Job and Suffering Part IV

Christian Reflection and Response

The story of Job captures our attention as readers of the Bible because we relate well to his sufferings. Although our suffering may not resemble the intensity of Job’s story, we still have to reflect and respond to the suffering we experience. Our response is critical to suffering because of the high possibility of the rejection of God. The danger of responding wrongly to God allowing suffering would look like Wiesel. In the Night Trilogy, he speaks of his now disconnected, exiled relationship with God.

“I was the accuser,” Wiesel recounts, “God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy, I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.”[1]

Wiesel saw suffering to possibly the greatest extent the world has ever seen and declared that since God was unresponsive to so many cries for help that God must not exist.

Unlike Wiesel’s response, Christians can respond appropriately in the midst of suffering. The Christian response recognizes that “all his suffering comes through the infinite love of God.”[2] The following observes Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of Job and suffering as it creates happiness. Next are Christians response to suffering, including joy, worship, prayer, trust, and eschatological hope.

 Historical Reflections

 Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas correctly points out that we go through sufferings because the world to come, the eschaton, is greater. Christians are more likely to suffer than non-Christians. “If there is no resurrection of the dead,” Aquinas notes, “it follows that there is no good for human being other than in this life. And if this is the case, then those people are more miserable who suffer many evil and tribulations in this life. Therefore, since the apostles and Christian suffer more tribulations, it follows that they, who enjoy less of the goods of this world, would be more miserable than other people.”[3] For Thomas Aquinas, the fact that a Christian suffers proves that he belongs to God and is being used by God. He uses the analogy of a commander in an army the places his best soldiers on the front line, in the immediate effects of the greatest suffering. If a follower of God is undergoes a time of suffering, they can consider that God is at work in their life.

 Christian Responses

The Christian response to suffering is an essential application of the book of Job. Even though suffering is not something we perceive with excited anticipation, we can still retain joy because the Lord is a purpose in such events. We can maintain worship in suffering when we recognize the ultimate source. We can learn to trust God more greatly since He gives suffering purpose. When we suffer our prayers are enriched and suffering brings about clarity in our eschatological Hope


Even though Joy is the farthest thing from our mind in suffering, the notion of God placing us in harms way should bring joy to our lives. This sentiment is not expressed by Job directly, but the nature of joy in sufferings is thematic in the book. This is a repeated theme in the New Testament where James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).” Suffering makes joy possible because they see the ultimate end as a necessity in the Christian life. Thomas Aquinas prompts these thoughts in his readers saying “Christianity does not call people to a life of self denying wretchedness but to a life of joy, even in the midst of pain and trouble. Without joy, no progress is possible in the Christian life.”[4]

Worship (1:20)

Initially, Job responded to his sufferings in worship and proper recognition of his place. After losing his wealth, sons, and daughters, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (1:21).” Job worshiped God because he recognizes his sovereignty amidst suffering. He understands the benefit of God allowing suffering. Aquinas notes, “For in his reason a person rejoices over the taking of bitter medicine because of the hope of health, even though in his senses he is troubles.”[5]

Also, since our worship is prompted, our view of Christ is greater in this respect and our worship for the Lord evolves and matures. Only Christ alone took on the suffering of the world. “All the ‘meanings’ of suffering converge on Christ, His sufferings were penal, a bearing of the death penalty for sin…That the Lord Himself has embraced and absorbed the undeserved consequences of all evil is the final answer to Job and to all the Jobs of humanity.”[6] In a sense, our sufferings are a participation in the sufferings of Christ and serves as a reminder of what Jesus did so that our sins can be forgiven.


Suffering can create uncertainty as to God’s work in our lives. We wonder if God cares for our well being and even more so if God exists. The philosophical notion that God simply wants positive occurrences in the life of his people promotes these conclusions. However, The Christian who experiences suffering allowed by God cultivates trust in Him. Dwight Pentecost says,

 “The God who was exalted and powerful because a personal reality in his experience, and he know [sic] that he had been sustained by the arm of God, that he could lean back upon the shoulder of God, and that he could then feel the heartbeat of the love of God…. Job’s knowledge was theoretical until God took everything away and stripped him of all that he possessed. Then he learned the sufficiency of God Himself.[7]

Trusting from suffering helps the believer to submit to the Lord’s will in both good and bad times. Many wrongly perceive suffering; Tournier rightly notes, “When God is seen to be treating them well, they have no difficulty in serving Him; but when things go wrong, many go so far as to deny their faith because God is apparently inconsistent.”[8] The book of Job teaches us that the proper response to God while suffering is to trust Him even though we do not understand.


The Christian life is vitally dependent upon a life of prayer. Paul writes, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” [9] Suffering circumstances tend to derail ones prayer life, but Christians are to pray continually regardless. Job does this in his circumstances as he seeks for a reason why the suffering was happening. It is important to remember that prayer should not be for deliverance from suffering but perseverance through the pain and suffering with confidence. The Lord’s prayer in Matthew encourages believers to pray for God’s coming Kingdom, submission of God’s will, deliverance of life needs, confession of sin and God’s sovereignty in times of suffering and angst. Essentially, prayer in view of suffering is for “endurance amidst suffering and for victory over sin.”[10]

Eschatological Hope

In light of our present sufferings and the likes of Job, we can only hope in the coming Kingdom and an end to all suffering. The human rational is corrupt. Job’s experiences scream for a paradigm shift. “Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect. They look backwards for connection between prior sin and present suffering. The Bible looks forwards in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals.”[11] We wait for the day when Christ rids our existence of sin and suffering. It is because of His suffering on the cross that we will experience new life without suffering.


This study has revealed that the subject of suffering is vital to the Christian community. Suffering is a part of life; to live is to suffer. Our Christian community is ultimately unaware as to how to live with suffering and maintain a vibrant relationship with God. Typically, our outlook is like those of Job’s friends who misunderstand suffering as applied to God’s people. The story of Job is a philosophical remedy as to a theology of suffering. Job lost his fortune, family, and health but maintained trust, worship, prayer, and hope in God. Our response to suffering should be much like Thomas Aquinas who believes that suffering brings about happiness since it is a sign that God is using you. Ultimately, suffering will permeate every person, both friends and family, but we must encourage all to continue to trust in God

[1] Wiesel, Night, 86.

[2] Slocum, “The Biblical Teaching on Human Suffering”,85.

[3] Stump, “The Evidential Argument from Evil”, 60.

[4] Ibid., 63.

[5] Ibid., 55.

[6] Francis I. Andersen, “The Problems of Suffering in the Book of Job,” in Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1992), 188.

[7] Dwight Pentecost quoted in  Michel L. Dodds, “A Believer’s Response to Suffering” (master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982), 67.

[8] Touriner quoted from Ibid., 81.

[9] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. See also, Ephesians 6:18-20; James 5:16; 1 Peter 4:7

[10] Dodds, “A Believer’s Response to Suffering”, 47.

[11] Andersen, “The Problems of Suffering”, 185.


Job and Suffering Part III

Philosophical Understanding of Suffering

This story causes us to come to grips with suffering and the Christian life. God allows suffering on both the elect and unelect, the saved and the unsaved. Although it is difficult to understand or say, is seems that God is essentially the ultimate source of all suffering.[1] This reality of suffering must be contextualized with the belief that the Lord is also all loving, all knowing, and all powerful.[2] These two statements appear difficult since they seem to contradict each other. In fact, this is an essential argument for the atheistic movement today claiming that there is no God. As Christians, we must also come to grips with this tension and not simply sweep it under the rug or eliminate one aspect or the other based on the seat of our own rationality.

There are two solutions that can be identified: Theodicy and defense. A theodicy attempts to “defend divine justice in the face of aberrant phenomena that appear to indicate the deity’s indifference or hostility toward virtuous people.”[3] Christians can often find themselves in this position suggesting that God allows suffering on order to discipline. Another option is simply to speculate a defense without defining the real reason why.

The story of Job reveals that we can not actually know a reason why we suffer, except for possible explanations. Job complains to God and persistently asks why God has allowed this suffering in his life. God responds to Job in two important ways: Job’s ability and Job’s identity. First, God addresses Job’s ability by asking, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- (38:4-6).” Following, God questions Job as to his identity. God asks, “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave (40:10-13).” Job’s response is silence, which suggests a resounding “no, I am not God.” Job cannot know the actual reason for his suffering but we can understand various benefits in our Christian life for suffering.


However, this questioning by God is also addressing why God allows this suffering. Ultimately, if Job can not answer these questions, which seem to be simple for God, then how will Job ever understand the reason for his suffering? God allows suffering in our lives but we can not presume to know why because out finite minds and understanding are not able. Clearly, the seeking of a theodicy in the book of Job fails at this point.[4] “The ultimate optimism of Christianity is that in the future there will be a time when evil is rendered null and void.”[5]

[1] Stephen E. Slocum, “The Biblical Teaching on Human Suffering” (master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1956), 94. Note that Slocum believes that all suffering comes from God as judgment against the original act of sin by man in the Garden of Eden.

[2] Cf. the following passages dealing with suffering and God’s people: Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:13; Job 42:2; Psalm 34; 73.

[3] James L. Crenshaw, “Theodicy,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:444.

[4] Burrell, Deconstructing Theodicy, 123.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978), 80-1.

Job and Suffering Part II

Account of Job’s Suffering

Job’s life is one of the major sources for understanding suffering. Suffering captures a particular purpose in Job that teaches believers how we are to understand suffering in the Christian life. The discussion begins with the notion that Job is innocent, which is the basis for the discussions with his friends and with God. Job’s sufferings are so extensive that it necessitates a conceptual understanding within the suffering motif. Finally, God’s response to Job’s suffering and questioning is essential is establishing a philosophical framework of suffering in the Christian life by which we can formulate appropriate response to God.

Job is Innocent (1:1)

Job was a virtuous man of the community; well known in many respects. Ephrem the Syrian has noted, “Even though many others lived in Uz, no one was comparable to Job with regard to piety and innocence. He was of high reputation and was celebrated in everybody’s words.”[4] The deceleration of Job’s innocence is central to ones interpretation of the book. His innocence is the theme by which Job dialogues with God and His friends philosophically presuppositions, although his friends consistently attribute blame to Job’s sinfulness. However, God declares that Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned Evil (1:1).”  In another place, God characterizes Job when speaking to Satan as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” There can be no doubt as to Job’s innocence, which is critical in the suffering motif and sympathizes with Christians today who undeservingly suffer.

The terms used to describe Job are “blameless and upright.” These seem to imply that Job was perfect and without sin, however the only human to every live a sinless life and complete fulfillment to the Law was Jesus Christ. It is highly doubtful that the author is giving such a notion of Job’s position with God. Instead, the author is describing Job’s character in terms of “innocence and guilt, suffering deserved and undeserved.”[5] Blameless also finds its definition in the old testament in reference to the sacrificial system (Num. 19:2), but here the idea expresses Job’s “sincere and consistent compliance with God’s will.”[6] Many times, Christians feel that they are without blame as to the reasons why they are suffering and thus the story of Job is directly applicable to our suffering.

It is also necessary to contrast Job’s innocence with his friend’s opinions. Their philosophical notions of why suffering exists are the strong point of the text. Since Job is innocent, it follows that he questions God’s justification of allowing the evil and suffering that has come upon him. However, the friends of Job assume that he has committed a sin. Job’s friends believe that when a person suffers, it is the result of occurrences of sin in their life. Essentially, God punishes those of the unrighteous and prospers those who live righteously.[7] However, in Job’s case, his innocence creates a problem with this philosophy. Job persistently denies all accusations of sin, such as a “lack of honesty, martial infidelity, just treatment of servants, generosity to the poor and the avoidance of idolatry.”[8] Job denies all wrong doing and insists there must be another reason for his suffering that is in compliance with the Lord’s will.

 Misery of Job

Job suffered greatly in three areas: Fortune, family, and health. The course of human life is utterly familiar with these great failures of a fallen world. The collapse of Fortune 500 companies sends many people out on the streets. Family members are constantly devastated at the sudden death of a close one, especially due to a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake. Pastors such as Andew McQuitty, who is suffering from a recent diagnosis of colon cancer and Matt Chandler, who is currently going through chemo due to a brain tumor recently found, struggle much like Job to make sense of a world with suffering. The sudden decline of one’s health is devastating, because there is nothing that can be done despite medical advances. Suffering ultimately overtakes all of us.

Misery in Fortune (1:13-17)

The first travesty to reach Job by way of a messenger is the loss of his fortune. He was a very wealthy man owning “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants (1:3).” A messenger came to Job and reported that the Sabeans stole all of Job’s livestock and killed all his servants. The sufferings that will come upon Job in the next few verses are succinct and quickly reported. “This was to be shown that all the misfortunes, by which the soul of the righteous man was to be crushed, happened simultaneously.”[9] Essentially, suffering is not bound by time restraints. For Job, he was utterly devastated at the loss of his fortune, but even more so at the loss of his family.

Misery in Family (1:18-19)

The second travesty of Job was the loss of his family. His family was rather large, “he had seven sons and three daughters (1:1),” which is of the likeness of a wealthy man. Job also loved his family deeply and was constantly concerned with their spirituality. It is reported that the family was in the oldest brother’s house having a meal at the time of their death. Likely, this would have been the beginning of the weekly cycle, a day when “Job had offered sacrifices to ensure the favor of God.” This would have meant “fresh peace with his Lord.”[10] This time in Job’s life was calm and relaxing, knowing and feeling what it is like to be right with God.

Unlike the travesty of Job’s fortune, here the agent of suffering is natural disaster. This is important to note the difference because Job could have more easily seen that God was the one allowing or even causing these events to occur.[11] In the case of the first loss of his fortune, Job could have assumed a case of bad luck since the Sabeans overtook them. “No cause of the disaster for the disaster lay in the behavior of any of the human actors.”[12] The only conclusion that Job can reach with the death of his family by way of natural disaster is that God allowed such events and possibly caused them.

Misery in Health (2:7-8)

The third aspect of Job’s suffering was the removal of his health. The state of Job’s health declined greatly and his affliction was with suddenness and completeness. Some have postulated various diseases, such as boils, leprosy and elephantiasis. The symptoms of Job include the following: itching and open sores (2:7-8), feelings of terror (6:4), maggots bred in ulcers (7:5), sleeplessness (7:4), nightmares (7:14, depression (7:16), fetid breath (19:17), failing vision (16:16), rotting teeth (19:20), weeping (16:16) emaciation (19:20) fever (30:30) corrosion of bones (30:17), and blackening and falling off of skin (30:30).[13] Regardless of our postulations as to the identity of Job’s suffering, we can conclude that his state of health was a great amount of suffering.

Why does Job suffer more greatly than possibly any other human in history? It is not because he is morally worse than others, “but just because he is better. Because he is a better solider in the war against his own evil and better servant of God’s, God can give him more to bear here; and when this period of earthly life is over, his glory will also be surpassing.”[14] The loss of his fortune, family, and health leaves commentators dumbfounded and wondering is a mysterious conundrum. “Not only could God summarily end – or better still, have prevented – his misery, but Job has nothing to deserve that misery. And this leaves Job with a legitimate question – namely, Why? Why does God allow one whom He loves – one who has nothing to deserve misery – to suffer?”[15] The suffering that Job experienced caused him to seek an answer from many sources, but ultimately he looked to God for the solution.

 God’s Response to Job

Job’s great concern with his unjust suffering amounts to three accusations against God. His judicial like argument against God is that he is innocent (33:8-9), God has allowed unjust suffering (33:10-11) and God’s silence reveals His indifference in the matter of suffering (33:12-13).[16] Many commentators are confused as to God’s answer to Job because the questions appear indirect. The questions that God supposes to Job are not for his education or a testing of his knowledge. Instead, they are rhetorical questions that prompt Job to find an answer to his questions.[17] Essentially, God has no need to defend himself. His questions to Job “arrests, indicts, tries, convicts, and sentences him.”[18]

It is necessary to understand that God’s questioning is the staple by which we understand our finiteness as to why God allows suffering. Instead, Job should redirect his question away from the “Why.” The question Job should focus on is not why this is happening but instead the question is who and the need is to trust.[19] Dr. Blount summarized well: “One lacks wisdom and is in no position to understand why God allows suffering we see around us.”[20]

[1] William Edward Hulme, Dialogue in Despair; Pastoral Commentary on the Book of Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), 2.

[2] J. Gerald Janzen, Job, Interpretation Commentary Series, ed. Patrick D. Miller Jr. (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), 1.

[3] William J. Dumbrell, “The Purpose of the Book of Job,” in The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke, ed. J. I. Packer & Sven K. Soderlund (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 97-104. Burrell also perceives four classical commentators, Saadiah, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Gersonides, as supporting the notion that God’s children simply can not begin to comprehend the reason for suffering. David B. Burrell, Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzled Suffering (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), 83-122.

[4] Ephrem the Syrian quoted from Job, vol. Old Testament VI, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2006), 2. See also Samuel B. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 46.

[5] David J. A. Clines, Job 1-20, vol. 17, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1989), 12.

[6] Hywel R. Jones, A Study Commentary on Job (New York: Evangelical Press, 2007), 40.

[7] Cf. Job 4:7-11; 5:11-27; 8:1-7, 11-19; 11:13-20; 15:17-35; 18:5-21; 29:12-19; 22:5-11. Elihu offered a proper perspective, 34:10-37; 35:4-16; 33:29-30.

[8] Robert L. Alden, Job, vol. II, The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 47-8.

[9] Julian of Eclanum quoted in Job – Ancient Christian Commentary, 5.

[10] Francis I. Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), 85.

[11] Jones, A Study Commentary on Job, 59. Jones draws this conclusion from the comparison of the loss of Job’s fortune, which was brought about by individuals and not a natural disaster. See also Clines, Job, 48. for a summary of resources on the topic.

[12] Clines, Job, 31.

[13] David L. McKenna, Job, The Communicator’s Commentary, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie (Waco, TX: Word Books Publisher, 1986), 45.

[14] Eleonore Stump, “Aquinas on the Sufferings of Job,” in The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 56-7.

[15] Douglas K. Blount, Receiving Evil from God: Christian Reflections of Suffering (Paper provided to class at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX: 2010), 6.

[16] McKenna, Job, 232.

[17] Andersen, Job, 269. Although Andersen points out the kinds of questions that God is asking here, he does not agree that they are an attempt to answer his questions on unjust suffering. This conclusion is based on a lack of direct speech pertaining to suffering. However, I disagree with this because God does not have to answer with direct speech in order to answer Job’s question about suffering and using questions as such make it obvious the application to his condition and questioning of suffering.

[18] McKenna, Job, 286.

[19] McKenna, Job, 293.

[20] Blount, Receiving Evil from God, 8.

Job and Suffering Part I

Suffering has been a persistent discussion in the world today. The events of 911, when the World Trade Center in New York City occurred, brought about many questions about suffering and even venturing to promote God’s inactivity in the world. When a child is killed by drunk driver, individuals doubt that God exists or when a woman in her twenties gets breast cancer and suffers till her death; her family has little intention to cling to God for comfort. One monk accounts for this when he said, “This, O monks, is the holy truth about suffering: birth is suffering, age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering. To be joined with what one does not like is suffering; not to obtain what one desires is suffering. To lose what one loves is suffering.”[1] Ultimately, everywhere we look we see suffering.

Christianity and even the greater humanity have struggled to understand suffering and the existence of God. A famous reckoning of this tension is found in Elie Wiesel’s writings, who is a survivor of a concentration camp in the Nazi Germany era. The author notes,

“Not far from us, flames, huge flames, were rising from a ditch. Something was being burned there. A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes…Children thrown into the flames….

“’Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba…May His name be celebrated and sanctified…’ whispered my father.

“For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctity His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?”[2]

Sadly, the response to the suffering that Wiesel experienced resulted in rejection of the existence of God. His life and experiences create a sense of connectedness with many individuals. The intense suffering around the world leaves our human rational with only one conclusion – there must be no God.

However, this tension for the Christian is glaringly different. There are many biblical examples of individuals who suffer greatly, yet their faith in God remains. One such example is Job, who lost his wealth, family, and health at the expense of suffering, yet he praised God while not understanding why God was allowing the suffering. My endeavor to account for the suffering of Job, understand the philosophical framework by which Christians should understand suffering and finally an exhortation of how Christians should respond to suffering in our lives.

[1] Jae Hyun Chung, “A Theological Reflection on Human Suffering: Beyond Causal Malediction and Teleological Imposition toward Correlation Solidarity,” in Asia Journal of Theology (2006), 4.

[2] Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night; Dawn; Day, trans. Marion Wiesel (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008), 50-51.