Suffering comes into our lives in many different forms. The difficult loss of a loved one, especially a spouse or child. Debilitating and chronic physical pain. Financial strain from losing a job, bankrupting a business, or making a terrible investment. Relational strain from an estranged family member or former friend. We also face cancer diagnoses and natural disasters, not to mention any hostility or outright persecution for simply being a Christian.
Suffering is inescapable this side of heaven. The goal is not to avoid all suffering (as if that was possible) but to be prepared for suffering. The Bible calls us to trust God through our suffering and provides us the message of Job to help teach us that lesson.
The opening two chapters of the book of Job describe the horrible tragedy that befalls Job as a result of a heavenly wager between God and Satan. Job goes from being “the greatest of all the people of the east” (1:3) to being unrecognizable to even his friends (2:12) because “they saw that his suffering was very great” (2:13). In one fateful day, he tragically lost all of his earthly possessions, including his ten children (1:13-19). This was followed by his health being destroyed (2:7-8) and even his wife urging him to “curse God and die” (2:9).
The specific details of Job’s suffering and the circumstances that brought them about will not be the same as ours. But there are three truths that we can learn about suffering from these opening chapters of Job that instruct us so that we too, like Job, can learn to trust God through our suffering (cf. James 5:11). We’ll look at the first two truths in this blog post, and the last truth in the next blog post.
Satan’s goal was to get Job to curse God. In Job 1:9, he says, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” Satan’s claim is that Job doesn’t really trust in God; it’s all a façade. Sure, Job looks good on the outside, but that’s only because his life is going well. What Satan wants to do is to get Job to curse God to His face (1:11)! The devil even succeeded with Job’s wife. She lost the battle. We don’t know anything else about her, but whatever faith she had was destroyed (2:9-10).
Not every instance of suffering you experience is directly the work of Satan himself, but he’s more involved than most of us might realize. Even these natural disasters that ruined Job financially came as attacks from Satan…for the purpose of destroying his trust in God.
In Revelation 2:10, Jesus warns the church in Smyrna about the suffering that they were about to experience. They were about to be tested because the Devil was throwing some of them into prison. Jesus called them to faithfulness in the midst of this tribulation so that he could give them the crown of life.
Likewise, in 1 Peter 5:8-10, the Christians are exhorted to resist their “adversary the devil” and remain firm in their faith despite the suffering they are experiencing. Satan wants to use this suffering to “devour” them and destroy their faith.
When you encounter suffering of any kind, the first important truth to recognize is that there is a spiritual battle going on for your soul. Will you stand firm in your faith, trusting God, or will you give in to the devil’s attempts to destroy your faith? Suffering is not spiritually neutral, and neither is our response to suffering.
Satan’s charge was that Job feared God for no reason (1:9). God allowed Satan to bring all of this suffering into Job’s life to prove that Job’s faith was genuine (1:1, 8; 2:3). This suffering stripped Job of all his earthly status, all his earthly possessions, all his earthly rewards. He lost everything. And it was hard, Job wept, and he spiritually wrestled (as the following chapters describe in great detail), but Job’s faith endured (19:25-26; 42:7).
Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus had to “learn obedience through the things he suffered.” Jesus himself had to learn obedience and have his faith strengthened through what he suffered. If this is true for Jesus, how much more accurate is it for us? James 1:12 reads, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
God promises eternal life to those who love him. But how do we know that we really love God? How do we know we love God for God and not just love God for what He gives us? When God brings suffering into our life, it is not to harm us. Satan’s goal is to harm us and even to destroy our faith. But that’s not God’s goal. God’s goal, when he brings suffering into our life, is the care of a loving Father who wants to strip away anything that would keep us from that promised crown of life.
God wants to prove the genuineness of our faith. He wants to strengthen our faith so that we, too, can learn obedience. He wants us to be able to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).