The How of Suffering

Not to oversimplify, and not to be overly influenced by the ways of our current culture, but it seems to me that Job and his friends had become quite polarized in there back and forth, round-and-round-we-go debate. Though they at least agreed on a certain core set of facts — Job had taken it in the teeth, no one disputed that he was suffering — where they landed on opposite ends of a continuum came from trying to deal with the why of Job’s suffering.

I’m righteous, says Job, therefore my suffering indicates there’s a problem with God’s justice, I want to talk to Him . . . now! No, say his friends (miserable friends), God is just, therefore your suffering must be because you are evil . . . and though by all appearances you come across as one who is blameless, upright, fears God, and shuns evil (Job 1:1), we know you can’t be and therefore will speculate on the sins of your secret life.

Opposite ends of the continuum. I am justified, cries Job. You are being judged, comes the rebuke from his friends. Polarized. At a theological impasse. Talking’s done.

Enter Elihu. The kid in the crowd. Up until chapter 32, an eavesdropping bystander. Respectful on the outside, but raging on the inside (that he “burned with anger” is mentioned three times in his introduction). Choked because Job “justified himself rather than God.” Done because Job’s three friends “found no answer” to Job’s complaint though “they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (Job 32:1-5).

And I’m thinking that Elihu may just have something to say worth listening to. Thinking this because I know that when God steps in, He will call Job on the carpet for His arrogance (Job 38:1-3), and He will rebuke Job’s friends for their ignorance (Job 42:7), but the LORD says nothing to Elihu. Thinking that’s significant. While Elihu may not speak perfect wisdom, it seems he’s a credible “opening act” before God comes on the stage.

So, as I hover over Job 33, and take note of the redemption language used by Elihu, it seems that Elihu diffuses the polarization of trying to answer why God has allowed (or, as the friends would suggest, “inflicted”) such suffering, by focusing more on the wisdom of how God might use such suffering.

Elihu talks of a man “rebuked with pain.” Emaciated to the point where “his flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out.” So crushed by his condition that “his soul draws near the pit.” Elihu describes Job.

But it’s in that condition, skin and bone and on the precipice of death — when a man or woman is at the end of their own physical resources — that Elihu says they are ready for a word from God, are wanting of some mediation with God, are knowing that they need a ransom before God. And then, says Elihu,

” . . . man prays to God, and He accepts him; He sees his face with a shout of joy, and He restores to man his [or His] righteousness. He sings before men and says: ‘I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.’ Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.”

(Job 32:26-30 ESV)

The question for Elihu isn’t why Job was suffering. It was how could God use such suffering.

Using suffering so that the sufferer might turn to God and pray. So God could look upon the face of a contrite woman, a humbled man, and restore to them righteousness (and I’m thinking crediting to their account His own righteousness). So that God could show mercy and grace, not repaying the sinner for his sin, but instead redeeming the sinner’s soul for His glory. Letting him or her look into the darkness of the pit so that they might be renewed with the Light of life.

Behold, God does all these things!

Reminding this guy in the chair this morning that all hardship can be profitable if it results in turning to God. May never know the answers to the why of suffering, but can always engage in the redemptive, divine dynamic of the how of suffering.

And this too, by God’s grace. And this too, always for God’s glory.

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