In Job 22-31, the third and final cycle of dialogue between Job and his three friends, Job’s friends’ arguments are getting much shorter. In fact, Zophar doesn’t even open his mouth, and Bildad only speaks for 6 verses. In desperation, Eliphaz even accuses Job of mistreating widows and orphans in Job 22:9! Job’s friends just simply cannot understand how all of this suffering could have come upon Job unless he did something really evil to warrant God punishing him in this way. Meanwhile, Job (who knows that, while he isn’t perfect, he certainly hasn’t sinned in the gross ways that his friends are assuming) feels like God is hidden from him. If he could only present his case to God, he is certain that God would vindicate him. (Job 23:2-7)
It is so hard both for those who know God (like Job) and those who do not know God at all (like Job’s friends) to come to terms with the difficult reality of suffering. How a person responds to tragedy and suffering reveals a lot about what they believe about God. Job’s friends clearly believe that God will only bless those who are obedient to him, and never allow them to suffer. Job, on the other hand, believes that God will eventually stand up for him, but questions God’s timing and his apparent lack of concern for those who are suffering unjustly. (Job 24:12)
The irony is that we seem to believe that a loving God should always spoil His kids, yet few people would say that good parents spoil their kids. It is generally understood, even by people who aren’t Christians at all, that loving parents will sometimes inflict pain on their children (for the sake of discipline) and at other times allow their children to experience a limited amount of suffering (for the sake of personal growth). Yet, the prosperity preachers on TV, build large audiences and large bank accounts appealing to the idea that God is a cosmic sugar daddy who wants to give His children all gain with no pain.
If there is only one lesson about God to be learned from Job, it would be that there is absolutely no connection between the suffering we endure in this life and God’s love for us. Hebrews 11 is considered to be Scripture’s faith hall-of-fame. Hebrews 11 says that some of these hall-of-fame Christians, by faith, “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:33-34) But Hebrews 11 also says that some “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38) Which ones were the most loved by God? The ones who stopped the mouths of lions, escaped the sword, and put foreign armies to flight? Or the ones who were flogged, chained, stoned, and sawn into? If you apply the argument of Job’s friends, or the theology of TV prosperity evangelists, you would have to say that the first group has the favor of God and the second group does not. That is absurd. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While Job says that God has “made his soul bitter,” and admits that God seems distant to him at the moment, Job is not ready to turn away from God, or from his own integrity. He refuses to agree with his friends that his suffering is God’s punishment. (Job 27:2-6) It makes it so much easier to follow God when we sense His presence and protection (Job 29:1-6), and when we enjoy the respect of others. (Job 29:7-25) Job longs for those days. But the true test of our faith in God is if it can remain strong when we are mocked by others for our lack of prosperity. (Job 30:1)
You may live a life that is more consistent with Hebrews 11:33-34, or you may live a life that is more consistent with Hebrews 11:35-38. Or, like Job, you may taste a little bit of both. But I want you to know that God’s love for you is the same either way. And, if you honor Him with your life, whichever way your life goes, God will richly reward you with more of Himself here on earth, and eternal life with Him when your life here is over.