For the Suffering and Their Friends
By Jim Tune
The book of Job is mystery to me. It’s the story of immense suffering, unhelpful friends, few answers, but a great God. The more I look at the book, the more I see. It’s a book that’s so relevant to our times, for both those suffering and their friends. That’s all of us.
For those who are suffering, Job lets us know we’re not alone.
“I used to think that the book of Job is in the Bible because this story of suffering is so extreme, so rare and improbable and unusual,” says pastor and scholar Ray Ortlund. “I thought the message of the book is, ‘Look at this worst-case scenario. Now, come on. Surely in your comparatively small problems, you can find your way.’ I don’t think that anymore. Now I think the book of Job is in the Bible because this story is so common.”
It’s also a book that frees us from easy answers. When we suffer, we ask questions. Job does, and his friends are quick to provide answers. When God shows up, though, he doesn’t provide answers. He provides himself.
Job isn’t a book that explains all our suffering. It’s a book that shows us what God expects from us when we suffer. He wants our trust. Explanations are nice, but we need more than explanations when we suffer. We need God himself.
Suffering is a reality in this world, and explanations are few. While it’s OK to ask questions, it’s foolish to expect we’ll find neat answers for suffering, at least until eternity.
It’s also a book about how to be a friend to those who suffer. Job’s friends started out well.
And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept. . . . And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:12, 13, English Standard Version).
That’s almost a perfect playbook for how to be a friend to someone who’s suffering. Then they wrecked it all by opening their mouths. When we offer glib explanations for suffering, we do a disservice to everyone around us. Sometimes we just need to be present, sit, and mourn.
Job leaves us with some simple truths: Life is brutal. Answers are few. Be slow to speak when others are suffering. Most importantly, it teaches us that God is great and can be trusted.
I’m grateful the Bible is realistic about suffering and refuses to give us glib advice. It gives us something even better: the assurance that God is in control and that we can trust him always, even when we are suffering, and even when we don’t have the answers.