God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14 provides the context for the trajectory of Joseph’s suffering, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them for four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” The rest of the story answers the question, “How will that promise come to pass?” God works through the depravity of Joseph’s brothers to position Joseph in Egypt. He also uses a regional drought to drive Jacob and his family to Egypt.
Job, however, doesn’t have a revelation from God by which to interpret the demise of his wealth, the death of his children, his intense physical suffering, and the verbal abuse of his friends. He is not privy to the conversation in heaven that is the direct cause of all that he experiences on earth.
Our knowledge of that conversation in heaven, however, allows us to see that it is God’s esteem of Job and Satan’s hatred of him that cause Job’s suffering. Suffering is never wasted in the hands of God.
Job and all three of his friends struggle to interpret Job’s suffering without divine illumination. The darkness of suffering requires both faith in the good character of God and confidence that God wastes nothing. Just as He uses the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers to fulfill His good intentions regarding Abraham and descendants, so He uses Job’s suffering to bring Job’s friends into the community of faith.
Job’s suffering reveals a number of truths that deliver hope to heart of sufferers today:
• A man’s performance doesn’t merit righteousness before God—righteousness before God is a gift from God based on the perfection of the substitutionary death of the Innocent One on behalf of the guilty. Faith-based righteousness impacts how a person lives in the same way that a new root creates a new tree. Faith-based righteousness enables people of faith to face and walk through the sufferings of life outside of Eden.
• Job’s understanding of the Gospel is demonstrated at the beginning of the book of Job when he offers sacrifice for the sins of his children and at the end when he offers on behalf of his three friends. Job lives in light of the promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15 and its picture in Genesis 3:21 as did Adam & Eve, Abel, and Noah. God affirms Job’s righteousness in a conversation to which Job was not privy (Job 1:8; 2:3): his was righteousness by faith. Just as righteousness is a faith gift, so suffering is a faith gift.
• Satan seizes the dominion given to Adam and Eve in Eden’s garden and uses it to kill, steal, and destroy. He has real power, but not unlimited power. God circumscribes boundaries in which Satan may operate, and He uses the evil that He hates to accomplish the good that He loves. Therefore, Christ-followers must be aware of Satan’s devices, but they should not fear suffering.
• God uses suffering redemptively in the lives of people of faith to reveal cracks in their theology and to mature their faith just as he did with Job. He uses the same suffering as an evangelistic tool to expose self-righteousness—and thus, the lack of righteousness—in those around us.
• Suffering doesn’t contradict a person’s right standing before God; suffering does not prove that the sufferer is unrighteousness.
• Having the “good” or “best” life now is getting to know God in the midst of life’s upheavals. Those who opt to escape their present affliction by choosing evil—leaving a spouse, abandoning their faith, changing churches without cause—short-circuit the purpose of God in their lives (Job 36:21).
• Asking “Why?” questions leads to despair in suffering. The better question must be entertained, “How is God using this suffering in my life for my good and His glory?”
• Suffering confronts people with the fragility of life and forces them to evaluate their theology. They either respond in bitterness toward God (the pride of entitlement) or they trust Him to accomplish His redemptive purposes (the humility of surrender).
• Job’s highest thoughts are those expressed in his appeals to God, while his low points come when he accuses God of evil. When people defend their goodness and accuse God of unfairness, they justify themselves rather than God.
• Finally, no man correctly interprets his suffering or the suffering of others without divine illumination.