Book Review of Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure by Robert W. Kellemen

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Learning From The Apostle Paul in Overcoming Anxiety

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

This is a short and helpful booklet (43 pages) that helps you to understand and apply the Apostle Paul’s exhortation from Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

Some of the helpful gold nuggets Kellemen shares are as follows:

“in anxiety, we turn to self instead of turning to God. Anxiety is fear without faith. It is vigilance run amok. We scan the horizon constantly, fearfully, but without ever taking action or responsibility and without clinging to God.”

“in vigilance, we turn to God. Through faith, we face the reality of our neediness by trusting in the unseen reality of a God who cares and controls.”

“We experience the power of life and death in two gardens: the garden of Eden and the garden of Gethsemene. If we live by the power of the flesh, then we live a fear-based, self-centered life that follows the model of the first Adam. If we live by the power of the Spirit, then we live a faith-based, Christ-centered life that follows the model of the second Adam.”

“In anxiety, we choose a crippling focus on our circumstances. In worshipful prayer, we choose a healing focus on God’s character.” 

The greater part of this booklet is an examination, exhortation, evaluation, and application from Philippians 4. Kellemen gives a wonderful and practical exhortation based on the following seven insights: (1) Guard Your Relationship with God, Your Guard: Faith in Your Father; (2) Commit to Mature Relationships with God’s People: It Takes a Congregation; (3) Cling to Your Identity in Christ: Wholeness in Christ; (4) Put on the Mind of Christ: The Weapons of Your Warfare; (5) Practice What You Preach; Living and Loving with Courage; (6) Soothe Your Soul in Your Savior: Emotional Maturity 101; (7) Live Wisely in a Fallen World: Jars of Clay.

At the end of each brief exhortation Kellemen has several helpful questions to help you apply the Gospel in your daily life. I highly recommend this booklet – it’s brevity is a positive – especially if you want quick help in dealing with your anxieties from our all wise God.

Book Review of R.C. Sproul’s Surprised by Suffering

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Biblically Based Reasons for Suffering

Book Reviewed by Dr. David P. Craig

It’s difficult for Christians in the United States to grasp that a huge part of our lives entails suffering – probably due to the influence of the so-called “American Dream” and the onslaught of prosperity preachers in our midst. However, it’s really impossible to read Genesis through Revelation at face value without realizing that part of our vocation in a fallen world is that tests, trials, tribulations, and persecutions, are not only possible, but inevitable for those who follow Christ.

Sproul states early in the book: “The promise of God is not that He will never give us more weight than we want to carry. The promise of God is that He will never put more on us than we can bear…What is difficult to bear without Christ is made far more bearable with Christ. What is a heavy burden to carry alone becomes a far lighter burden to carry with his help.” He emphasizes how and why God uses suffering in Christian’s lives so that we can become more like Jesus – spiritually mature and useful to others.

Here are some of the strengths of this book:

(1) The amount of references used to show that suffering is a huge part of Christian growth and the development of our character.

(2) The stories of biblical characters that suffered and what we learn from their suffering: Joseph, Elijah, Job, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, and Jesus.

(3) The hope that our sufferings aren’t worthy to be compared with the glories to be revealed in the new heaven and earth.

(4) He writes about how to prepare for, endure, and be victorious over trials and triumph in Christ.

I highly recommend this book to prepare you for suffering well, and with purpose, for the glory of God, and the glories that await us in Heaven.

Charles Stanley on 10 Benefits of Giving Thanks

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Why this tough but life-giving command can change your entire outlook.

Reading the Bible isn’t always Easy

If you’ve ever thought those words but were embarrassed to speak them, you’re not alone. Sure, there’s plenty within Scripture that we comprehend without much difficulty. But at times we come across a passage that baffles us—or worse, makes us feel angry or annoyed. Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t understand what the Lord is saying through the text. But often the reason for our discomfort is that we don’t like what we’re reading. It’s easier to ignore those verses and move on to more appealing topics than to hash it out with God and do what He says. Reading the Bible is hard because, in the end, it challenges us to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can really get under your skin: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense.

If I were writing Scripture, I would say, “In most things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life—a newborn baby, a raise, a new house, or encouraging news from the doctor. But what if you lose your job, discover your child is on drugs, or are told by the doctor that you have only have six months to live? How can God expect you to be grateful then?

I faced this dilemma some time ago when I hurt my shoulder and experienced excruciating pain. I read this verse and told the Lord, “I know You said this, but it’s not reasonable when I’m hurting so badly. I just don’t feel thankful.” But then I noticed that it didn’t say, In everything give thanks when you feel like it. This command has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a choice to do what God says. Whenever He gives us a command in the Bible, it’s for our benefit.

Gratitude Impacts Every Area of our Lives

By giving us the command to always give thanks, God is not rubbing salt in a wound or calling us to set aside reason. He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:

1. Gratitude keeps us continually aware that the Lord is close by. Even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence.

2. It motivates us to look for His purpose in our circumstance. Knowing that the Lord allows hurt and trouble for His good purposes takes the edge off the pain. Even if we don’t understand why we’re going through suffering, we can thank God because we know that in His time, He’ll work it all for good. In the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that He’s using every hardship to transform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).

3. Thanksgiving helps bring our will into submission to God.When the situation we’re experiencing is the last thing we’d ever want, thanking the Lord is a giant step toward being able to follow Christ’s example and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Gratitude helps us acknowledge that God’s will is best, even if it’s hard; in that way, we are able to release our hold on what we want. Although the circumstances may remain the same, submission changes our heart.

4. It reminds us of our continual dependence upon the Lord. Pride, adequacy, and independence evaporate whenever we’re trapped in a situation that leaves us helpless and hopeless. If there’s no way out, thanking God for His control over all things reminds us that He alone is our strength.

5. Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for joy. There’s no way to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That’s why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He’s in complete control of every situation. With that kind of supernatural joy, it’s easy to be thankful.

6. A grateful attitude strengthens our witness to unbelievers.The world is filled with people who are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. But a believer with a grateful attitude is like a light shining in a dark place. The people around you will want to know why you don’t grumble and complain the way everyone else does. Then you can tell them about your amazing Savior.

7. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding the Lord’s character because knowing His awesome attributes motivates trust and gratitude. He knows exactly what you’re going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller.

8. Gratitude gives us eternal perspective. The apostle Paul is an amazing example of a man who suffered extreme hardship yet remained thankful. That’s because he was able to see life from God’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he says our present suffering is “momentary light affliction.” If you’re going through a really hard time, those words may sound ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been dealing with pain your entire life, or a difficult trial has dragged on for decades. It hardly seems momentary or light.

But Paul is comparing our situations here on earth with what’s awaiting us in eternity. For him, a 40-year stretch of pain and hardship was no match for the “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him (2 Cor. 4:17). What an amazing thought—your present pain has the potential to produce incomparable glory for you in heaven. Now that’s a big reason to thank God!

9. When we’re wearied by our circumstances, thanksgiving energizes us. Most of us can handle short trials, but if they continue for a long period of time, the emotional and physical strain is exhausting. Should ongoing illness, unresolved relational problems, or continued financial pressures become more than we can bear, it’s time to start thanking God because He has promised to give strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29-31). He’ll release His supernatural energy within us so we can patiently endure the trial and come out victorious on the other side.

10. Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:5-7). I learned this principle through a very difficult experience. When I was feeling anxious about the situation, I discovered that complaining, getting angry, and arguing with God didn’t change my circumstances. Finally, in desperation, I began thanking Him. Only then did I receive His incomprehensible peace. My situation didn’t change for quite a while, but God’s peace guarded my heart all the way through that trying time.

What Will You Choose?

The choice isn’t always easy. Most of the time, we’d rather get out of difficulties than thank God through them. But have you ever considered that He may actually want you to stay in a painful situation for a time? I know this may not sound like something a loving God would ever do, but remember, His goal is to do what is best for you, not what’s comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable.

The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with two simple, small words offered from the heart: thank You.

Say them over and over. And then say them again. Your joy will be radiant—a light shining in a dark and desperate world.

About Charles F. Stanley: Dr. Charles F. Stanley is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of numerous books, including How To Handle Adversity, Eternal Security, Blessings of Brokenness and many others. His popular radio and TV program In Touch is heard and seen worldwide.

“Affliction, Friend or Foe?” A Sermon by Albert N. Martin

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One of the common experiences of all the people of God is this matter of affliction. In this study we will look at Second Corinthians 1: 3– 11 under the general theme of affliction, friend or foe?

2nd Corinthians 1:1-11

(1) Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia: (2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; (4) Who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (5) For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (6) But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: (7) and our hope for you is steadfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort. (8) For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: (9) yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead: (10) Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us; (11) you also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.

It is obvious that the theme of this passage is the subject of affliction. For the very thing which triggers this eulogy, this blessing of God the Father, is that the Apostle and his companion, Timothy, have experienced a peculiar measure of the consolation and comfort of God in the midst of affliction. So the Apostle begins with those words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Father of mercies, The God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction.” It opens up the whole subject of affliction in which there are given to us some very helpful perspectives concerning the experience of all the people of God.

Introduction

In introducing our study of the passage, it is necessary to understand several things about affliction.

First of all, the meaning of the word affliction, as it is found here in the passage before us. The word itself literally means, that which is pressing or pressure. Hence it is come to speak of oppression, affliction or tribulation. It refers to distress brought upon men and women, particularly by outward circumstances which in turn create this inward distress. It’s translated numerous ways in the New Testament. In some places it’s translated tribulation, in others, as it is here, affliction; sometimes persecution; other times trouble; but it is that which God reveals is the portion of all of His people. This pressure, this oppression, this tribulation, this inward distress brought about by outward circumstances, our Lord says, will be the portion of all of His people. 

John 16:33 “In the world you shall have [and this is the same word in the original] affliction. You shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the very elementary messages that the Apostles used to give on their missionary follow up tours, concern the whole subject of affliction. 

We read in Acts 14:21-22, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations [afflictions same word in the original] we must enter into the kingdom of God.”

AFFLICTION IS ONE OF THE COMMON DENOMINATOR’S OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD

The Apostles were very, very concerned that believers understand, early in their Christian lives, that affliction and tribulation were part and parcel of normal Christian experience. It is for this reason that our Lord in His parting words spoke the words previously quoted, in the world you shall have tribulation. He had given them some tremendously encouraging promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some promises concerning His ministry of comfort and consolation and illumination; and the impartation of gifts and graces in power, but less they misunderstand this, to think that they would come to some level of experience in the Holy Spirit that would either immunize them from, or totally lift them out of the realm of tribulation and affliction, our Lord says, toward the conclusion of those wonderful words of John 14, 15, and 16, In the world you shall have tribulation. 

John was so confident that tribulation was as much a part of the Christian life as faith in Christ, that when he addresses the believers of Asia Minor in Revelation 1 this is how he addresses them: Revelation 1:9 “I John your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus.” He looks upon all believers as fellow partakers, not only of the kingdom and the steadfastness that are in Christ, but also of the tribulation, the affliction, the persecution, that are in Christ. So it is not surprising that our Lord tells us in the parable of the sower that some apparent converts are caused to wither in their profession, when they come into contact with their first real affliction. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus said, when tribulation, and persecution, when affliction and persecution arise because of the Word, they stumble. It was affliction that caused the consternation of the Psalmist in Psalm 73. He was afflicted and he saw the people of God afflicted, and it didn’t make sense to him, because the people who were not committed to the worship of Jehovah and to the law of God seem to be wonderfully insulated from affliction, and this he could not understand.

And so in the light of the fact that the Scripture teaches, that affliction is one of the common denominator’s of the people of God, and that affliction can be the occasion of stumbling and consternation, it is necessary for every Christian, to learn how to confront affliction.

One of the great problems that we face, as in many other areas, we carry over into the Christian life worldly, carnal views of affliction. You see the unbeliever looks upon affliction as his or her greatest enemy. Every affliction that comes into their life is a roadblock in the pursuit of their carnal and temporal goals, and therefore affliction is always their enemy. They can never hug affliction to themselves and say welcome, my God-sent friend. He looks upon affliction says, “Who are you? My enemy!” They do all within their power to get affliction, out of the way. The unbeliever looks upon it as enemy, all enemy, and nothing but enemy and yet sad to say, many children of God, to some degree or another, have absorbed that mentality and do not understand the purpose of God in affliction. But now, for the child of God, there should be a totally different perspective concerning the subject of affliction.

In this study as we consider this passage in second Corinthians we will seek to layout THE DIVINE PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION which, when understood by the child of God, will help them to embrace their afflictions rather than to run from them as an unwanted enemy.

ILLUSTRATION

Let me illustrate the difference that this perspective will make. Try to picture a little child who’s been involved in a serious accident. He’s been knocked unconscious and has a compound fracture. He’s got a bone sticking right through the skin which will demand not only the setting of the bone, but also some sutures, and the first time that he awakes out of his unconsciousness he looks up, and there is a man with a mask on his face, and a skullcap on his head, a big needle in his hand and a scalpel in his other hand, and the poor child coming to consciousness thinks he’s awaken in the midst of a horror movie. He’s scared and he screams out and begins to fight to get himself off that table until he is quieted down. His mom or dad, with a nurse or the doctor, explains to him that the person standing there with the needle is going to put the needle in so that he won’t feel any pain when he takes the scalpel and begins to patch him up and put the arm back in place. Once the child understands, that which in his first reflex looked so foreboding, something to be resisted, then he will welcome that which upon first sight he utterly rejected. In the same way, the child of God many times –when they wake up as it were and see afflictions standing before them with his long needle and with his scalpel– their reaction is one of wanting to run. It’s at that point that they need to be still and to understand what God is saying, “This is the purpose that I have in this affliction for you.” Then the heart of the child of God is stilled to submit to that affliction.

FIVE DIVINE PURPOSES IN AFFLICTION

What then, according to 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 11 is the divine purpose in affliction?

I would suggest that the Apostle indicates that there are at least five divine purposes in affliction, and we’re limiting our observations just to this passage. We could range far and wide in many other portions of Scripture, but we want to stick with this portion and lay out these aspects of the divine purpose in affliction. Our purpose is that you, as a child of God, may recognize this, so that when affliction comes, and it will come, you may be able to confront it biblically, and not look upon affliction as your foe, but as your friend.

What is the first purpose of God in affliction? It’s set before us in verse 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort;” As the Apostle Paul breaks out in praise to God, he praises God with specific reference to the revelation of God’s character that has come to him in the context of affliction, therefore:

(1) THE FIRST PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION IS TO GIVE US A FULLER REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

In this text God is called three things: first, He is called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, secondly, the Father of mercies and thirdly, He is called the God of all comfort.

When the Apostle addresses Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is indicating that God has been revealed to him in the saving revelation made, in and through, Jesus Christ the Lord.

In other words, when the Apostle thinks of God, he not only thinks of Him as the God of creation, not only as the God of Providence, but he thinks of Him particularly, as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thinks of Him as the God Who has revealed Himself and His way of salvation in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, whatever follows in this text, whatever other revelation is made of God, it’s made in the context of that fundamental revelation of God as a saving God, in Jesus Christ, the Lord. That’s the starting point. If you do not stand in a saving relationship to God, through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, this message is not for you. This is God’s Word to believers who know God as 

(i) The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle further says in verse five, as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us even, even so our comfort abounds through Christ. All of the consolation of God to His suffering saints is in terms of their vital union with Jesus Christ. But now notice, the Apostle not only knows Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, but he calls Him, in this place, and it’s the only place that I know of in the New Testament where God is addressed in these terms, the Father of mercies, or literally the Father of the mercies, or the compassions and the God of all comforting. Let’s look at those two ascriptions of God for a moment.

(ii) The Father of all compassions or mercies. The word mercy, means pity to those who are in distress. Remember in the life of our Lord and in His ministry needy people would encounter Him and cry out, ‘Son of David, have mercy upon me. Look upon me with Pity.’ In Psalm 103:13, like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear Him. The Psalmist addresses God in terms of God’s inward disposition in the face of the afflictions of His people. 

When God beholds the afflictions of His people, ordered by His own divine providence, how does He behold them? He doesn’t behold them with a stoical indifference saying, ‘Well I’ve decreed it, and it’s for their good. Let them work it out.’ No. In all their afflictions, the Scripture says, He was afflicted. He is not only the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who’s revealed a way of forgiveness and acceptance through the Lord Jesus, but He’s the God Who, having brought us into His family and given us the Spirit of adoption, is to us the Father of mercies and the God of all comforting. Where the reference to mercy focuses upon the disposition of God’s heart, the reference to comforting points out the activity of God. He not only has an attitude of pity and compassion, but He puts forth that attitude in positive comfort of His people. In the midst of the pressure of their distress, He is the God Who comforts them.

How did the Apostle Paul come to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? That revelation was made to him in the way that it’s made to all sinful people. He must first of all be brought to a sight of his sin. He must be brought to a sight of the mercy that God extends in the Lord Jesus. You can see that in Romans 7. I had not known sin unless the law said you shall not covet and he details how God dealt with him to show him that in spite of all his external morality and religiosity, he was lost and undone. Then he came to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

You see, just as no one knows God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, apart from the experimental knowledge of sin and of grace [inward moral transformation] so you cannot really know God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, unless you are in the experimental crucible of affliction. You don’t have pity upon those who are well off. You don’t need to extend comfort to those who are completely at ease. Pity, is for the afflicted. Comfort, is for the distressed, and the Apostle tells us in this passage, that the first purpose of God in affliction, with reference to His children, is to give them this further unfolding of His Own character. To bring them into an experimental awareness, of the God that He is, and so if you pray as a Christian, ‘O God, help me to know You better.’ Perhaps you find yourself praying in the words of Philippians 3, ‘that I may know Him’. Would you have further revelation of the character of God? Not in the abstract, but in the real stuff of human experience? Then child of God don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. It’s in the context of affliction that you will come to know Him as the God of all mercies and the God of all comfort, and if you’re going to be so self-sparing that you say, God, don’t touch me with affliction what you’re saying is, I want no further revelation, experimentally, of the depth and the breath, the height and the length of Your Infinite Character. So the first purpose of God in affliction is to give us a fuller revelation of His Character.

The second purpose is laid out in verses four through seven of 2nd Corinthians. 1:4 “Who comforts us in all our affliction, that [here’s the purpose] we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. 6 But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: 7 and our hope for you is stedfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.” The Apostle is saying that:

(2) THE SECOND DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION, FOR THE CHILD OF GOD, IS TO EQUIP US FOR A MORE USEFUL MINISTRY TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Notice that thread of thought, God comforts us, that we may be able to comfort others. Sufferings abound in us, comfort abounds through us. If we are afflicted for your sake, if we are comforted for your sake, and you can reduce the basic thought of verses four through seven to this simple equation, all that happens to us happens for your sakes. All that comes to us, issues in blessing to you. In the context, the primary reference to this is to the Apostle and his companion Timothy. 

Whatever particular trials they were passing through by virtue of the problems at the church at Corinth and in the light of their overall ministry, the Apostle wants the Corinthians to know that what is happening to them is for their sake, but in the light of passages like Romans 15:14, in which the Apostle speaks in such broad terms of the ministry that believers have one to another, we cannot give this an exclusive reference to the Apostle. He said, Romans 15:14 “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” 

He says of the Romans, I’m confident that as brethren, you’ve come to sufficient experimental knowledge, that you are able to admonish one another, and so we see the second aspect of the divine purpose in affliction. How is God going to equip you for a more useful ministry to others? I’ll tell you what He is going to do. He’s going to put you into the fires of affliction that in those fires of affliction, as you experimentally become acquainted with the comfort of God, you in turn, may be an instrument of consolation and comfort to others. 

We do not exist in the body of Christ for our own sake. God has placed us in the body of Christ that we might be an instrument of maturity and development in the lives of the other members of that body. 1 Corinthians 12 deals with this very clearly. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. When one member is comforted all are comforted with it. Ephesians 4, the body is built up by that which every joint supplies. It makes increase of itself in love. How are we going to be made more useful in our ministry to others? It’s going to be in the midst of affliction. If affliction is the common experience of all the people of God, in all ages, then one of the great needs that they have, is for people to be able to console them and comfort them in their affliction. Who is going to be able to do it? Those who themselves have proven the consolation of God in the midst of affliction. Those who have experimentally learned how to face the needle and the scalpel, and instead of screaming and ranting and raving to get off the operating table, say instead, Lord, put in the needle and do your work with the scalpel. 

May I prove you to be the God of all comfort, the Father of all mercies, to the end that I may have a more useful ministry unto others. There are few things which reveal the depth of our selfhood more clearly than the quickness with which we reject affliction. We complain, ‘Lord, this is doing this, and that, and the other to me.’ 

Instead of just saying, ‘O God, if this is the price that I must pay to be an instrument in Your hands, to be a blessing to others, I am willing to submit to anything that I might be an instrument of consolation to my fellow believers.’ Isn’t that the true mark of divine love? Love seeks not her own. Isn’t that our big problem? The moment affliction comes all we think about is what it’s doing to me, to my name, my comforts, my plans. The Apostle Paul didn’t look upon it this way. When afflictions came tumbling in upon him he said, ‘Well hallelujah, there’s a lot more people out there that are going to be helped!’ As the afflictions abound so the consolations abound and he welcomed affliction knowing that it was going to equip him for a more useful ministry to the people of God. 

So let me encourage you, Child of God, some who may, this very instant, be in the midst of an unusual discipline of affliction and tribulation, and you found it so difficult, you’ve cried out, ‘Lord is there something in me? Is it some chastisement? Is it some sin?’ You’ve been open and honest before God and you’ve drawn a blank. Perhaps this is the perspective that you need to bring into the total picture, ‘Lord there are no accidents with you. You know every single person to whom I must be an instrument and means of grace all along the way from here to glory. Lord I embrace all of your disciplines to me that I might be a source of blessing to others.’

The Apostle goes on to give us a third purpose in affliction that helped him to look upon affliction, not as a foe, but as a friend. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead:” What was the third divine purpose in affliction according to the Apostle?

(3) THE THIRD DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION IS TO SHUT US UP MORE FULLY TO THE POWER OF GOD.

Notice his words; ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant, you Corinthians, concerning this tremendous affliction which came to us in Asia.’ What he’s referring to nobody knows for certain. The commentators all make their guesses and most of them disagree, but whatever it was, it’s not important what the trial was, but what the purpose of God was. Notice, he says here what was God’s purpose. We had this affliction come upon us that brought us to the place where we despaired even of life. He said yes, we had the very sentence of death within ourselves. We were as good as dead. To what purpose? That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead. In other words, the Apostle Paul says, we were brought to a place, where the only way out of that circumstance of affliction was a manifestation of divine power equal to the power that raises dead men to life. In any other kind of exercise of divine power there may be great divine assistance, but there may be already something there to work with. If a lame man came to the Lord Jesus, He straightened out a leg that was already there. If a blind man came, the Lord gave sight to eyes that were already there. But when the Lord Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb there was nothing there. There was a direct intrusion of life from without, and Paul said we were brought to the place where our confidence was in an exertion of divine power that was equal to the power that raises men from the dead. Therefore, he says, this affliction was not our foe, but our friend, because it shut us up more fully than ever to confidence in the mighty power of the living God.

We can have a very romantic view of the Apostle Paul as though he didn’t have to wrestle with indwelling sin and corruption, yet Romans 7 is an eloquent testimony to the fact that this was not true. Look at 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had a tendency to be proud and God, seeing that tendency to be proud, said lest you be puffed up beyond measure because the revelations given to you I’m going to allow this messenger of Satan to buffet you. And Paul says, ‘Lord, I can’t complete my ministry with this thing. It hinders me, it cripples me, it weakens me.’ The Lord said, ‘No. If I take it away your pride would weaken and cripple you, therefore, I’m going to allow this affliction so that in the midst of your physical weakness you’ll be conscious of where your dependence is; and in the midst of your weakness the power of Christ will be manifested.’ So the Apostle needed, as we do, to be constantly pushed away from the subtle temptation of self-confidence and to look more upon God’s work as the work of Him assisting us in the exercise of our own cleverness and our own abilities; so when this affliction came, Paul said this was the divine purpose: that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

If the Apostle Paul needed affliction to shut him up more fully to confidence in the power of God, who are you and who am I to think that we will be shut up by any lesser means? That which God brings upon us that makes us consciously embrace our weakness and comes like scissors to cut the cords and the nerves of creature confidence and carnal confidence, these things, the Apostle says, are the divine purpose in affliction.

Sometimes the Lord has to do it with regards to monetary things. It is pretty hard for some of us to pray ‘Lord give us this day our daily bread’ and really mean it. We’ve collected our check week in and week out, month in month out, until suddenly we are laid off. Affliction comes. And then we begin to know what it is, as we never knew before, to look to God to supply our daily bread. Suddenly those words are no longer pretty words in a prayer that you memorized as a child; they become the experimental petition of our own hearts. ‘Loving Father, look down upon us and our family in our need; give us this day our daily bread.’ And what happens with that affliction? It shuts you up to the power of God and the intervention of God.

Sometimes it comes with health. Some of us know weeks and months and years of getting out of bed with two sound feet and a sound mind and a body that can carry us to our work. Though we halfheartedly say, ‘Lord give me strength for this day’ and at the end of the day thank the Lord, it really doesn’t come from the heart. We pretty well think we can get along on our own steam until God allows that strength to be shriveled. Then we know what it is to lay there on a bed of weakness or sickness and say, ‘Oh God, if I’m to even get through half this day, You must sustain me. You must strengthen me.’ Then we are shut up to the exercise of divine power for our daily strength in a way that we never were before. How did this come about? Affliction was Gods means to shut us up more fully to His power.

So it is with the matter of wisdom or with the matter of patience. God puts us in situations where all of our natural resources are utterly depleted and we say-–as far as that duty is concerned and what I must have to perform it–-I’m as good as a dead man. The sentence of death is upon me. And God says, ‘It’s about time that you understand what I’ve said. All along, without Me, you can do nothing, but you didn’t believe Me. I told you right along, cursed be he that trust in man and makes flesh his arm but you didn’t believe Me.’ Now affliction has come and what has been its effect? To shut us up to the exercise of divine power. Christian, don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. That which shuts you up more fully to the exercise of divine power is your friend.

The fourth divine purpose of affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:10. Having spoken of this trust in God Who raises the dead, he goes on to say, 1:10 “Who delivered us out of so great a death, and [now he makes a prophecy] will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us.” Do you see what Paul is doing? He’s left the realm of testimony and now he’s making an affirmation of faith. Looking back upon this circumstance, whatever it was, that shut him up to the exercise of divine power, he says:

(4) THE FOURTH FUNCTION OF AFFLICTION WAS TO INCREASE HIS FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

Way back when God called the Apostle Paul, He made a promise to him and we read that promise in Acts 26:16 “Arise and stand on your feet for to this end have I appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness, both of the things wherein you have seen Me and of the things wherein I will appear unto you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send you, to open their eyes…” Here was the promise of God: ‘Paul I’m commissioning you with this gospel commission, and in the accomplishment of it I will deliver you from every opposition until my purpose for you is accomplished.’ And again and again the Apostle Paul was brought into circumstances where it seemed his life was going to be snuffed out. One time he was stoned, other times plots were laid to take his life, but again and again when these afflictions came and God fulfilled His promise, what did it do? It increased his faith in the promises of God, for faith is strengthened in two ways: 

1st – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY LOOKING TO THE GREATNESS OF THE GOD WHO MADE THE PROMISE, and

2nd – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY EXPERIENCING THE REALITY OF THE FULFILLMENT OF THAT PROMISE.

Faith is strengthened in those two ways. Beholding the God Who makes the promise. That’s the emphasis of Paul in Romans 4. Abraham waxed strong in faith. How? Being fully persuaded that what God had promised He was able to perform. As he conceived in his mind the character and might and power of God, he could look at his own body that was as good as a dead body and say, this body will yet father a child because the God Who made the promise (in Isaac shall your seed be called). God is able to father a child through the dead body of Abraham. And He’s able to do something with Abraham’s body to make it able to father a child.

But the Apostle in this passage is focusing upon the second way in which faith is strengthened. Faith is also strengthened by the experiencing of the reality and the fulfillment of those promises. So the Apostle says, ‘When we had the sentence of death in ourselves, we despaired of living unless God put forth the mighty arm of resurrection power.’ Once He did, Paul said, ‘We have confidence that the God Who has delivered, will still deliver, and continue to deliver, until His purposes for us are accomplished.’ Notice how that faith became even stronger when, as he’s about to lay down his life in 2 Timothy 4, he makes a similar reference to the delivering power of God. 2 Timothy 4:16-18, “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom: to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul said, ‘This past deliverance strengthens my faith to believe the Lord will yet deliver me from every evil work and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom to Whom be glory forever and forever.’ Your faith is not strengthened by pulling your promises out of a promise box. Your faith is strengthened when that promise in the promised box goes with you into the fires of affliction. That’s when your faith is strengthened. You prove God in terms of His promise in the midst of affliction. Then you’re able to come forth with that ringing affirmation, the Lord has delivered, He will deliver, He shall deliver from every evil work. It’s quite easy to pray, ‘Lord increase my faith.’ Then when God begins to put you in the context of affliction you say, ‘Lord this doesn’t have anything to do with my prayer.’ But that’s the very answer to your prayer. It’s by affliction that our faith in the promises of God and the God of the promises is strengthened.

The fifth divine purpose in affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:11, “You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” Now, whether the Apostle is referring to the past prayers of the people of God [the grammar in the original is uncertain] or whether he is saying, ‘In the light of what I’ve told you, you will now have a renewed prayer involvement with Timothy and myself in our ministries’–- whether he’s looking to a past deliverance or thinking of future deliverances in which their prayers will have a part–-the end result will be this: Thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf. In other words, as Paul is delivered from affliction, preserved in the midst of affliction:

(5) THE 5TH DIVINE PURPOSE OF AFFLICTION IS TO PROVOKE CORPORATE PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT FOR HIS SERVANTS.

One of the great delights of being a child of God and scripturally identifying oneself with a visible community of God’s people (the visible church) is that when we enter that affliction we do not enter it alone. We have not only the presence of our Lord Jesus by the Spirit, but we have the presence of the Lord Jesus in the members of His body and Christ and His union with His body is not a mere theological concept. That union is so vital that Paul says, if you sin against the weak brother, you sin against Christ. The weak brother is a member of His body like a finger is a member, and Christ is saying, ‘If you touch My finger you touch Me. That’s a part of Me. When you hammered that finger, you hammered Me.’ The Lord Jesus said, to Saul, ‘Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ when Saul was persecuting the church. When he touched the church he was touching the Lord. The concept of this organic life union between Christ and His people was so real in the mind of the Apostle Paul that he says, when we are afflicted and in answer to our prayers deliverance is wrought and we are preserved, then the end result will be corporate praise to God for the comfort and consolation ministered unto us.

The testimony of the people of God who have entered into unusual periods of affliction is almost always at the top of the list. They’ve said this: The concept, the biblical principle of the unity of the body of Christ, has become precious to me in my affliction in a way I’ve never experienced it before that affliction came.

With a couple who lost their little girl, this concept came through so clearly, the sense that when they passed through this trial of their faith, this affliction, they did not pass through alone. There was not only the Lord Jesus ministering His own grace directly by the Spirit to their heart, but there was the Lord Jesus ministering through His body that supportive role of love and intercession and sympathy and understanding. There’s a realization that the body of Christ is not just a theological term. It’s not just that we meet under the same roof to hear the same sermons and sing the same hymns. There is a bond of identification of love and compassion which when God is pleased to undertake, results not just in the person who was afflicted and has received comfort rendering praise to God, but as the whole body of God’s people entered into that affliction, by their supplications. So, now they enter into praise and rejoicing and God is magnified not by just the one, but by the many. Notice how that is the clear emphasis of the text, “You helping together on our behalf by your supplications to this end, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” This scripture says, ‘Whosoever offers praise glorifies Me, and if God is glorified by the praise of one of His people, He’s glorified more intensely by the whole body of His saints rendering praise onto Him.’

So we learn from this passage that there are at least five distinct divine purposes in our afflictions. In light of these, can that which gives you a fuller revelation of the character of God be your enemy? or is it your friend? Can that which equips you for a more useful ministry to God’s people, can that be your enemy? or is that your friend? Can that which shuts you up more fully to the power of God be your enemy? or your friend? Can that which increases your faith in the promises of God ever be conceived of as your enemy? or your friend? Can that which provokes corporate praise and thanksgiving to God be your enemy? or is it your friend?

Child of God, be done with carnal views of affliction, looking upon affliction as a dreaded enemy. Look beyond the temporal, beyond the immediate and oft times flesh weathering disciplines of affliction, and realize that through affliction you will come to know God experimentally in a way that you could not otherwise know Him. That through affliction you will be made a more fit instrument of blessing to God’s people. That through affliction your faith will be strengthened by your sense of the certainty of the promises of God. Then your involvement with the people of God in praise will be increased. This is the divine purpose in affliction. So, if you are presently in the midst of affliction, may God help you to view that affliction scripturally. If you aren’t presently in the midst of it, don’t breathe too easy, for in the world you shall have affliction that through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God. If you’re a child of God, as sure as you sit here, you’re going to pass through affliction. May God help you and may God help me to view our afflictions in the light of divine revelation.

To those who do not know God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then you cannot know Him as the God of comfort. You cannot know Him as the Father of mercies. It will not do in the next affliction to go whimpering to God and say, ‘Oh God, Whoever you are, wherever you are, comfort me!’ No. If you’re indifferent to God’s demands with reference to your sin, to repent and believe the gospel, that you acknowledge yourself to be undone and standing in need of His mercy; if you live in impenitence and unbelief and despise the gospel, do not think you can come crying to God and somehow snatch to yourself the comfort that He has pledged to His children. No. If you would know Him as the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort, I entreat you first of all, to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent of your sin. Believe the gospel. Embrace His gracious promise, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

But thank God if, in grace, He has brought us to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of all mercies and the Father of all comfort to us. May we prove Him to be that in our experience and all of the theory that we have of these things God will make real to us in the crucible of affection.

When we begin to scream and holler and jump off the table when we see the syringe and the knife, may God help us to quiet one another down and remind one another of the principles of this passage, the divine purposes in affliction that we might know that affliction is not our foe, but our friend in the purpose of Almighty God.

Whether it is the death of a loved one, having an unsaved child, marital issues, loss of a job, etc. It’s all made to increase our awareness of the frailty of life and press us further into Him so that when these same things hit others we can understand and help them through with a real compassion and understanding.

About Albert Martin: Pastor Albert N. Martin concluded 46 years of ministry at Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, in June 2008, and he and his second wife Dorothy relocated to Michigan (he lost his first wife Marilyn in 2004 after 48 years of marriage and a six-year battle with cancer). A recognized evangelist, counsellor, pastor and preacher, Al Martin had his first experience of street preaching before the age of eighteen, under the guidance of elders at the Mission Hall he attended. He taught all the courses in Pastoral Theology in the Trinity Ministerial Academy for 20 years until it closed in 1998. He went to be with the Lord in 2017. Al Martin is the author of four booklets published by the Banner of Truth Trust – A Life of Principled Obedience, Living the Christian Life, The Practical Implications of Calvinism, and What’s Wrong with Preaching Today? He has also written several helpful books: The Forgotten Fear: Where Have All the God-Fearers Gone?; You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges; Preaching in the Holy Spirit; Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies; and Two Volumes on Pastoral Theology entitled: Vol. 1: The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life & Vol. 2: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors. In a labor of love Pastor Brian Borgman wrote a book on Albert Martin’s Theology of Preaching called: My Heart For Thy Cause.

How To Be Victorious Over Fear

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SERIES: Encouragement for Difficult Days

By *Warren W. Wiersbe

A lady once approached D. L. Moody and told him she had found a wonderful promise in the Bible that helped her overcome fear. Her verse was Psalm 56:3: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” Mr. Moody replied, “Why I have a better promise than that!” And he quoted Isaiah 12:2: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid.” Mr. Moody did have a greater promise.

These words from Isaiah 12:2 are worth knowing in these days when it is so easy to become frightened. Jesus told us that in the end times men’s hearts will fail them for fear of the things about to happen; and I believe we are seeing some of this take place today. Psychologists are writing books and magazine articles about overcoming fear.

There are some kinds of fear that are good for us. We warn our children not to go near the busy streets, and we put within them a healthy fear of being struck by a car. Eventually, of course, that infantile fear will be replaced by mature common sense; but until that happens, we dare not take any chances. In fact, the fear of punishment is one basis for discipline. It may not be the highest motive for doing good, but at least it helps us to get started.

The Bible often talks about the fear of the Lord. It tells us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and that “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.” This fear, of course, is a proper respect and reverence for God. It is not the cringing fear of a slave before a brutal master, but the proper respect of a son before a loving Father. It is the kind of fear that opens the way to abundant life in Christ. The kind of fear Isaiah 12:2 is talking about is the fear that paralyzes people-the fear that gets into the heart and mind and creates tension and worry, and that keeps a person from enjoying life and doing his best. I meet people every week who are afraid of life, afraid of death, afraid of the past, afraid of the future-in fact, people whose lives are being enslaved by fear.

Jesus Christ never meant for us to be the slaves of fear. It is exciting to read the Bible and discover how many times God says “Fear not” to people. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, their first words were, “Fear not.” When Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and asked Jesus to depart from him because Peter felt he was a sinful man, Jesus said, “Fear not, Peter.” When Jairus received the bad news that his daughter had just died, Jesus said to Jairus, “Fear not, only believe….” Jesus Christ wants us to conquer fear; and He is able to help us win the battle. What causes fear in our lives? Sometimes fear is caused by a guilty conscience. When Adam and Eve sinned, they felt guilty and became afraid; and they tried to hide from God. Shakespeare was right when he said, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Whenever we disobey God, we lose our close fellowship with Him, and that spiritual loneliness creates fear. We wonder if anybody knows what we have done. We worry about being found out and hope no tragic consequences come from our sins. The solution to that problem, of course, is to seek God’s forgiveness. God promises to cleanse our sins if we will but confess them and forsake them.

Often fear is caused by ignorance. Children are afraid in the night because the shadows look like giants and bears and ghosts. But even adults can get frightened when they really don’t know what is going on. Anxiety about the future, either for ourselves or for our loved ones, can sometimes create fear. Another cause is our own feeling of weakness. We are so accustomed to managing things ourselves that when an unmanageable crisis comes along, we feel helpless and afraid.

Sometimes fear comes, not before the battle or even in the midst of the battle, but after we have won the victory. Often there is an emotional letdown, and fear rushes in. Abraham had this experience in Genesis 15 after he had waged war against four powerful kings and won the victory. That night as he lay down to sleep, Abraham wondered if those kings would return and challenge him again, and perhaps bring back superior forces. It was then that God appeared to Abraham and said, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). But when we study all the cases and try to understand the root cause of fear, one truth stands out clearly: the real cause of fear is unbelief. After stilling a storm that had frightened His disciples out of their wits, Jesus said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” Fear and faith can never be friends; and if we are afraid, it is a sign that we have no faith. This is why Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid.”

The secret of victory over fear is faith in God. There is no problem too great for God to solve, no burden too heavy for God to carry, no battle too overwhelming for God to fight and win. God is big enough to conquer the enemies that rob us of our peace and leave paralyzing fears behind. Isaiah 12:2 doesn’t say, “When I am afraid, I will trust”; it says, “I will trust, and not be afraid.” Faith is not simply medicine to kill the disease; faith is spiritual power to keep us from being infected in the first place.

Notice what the prophet puts first: “Behold, God is my salvation.” If you want to overcome fear, get your eyes off yourself and your feelings, and off the problems that have upset you, and get your eyes on God. The Jewish spies in the Old Testament became frightened when they investigated the Promised Land, because they saw giants and high walls and felt like grasshoppers in comparison. The enemy soldiers were big, and the walls were high, but God was far above all of them. Had the spies lifted their eyes just a bit higher and seen God, they would not have been afraid. 

(1) So the first step in overcoming fear is to look by faith at God. Worship God, get a fresh glimpse of His greatness and glory, and realize that He is still on the throne. 

(2) The second step is to lay hold of God’s Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. When you read the Bible, you find your faith growing. You discover that God has always been adequate for the needs of His people.

(3) The third step is to pray and surrender to the Holy Spirit. Tell God about your fears-tell Him that your fears are really evidences of unbelief-and like that concerned man in the Gospel story, ask God to help your unbelief. Surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit of God, because the Spirit can work in you to take away fear and give you peace. Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The Holy Spirit within you can give you power for your weakness; He can generate love; He can give order and discipline to your mind. The Holy Spirit is God’s psychologist, so turn yourself over to Him.

One of the ministries of the Spirit of God is making Jesus Christ real to us. As you pray and read the Word, the Spirit will give you a spiritual understanding of Jesus Christ, and He will become very real to you. Even in the midst of storms and trials, Jesus Christ comes with peace and courage for you.

There is no reason for you to be afraid. Fear will only rob you and buffet you and paralyze you. Jesus Christ can take away your fear and give you peace. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid.”

About the Author: Warren W. Wiersbe was the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, and is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).

“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.

Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galatians 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galatians 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.

The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.

His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.

During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”

Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next Miracle, The 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of GodClassic Sermons on the Fruit of the SpiritClassic Sermons on Jesus the ShepherdKey Words of the Christian LifeLonely PeopleA Gallery of GraceReal Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.

*The article above was adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe’s classic encouraging devotional: The Bumps Are What You Climb On: Encouragement For Difficult Days. Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1996.

Lessons from the Book of Job on Faith in the Midst of Suffering

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*Mystery and Faith in the Book of Job

By D.A. Carson

Struggle as we may with various facets of the problem of evil and suffering, there are times when particularly virulent evil or horribly inequitable suffering strikes us as staggeringly irrational, unfair. Quite frequently this impression is driven home when we cannot see how to escape the lack of proportion between the massive suffering and the relative inoffensiveness of the afflicted party.

I know a woman who served as a productive missionary for some years in a Latin American country. She returned home to marry a graduate of a Bible college, a man she had known for some years who promised to return to the mission field with her. She had not been married to him for more than a few hours before she suspected she had married a monster. Although couching himself in pious language, he turned out to be psychologically brutal. He was an insecure little runt who publicly maintained a veneer of religious respectability, but who in the intimacy of his own home could live with himself only by savagely demeaning everything his wife did, said, and stood for.

The mission board caught on pretty quickly, and refused to send them out. Years passed, and the abuse worsened. The woman tried talking to friends and counselors; some of them simply sided with her husband and told her to try harder. Eventually she turned to drink; a couple of years later, she was a confirmed alcoholic, herself brutal with her two children. She hated herself, she hated her husband, and she hated God. Why had she gone through so much? She was, after all, simply trying to serve the Lord—fallibly, no doubt, but sincerely.

Of course, it would have been theologically correct to tell her that, whatever her husband was or did, she was still responsible for her own conduct. But she knew that, and hated herself because she found she could not cope. And in any case, this sort of reproach did not answer her question; it merely compounded her sense of guilt.

The Book of Job has been interpreted in several quite different ways. This short chapter is not the place to go into the variations. But virtually all sides agree that this book’s special contribution to the canon, and to the topic of evil and suffering, is its treatment of what most of us would call irrational evil, incoherent suffering. Such evil and suffering do not easily fit into any glib “solutions.” We may remember lessons learned elsewhere in the Bible, but when we try to apply them here there are too many loose ends. The physical suffering, as bad as it is, is compounded in Job’s mind because it does not make any sense. Consequently, it threatens to destroy his understanding of God and the world, and is therefore not only massively painful in its own right, but disorienting and confusing.

Job’s Sufferings and Initial Reactions (Job 1-3)

The prologue of the book, as the first two chapters are usually called, pictures a man called Job, living in the land of Uz (1:1), possibly ancient Edom. Three times he is called “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; cf. 1:2; 2:3). He is the father of seven sons and three daughters, and enormously wealthy to boot. At a time when wealth was measured by livestock, he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred donkeys: he was “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (1:3).

Not only so, he was unquestionably godly, even to the point of offering preemptive sacrifices on behalf of his children: “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts,” he reasoned (1:5). This, we are told, was no passing fancy, no faddish piety; this “was Job’s regular custom” (1:5).

Behind the scenes, unknown to Job, Satan enters into a wager with God. God has presented Job as the prime example of a human being who truly loves God and his ways: “he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). Satan remains unconvinced. He charges that God has so protected Job, so made him prosper, that Job’s “piety” is no more than knowing what side his bread is buttered on. Piety so surrounded by security can’t prove much: “stretch out your hand and strike everything he has,” Satan taunts God, “and he will surely curse you to your face” (1:11).

God takes up the wager, with only one restriction: Job himself is not to be harmed. Satisfied, Satan leaves and so operates behind the scenes that the Sabeans carry off the oxen and donkeys and murder the servants; a raging fire devours the sheep and their shepherds; the Chaldeans form raiding parties and carry off the camels, killing the herders; and a storm destroys the house where his children are having a party, killing all ten of them.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and 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.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrong- doing” (1:20-22).

Satan is still not convinced. When the Lord points out that Job has still retained his integrity, Satan replies, “Skin for skin! …A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (2:4-5). God takes up this challenge as well, but lays down one restriction: Job’s life must be spared.

Not knowing what has gone on in the courts of heaven, Job finds himself afflicted with painful sores from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. In complete degradation, he sits in the ash pit and scratches his scabs with a piece of broken pottery. To make his misery infinitely worse, his wife, whose suffering must be not much less than Job’s, throws in the towel: “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9). But Job rebukes her, and reasons, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

The writer concludes: “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2:10).

The prologue concludes by introducing Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who hear of his suffering and agree “to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). In the custom of the day, they display their distress by crying loudly, tearing their robes, and sprinkling dust on their heads. And then they do the wisest thing they could have done, certainly much wiser than all the speeches they will shortly deliver: for seven days and seven nights, they keep silence, awed by the depths of Job’s misery.

That is the substance of the prologue.

But the picture of Job in these two chapters, it is sometimes argued, is so much at variance with the picture of Job in the bulk of the book that it must have come from a different author. Perhaps someone added the great speeches to a fairly simple morality story; or perhaps someone added the morality story to the great flights of oratory recorded in the speeches. But such theories solve nothing, for someone put together the speeches with the prologue and epilogue, and if that person did not detect an insuperable difficulty, then why should we think that an original writer would find an insuperable difficulty? Such source theories, even if right, do not solve the theological problem: the book as we have it stands or falls as a literary whole, for that is the only form in which it has come down to us.

A more subtle explanation of the prologue has recently been advanced by Athalya Brenner (“Job the Pious? The Characterization of Job in the Narrative Framework of the Book,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 43 [1989] 37-52). She argues that both the prologue and the epilogue (42:7-17) are written with self-conscious irony. Although formally they uphold the assumption that good men should be healthy and wealthy, that righteousness “pays” even in this world, and that the final proof is in the closing verses where Job turns out to be better off than he was before he began his ordeal, in fact the writer is so extravagant in his presentation that one has to believe he has his tongue firmly jammed in his cheek. 

The stylized numbers—seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, and so forth—plus the repeated emphasis on Job’s goodness (1:1, 8; 2:3), even the preemptive sacrifices, all attest that Job is so extravagantly good as to be unbelievable. It is far easier, Brenner argues, to see the prologue and epilogue as exercises in irony. The author is quietly mocking the standard approaches to obedience and blessing, disobedience and punishment. It turns out, therefore, that the prologue and epilogue are not in any tension with the bulk of the book: the author raises questions about unjust suffering, and leaves plenty of room for mystery—whether in the speeches of Job and his friends, including God’s response, or in the profoundly ironic prologue and epilogue.

I confess I am thoroughly unconvinced by this creative interpretation. For a start, it guts the Book of Job, robbing it of any punch. Unless Job really is a very good man and singularly blessed in every realm, the problem of unjust suffering is not made to stand out very acutely. Why blessings are poured out on Job in the end, instead of ending the story at 42:6 with Job’s repentance but with no restoration to health and prosperity, I shall discuss at the end of this article.

Above all, Brenner finds evidence for irony in various stylized forms of expression. But stylized forms of expression can function in other ways than to signal irony. There is a sense in which the entire book is stylized, whether the prologue and epilogue, which are written in prose, or the speeches, written in poetry. The material is presented as a drama; the stylizations are part of the technique to heighten the tension and to present the case in the strongest possible form.

Indeed, as we shall see, the main themes of the prologue and the epilogue, taken at face value, enhance the significance of the book. But before summarizing some of these themes, it is important to pause at chapter 3.

Chapter 3 is the record of Job’s first “speech” (the term sounds terribly formal and pompous for what is, in fact, a lament; but I shall use “speech” to refer to all the lengthy interchanges that run to the end of the chap. 41). It is something of a transition. Like the rest of the speeches, it is written in poetry. Nevertheless, Job does not reply to the charges of his friends, nor does he yet challenge God to explain himself. Chapter 3 is Job’s lament: like Jeremiah (20:14-18), he wishes he had never been born. “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it” (3:3-4).

Job’s lament turns to the unanswerable “whys,” but still more as lament than as angry indignation: “Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter soul, to those who long for death that does not come…?” (3:20-21). “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (3:23). Then follows a somewhat astonishing admission: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (3:25-26).

The stage is thus set for the interchanges between Job and his three friends. But before surveying them, it will prove useful to summarize some of the points the book has made so far.

(1) The Book of Job frankly insists that suffering falls within the sweep of God’s sovereignty. The reader understands, as Job does not, that Job’s afflictions owe everything to the exchange between God and Satan. Satan himself recognizes his limitations: he has to secure permission to afflict Job. He charges God with “putting a hedge” around Job to protect him. Only when God grants permission can Satan lash out at Job’s family and livelihood. Even then he must secure separate permission to strike Job’s body.

Intuitively, Job recognizes that nothing of the sort could have happened to him without God’s sanction. He feels trapped, “hedged in”; but he sees that it is God who has hedged him in (3:23). All the while he has enjoyed a hedge around him, protecting him; now that it is gone, he feels hedged in. Even so, he does not rush to the conclusion that an enemy has done this outside God’s sanction. Job asks, rhetorically, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10).

In short, all forms of dualism are radically rejected. Job will not resort to easy comfort about this not really being the will of God: it must be the work of Satan. Of course, it was the work of Satan. But in God’s universe, even Satan’s work cannot step outside the outermost boundaries of God sovereignty. While that is what raises the problem, it is also what promises hope.

(2) The emphasis on Job’s goodness is meant to highlight the fact that there is such a thing as innocent suffering. This means more than that not all suffering is directly related to a specific sin; it means that some suffering in this world is not directly related to any sin. Undoubtedly one can posit indirect connections by appealing to other Scriptures about the fall and the universality of sin. But they do not rob the Book of Job of the point being strongly emphasized: the link between suffering and retribution found in, say, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Romans, is never so mathematically rigid, so sym- metrically precise, as to rule out the kind of suffering this book considers.

Intuitively, we know it is so. When a father rapes his six-year-old daughter, in what conceivable sense is the daughter “responsible”? Of course, her suffering is the result of sin—someone else’s sin. But that is exactly what makes her the innocent victim. 

Doubtless she is not innocent on any absolute scale. Six-year-old girls cannot possibly be innocent on any absolute scale: they take after their parents. But what sin has the girl committed that makes her incestuous rape an appropriate “retribution”?

The losses Job faced were, on the natural plane, the result of a mixture of human malice (the Sabeans, the Chaldeans) and of natural disasters (the fire, the wind). But behind them stood Satan; and behind Satan stood God himself. In a theistic universe, it could scarcely be otherwise, if God is the God described in the Bible. Undoubtedly there were public renegades and socially revolting sinners who, we might have thought, deserved the reverses Job suffered. But they happened to Job, whom God himself puts forward as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Although the Bible insists that all sinners will (eventually) suffer, it does not insist that each instance of suffering is retribution of sin. Doubtless if this were not a fallen world, there would be no suffering; but just because it is a fallen world, it does not follow that there is no innocent suffering.

The Book of Job will not let us off the hook: there is such a thing as innocent suffering.

(3) The degree to which we struggle with this question is likely to be related to the extent of our own sufferings. That Job can say, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me” (3:25) is not a sign that he did not really trust God, and therefore he got what he deserved: that would subvert the purpose of the entire book—in the third chapter, at that! The purpose of these words, rather, is to show that Job had already thought about these matters. He was no amateur in the things of God. He had thought enough about them to know that, from his own observation, from his own knowledge of God, he could not consider himself exempt from the possibility of disastrous loss. Such loss was what he feared. To that extent, he was prepared for it; probably that prepared mind was also one of the reasons why his initial responses are so entirely noble.

But thinking through the theology of suffering, and resolving in advance how you will respond, however praiseworthy the exercise, cannot completely prepare you for the shock of suffering itself. It is like jumping into a bitterly cold lake: you can brace yourself for the experience all day, but when you actually jump in, the shock to your system will still snatch your breath away.

(4) God does not blame us if in our suffering we frankly vent our despair and confess our loss of hope, our sense of futility, our lamentations about life itself. One cannot read chapter 3 without recalling that God will later excoriate the miserable comforters, but insist that Job himself said right things (42:7).

Of course, it is possible in grief and misery to say the wrong things, to say blasphemous things. Job’s wife is not praised for her counsel: “Curse God and die!” (2:9). But within certain boundaries, yet to be explored, it is far better to be frank about our grief, candid in our despair, honest with our questions, than to suppress them and wear a public front of puffy piety. God knows our thoughts in any case. Whatever “resolution” the Book of Job provides turns on Job’s questions and God’s responses. Without the questions, there would have been no responses.

(5) Already the theme of mystery has intruded. Neither at the beginning of the affliction nor at the end does God tell Job about Satan’s challenge and his own response. Indeed, had he done so, the purpose of the affliction would have been subverted. God’s intent, (the readers know) is to show that a human being can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving any prompt reward. This pursuit of God is therefore independent of material comfort; it may be in defiance of material comfort. Satan’s thesis, that all religious interest is ultimately grounded in self-interest, or worse, in mercenary commitment, is thus shown to be false. But Job himself is not permit- ted to see this dimension to his suffering. As far as he is concerned, he faces inscrutable mystery.

(6) That is why Job’s initial lament, and his later questions, must be placed within the right framework. At no point does Job abandon faith in God; at no point does he follow his wife’s advice to curse God. It is precisely because he knows God to be there, and to be loving and just, that he has such a hard time understanding such injustice. Job wrestles with God, he is indignant with God, he challenges God to come before him and provide some answers; but all his struggles are the struggles of a believer. That is why Job can be praised, by God himself, for saying the right things: at least he spoke within the right framework. His miserable friends did not. We shall have occasion to return to this point in the next section, to learn what it tells us today.

Job’s Plaintive Outrage and His Miserable Comforters (Job 4-31)

Job’s lament is all the encouragement his three friends need to break their silence. The way the drama is set out, each of them—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—have a go at Job, trying to correct his theology and lead him to repentance. After each speaks, Job himself replies. Then the entire cycle is repeated, and starts to be repeated yet again. The third cycle sputters out with a short contribution from Bildad (25:1-6); Zophar never does contribute to the third round. By this time, Job is really indignant, and makes a lengthy speech (chaps. 26-31) that silences his interlocutors without convincing them.

Job and his friends represent deeply entrenched and opposed positions on the questions surrounding Job’s sufferings. To simplify a bit, we may summarize their positions.

(1) Job’s friends offer glib answers and a condemning spirit. The heart of their theo- logical position is summed up by Eliphaz’s question: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (4:7-8).

(2) Job responds with self-justification and hard questions. He is guilty of nothing that can justify such suffering. The readers know this to be true: Job is suffering because God is demonstrating his servant’s spiritual integrity to Satan, not because Job is being punished.

But to feel the weight of their arguments, we need to follow the line of some of their speeches. Eliphaz begins with a sly swipe at Job’s distress. After all, Job has offered advice and help to many others who have suffered. “But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed” (4:5). The charge is more than mere inconsistency, as the next verse shows: there is an ironic suggestion that Job is guilty of rank hypocrisy. “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6). By itself, the question could be taken as a form of encouragement, a gentle compliment. But the next verses, already cited, show it is all a trap: “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” And so the question itself becomes rather nasty sarcasm.

Reason alone is not enough for Eliphaz. He claims he learned the truths he enunciates in a vision of the night. The form that appeared to him asked, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (4:17). In itself, of course, the question points to something important: we need to exercise humility when we approach God on these difficult questions. But Eliphaz applies it more strongly. Fools and reprobates are destroyed by God: he is so holy that he devours them while they scramble around in futility. “But if it were I,” suffering as you are, Job, “I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him” (5:8). I would recognize him as the One who is also capable of restoring his people. I would shut my mouth, confess my sin, and plead for his deliverance. “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so doe not despise the discipline of the almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you” (5:17-19). In other words, Job, if you confess your sin, and plead God’s goodness, you will find yourself restored to your former comforts. “We have examined this, and it is true,” Eliphaz rather grandly proclaims. “So hear it and apply it to yourself” (5:27).

But Job will not be put off so easily. For a start, he resents his friends’ lack of com- passion, their winking condescension. “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow” (6:14-15). Job can see through his friends’ unexpressed fears: if the universe is not as ordered as they would like to think it is, then they themselves cannot count on security: “Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid” (6:21). 

His plea is emotional, and pitiable: “But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face [i.e., by hiding sins]? Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake” (6:28-29).

Job reviews his sufferings again. All he wants is to die before he is tempted to deny the words of the Holy One (6:10). Eventually, he turns to God and begs for pity: “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again” (7:7). But he is not willing to concede that what he is suffering is only fair: “I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7:11). He begs God to back off, to let him die; his days have no meaning. Why pick on me? he asks, in effect. Why pick on any man in this way (7:17-19)?

Job does not claim sinless perfection. He simply argues that any conceivable sin he may have committed does not justify being made a target of the Almighty. “If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?” (7:20).

All this is too much for Bildad. He cannot rise to the sly poetry of Eliphaz, nor claim any midnight vision in which to ground the authority of his opinion. He simply reiterates, forcefully, the traditional answers. “How long will you say such things?” he asks Job. “Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice?” (8:2-3).

That is the nub of the problem. Job is so sure he has suffered undeservedly that he is only a whisker from charging God with injustice. It must be, rather, that God is just, and his justice prevails. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it; on the other hand, Bildad assures Job, “if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place” (8:6). Any fool can see the implication: that God has not restored Job to his rightful place proves that Job must be impure, unrighteous. The only alternative is that God is unjust; and that is unthinkable.

With Bildad’s fundamental assumption—that God is just—Job has no quarrel. “Indeed, I know that this is true” (9:2), he protests; he has never denied it. “But how can a mortal be righteous before God?” In its context, this question does not ask how a mortal can be pure or holy before God, but how a mortal can be vindicated before God. Take it as a given that God is just, Job says. But my problem is that in this case I too am just; I am suffering unfairly. But how can I prove it to God? How can I be vindicated before him? “Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?” (9:3-4).

Job’s problem is not that God is simply too distant, but that Job could not win— even though he is quite certain he is suffering innocently. (And again, his readers know he is right on the latter score!) Job himself surveys some of the evidence that attests God’s greatness and concludes:

“How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy” (9:14-15). Indeed, all the references to God’s power can be read another way, Job argues. “Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery. If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty? And if it is a matter of justice, who will summon him?” (9:16-19). The evidence of Job’s misery suggests that God is sovereign, all right—and cruel. God is so sovereign that even Job’s speech would be constrained in any trial: “Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty” (9:20).

Job is not denying that God is sovereign; far from it. “When a land falls into the hands of the wicked,” Job argues, it is God himself who “blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?” (9:24). Not for Job some glib theodicy about God simply letting nature take its course, about God not being strong enough or farseeing enough or powerful enough to bring about the good. God is so sovereign that he brings about the bad as well as the good. And that is just the problem: if I also believe that God is just, how can I answer him? “It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked’” (9:22).

So Job returns some of the vitriol to his friends. No matter how pure he is, his friends would find him impure: their position demands it. “Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with washing soda, you would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me” (9:30-31).

Again Job turns from his friends to address God, speaking out in the bitterness of his soul (10:1). “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?” (10:3), he asks. “Are your days like those of a mortal of your years like those of a man, that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin— though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand?” (10:5-7). The truth of the matter, Job insists, is that God gave him life, showed him kindness, and providentially watched over him (10:12), only to set him up for this tragedy. Why bring Job to birth in the first place if God knew he was to end up this way? “Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me” (10:18).

Zophar weighs in. He paints a picture of God in grandiose and transcendent terms. Job’s talk, in his view, is appalling. How dare any mortal tell God, “My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight” (11:4)? Job has been begging God to speak, to provide an explanation. “Oh, how I wish that God would speak,” Zophar agrees, “that he would open his lips against you” (11:5). God is so holy and transcendent, and Job so flawed and sinful, that Job’s suffering is in fact much less than the measure of his guilt. Job’s sin is so great God has forgotten some of it. Can’t Job concede that this unfathomably great God cannot be duped or tricked? “Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?” (11:11).

Job replies with scorn: “Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!” (12:2). He sees through them: “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping” (12:5). “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (13:5). If they are going to rabbit on with such rubbish, they should return to the only wisdom they have displayed so far, the wisdom of the first seven days: they should shut up.

Job reiterates several points. None can escape this God; there is plenty of evidence for suffering that has nothing to do with punishment (“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble,” 14:1); Job himself is innocent, and is certain that in a fair trial he would be vindicated (13:18).

The second cycle of speeches begins, and then the third. There is not space here to survey them, not to detail Job’s responses to his “miserable comforters” (16:2). But several things must be said in summary.

(1) Job’s friends have a tight theology with no loose ends. Suffering is understood exclusively in terms of punishment or chastening. There is no category for innocent suffering: in their understand- ing, such a suggestion besmirches the integrity of the Almighty.

(2) Although they are quick to defend God and say many wonderful things about him, their arguments are cast in tones so condescending to Job that one begins to lose patience with them. There is very little hint of compassion, empathy, honest grief. The defense of God can be unbearably hard.

(3) Job’s arguments must not be confused with the atheism of Bertrand Russell, the challenge of David Hume, the theological double-talk of Don Cupitt, or the poetic defiance: “I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!” Job’s speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know him better, who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God—but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in the light of his own experience.

That is why, in the midst of his confusion and self-justification, Job utters some remarkably assured statements of faith. He is so sure of his case that he wishes he could find someone to arbitrate between himself and God (9:33-35). Of course, this is God’s universe, so he can’t; but the Christian cannot read these words without thinking of the mediatorial role of Jesus. Nor does Job become apostate: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!” (13:15-16). He is so sure of ultimate vindication that he can say, “But [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10). However difficult the verses in 19:25-27 be translated,3 the least they affirm is that Job is absolutely confident in his final vindication—by God himself.

(4) The final lengthy speech of Job (26:1- 31:40) reiterates many of the themes already developed, but it reaches a new intensity of bitterness. Now Job is not satisfied with hints: he openly charges God with injustice, and he almost savagely defends his integrity: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (27:2-6). 

Chapters 29-31 are a moving recital of all the godly things that made up Job’s life in the days before he was afflicted. They bear the most careful reading: would to God I could claim half so much. Job has been honest, generous, disciplined; he rescued the poor, helped the blind, comforted those who mourned; he made a covenant with his eyes “not to look lustfully at a girl” (31:1); he was host to countless strangers; he made sure he never rejoiced over the misfortune of another; he never trusted in his own wealth. He frankly feared God (31:23). And he is utterly determined to maintain that his own integrity totally precludes the possibility that his sufferings constitute punishment for sin. As far as he is concerned, confession of sin that he has not committed, just to satisfy his friends and perhaps win some sort of reprieve, would itself be sinful. His integrity is too important to him for that.

(5) Job is therefore not looking for a merely intellectual answer, a merely theological argument. He wants personal vindication by God himself. He wants God to appear and give an account of what He is doing. The drama does not concern an agnostic professor of philosophy; it concerns a man who knows God, who loves and fears God, and whose utter assurance of his own integrity drives him to long for a personal encounter with God that will not merely provide “answers” but will also vindicate the sufferer.

(6) It is important to glance ahead a little. The “three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes” (32:1). They were at an impasse: they could make sense of his suffering only by insisting on his guilt, and he kept insisting on his innocence. But God, after disclosing himself to Job, says to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). Indeed, Job must offer sacrifice and pray for them.

This is remarkable. The three miserable comforters thought they were defending God, and he charges them with saying the wrong things about him. Job defends his own integrity so virulently that he steps over the line now and then and actually charges God with injustice, yet God insists that his servant Job has spoken what is right. Of course, this does not mean that Job’s speeches have been entirely without fault. As we shall see, God charges Job with darkening His counsel “with words without knowledge” (38:2). In the last section of this chapter I shall explore more fully in which ways Job is right and his three friends are wrong. But under any reading of God’s vindication of Job’s discourses, room is made for innocent suffering; a simple theory of retributive justice—punishment proportionate to sin—is inadequate to explain some of the hard cases.

Job and Elihu (Job 32-37)

Chapters 32-37 are among the most interesting, and the most difficult, in the book. They start off by raising our expectations. Elihu, not mentioned until this point, has kept his peace throughout the debate, because the other participants are older than he: custom demanded that age take precedence. But now they fall silent, and Elihu, whose wrath has been stoked by the debate, declares himself angry with both Job and his three friends. He is angry with the three friends, “because they had found no way to refute Job “for justifying himself rather than God” (32:2). And so his lengthy contribution begins.

The remarkable thing about Elihu’s speech is that at the end of the book it is neither praised nor condemned. Some think it adds little, that it simply reiterates the sentiments of the three miserable comforters (e.g., 34:11), and therefore that he ought to be condemned if they are. Some conclude that these chapters must therefore have been added by a later editor.

But a more sympathetic reading of Elihu teases out his contribution, and shows how this young man avoids the opposing pitfalls into which both Job and his comforters have fallen. Perhaps one of the reasons why Elihu does not get a very sympathetic reading in some circles is that he is patently an arrogant and pretentious young man. Probably he is a great wise man in the making, but still far too full of himself and too certain of his opinions. Nevertheless, his main themes prepare the way for the central thrusts of the answer that God himself ultimately gives. If he is not praised, it is because his contribution is eclipsed by what God himself says; if he is not criticized, it is because he says nothing amiss.

We may summarize his argument this way:

(1) Elihu begins with a rather lengthy apology for speaking to his seniors (32:6-22). Among the factors that compel him to speak is his conviction (as he says to Job’s three friends), that “not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments” (32:12). This does not mean he thinks Job is entirely right, as we shall see; but Elihu has carefully distanced himself from the theology of the “miserable comforters.”

(2) When Elihu turns to Job, he first rebukes him for impugning God’s justice (33:8ff.). Job may be innocent (Elihu will come to that in due course), but that does not give him the right to charge God with injustice. There is a sense in which Job himself has been snookered by a simplistic doctrine of mathematically precise retribution. The major difference between Job and his three friends is not their underlying views of retribution, but their views of Job’s guilt or innocence. Because Job is convinced he is innocent, he is pre- pared to skirt the view that God himself is guilty. Elihu will not have it: “But I tell you, in this you are not right” (33:12).

The first reason why Job is not right is that “God is greater than man” (33:12). By this Elihu does not mean to say that greatness provides an excuse for wrongdoing, but that God may well have some purposes and perspectives in mind of which Job knows nothing. However much Job insists he is innocent, he must therefore put a guard on his tongue and refrain from making God guilty.

(3) The second thing Elihu says to Job is that God speaks more often and in more ways than Job acknowledges. “Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words?” (33:13). The truth of the matter, Elihu insists, is that “God does speak—now one way, now another— though man may not perceive it” (33:14). He speaks in revelation: in dreams and visions (33:15-18). But God may also speak in the language of pain (33:19ff.). This is an advance on the argument between Job and his friends. Here is a chastening use of suffering that may be independent of some particular sin. Its purpose may be preventative: it can stop a person from slithering down the slope to destruction.

(4) In chapter 34, Elihu is so concerned to defend the justice of God that his rhetoric becomes a little overheated. On the positive side, Elihu is determined to stop Job from charging God with injustice. The proper response to suffering is to accept it: God cannot possibly do wrong. By speaking the way he has, Job has added rebellion to his sin (34:37); “scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.”

If Elihu is at times dangerously close to siding with the three miserable comforters, it is here. Certainly he has not empathetically entered into Job’s suffering, or tried to fathom the anguish that leads Job to defend his integrity in such extravagant terms. But Elihu is right to defend the justice of God, and he has advanced the discussion by suggesting that Job’s greatest sin may not be something he said or did before the suffering started, but the rebellion he is displaying in the suffering. Even so, that does not explain the genesis of the suffering. It may, however, prepare Job to be a little more attentive to listen to God when God finally does speak.

In chapter 35, Elihu expressly disavows that Job is innocent. But unlike Eliphaz (22:5-9), he does not compose a list of sins Job must have committed, but challenges Job’s fundamental presumption. To take but one example: Job assumes that when people are oppressed they cry to God for help, and charges that God does not answer. Not so, insists Elihu: one is far more likely to find people crying out “under a load of oppression” and vaguely pleading “for relief from the arm of the powerful” (35:9), but still not praying. They want relief, but do not turn to God and pray. They cry for freedom, “[but] no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker … ?’” (35:10). God does not listen to such empty pleas (35:13). What makes Job think, then, that God will answer him when the assumption underlying his entire approach to God is that God owes him an answer, and may well be guilty of injustice (35:14-16)?

(5) In the last two chapters devoted to Elihu (chaps. 36-37), several themes come together, and Elihu begins to appear in more compassionate guise. The burden of the passage is this: whatever else may be said about the problem of evil and suffering, the justice of God must be the “given”: “I will ascribe justice to my Maker,” Elihu pledges (36:3). But God is not malicious. He does care for his people. Therefore the proper response to suffering we cannot fathom is faith and perseverance; the response to avoid bitterness (for it is the godless who harbor resentment, 36:13). Job is in danger here: “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction” (36:21)—that is, Job must not turn to evil as a way of alleviating his suffering. Be patient, Elihu is saying, “those who suffer [God] delivers in [lit. through] their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food” (36:15-16). Be patient; it is better to be a chastened saint than a carefree sinner.

Job and God (Job 38:1-42:6)

Finally God himself speaks, answering Job out of the storm (chaps. 38-41). “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (38:2-3). There follows question after question, each designed to remind Job of the kinds of thing he cannot do, and that only God can. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (38:4). “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place … ?” (38:12). “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?” (38:22-23). “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?” (38:31-32). “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” (38:39-41). God then goes on to describe some of the more spectacular features of the mountain goat, the wild donkey, the ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, the eagle. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (40:2).

Job had wanted an interview with the Almighty. He had, as it were, sworn an affidavit demanding that the Almighty appear and put his indictment in writing (31:35). But God’s defense wasn’t quite what Job had in mind. At the first pause, Job answers, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (40:4-5).

But God hasn’t finished yet. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (40:7). Then come the most blistering questions: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? 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. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you” (40:8-14).

It is important to recognize that God does not here charge Job with sins that have brought on his suffering. He does not respond to the “whys” of Job’s suffering, nor does he challenge Job’s defense of his own integrity. The reason he calls Job on the carpet is not because of Job’s justification of himself, but because of Job’s willingness to condemn God in order to justify himself. In other words, God does not here “answer” Job’s questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but he makes it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in God’s universe.

The rest of chapter 40 and all of chapter 41 find God asking more rhetorical questions. Can Job capture and subdue the behemoth (40:15ff.) and leviathan (41:1ff.)? These two beasts may be the hippopotamus and the crocodile, respectively, but they probably also represent primordial cosmic powers that sometimes break out against God. The argument, then, is that if Job is to charge God with injustice, he must do so from the secure stance of his own superior justice; and if he cannot subdue these beasts, let alone the cosmic forces they represent, he does not enjoy such a stance, and is therefore displaying extraordinary arrogance to call God’s justice into question.

Job’s response must be quoted in full (42:2-6), along with two or three explanatory asides: “I know that you can do all things,” Job tells God, “no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowl- edge?’ [38:2]. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me’ [38:3; 40:7]. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you [i.e., Job has come to have a far clearer understanding of God than he had before]. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

What shall we make of this exchange between God and Job? 

Many doubtful interpretations have been put forward by various writers. Because God refers to so many natural phenomena, one writer argues that a major purpose of God’s speech is to tell Job that the beauty of the world must become for him an anodyne to human suffering, a kind of aesthetic aspirin. When one basks in the world’s beauty, one’s problems become petty, “because they dissolve within the larger plan” of the harmony of the universe (For adequate discussion of the difficulties, see John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, NICOT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988] 292-97). But to someone suffering intensely, the beauty of the world can just as easily become a brutal contrast that actually intensifies the suffering. Worse, it does not dissolve pain; rather, it is in danger of “dissolving” the sufferer in some kind of pantheistic sense of the fitness of things. This is surely a massive misunderstanding of God’s response. Not once does God minimize the reality of Job’s suffering.

Others, such as George Bernard Shaw, simply mock God’s answer. Job wants an answer as to why he is suffering, and the best that God can do is brag about making snowflakes and crocodiles. A contemporary author like Elie Wiesel, writing in the aftermath of the Holocaust, holds that Job should have pressed God further. Doubtless Job needed to repent of his attitude, but he still should have pressed God for an answer: Why do the righteous suffer?

Both of these approaches misunderstand the book rather badly. They have this in common: they assume that every- thing that takes place in God’s universe ought to be explained to us. They assume that God owes us an explanation, that there cannot possibly be any good reason for God not to tell us everything we want to know immediately. They assume that God Almighty should be more interested in giving us explanations than in being worshiped and trusted.

The burden of God’s response to Job is twofold. The first emphasis we have already noted: Job has “darkened God’s counsel” by trying to justify himself at the expense of condemning God; and Job is in no position to do that. “God’s speeches show Job that his lowly station point was not the appropriate place from which to judge whether cosmic orders were sufficiently askew to justify the declaration ‘let there be darkness.’” (Stuart Lasine, “Bird’s-eye and Worm’s- eye Views of Justice in the Book of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 42 [1988] 344).

The second emphasis is implicit: if there are so many things that Job does not understand, why should he so petulantly and persistently demand that he understand his own suffering? There are some things you will not understand, for you are not God.

That is why Job’s answer is so appropriate. He does not say, “Ah, at last I understand!” but rather, “I repent.” He does not repent of sins that have allegedly brought on the suffering; he repents of his arrogance in impugning God’s justice, he repents of his attitude whereby he simply demands an answer, as if such were owed him. He repents of not having known God better: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent” (42:5-6).

To those who do not know God, to those who insist on being God, this out- come will never suffice. Those who do not know God come in time to recognize that it is better to know God and to trust God than to claim the rights of God.

Job teaches us that, at least in this world, there will always remain some mysteries to suffering. He also teaches us to exercise faith—not blind, thoughtless submission to an impersonal status quo, but faith in the God who has graciously revealed himself to us.

Job’s Happy Ending (Job 42:7-16)

These verses may be divided into two parts. The first, which we have already glanced at, reports God’s wrath with Eliphaz and his two friends for not speaking of God what was right, as Job did (42:7-8). They are required to offer sacrifice to God, and Job, whom they have despised and abused, must pray for them, for God will accept his prayers for them (and, by implication, not their own!).

In the second part (vv. 10-17), after Job prays for his friends, the Lord makes him prosperous again. His siblings and acquaintances gather around him and provide gifts, presumably to help him start up again. He sires another family, seven more sons and three more daughters, and gains herds twice the size of what he had before. No women were more beautiful than his daughters, and Job left them an inheritance along with their brothers—further evidence of Job’s com- passionate and enlightened treatment of those traditionally squeezed to the periphery of life (cf. chap. 31). He lived to a ripe old age, seeing his children and their children to the fourth generation. Eventually he died, “old and full of years”—an epitaph reserved for the choicest or most favored of God’s servants (Abraham [Gen 25:8], Isaac [Gen 35:29], David [1 Chron 29:28], and Jehoiada the priest [2 Chron 24:15]).

If some critics are displeased with God’s answer to Job out of the storm, even more are incensed by this “happy ending.” The story, they argue should have ended with Job’s repentance. Whether he was restored is irrelevant; in any case it is untrue to the experience of many, who suffer at length without reprieve. To end the story this way makes the doctrine of retribution basically right after all. The conclusion is therefore anticlimactic at best, contradictory at worst.

This is, I think, a shallow reading of the text. Perhaps the following reflections will help unpack the purpose of this conclusion a little:

(1) We must beware of our own biases. One of the reasons why many people are dissatisfied with this ending is because in the contemporary literary world ambiguity in moral questions is universally revered, while moral certainty is almost as universally despised. The modern mood enjoys novels and plays where the rights and wrongs get confused, where every decision is a mixture of right and wrong, truth and error, where heroes and antiheroes reverse their roles.

Why this infatuation with ambiguity? It is regarded as more mature. Clear-cut answers are written off as immature. The pluralism of our age delights in moral ambiguity—but only as long as it costs nothing. Devotion to contemporary moral ambiguity is extraordinarily self-centered. It demands freedom from God so that it can do whatever it wants. But when the suffering starts the same self-centered focus on my world and my interests, rather ironically, wants God to provide answers of sparkling clarity. 

(2) Throughout his excruciating suffering, Job has demonstrated that he serves the Lord out of a pure heart. True, he has said some stupid things and has been rebuked; but at no point does he simply curse God and turn his back on Him. Even his demand that God present himself be- fore Job and give an answer is the cry of the believer seeking to find out what on earth God is doing. Even while sitting in the ash pit, Job trusts God enough to express extraordinary confidence in him, and for no ulterior motive.

In that sense, God has won his wager with the devil. Job may utter words that darken God’s counsel, but he does not lose his integrity or abandon his God. Is it there- fore surprising that there should be full reconciliation between God and Job? And if the wager has been won, is there any reason for Job’s afflictions to continue?

(3) No matter how happy the ending, nothing can remove the suffering itself. The losses Job faced would always be with him. A happy ending is better than a miserable one, but it does not transform the suffering he endured into something less than suffering. A survivor of the Holocaust has not suffered less because he ultimately settles into a comfortable life in Los Angeles.

(4) The Book of Job has no interest in praising mystery without restraint. All biblical writers insist that to fear the Lord ultimately leads to abundant life. If this were not so, to fear the Lord would be stupid and masochistic. The book does not disown all forms of retribution; rather, it disowns simplistic, mathematically precise, and instant application of the doctrine of retribution. It categorically rejects any formula that affirms that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always destroyed. There may be other reasons for suffering; rewards (of blessing or of destruction) may be long delayed; knowledge of God is its own reward.

Job still does not have all the answers; he still knows nothing about the wager between God and Satan. He must simply trust God that something far greater was at stake than his own personal happiness. But he has stopped hinting that God is unjust; he has come to know God better; and he enjoys the Lord’s favor in rich abundance once again.

(5) The blessings that Job experiences at the end are not cast as rewards that he has earned by his faithfulness under suffering. The epilogue simply describes the blessings as the Lord’s free gift. The Lord is not nasty or capricious. He may for various reasons withdraw his favor, but his love endures forever.

In that sense, the epilogue is the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth. God is just, and will be seen to be just. This does not smuggle mathematical retribution in through the back door. Rather, it is to return, in another form, to the conclusion of chapter 8 of this book.

(6) Although I have repeatedly spoken of God entering into a wager with Satan, or winning his wager with Satan, I have done so to try to capture the scene in the first chapter. But there is a danger in such language: it may sound as if God is capricious. He plays with the lives of his creatures so that he can win a bet.

Clearly that is not true. The challenge to Satan is not a game; nor is the outcome, in God’s mind, obscure. Nothing in the book tells us why God did this. The solemnity and majesty of God’s response to Job not only mask God’s purposes in mystery, but presuppose they are serious and deep, not flighty or frivolous. Nevertheless, the wager with Satan is in certain ways congruent with other biblical themes. God’s concern for the salvation of men and women is part of a larger, cosmic struggle between God and Satan, in which the outcome is certain while the struggle is horrible. This is one way of placing the human dimensions of redemption and judgment in a much larger framework than what we usually perceive.

(7) We are perhaps better situated now to understand precisely why God says that his servant Job spoke of him “what was right,” while the three miserable comforters did not. True, Job is rebuked for darkening the Lord’s counsel: he became guilty of an arrogance that dared to demand that God give an account of his actions. But Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, and has not allowed glib answers to deter him. He denies neither God’s sovereignty nor (at least in most of his statements!) God’s justice. Above all, so far as the wager between God and Satan is concerned, Job passes with flying colors; he never turns his back on God.

Contrast the three friends. Although they are trying to defend God, their reductionistic theology ends up offering Job a temptation: to confess sins that weren’t there, in order to try to retrieve his prosperity. If Job had succumbed, it would have meant that Job cared more for prosperity than for his integrity or for the Lord himself; and the Lord would have lost his wager. Their counsel, if followed, would have actually led Job away from the Lord; Job would have been reduced to being yet one more person interested in seeking God for merely personal gain.

This is, at the end of the day, the ultimate test of our knowledge of God. Is it robust enough that, when faced with excruciating adversity, it may prompt us to lash out with hard questions, but will never permit us to turn away from God? But perhaps it is better to put the matter the other way round: the God who put Job through this wringer is also the God of whom it is said that, with respect to his own people, “he will not let [them] be tempted beyond what [they] can bear. But when [they] are tempted, he will also pro- vide a way out so that [they] can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13). God could not trust me with as much suffering as Job endured; I could not take it. But we must not think that there was any doubt in God’s mind as to whether he would win his wager with Satan over Job!

When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?

*Article adapted from Chapter 9 of the outstanding book: How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil by Dr. D.A. Carson. Grand Rapids: MI., Baker, 2006.

About the Author: D.A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1978. Carson came to Trinity from the faculty of Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he also served for two years as academic dean. He has served as assistant pastor and pastor and has done itinerant ministry in Canada and the United Kingdom. Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. Carson is an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings around the world. He has written or edited about sixty books. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition.

A Lesson on Suffering From the Book of Job

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The Problem of Suffering in the Book of Job

By *Dr. R.K. Harrison

It is almost a truism to state that one of the most urgent problems of this day and age which confronts the social responsibilities of Christianity is that of disease and suffering, and that there is an immediate need for a re-interpretation and greater understanding of that age-old problem, and of its spiritual implications. Nevertheless, it still remains true that there is probably nothing which has quite so telling and far-reaching an effect on the religious convictions of an individual than the incidence of personal suffering, whether as a result of disease or not. The annals of history teem with persons of otherwise mature action who have discarded their religious convictions because after what seems to them sincere and honest efforts to evaluate the situation, they have been unable to reconcile the depth, extent and apparent injustice of suffering in the world generally, and in particular as they themselves have been affected.

Against this, however, it is necessary to set the multitudes who have plumbed the depths of human suffering, and who have emerged from that experience with a vastly wider conception of the scheme of things, enriched and ennobled by the dominant spiritual tone which has supplied for them a means of probing the mystery. To arrive at such a frame of mind posits an experience which calls for some explanation, and which will be considered subsequently in this paper. At this stage it is enough to point out that the problem is one of immense proportions, and that it occupies an important place in human life.

Our own generation has witnessed the attack on the problem by a vast concentration of scientific forces, spurred on by the urgency of discovering timely and practicable solutions to the issues involved. Neither money nor material has been lacking, and the question of suffering, particularly that aspect of it which is exhibited in the development and dissemination of disease, has challenged the best efforts of highly skilled men and women. For that reason it is vitally important that we should be able to offer to humanity an interpretation of the situation in terms of Christian experience which is fully cognizant of and sympathetic towards the scientific movement.

This is of particular significance for the clergy, since it is clear that a pastor who has not faced up realistically to the implications of the whole problem of suffering and disease is hardly likely to be able to meet the needs of his people. The sober fact is that in so many cases the incapacity of the minister in this direction produces in his people a conviction that the problem is completely beyond his powers of attack and solution, and in despair they turn elsewhere for advice which should have been his prerogative to give. If they are exploited in the process, the problem is only deepened as far as they are concerned.

We must make clear at this point that in a discussion of the problem of suffering we are not dealing with something which is of passing moment, or which is an isolated concern. We can never come to any understanding of the spiritual significance of the issue of suffering unless we are clear regarding our views of the nature of God, the purpose of life, and the relation between them. So many of the wrong conclusions presented for our consideration from time to time are the result of muddled thinking based on untrue or only partially correct premises.

Because the problem is at once age-old and deeply theological, we can perhaps most conveniently consider it in relation to its profoundest Biblical expression in the Book of Job, where the human and divine aspects of the issue are clearly set forth. That this book is no casual exposition of family fortunes in antiquity, but rather a statement of timeless significance regarding the entire issue, has been recognized by commentators for centuries. What is not always made clear, however, is the precise and apposite manner in which the book deals with a problem which has perplexed man from earliest times, and which we shall endeavor to expound.

We are introduced in the book to a patriarch in the land of Uz, a prosperous landowner with a large, happy family. His performance of those religious duties which are his portion through the call of duty and the prompting of conscience is punctilious and exact. His relationships with his family and friends exhibit marks of love and respect of an order rare in our own day. Life for him is very pleasant, and his righteousness, of which he is very conscious, has indeed been acknowledged by God.

But then we are given a glimpse behind the scenes of this drama, where the adversary is in conference with the Almighty, and where the depth and the sincerity of Job is called into question by being equated with decency and respectability which in reality is designed to further his own ends in life. The prose introduction with which the book opens, depicts God as allowing the adversary to test Job by affliction and suffering without his person being harmed. When all this takes place it is borne with exemplary courage and fortitude, and it makes no appreciable impact upon the faith of Job. So far, it appears, the adversary has failed in his testing. He avows that the “success” of Job was due to the fact that the suffering has not affected his own person, and is granted permission by God to send upon Job acute personal plagues.

Exactly what the affliction was which troubled Job is not clear. The word for “boil” (shĕchin) is elsewhere rendered by “sore” or (inflamed) ulcer, as in the Egyptian plagues which “broke forth with blains upon man and upon beasts”. It may have been the “botch of Egypt”, where the same Hebrew word is used to describe a swelling or eruptive discoloration of the skin, and this may have been similar to the cutaneous symptoms of elephantiasis or “black leprosy”.

At all events we see the formerly happy and successful man oppressed by a series of misfortunes, culminating in personal affliction and intense suffering, happening without any apparent reason and completely beyond human control. As we well realize, this pattern of events is constantly being re-enacted, and this factor gives the book its timeless nature and appeal. One very significant point for our later discussion is that we see clearly depicted in the book the fact that even worse to Job than the incidence of physical agony was the mental distress which he underwent, his agonized grappling with the problem of the rationale of things―why this should happen to him of all people. In the ensuing speeches made by Job and his friends, Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz, we see the essence of the message which the book has for us regarding the problem of suffering and disease.

The friends whose observations occupy a considerable proportion of the book came in traditional Oriental manner to sit with him and to comfort him in his affliction and loss. As the discourses unfold, they are represented as being sympathetic towards Job, but it becomes increasingly clear that they are concerned primarily in maintaining their own religious position. For them the matter is so simple that it makes further discussion superfluous. Job is a sinner, and as a result is being punished by God for his iniquity. This standpoint is stated with such obvious sincerity by Job’s friends that their remarks smack of self-satisfaction and naive smugness.

Even the opening speech of Eliphaz, which is not particularly controversial, and which presents his views in a mild and generalized manner, seems to indicate that for him also there is no real problem. There is no real “giving” of the self to the situation, no proper appreciation of the tragedy which has beset Job, no real sympathy for the man himself. It is clear that the weight, the mystery and the intensity of the problem escapes them completely. At best they can only assert that the way of the transgressor is hard, and when Job has at last convinced them by voluble protest and reasoned assurance that he is completely innocent of any fault of which he is aware that may have resulted in the suffering and affliction, his friends are hurt and shocked.

The reason for this latter state of mind is not hard to find. The assertions which Job makes evidently threaten the security of their implied confidence and full understanding of the problem which has arisen. The debate becomes more and more heated, which only goes to prove that the real concern of the friends was to alleviate the emotional shock and upset which they themselves had sustained, rather than to help Job in his troubles. For his part, Job speaks in a direct and vivid manner, but there is no direct arraignment of God, even when he is tempted to do so by his wife. In actual fact this standpoint is probably the crux of the entire position which we are studying.

At this juncture a new figure comes on the scene in the person of Elihu. He gives deference to the opinions of the three friends, but rebukes them for their shallowness and lack of feeling. He points out that afflictions are designed for the good of the sufferer, even though they may not be the direct result of transgression. Job is reproved for trying to justify himself rather than God, and the divine character is vindicated. In particular, Job is criticized for his lack of faith and inability to comprehend the nature of the spiritual forces at work in this situation. This is the essence of Elihu’s discourse.

It is followed by a theophany, the judgment of Jehovah on the matter under consideration. Job is upbraided for his preoccupation with his own afflictions and his lack of appreciation of the greatness and magnificence of Jehovah by contrast with the insignificance of men. The comforters, too, come in for their share of criticism because they have exhibited shallowness of thought on the one hand, and yet on the other they have been so presumptuous as to convey the impression that they had final and detailed knowledge concerning the deeper things of God and of human life.

Job acknowledges his shortcomings and intercedes for his friends, who are thereby themselves saved from punishment. It is clear that he has entered into a new and deeper spiritual relationship with God, manifesting itself in a more comprehensive vision of life. The book closes with a note concerning the restoration of the original state of prosperity, with further material blessings added.

From this outline of the contents it is possible for us to draw some inferences which are basic to a discussion of the problems involved. In the first place we must recognize that the book is not merely a tale of human fortitude under affliction, which is the most that some commentators have seen in it. The book in fact constitutes a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God with men. But if the Deity is taken as the dominating figure in the drama, the meaning tends to become obscured. It would appear that the book is more concerned with the intrinsic nature of man than in revealing the inner workings of the divine plan, which it is not usually given to man to know. It is enough for him that the sequences of life should help to shape a true, loyal and submissive spirituality. In short, suffering was shown to be a necessary factor in the development of spiritual maturity, and it has remained so to this day.

It is important for us to realize that the problem which the book presents is depicted as deep and profound, with an obvious element of the mysterious coloring the entire proceedings. For that reason, if for none other, it cannot be effectively dismissed by a smart answer or a knowing wink. It goes to the very bottom of the cauldron of strivings, conflicts and desires which have so profound a part to play in the expression of the human personality. The arguments of the three friends of Job are characteristic of the shallow thought of much contemporary spirituality, and inadequate for the very good reason that they are not based on a discernment of the force of the problem and its implications for humanity.

The basic teaching, then, is quite evident. The suffering inflicted upon Job was in no sense a punishment for sin. God is not whimsical, vindictive or capricious, but acts according to an ordered sequence. The effect of the suffering in this case was a transformation of the entire mental outlook of Job, a new knowledge of God, a new perspective on life, influenced and directed by the realization of the insignificance of man as compared with the greatness and majesty of the Almighty. We might in fact say that the spiritual benefits which accrued to him were nothing less than a complete readjustment of his sense of eternal values, a conversion in the best sense, a profound deepening of his spiritual life.

One of the lessons which we learn from the Book of Job is startlingly modern in its implications. It is evident that there is practically no suffering which can be called exclusively physical, and similarly there is very little which can be designated as specifically mental or spiritual. We are living today in times which are witnessing the exodus of what had been called “machine-age medicine”, in which the affected organ was treated, frequently without reference to the patient as a person, with the obvious tendency of isolating disorders with reference to a particular organ, and then applying either symptomatic treatment or radical surgical procedures, all of which carefully excluded the sense of “wholeness” or unity which the individual manifests in the ordinary way.

In place of this outmoded therapy we see the progress of the psychosomatic concept, the view that there is an intimate connection between emotional conflict and physical illness. Modern psychological and psychiatric investigation has revealed that there is a close link between emotional conflict or derangement and physical illness, and this discovery only serves to reinforce the conclusions reached long ago in Scripture that man is a personality rather than a mere body. It follows that when emotional conflicts exist within the personality, their expression is often in terms of what has been styled “organ language”, that is to say, a particular organ begins to display indications of a pathological condition when at first no somatic pathology is present. Hence the psychogenic factor is a matter of immediate and pressing concern in the vast majority of illnesses, bringing the physical and mental aspects of the affliction into close association.

As a general rule, mental suffering results from the conflict of conscious and unconscious forces, and often this is heightened and brought into clear focus by the lack of integration or wholeness in the personality. It is a startling fact that many disease-syndromes have their genesis in part or in whole within this lack of personal integration. Through organ-language the conflicts of the emotions and the personality may be consciously alleviated, though this development cannot be considered in any sense as an advance, since one form of bad health is merely replacing another one.

Space does not permit us to examine in detail at this point the significance of the above comments for the problem of suffering. Suffice it to say, however, that modern scientific investigation clearly supports the assertion that mental, emotional and often spiritual factors are frequently basic in disease. The clinical demonstration of the unconscious mind and its manifestations by Sigmund Freud has paved the way for extensions of scientific knowledge in this regard, and has thrown new light on the very problem with which we are concerned. The existence of conflict in the individual nature as described by modern investigators is very reminiscent of the Pauline introspection which confessed that “it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me… the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans vii. 17 ff.). The conflict here could easily be interpreted as having physical manifestations.

It will be seen from the above that the manner in which spiritual and emotional elements were compounded in the suffering of Job has its counterpart in more recent times. Let us go a step further. The healing of the “disturbance” in the personality of Job and the creation of his new relationship to God, issuing in a more profound state of spiritual mastery, made the reintegration of his personality as a whole possible. Such a step is a necessary prerequisite for successful therapy of much of modern disease which is rooted in conflict and disturbance of the personality.

With this background we may attempt to examine the goal of our efforts with respect to this awesome problem of suffering. Here one must say immediately that such suggestions must be of a tentative nature, since we are very far from proper possession of even some of the facts, let alone of them all. A glib answer one way or the other satisfies neither the sufferer nor the one who is endeavoring to bring treatment to bear upon him, and the problem must be faced up to honestly and sincerely for the best results to be obtained. But if suffering has mental, emotional and spiritual implications along with the characteristic physical manifestations, and if the re-integration of the

personality is the most effective attack upon the problem, we must be careful to draw up the very best method or technique for this renewal of a consciousness of “wholeness”.

In the case of Job, the re-integration took the form of an improvement in his relationships with God through his re-assimilation and consequent revision of the truths of the divine nature as experienced in relationship to the nature of man. This could never have been achieved through a sustained attempt to instruct the intellect alone, as is evident in the failure of his friends’ logic to make the desired impress. For integration to be realized it was necessary for a total redirection of the personality to take place.

Surely this significant fact throws a good deal of light on our modern problem of suffering. Is it not just as true to-day as in the time of Job that this re-integration is necessary? Do not the people of our own day stand in desperate need of a consciously realized power and love which is able to cast out not merely fear―which plays a large part in all mental conflict―but also the repressions, maladjustments of personality, phobias and psychoses which are so common at the present? Though our answer to all these questions may well be an avowed affirmative, there must accompany it the realization that we are not thereby proposing any simple solution to the issue, nor are we by that means dissipating in any way whatever the force, depth and the unpredictable nature of suffering itself. The advantage of this standpoint is that we are presented with a pattern for our efforts at reaching the goal, and we have now arrived at the point where we may conveniently consider the techniques by which this re- integration may be best achieved.

Let us for the first time introduce into our discussion the term “maturity” as being for our purposes an improvement on the term “integration”. Maturity, as we all recognize, refers to the ability of an individual to accept himself for what he is, in full recognition of his own limitations and deficiencies in various areas of life. In a spiritual sense it implies the possession of realistic goals for living, having regard to the fact that man is a child of God, and that the spiritual content of human nature posits a certain amount of reciprocity between man and God. There are a number of other commonly accepted criteria for maturity, but the above general delineation is adequate for the purposes of this article.

Now in order to reach this stage of maturity, the experience of some pattern of suffering is generally necessary. The mental mechanisms of defense which we employ in painful or unpleasant situations must be exposed, and in order to do this some form of suffering, often physical as well as mental, is frequently necessary. Nor is this question of maturity merely personal in its implications. Because man is a social organism, it is necessary for the familial relationships to be examined carefully in order to avoid a lack of clarity between familial and divine allegiances.

On the alleviation of mental suffering, we may observe that the conflict which exists within the individual may be disentangled carefully by a skilled and sympathetic therapist, who will probably employ one or other of the modern counseling techniques to this end. But we must also remark that the very same result can be achieved by the spontaneous sympathy of a warm-hearted untrained friend. If the approach of the sufferer to God is to be mature, this type of thing is usually all that is necessary for a redirection of the personality, and its opening to the healing and consoling forces of God. The majority of ministers who undertake this latter role cannot claim such training as is the lot of the psychiatrist, nor indeed would such be desirable. What is important is the possession of a sympathetic appreciation of the situation, and of the issues involved in the individual personality alone, to say nothing of extraneous factors which are not infrequently concomitants of suffering.

The final consideration is that this maturity or integration must be achieved through a conscious deepening of the relationship with God, and at this point the therapeutic power of the Christian Gospel is very much in evidence. Integration other than on this basis is not really integration at all, and whilst the ills of the personality may be palliated by other means, it still remains true that the climax of maturity must come, as it did for Job, in the deepening of the spiritual life, for which the Gospel of the Risen Christ is the only specific. Upon this step the value and permanence of the whole sequence depends, and it is at this point that the minister can bring his own experience of Christ to bear upon the situation so that a realistic conversion results, thereby opening the way for progressive deepening of the spiritual life in “after-care”. The act of faith or complete reliance upon God is the mark of integration, and prayer will also play a significant part in the entire process.

We have seen something of the vastness of the problem of suffering, the relation which the Book of Job has to it, and the manner in which the basic principles exemplified in that book may be related to modern knowledge and its more practical application to suffering. That this application is of special importance will probably be agreed by all, and it is certainly a challenge to the ministry of the Christian Church to perform more of those works without which its faith is dead.

About the author: R. K.Harrison (1920-1993) studied at the University of London (B.D., 1943; M.Th., 1947, Ph.D., 1952) and taught at Clifton College, Bristol from 1947 to 1949, before his appointment as Hellmuth Professor of Old Testament Studies at Huron College, University of Western Ontario. In 1960 he became Professor of Old Testament Studies at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where he stayed until his retirement in 1986.

Harrison was best known for his Introduction to the Old Testament (1969) but wrote many other books, including commentaries on Leviticus (ISBN 184474258X) and Jeremiah and Lamentations (ISBN 0830842217). He was on the Executive Review Committee of the New King James Version, and translated several of the Minor Prophets in the New International Version. Together with Merrill Unger, he edited The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.

In 1988, a Festschrift was published in his honor, Israel’s apostasy and restoration: essays in honor of Roland K Harrison (ISBN 0801038308). Edited by Avraham Gileadi, it included contributions by Clarence Hassell Bullock, Eugene Merrill and Bruce Waltke.

*The article above has been adapted from R.K. Harrison, “The Problem of Suffering and the Book of Job,” The Evangelical Quarterly 25.1 (1953): 18-27. See also: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/