23:10-But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
Job here declares that he knows that God was testing him, and that when this testing was finished, he would come forth as as gold.
Several things here are worthy of careful consideration.
First, it is actually a blessing for others that God never fully explained to Job why he suffered so terribly.
“We noted above how Job’s trust and worship in continued suffering are even more moving because he remains completely ignorant of the cause of that suffering, or that it will very soon end. But at this point in the story, Job has proved beyond all doubt he serves and loves God simply for God’s own sake, irrespective of any blessing he may gain or loss he may incur because of it. This was hardly in doubt in chapters 1–2 and is absolutely obvious by the end of the book, since Job finds comfort only in God himself (42: 5), without saying anything about any possible return to the blessings of chapters 1–2. Whatever unwise and untrue things Job said about God during the debate, Job never cut off his relationship with God by cursing him; indeed, Job would not have agonized so deeply in those chapters if God had not meant so much to him. 18 Job has learned, of course, that his suffering was not due to some irrational and sinister change in God’s character, nor because of any sin in himself. But what harm could there be in revealing to Job why God allowed this tragedy, now that the ordeal has been successfully passed? Two considerations suggest themselves. First, if the machinations of the Accuser in the divine council were revealed to Job, the book would speak less directly to later readers who suffer without ever knowing why. 19 But, more importantly, there is a sense in which Job must remain for ever ignorant of what is revealed to the reader in chapters 1–2 or the validity of the outcome of the test might be jeopardized. Were Job to learn about the accusation that he really loves only the secondary blessings loyalty to God brings, it would be possible for the Accuser to renew his allegations in a slightly different form, claiming that Job endures suffering and says what he does in chapter 42 only in hope of being blessed as a result. As Christopher Seitz writes, ‘if Job had known the gambit, the accuser could still argue that such love was mechanistic, based upon defense of God’s honour in hope of ultimate reward’. 20 Job’s continued ignorance is the only way to demonstrate beyond all doubt the purity of his motives in remaining faithful to God. An analogy with human relationships is helpful at this point. If a human friend were to allow the death of one of my children by (say) failing to protect the child in some way, but never gave me an explanation or apologized, I would not stay friends with that person–I would break our relationship. But when God allows that kind of suffering, without explanation or apology, and the sufferer struggles, says foolish things of which he or she later repents, but endures in a relationship with God, that sufferer proves the validity of the worship of God as God, and how different his or her relationship with him is from other human relationships that involve some give and take. This means that Job’s perpetual ignorance proves he is relating to God as God, in a way far transcending every other relationship of Job’s, and seals him in that God-honouring relationship. ‘Now my eye sees you.’ At the same time, however, the fact that the narrator does reveal the larger circumstances surrounding Job’s agony in chapters 1–2 to the reader is no ambiguous hint to us that when God allows inexplicable pain to ruin our lives, there are larger factors involved that we will never fully understand. We are assured, despite all appearances to the contrary, that God remains for ever our friend and defender, but are also warned that, like Job, we will never know why our suffering happened, even though there were reasons behind it. This is the only way the reality of our relationship with God can be proved–our faithful ignorance is the only means to demonstrate that we are relating to God as God and Lord and honouring him as such. As a result, Christopher Ash is surely correct when he writes that ‘[ e] very morning we ought to wake up and say to ourselves, “There is a vicious, dark, spiritual battle being waged over me today,”’ 21 one that we will sense dimly but never fully understand. In fact, faithful readers of the book of Job ‘ought to expect that the normal Christian life will be full of unresolved waiting and yearning for God’, such that we will often be asking, ‘What is God doing? Where is he? Oh, that I might meet with him!’ 22 This unresolved waiting is not at all a sign of failure in discipleship but ‘the integrating arrow of hope that holds together the authentic Christian life’. 23 But just as the readers cannot expect some transcendent perspective that explains their own Joblike experiences of suffering, so the comforts Job receives become ours when we suffer without explanation and endure in our relationship with God anyway. Job is not the only one to receive a new vision of God that reduces all prior knowledge of him to child’s play, mere rumours and hearsay. Nor is he the only saint to be utterly and infinitely comforted even while sitting on the ash heap.” (Eric Ortlund, Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job (New Studies in Biblical Theology 56), 161-163 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press)
When we go through suffering in this life, we may not always understand the reasons why. Job’s suffering reminds us that-like Job-we may not fully understand everything that we endure: however, we can rest assured that God has good reasons for allowing us to suffer, even if we do not fully understand it in the here and now.
Second, Job’s statement here regarding his testing as gold could mean that he believes that God was allowing his suffering in order to somehow refine and purify him.
“After lamenting God’s absenting himself, Job states with conviction that God knows the way that I take. That is, he is sure that God has full knowledge of all his thoughts and actions. Therefore, he believes that when God has finished testing him, he will come forth purified in character, just as gold is purified by passing through fire. Here Job’s assurance that God is concerned with his well-being rises to its highest point. Job’s use of the analogy of purifying gold for his own testing is another indication that the basic motivation behind his lament is the restoration of his own honor, not the restoration of his wealth. With this metaphor Job is rebutting Eliphaz’s exhortation to lay aside gold and to make God his gold (22: 24–25). Rather than owning the precious metal, Job longs for a golden character.” (John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 340 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
The Bible reminds us time after time that God can allow suffering in this world in order to build us and make us stronger.
Psalm 66:10-For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.
Proverbs 17:3-The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts.
Isaiah 48:10-Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Zechariah 13:9-I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’ “
All of these passages remind us that the suffering in this life can be used by God in order to correct us, to refine us, to purify us. Indeed, Jesus compared the suffering of this time with the suffering of Hell, pointing out that it is better to be purified in this life than in Hell:
Mark 9:49-50-For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
The “salt” of Hell (Mark 9:49) was a reference to the salt that was offered with the Old Testament sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 2:13), which served to purify the sacrifices and make them acceptable to God. In the same way, God can use suffering in this life to make us better.
Third, there is another factor to this statement of Job that needs to be examined. The idea of the testing of Job (23:10) could have a reference to not only purifying him, but to demonstrating the genuineness of his faith to himself and to others.
“This is why he can say that when God has “tried” him, he will come forth “as gold” (v. 10b). This trying may refer to refining or purification; 6 or it may simply be a confidence that when tested he will be found to be genuine, that “the tested genuineness of [his] faith,” which is “more precious than gold,” will be seen in the end (cf. 1 Peter 1:7).” (Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word), 248 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway)
Sometimes, our suffering can be used to show the genuineness of what we already possess. Peter talked about this when he wrote to the Christians:
1 Peter 1:6-9-In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
The trails that we endure-and the faith in Jesus that we hold on to during those trials-reminds us about the genuineness of our faith.
“Just as the assayer tests the gold to see if it is pure gold or counterfeit, so the trials of life test our faith to prove its sincerity. A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted! Too many professing Christians have a “false faith,” and this will be revealed in the trials of life. The seed that fell on shallow soil produced rootless plants, and the plants died when the sun came up (see Matt. 13: 1–9, 18–23). The sun in the parable represents “tribulation or persecution.” The person who abandons his “faith” when the going gets tough is only proving that he really had no faith at all. The patriarch Job went through many painful trials, all of them with God’s approval, and yet he understood somewhat the truth about the refiner’s fire. “But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23: 10). And he did! It is encouraging to know that we are born for glory, kept for glory, and being prepared for glory.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best of Times Out of Your Worst of Times, 35 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, CO; David C. Cook)
Yet, just as powerfully, the suffering we can endure can be allowed and used by God in order to help others. Job’s suffering ended up being a powerful teaching tool for his very misguided friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar). His suffering reminds us even today that God can have a good reason for allowing us to suffer (James 5:11).
In a recent Bible study, we were discussing this.
Could it be that Job is sitting in Paradise even now, thankful that the suffering that he endured has helped countless people to learn to trust in God and His goodness?
Could it be that the “proving”of our faith through the suffering that we endure is not just for our benefit-but for the benefit of others?
Didn’t God allow Joseph to go through his suffering in order to help others?
Genesis 45:5-8-But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 50:20-But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
One young friend tells me that he is thankful that God allowed him to go to jail when he was younger, because now he can better relate to those who are incarcerated.
Sometimes our suffering is not only about us-it is about helping others.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.