We cringe when we hear about the heir who inherited a fortune and squandered it all, or the person who was entrusted to carry on a famous legacy, only to soil the family name in disgrace. Sometimes people can literally be surrounded by things that others only dream of, yet fail to do anything worthwhile with them. Today we see a young man who grew up in the presence of God’s covenant promises, but he chose to mock it and walk away from it all.
Allowing Suffering to Reveal God’s Glory
When we go through painful times of struggle or suffering, the one thing we want most from God is answers. We think that if He would just explain why He is allowing us to hurt so badly, things would be better. But the truth is, God’s explanations would only raise more questions. Answers are not what we need. Instead, we should pray for a fresh revelation of God’s greatness, because once we catch a glimpse of His greatness and glory, all of life and its struggles will be put into perspective, and we will be able to see that He is indeed in control and He knows what He is doing, even when we don’t understand.
One of the most frequently asked questions by believers and non-believers alike is… If there really is a God, and if He really is loving, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why doesn’t God do something about all the pain, all the suffering, all the hurting people in the world?
Even as Christians, we find ourselves in places in life where we often can’t help. If not asking out loud, certainly wondering quietly in our own mind, in our own heart, why God would allow such a thing to happen to us or to happen to someone that we care about? When things do happen, we often wonder how in the world to respond and if it’s okay to ask God questions when things come our way. Some people have been told that it’s not okay to ask God questions.
When we think of the topic of suffering, there’s probably one name that immediately comes to mind that stands out above everybody else. When we think of a godly person who endured more suffering than anybody, I think the one name that is synonymous with that is Job.
If you’ve been here, you may be thinking, Phil, what in the world are you talking about Job for if we’re doing our “Through the Bible” study, because last week, we were in Genesis chapter 11? So why are you talking about Job? Well, that’s a great question if you’re thinking that, because for much of this series I’ve decided I would like to try the best I can to teach through the Bible in the chronological order, in the sequence that it actually occurred.
The books of the Bible are in the order that they make sense, but they are not all in the order in which they actually occurred. Job is placed in with four other books in the Bible, because it fits in with the style of writing of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. I’ve always personally felt that Job should be in a category by itself, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m no great scholar, so what do I know? I never felt like Job really fit in with those other four books. However, the reason that we are going from Genesis 11 to the book of Job is because although Job comes later in our Bible, most scholars agree that the events that occur in the book of Job actually happen right around the time of Genesis 11, or Genesis chapter 12. There’s a fair amount of evidence for that, but we won’t go into all of that today. The style of Aramaic that Job was written in tends to lean very much to the very early days of Aramaic around that time period. The things that Job describes, the lifestyle, the family style, the fact that Job makes offerings on behalf of his family, rather than a priest making offerings for the people certainly places Job before the Exodus and before the time of the Levitical priesthood. Also Job’s length of life is synonymous with the time frame of Genesis 10 and Genesis 11. After that, people began to live much shorter lives, so that is where we place Job.
Last week, we were talking about the Tower of Babel. You remember that picture after Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth began to multiply into nations and the Tower of Babel is occurring. Job is living right around that time. Today, what I want to do is give a very quick overview of the first 37 chapters of Job. I really want to focus on chapter 38 and forward. We know this story so well that it’s going to be, I think, very common ground for us. But there’s also a danger there that it’s so common to us, if we’ve been in church, that we may think that we’ve heard everything there is to hear from this book. We think we know everything there is to know from this book, but we should never assume that about the Bible.
Job 1:1 gives a pretty good description of Job. It says that Job is blameless. We saw that word used earlier about Noah. It doesn’t mean sinless. There’s only been one person who has walked the earth who was sinless. It means he was a righteous man. He pursued God, he lived for what was true. It also says he was upright. It says he feared God, and he shunned evil. That’s a pretty good description. That would not be a bad way for any of our biographies to begin. The first sentence of chapter one: He was a blameless man, he was upright, he feared God, and he turned away from evil.
Verse two tells us that Job had seven sons and three daughters. Verse three tells us he was an extraordinarily wealthy man. He had 7,000 sheep, and no, this doesn’t ring a bell with us. This sounds like a pain in the neck to me. He had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. He was the greatest of all the people in the East.
Sadly, verses four and five tell us that while Job was a righteous man who feared God, Job’s children were not. It tells us they held constant feasts and participated in what must have been some ungodly things. Verse five tells us that Job had a practice of getting up early in the morning and offering sacrifices on behalf of each one of his children. The last part of verse five states that Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” No parent would think that about their children unless he had reason to think that. Job did this continually. Here was a man who was righteous, and yet he was constantly concerned about his ten children.
Then we see a very strange thing happen: Satan comes before God. We find this in Revelation as well. Satan is called the accuser of the brethren. That’s you and me. The Bible tells us that night and day, Satan comes before the throne to accuse us before God. When life goes rough and when you’re feeling beaten down, discouraged, and disheartened, part of the reason for that is because we have a spiritual enemy who is constantly accusing us and bombarding us. We’re not just fighting against physical things in this world. The majority of our battle is unseen. It’s spiritual warfare. So Satan comes before God. He says to God, “Hey, you know, basically, the only reason this guy Job fears you and loves you is because you blessed him so much. You protect and care for him so much.” Then this stunning thing takes place. God says, “Okay, I tell you what. Job is in your hands. You take anything you want from him, just don’t touch him.”
There’s a lot of thought that goes in behind that. Even now, your minds are reeling going, “Wow, God does that?” Well, He did it here. The implication that God is giving here is, “You’ll see, Satan, that Job loves Me just because he loves Me, not because of anything that I’ve given to him.” So Satan goes out, and through a number of different events, he takes everything from Job, except his wife. He doesn’t mess with Job’s wife because we see later, apparently she’s a pretty rough gal to deal with.
He takes all of Job’s donkeys, oxen, sheep, camels, and all of his servants. They were all either killed or stolen by enemies who came through. All of Job’s sons and daughters were also killed. They were all partying at the oldest brother’s house, and a violent wind like a tornado came out of the desert. It hit the house, the house collapsed, and all of Job’s sons and daughters were killed. How does Job respond? Clearly Job is absolutely devastated by this. Yet Job 1:20 says, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.” This is a picture of the deepest grief. They grieve very differently in that part of the world than we do, even to this day. If you ever watch news clips of the Middle East, to this day, people don’t go into their houses and cover their faces and weep like we do. They go in public, and they weep openly. Job goes out and does this. Then it says, “…he fell to the ground in worship.”
Then he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Are you kidding? Verse 22: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Right there, I’m feeling way behind the eight ball in my walk with God. But this is inspiration for us. It gives us something to say, “Wow, if Job can do this in his walk with God, surely I can do better with 8,000 Christian books at the bookstore teaching me how to walk with God. I ought to be able to do 8,000 times better than Job.”
We naturally want to stop and go, “Hold on just a minute. Why in the world would God ever allow something like this to happen?” Then we fold our arms and we wait, and we expect the book of Job to answer that question. Instead, chapter two tells us that Satan comes back and says to God a second time, “Job still loves you, but the reason he still loves you is because you didn’t let me attack Job himself.” God says, “All right, you can attack Job himself, but you have to spare his life.”
Satan does just that. He goes out and he covers Job’s entire body with painful sores, from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. All of chapter three is filled with nothing but Job crying out in pain. He’s grieving. He even regrets the day he was born. This guy is broken, beyond the point of even wanting to live.
Chapters four through 37 is when Job’s three friends come to him. They’ve heard about what has happened. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come, and they sit with Job. They begin to talk with him and share, I guess you would call, the “wisdom of the ages” with Job, and they try to comfort him. Then along the way, another guy named Elihu comes and joins in the conversation, trying to share and quote wisdom with Job to try and make him feel better. They basically say to Job, God is just and He punishes those who do wrong. So Job, you must have sinned in order for God to have allowed this to come into your life. Job says, look, I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not saying I’m sinless. But I’m telling you guys, I’m innocent of anything that would deserve this kind of punishment from God. But his friends just keep at it. They keep hammering away at him saying, Job, you need to repent. You’ve done something to bring this into your life. They keep insisting that Job must be guilty of some terrible sin or God would never have allowed this to come into his life. Have you ever had a person like that? I’ve had one person like that in my life in the past.
This goes on from chapter four all the way to chapter 37. I do think these friends meant well, but they were aiming in the wrong direction. Finally, Job says, listen guys, your words are not comforting me at all. In fact, your words are making me feel worse. Through all 37 chapters, after all this so-called wisdom has been poured out, Job still has no answers. The mystery of why he is suffering is still lingering in the air.
Then in chapter 38, God speaks. I just wonder if Job thought, “I’m finally going to get an answer.” But instead of getting answers, God begins to ask Job a series of questions. These questions go on non-stop for four chapters. Then you get to the last chapter, Job chapter 42, where God restores Job, and even then, Job gets no answers as to why all this has happened to him. All that’s left ringing in Job’s ears are the questions that God had asked him. But here’s the important part: It’s in those questions that we can learn all we need to know about our place in the world and God’s place in the world and how that affects our suffering in this life.
This is a critical part of the book of Job that we need to pay attention to. I want us to see three quick things from this. Number one: We need to understand that God’s glory is preeminent. You could say it’s paramount. It’s of the utmost importance. God’s glory is preeminent. It’s above everything else.
This is so difficult for us as Americans to understand. We live in a me-centric society. Everything is about me. And it’s getting worse. All these college students today, oh, my soul. Heaven help me if I see another news clip about these idiotic college students whining and complaining about their needs not being met. I’m going to lose my mind. I saw a guy speaking to a bunch of college students recently, and he had had it as well. I loved what he said to them. He said, “Guess what, sunshine? It’s not all about you.” I was like, “Amen, brother. Tell them.”
We live in this me-centered culture. How does this affect me? How’s this going to affect my schedule? Who cares? Just pick up the box and move it. Do something. We have a hard time understanding that it’s not about us. It’s all about God’s glory. It doesn’t matter how it affects you or me. God’s glory is what’s preeminent in all of this.
There are things that God does in this world that are purely for His glory. Job 38 tells us that God waters places on the earth where no one lives, uninhabited deserts. Why? So that life will spring forth, and there will be beauty there that no one will see. It’s all for God’s glory. There are places all over the world that for thousands of years, no man ever set foot. When people did finally explore and venture there, they would write journals. They would say, “I’ve just discovered the most beautiful flower that I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. It’s been growing here for thousands of years, and no one has ever seen it.” They’ve discovered mountains and lakes and trees and animals that no one had ever seen.
Why? Why did all that stuff exist for thousands of years, all this beauty hidden away, tucked away? It was for God’s glory. He did it for Himself. Tighten your seat belt, because one of the reasons for Job’s suffering was to bring glory to God. Don’t misunderstand this. It’s not that God enjoys when people suffer. That’s not it at all. But God receives glory when someone who trusts in Him remains faithful to Him and continues to love, honor, and worship Him, even in the worst times of life. God ultimately receives glory through that.
You might say, “Phil, man, I have a hard time accepting that. I don’t understand why God would need to use my suffering for His glory.” Listen, it’s okay that you don’t understand that. Frankly, I still don’t understand it. I’m your pastor, I’m supposed to understand these things. Don’t come to me for answers on this. I’ll send you to one of the elders. I don’t know. Good luck with that. It’s okay that you don’t understand why.
Job didn’t understand it either. He asked lots of questions. God responded with a list of His own tough questions for Job. When it was all over, even though Job didn’t understand it, God concluded by saying that Job had not sinned in all this process and that he had spoken what was right about God. So God understands that we don’t understand. In that I find peace. God’s not angry that I am confused about this. He just wants me to trust Him anyway. Say, “God, this doesn’t make any sense to me, but I’m going to hold on to your hand.”
The sooner you and I realize, accept, and embrace that we exist for God’s glory and for His purposes, the sooner we’ll be able to go through life with joy rather than with a grudge for all the things that happened to us. Are you getting this? Because this is tough stuff. I’m not making light of anything that any of you have gone through or are going through. This is not what this is about. I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, you should just be happy about it.” That’s not it at all. I’ve cried tears with a lot of you over the years. I did it on Friday morning with Nick Langford. He’s facing some very hard things. I weep over that. It’s not easy. It’s brutal. Nick was able to conclude the conversation by saying to me, “I still don’t understand all of this,” but he said, “it is well with me.” It brought tears to my eyes. We have to understand that our life and our very existence is solely for God’s glory and for His purposes. It is then and then only that we will be able to live with freedom and joy.
God does some things simply for His glory. Because, number one: God’s glory is preeminent. Number two: God’s wisdom is infinite. Job 38:2, God said to Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” God’s not angry at Job, do you understand? God is just putting Job in his rightful place. Sometimes we cross the boundaries with God, and we step into a place that we ought not be. God just courteously, but sternly says, “Back up, son.” God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals. You’re standing on holy ground.”
Then God launches into those four chapters of questions, and if you haven’t read Job 38 to 41 just sit down some time, turn the TV off, turn your phone off, turn everything off, and just pray for a few minutes and say, “God help me absorb the grandness of who You are,” and just read these questions.
Talk about perspective. Here’s the first question, right out of the gate: “Hey, Job, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” And Job’s like, “Um, let’s see. I’ll have to check my day planner. Not sure.” There’s no answer to that, right? “Where were you?” Oh, I get where you’re going with this. “Who marked off its dimensions, Job? Tell me if you understand. Who shut the sea in behind doors? Who said, ‘You may come this far and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt.’ Job, have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Do you know the way to the abode of light? Or where darkness resides?” That one always gets me. Darkness has a place where it resides. Science tells us that darkness is merely the absence of light. I don’t know about that. “Job, can you take darkness and light to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Have you entered the storehouses of snow or seen the storehouses of hail? Do you know the way to the place where lightning is dispersed? Can you gather up the stars in your hand?” He goes on and on and on, and with every question, God is getting bigger, and Job is getting smaller.
God also asked Job all kinds of questions about simple things on earth like birds, horses, goats, and donkeys, all things that Job was familiar with. God is saying, “Job, the truth is buddy, from the biggest things in the universe down to the smallest things on earth that you should be familiar with, you don’t really have a clue how any of it works. But I do because I made them all, and I’m in control of it all. And Job, if you don’t understand how simple things work, do you really think you’re in a position to understand how eternal things work and how My purposes work out in this life?”
Folks, no matter how smart we may become in any area, no matter how much knowledge we may attain in science, astronomy, biology, physics, or psychology, we could gather it all up together and the collective sum of all of our gained knowledge still wouldn’t come close to being able to understand the infinite wisdom of God. It would be like one grain of sand compared to all the sand in the Sahara Desert. And God says, “Job, you don’t even understand the basic things on earth that you’re around every day, nevermind the galaxies out there, and you’re really going to put me on trial and question my wisdom and my justice and my purposes?”
Do you want to understand an infinite God? You’re going to need infinite wisdom, and you can barely figure out finite things. If God’s wisdom and understanding are immeasurable beyond anything we can comprehend, doesn’t it make sense that God may just have some beautiful purposes that He is working out through us that we simply cannot see yet?
Some people say, “You know, I can’t believe in God because of all the purposeless evil in the world,” and that is a staggeringly presumptuous conclusion to reach. What they’re saying is, “I have looked at these events in the world, and I have concluded that they are all purposeless.” They’re basically taking the place of God, thinking that we can detect and understand every purpose in every event in the world with our little shrimp-size brains. We cannot compare ourselves to the wisdom of God with our finite selves.
God is not just smart. He’s not just brilliant. He’s not just a genius. God is unlike everything and everyone we have ever encountered in our lifetime. His wisdom is so far beyond our realm of understanding that it completely defies our ability to describe it, nevermind comprehend it. When Job begins to see this for himself, here’s what he says at the end of verse three in chapter 42: Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.” He says in verse five, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and I repent in dust and ashes.” That’s the response of a person who has genuinely caught a glimpse of the preeminent glory of God and the infinite wisdom of God. We have nothing to do but to say, “Oh man, I spoke out of turn. I spoke of things I didn’t understand, things too glorious for me, I repent in dust and ashes.”
Number one: God’s glory is preeminent. Number two: God’s wisdom is infinite. And finally, number three: God’s purposes are best. Job would have smacked us if we had said this at the time, but we see it now long after the events. All of the suffering that Job went through, eventually produced a book that has brought comfort to millions of people for thousands of years. And here we are looking at it today. I doubt Satan saw that one coming.
You not only see this throughout the Bible, but you see it throughout history. The same thing takes place. In the New Testament, the church is getting started. Satan brings trouble onto that new little church. He has the apostles arrested and threatened and beaten and thrown in prison and put to death. Instead of the church dying, it grows even stronger.
The greatest example of this, of course, is the cross where Jesus hung dying. Boy, it looked like things were over. Satan must have rejoiced, because by all appearances, it was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened to Jesus and to the ministry. And yet, it was at that worst moment, that God actually accomplished His greatest work, and Satan suffered his greatest defeat.
I know it sounds like a cliche, but I have to say it anyway, because it’s true: God can take even the worst things in life and use them for His greatest purposes, because His purpose is always best, even when it doesn’t look like it. I know that we’ve heard that so many times that we’ve put it into the land of fairy tales and fables. But it’s still true.
There have been many of you who’ve told me, “You know, Phil, I can look back now and already see things in my life that were terrible at the time, but I can see where God has taken those things, and he’s brought good out of them.” If we can see some of that already, just imagine how much more Eternity is going to reveal.
God allows suffering into our lives for a number of reasons, probably three main reasons. One is to chastise us or to correct us when we’re sinning. A good example of that would be Jonah. Jonah disobeyed God and ran from Him. God had to bring some painful things into his life to discipline him.
Another reason God will allow suffering into our life is to bring salvation to others. Joseph would be a great example of this. Joseph suffered for no wrongdoing of his own, and yet God allowed that to bring salvation and rescue to his whole family. Sometimes God allows suffering into our lives simply to purify us. Job is a great example of that. Job learned to love God more and to understand God more than he ever did before.
Suffering is one way God shapes us for His best use. Here’s what I found in my life: I’m so busy all the time. Suffering seems to be one of the only ways that God can get me to stop long enough that He can really get my attention. He can make me be still and really listen for long periods of time.
Suffering humbles us by showing us how very little we are actually in control. I love to control my schedule. That’s the one little thing that I can control. I know what I’m doing tomorrow and the next day and two weeks from now. But you know what, I really have no control over that.
Suffering increases our trust because it makes us run to God. We think we trust God. You hear a message on trust. We think, “Yep, I’m good. I trust God. I know four verses on that.” Then God pulls the rug out from under us through some pain in our own life or through, heaven help us, one of our children. Boy, that’s where we really get a wake up call, right parents? One of our children runs away from God, or one of our children goes through some horrible physical struggle. Yeah, we learn trust then. Suffering can be a good thing for us, ultimately, because God is graciously drawing us closer to Him.
I close with this: I love that Job said this back in the middle of the book before God had restored him while he was still in the middle of this horrible suffering. He said this back when he was in pain, back when he still had all the questions. He still had faith in God. Job chapter 19 verse 25. Job said this, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Boy, I used to have some days like that. Now I live here. I long for the day, when I will see Him. I yearn for that day. I’ve done about everything I want to do in life. I don’t want to travel anymore. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff. I’ve tried everything, done everything. I’m good. If He comes right now, before I finish this sentence, then that’s great with me. I know what Job means.
That’s where the secret lies, right there. It’s in knowing that God is in control. He’s not only in control right now, in whatever you’re going through, but one day, He’s going to come back and He’s going to set the balance right. He’s going to put the books right, whatever you’re going through. These struggles and sorrows down here that feel like they are going to last for an eternity will seem like only a brief moment when we are with Him. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt down here. Of course it does. I’m not saying we don’t grieve and weep and suffer. Of course we do. But anytime we’re hurting badly, we can know that He is still in control and that He is coming again. He will put all this right.
Maybe you’re in a situation right now, like Job. Different circumstances, but you feel the same kind of suffering. You wish that God would only explain Himself. You think, “If God would just explain this to me, if God would just give me some answers on this, I would be able to trust Him some more.” I would courteously say to you “No, you wouldn’t.” You wouldn’t, because if you had an explanation, you would only have more questions.
You don’t need explanations. I would suggest to you that what you need is a revelation of who God is. So pray that God would, instead of giving you explanations, that He would give you a revelation, that He would open your eyes and truly allow you to see Him for who He really is, because that alone will satisfy you. That alone will give you perspective on everything. It will allow you to go through whatever you’re going through with peace and understanding and joy.