Suffering And Sin

Some books of the Bible are easier to read and to understand than others.

Finding the point of a passage from Philippians, for instance, is not too difficult.

But what about all the craziness of Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation? Those aren’t so simple. Those are way more complicated, scaring off even the most impassioned students of God’s Word.

Another difficult book of the Bible is the book of Job. It’s a complicated book that falls under the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of the Bible. It’s a book that I want us to explore together throughout the summer. Not every blog will be about this book, but it will remain the dominant topic. So, grab your Bible or pull up your Bible app, and let’s check it out together.

As I said, Job falls under the banner of wisdom literature. But what kind?

The rest of the wisdom literature have their own niches. Psalms is essentially an old hymnal. Proverbs is a collection of sayings about wisdom and folly, and the importance of pursuing the former. Ecclesiastes is about the wisdom to know that all of life is meaningless outside of God. Song of Solomon is about the wisdom of marriage, or our relationship with God, or maybe both?

Job is different though. Job is poetry bookended by narrative. We are told a story about Job (chapters 1-2) that leads to dozens of chapters of Job speaking with four of his friends, who are quite foolish (but we’ll see that later). Then God comes in and says the last word, humbling Job and hopefully us in the process. We then get a final chapter where we see the culmination of the story.

The Wrong Way To Read Job

There’s a couple ways to read Job incorrectly.

  1. We have the proclivity to unintentionally strip verses out of their context, trying to jam them into the puzzle that is our theological beliefs about God and man. This happens quite regularly with wisdom literature. Here’s where this is especially dangerous when it comes to the book of Job. Whenever any character other than God is speaking about the nature of God, you could have some falsehoods. There are innumerable times in Scripture when a character makes a false statement about the nature of God and the world (Pharaoh, the wicked prophets, the servant from the parable of the talents). So, as we sift through the dozens of chapters of dialogue in the book of Job, we should be careful not to take what Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, and Zophar say about God at any moment as necessarily true about God. Make sense?
  2. The other way to read Job incorrectly is to make Job the hero of this story. Yes, there are aspects of Job’s character and faith that are worthy of emulation. But ultimately this story is not a fable that teaches us some moral lesson as we try and make our lives more like Job’s. Instead, it has something much deeper and richer to teach us, and you’ll see that below.

The Right Way To Read Job

I personally have found that reading through entire books of the Bible (this doesn’t have to take place in one sitting) to be the most beneficial to me. I would attest that this best equips us to observe and grasp the book of the Bible we are wanting to glean from. So, to best read Job, you should do just that. Just as I’ve been methodically walking through Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire, we should methodically work through the book of Job.

Secondly, don’t go to the book of Job looking for black and white answers about the world we live in and what it means to be human. If you’re looking for a clear-cut answer to why suffering happens, you’ll be left wanting. There’s a whole lot of tension, gray area, and paradox in what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The book of Job will take us deeper into that tension, rather than alleviate it.

The Theme of Job

As a matter of fact, the purpose of the book of Job is to highlight the incorrect black and white understanding of sin and suffering that so many people then and now hold to.

You will see that all of Job’s friends believe that Job’s suffering is a result of some hidden sin that is just below the surface. They attest again and again and again that Job is going through such powerful suffering and pain because of his unrighteousness and sin.

We still fall into this. Christian Karma is alive and well. We can claim faith in Christ and belief in the God of the Bible and yet still fall into the “do good, get good; do bad, get bad” mentality. This is so antithetical to Christian doctrine. The book of Job will show us that suffering happens in a Genesis 3 world. Suffering can have purposes for us, and sometimes it may just not. There have been tremendously painful moments in the life of my family that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to them. It’s in that space that the book of Job can remind us that God is faithful, even when our sufferings don’t fit into our black and white, systematic beliefs about life.

Craig G. Bartholomew wrote a book on Job called When You Want To Yell At God. That name is so good.

Have you been there?

I have.

In fact, I’ve not only wanted to yell at God, I have.

Many times.

In his book, Bartholomew teaches that suffering is not always the result of wrong behavior, and right behavior does not always guarantee blessing – but God is always faithful.

I encourage you to read the book of Job. Again, not for trite answers to share in moments of grief, but rather for powerful proclamations from the Word about the faithful God we serve in the midst of our own abject sufferings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

On My Shelf: January 11, 2018

Well, I didn’t get as much reading done in the last couple weeks as I would have liked. That being said, the two books I did read were solid.

Perfect Sinners by Matt Fuller (7/10)

The tagline of this book is “See yourself as God sees you”. This one was personally beneficial to me. I honestly expected more from it, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations or where I thought Fuller was going to take it, but it was encouraging and good.

Many of us allow our walk with God to determine how we ‘feel’ that our status with God is. So, when sin comes and rears its ugly head in our lives, we begin to feel as if our status with God has changed and that He no longer looks upon us with love and affection. This book will make the argument time and again that our status with God should determine our walk with God. So if we understand what Scripture says about how God views us, our lives should be different as a result.

My two favorite chapters were:

How strong does my faith need to be?  – As I’ve written about in length in a previous blog, some of my alone time in high school and early college was spent wondering if my faith was strong enough for salvation or strong enough for being in spiritual leadership. This chapter will strongly encourage the reader to stop worrying about the level of their faith and instead focus on the object of their faith. So if you tend to worry about how good of a Christian you feel like you need to be to obtain God’s love, read this chapter and remember that God loves you so much that He sent His son to die for you.

Why is change so slow? – This was easily my favorite. There are sins that seem to take years and years to remove from my life. There are seasons of success and failure, but it seems to take forever to stir my heart for Jesus in such a way that my behavior changes. This chapter reminds the reader that our culture is all about instantaneous results, but sanctification takes decades in some areas. This chapter will also encourage you to simultaneously look at the cross and take sin seriously, for this is the way to grow spiritually by reminding ourselves of grace and putting sin to death.

The reason it only got a seven is because it seemed a little disconnected at times and there was a chapter on heavenly rewards that was solid but seemed to take a little bit away from the freedom to live that the book set out to establish in the Christian’s life.

So if you wrestle with God’s love for you despite your consistent sin, read this one. It will set you free to live out what is already your status before God because of Christ. Give it a read, you won’t be disappointed.

Word-Centered Church by Jonathan Leeman (9/10)

This one had me writing and journaling like a madman. This one intimidated me at first, as it is a 9 Marks book and at least to me those can be a little heady, despite being sound and solid.

Once I actually pushed past the first chapter, I was drawn into thinking deeper and deeper about what it would look like for our churches to be Word-Centered. This book, (much like Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry) looks at many aspects of the local church and how to build them upon the Word of God. This means more than just saying a slogan about the Bible or having the inerrancy of the Bible as one of your ‘What We Believe’ statements. Rather, building your church around the Word means singing Scripture, preaching Scripture (not just self-help or motivational messages with Scripture sprinkled in to affirm your points), designing small-groups around Scripture, etc.

Much like Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, reading this book was like reading my passions and desires being articulated wisely by someone who is much more seasoned in ministry than me. From a young age I loved Scripture, and as I’ve grown I’ve desired to see it taught well and rightly.

My two favorite chapters were:

The Sermon Announces – This one was like reading my statement of belief regarding preaching. This chapter reminded me that the job of the pastor is to announce what God has already said through a Biblical passage, not use the passage to announce what you think. Man this one is convicting to me, challenging to me, and it lights a fire in me to see pastors around the globe stop using their Bibles to prove their points and beliefs, but rather announcing afresh what God has already said to be true via Scripture. That’s a humongous difference, and one that hugely impacts the health of the church long-term. Are you using Scripture or announcing Scripture?

The Church Prays – This chapter prompted a previous blog of mine about how our churches pray prayers that non-Christians would not be confused by. This chapter calls our churches into deeper prayers, Scriptural prayers for one another that go deeper than good health and financial needs. This one convicted me big time as I pray for family and friends. I tend to pray for surface-level stuff, or needs that have been brought to my attention. But I rarely if ever have prayed deep Scriptural prayers with eternal implications.

The reason this one didn’t get a perfect score for me is because it was still a little heady.

I enjoyed reading these two books during my New Year’s Day time off, so pick them up and give them a read!

In His Name,

Nathan Roach