I want to pause for a minute before I go on with Job 40–41. Suffering is not only hard to experience, it’s hard to read about, and I know Job is a difficult book to go through.
I’ve always been more of a teacher than a writer. When I teach I know the women, I can read their facial expressions. Their questions and thoughts let me know how I need to adapt things to help them. I can talk with them afterwards to see how they’re doing or what their problems are. I try to continually be interactive with them. I’m pausing to try to be interactive here and let you know more of my thinking.
In Job I’m trying to give you handholds from Scripture to encourage you to trust God. I share a lot from commentaries I’ve read because those men have helped me so much with their words. I mean in real life—not as an intellectual undertaking to explain a book—but in my suffering. I cannot tell you how much E. S. P. Heavenor and Francis Andersen have given me encouragement and helped me to know God and trust Him. Their depth had indicated to me, they’re not simply doing analysis, they’re writing out of things they’ve learned from God in their own lives.
There are some horrific things that happen in this world. If we’re not experiencing them, we can keep blinders on, but when they affect us or those we love, then we’re face to face with the reality of trusting God when our soul is among lions.
I don’t want you to be afraid of the hard questions of suffering and evil because I’ve found that God hasn’t wanted me—and doesn’t want you—to be afraid of the hard questions of suffering and evil. We may not know why God has decided to let us go through valleys, but God in His Word calls us to know Him and teaches us that He walks with us through our valleys and that we can trust Him.
In his book, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner introduces these three Wisdom books of the Bible:
“The blunt ‘Thou shalt’ or ‘shalt not’ of the Law, and the urgent ‘Thus saith the LORD‘ of the Prophets, are joined now by the cooler comments of the teachers and the often anguished questions of the learner. Where the bulk of the Old Testament calls us simply to obey and to believe, this part of it (chiefly the books we have mentioned, although wisdom is a thread that runs through every part) summons us to think hard as well as humbly: to keep our eyes open, to use our conscience and our common sense, and not to shirk the disturbing questions.”1
When Kidner describes the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon to test him with difficult questions, he says:
“To engage in these mind-sharpening encounters with all comers was to bring one’s beliefs out into the open. It implied the truth one lived by was valid through and through, and that its writ ran everywhere.”2
The truth we live by as Christians is valid through and through, and its writ does run everywhere. God invites us to ask the hard questions. Look at some of the things written in the psalms, and elsewhere in the Wisdom literature and throughout the Bible. David and other psalmists, Jeremiah, Job, Solomon—they all say some bare-bones things about this world without a glossy coat of pretense. Look also at their prayers: what those men say about who God is, and how they turn to Him for help.
As Kidner closes his first chapter he writes:
“[Solomon’s] writings and their literary companions succeeded in combining openness with depth; a searching frankness with a tenacious underlying faith. The secret of it is expressed in the motto, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning’, or ‘first principle ‘of wisdom’. In one form or another this truth meets us in all the wisdom books (Pr. 1:7–9; 9:10; cf. Jb. 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Ec. 12:13), and it is this that keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusionment of Ecclesiastes from final despair.”3
Now think about that. The first principle of wisdom when you are suffering and trying to live through it is the fear of the LORD. We don’t usually think that way, do we? Andrew Bowling explains the Hebrew word in Job 28:28:
“When God is the object of fear, the emphasis is again upon awe or reverence. This attitude of reverence is the basis for real wisdom (Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov 9:10; 15:33).”4
Awe goes beyond respect. It’s awe. That’s what Job is learning and experiencing as he listens to God speak to him in Job 38–41.
I want to give you an example of how this plays out. I’ve written about my friend, Lisa, whose trust in God has set the bar for encouragement. She had already lived through the death of a sister in a car accident and the murder-suicide of her parents when one of her sons committed suicide. She told God that if that’s the kind of God He was, to let those things happen, she didn’t know if she wanted to believe in Him anymore.
When Mother’s Day came around, as you can imagine, it was a heartbreaking day for her. That afternoon, however, the words of Psalm 119:11, came to her mind, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee,” (KJV); Lisa decided she didn’t want to sin against God anymore. That’s the fear of the Lord. She begin to memorize Psalm 27, and from there she went on to Psalm 13, and then memorized Psalm after Psalm. God comforted and restored her heart, and she in turn strengthened others, a testimony of trust in Him in the darkest of circumstances. God had not told her any whys about her life, but He had reached into her heart and turned her back to trust in Him. She told me that she lived by these words of Paul:
Sometimes we step into suffering as we confront evil. During World War II the ten Boom family endangered their lives by hiding Jews and helping them escape the Nazis’ Holocaust. As you read Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, you learn their decision to help Jews didn’t come out of nowhere, the first few chapters tell the story of a family that had honored God and lived in awe of Him throughout their lives. Their work during the War was an extension of who they already were and how they already lived. In that work and in her time in a concentration camp, Corrie gives examples of how God was teaching her to continue to honor God and live in awe of Him in bearing up under brutal evil.
Caspar ten Boom was arrested by the Nazis and died in prison. His daughters, Betsie ten Boom and Corrie ten Boom, were also arrested, imprisoned, and then sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. Betsie died there. Israel honored all three as Righteous Among the Nations. Corrie’s story of Betsie’s words when she fell ill in Ravensbrück has been retold endlessly.
“Sleet stung us as we reached the outside. I stepped close to the stretcher to form a shield for Betsie. We walked past the waiting line of sick people, through the door and into a large ward. They placed the stretcher on the floor and I leaned down to make out Betsie’s words.
‘…must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.'”5
Their lives are witnesses to us that in the midst of evil, God is there.
Peter encourages us,
I have a New Testament in which that last phrase is literally translated as, “because to him it matters concerning you.”6 He cares. You matter. Who you are and what you are going through right here, right now, matters to God.
In his book, Doubt, Os Guinness plunges head-on into the why of suffering. He follows a searing quote on Auschwitz from Eli Wiesel’s book, Night, with (my emphasis):
“And what of the Christian? Is he different because his courage is greater or his theological explanations more nimble? Far from it. A Christian too recoils from such a snake-pit of evil. He feels the same pain, the same agony, The same questions, the same silence. A Christian does not know why either, but (and here alone is the difference) he knows why he trusts God who knows why.
“And how is this? Because of another Jew, a Jew not in his youth, but in his prime, who freely took on himself the full desolation of God’s silence so that after suffering in our place he might restore us to his Father, that then we might be sure that God is there, and God is good.
“For the Christian the cry of Jesus, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ will always have depths of meaning which the human mind can never fathom. But one thing at least it means. No man can sink so low that God has not gone lower still…This is how it is that doubts about the Father are silenced in the Son. God may become remote to us in times of suffering if he is not ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’…
“Not surprisingly it is those whose faith in God is anchored in the incarnation—God become flesh, crucified, risen—whose faith can pass through the fires of suffering. For there is no question however deep or painful which cannot be trusted with the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ.”7
I want you to remember:
- Bring your heart and your hard questions to God.
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom when you are suffering.
- In the midst of anguish and evil God is there. He will not let you go.
- You can trust your life to the God who sent His Son to die for you.
Incomprehensible pain can be overwhelming. In your struggles and failings go to His Word. God gives you a voice for your questions, your pain, and your prayers in His Word. God will teach you how to live in awe before Him through His Word. God will strengthen you with courage, consolation, and help in your time of need from His Word. And in His Word God will tell you about His great love for you in sending His Son Jesus to die for you.
By no means am I perfect or complete in these things. Paul said he pressed on. So must we. We live and stand in God’s surpassing grace. Stand fast.
Righteous Among the Nations medal simplified: Ле Лой. Universal Public Domain Dedication (CC0 1.0).
1,2,3Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1985) 11, 15, 17.
4Andrew Bowling, “907b yir’ â, fearing, fear,” vol. I, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1980) 401. Psalm 110:10 is the reference given by Bowling, but it must be a typo because Psalm 110 only has 7 verses. His reference was probably the same as Kidner’s, Psalm 111:10, because they’re making the same point.
5Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place (Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan NJ: 1971) 196–197.
6Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI:1958, 1959) 921.
7Os Guinness, “Keyhole Theology,” Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976, third ed. 1987) 211–213.
8Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 22. This is Clowney’s translation of 1 Peter 5:12.
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