After Job’s repentance, the LORD specifically repudiates his three friend’s positions, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7b) They were instructed to bring seven bulls and rams to Job to sacrifice as burnt offerings, and to have Job pray that the LORD forgive them their folly. Interestingly, Elihu is not mentioned. The LORD then restores to Job all that he had lost but in even greater abundance and he lives to a ripe old age, seeing his children and their children to the fourth generation.
Job is the only book of the Bible that is exclusively focused on the problem of suffering. And yet many have walked away in frustration because it appears to raise all the right issues and then fail to deliver clear answers. There are answers though, for those willing to dig deeper than the Q&A format.
Perhaps of greatest importance, Job teaches that God repudiates the theory, put forward in endless variation by Job’s three friends, that suffering is the punishment for specific sins (as opposed to a general condition that falls on all, regardless of rightness in relationship to the Almighty). This interpretation is made concrete by Christ himself in Luke 13:1-5.
13 1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
But Christ’s words are only a reconfirmation of what the Book of Job had taught many centuries earlier. Isn’t the discovery that suffering is not punishment for particular sin of the utmost importance? Consider how much manmade suffering could have been avoided if human societies (including some Christian communities to this very day) had embraced this profound truth.
Job also teaches us that great suffering; though it leads into the darkest night of the soul, where pain, fear and despair conspire to destroy all faith, hope and love; can be a path that leads to unexpected discoveries of God’s healing, wisdom and salvation. And, the light of those discoveries can profoundly change a life. It takes but a small exercise of the imagination to see Job after his suffering experience as far more humble, patient, thankful, worshipful than he had been before. And so too may it be for us.
I’m going to step away again from the Language of Suffering to deal with thoughts on the PCUSA. When I return to LoS the topic will be “The Suffering and Glory of the Servant,” Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.