Readers may find Job’s book difficult to understand or follow, do not despair!
I call the book of Job “the Galatians of the Old Testament”. Job begins with an altar scene, demonstrating his theological understanding of the substitutionary death of the innocent on behalf of the guilty. He’s not privy, at this point, to the conversation in heaven where God describes him as righteous, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, on who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8). Suffering thrusts Job into a theological conflict where he (and his friends) must wrestle with the subject of suffering and righteousness.
Job’s intercession on behalf of his children (1:4-5) demonstrates that he understands substitutionary atonement–that God imputes righteousness to the one who trusts in God’s promise of redemption and His provision of redemption (Genesis 3:15, 21). Job has only the creation era stories on which to found his faith in God. His friends, however, entertain a faulty theology–they equate the absence of suffering with righteousness (right standing with God). Job’s suffering forces them to revaluate their faulty beliefs, while Job’s suffering forces him to return to the foundation of his faith. Righteousness comes by faith alone, not by works of righteousness. The good that Job does reflects his right standing before God, but it doesn’t make him righteous.
The book closes with an altar scene, but this time Job intercedes (at God’s command) for his friends who had equated their lack of suffering with righteousness. Righteousness comes by faith in Christ alone, the substitutionary death of the Innocent One on behalf of guilty sinners. Suffering is a part of life outside of the garden of Eden. No one escapes it! God uses suffering to sanctify the righteous, but its absence doesn’t prove that a man is righteous. Key truths regarding suffering emerge as Job’s story develops:
- God does not cause or instigate human suffering. Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy, but life and righteousness originate with God.
- Satan can only do what God permits; while Job thinks God has hedged his way in to bring suffering (3:23), in reality God’s hedge had been his protection in the good times (1:10).
- Suffering calls Job to return to substitutionary atonement as the foundational truth regarding righteousness.
- It is through Job’s suffering that Job’s friends are introduced to faith-based righteousness.
- God uses what He hates (suffering) to accomplish the good that He loves (exalting the gift of righteousness through substitutionary atonement).