Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
This Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with. But for many, the holiday season is not such a joyful time. Many people around us are suffering through tragic losses and difficult times. Each of us, at some point in our lives, will go through similar experiences of suffering. All of us will, most likely, suffer financial difficulty, health problems, and the loss of loved ones. It’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when.” But isn’t it interesting that we don’t all react the same way, even when our problems are basically the same as everyone else’s? Why is it that some people seem to collapse when tragedy strikes, while others blossom?
There’s a few things from the story of Job in the Old Testament that we can learn about suffering. But first, let’s take note of a few of the most important details in the story. First of all, notice that Job’s suffering was not a result of sin that he had committed. Job is described as being “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (v. 1) We shouldn’t assume from that truth that our own suffering is never a result of our sin—oftentimes it is! Take a speeding ticket, for example. Ultimately, all suffering is indirectly caused by sin, because sin has ravaged the perfect creation that God made. But suffering is not always caused directly by our sin. Sometimes bad things happen to godly people.
Secondly, notice what Job lost. First, Job lost his oxen and donkeys. Oxen were the combines of that day, so this loss would be similar to loosing one’s livelihood and food source simultaneously. No oxen, no food. Secondly, Job lost his sheep. Sheep were used for sacrifices to God, clothing (from the wool), and perhaps for food as well. The third thing Job lost was his camels—his primary mode of transportation. Last, and most importantly, Job lost his family. All seven sons and three daughters were killed when the roof over their head collapsed during a feast. And, while he was still mourning the loss of these, he was stricken with boils on his skin. In the span of just moments, Job lost his job, his food, his clothing, his transportation, his children, and his health.
Thirdly, notice that there were things going on “behind the scenes,” in the spiritual realm, that Job was not privy to. Now, we don’t know for sure why God allowed Satan to afflict Job. Certainly God could have prevented Satan from doing so, but for whatever reason, he decided to permit Satan to afflict Job to a certain extent. Perhaps God was trying to grow Job’s faith. That certainly is one of the outcomes of this whole ordeal. But while that may be the case, I tend to think that the purpose of Job’s afflictions was for our spiritual benefit. We get a behind the scenes look at suffering that we don’t get anywhere else in scripture. So perhaps one of the greatest lessons we learn through Job is that sometimes our suffering is the means God uses to encourage others during their suffering. Because of the introduction of sin into the world, suffering is an inevitable part of life. But when Christians endure suffering well, we show through our testimony that there is hope in the midst of crisis for those who are in Christ.
But how do we “suffer well?” The answer lies in Job’s response to his suffering. Job’s first reaction to suffering was both grief and worship. Now Job’s grieving comes as no surprise to us, given all that he had lost. But worship?!?! God had just allowed unspeakable disaster to strike Job, and all Job had ever done was live a godly life! Of course, Job wasn’t without sin, but even God himself describes Job as “blameless and upright.” How could Job resist the incredible urge to blame God for his suffering? Job was able to suffer well because he had developed a godly character long before tragedy struck. Job didn’t wait around for disaster to hit and then look in the “What to read when you are suffering” appendix in his Bible. Job didn’t have to frantically scramble around asking advice from godly people on how to endure suffering. Job didn’t wonder what kind of God would allow such suffering. Job didn’t question God’s character because Job already knew God’s character. The time to figure out how to handle suffering is not when you’re in the middle of it—the best time to figure that out is when things are good. Job could worship God in the middle of suffering because he had made up his mind long beforehand that he would do so. Job had a faith “emergency fund” that he’d been saving up for years, funded by the realization that every blessing was a gift from God.
Job recognized that “the Lord gave…” When times were good, Job didn’t take it for granted. Job realized that his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, wealth, health, and family were all gifts from God that he didn’t deserve. That’s why Job prayed for his children after every feast—because he realized that his family’s health and wellbeing was simply a product of God’s grace and mercy. Job was able to weather the storm because he practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving. Job didn’t worship God because God had taken all of these blessings away from him; Job worshiped God because that’s just what Job did—he worshiped God. Every day. Continually. Every blessing that Job received he praised God for. Every ox, every donkey, every sheep, every servant, every penny of his wealth, every son, every daughter, every moment, every hour.
You see, when we stop taking things for granted and start praising God for every blessing we have, then our attitude changes. Instead of feeling that God owes us all these things—that we’re entitled to God’s blessings—we begin to see God’s blessings for what they are: grace. Blessings from God are his grace—unmerited favor. Suffering is not when God steals things from us that belong to us (our health, family, wealth, etc.), it’s when God simply takes back what was rightfully his to begin with. If the Lord gave, then the Lord has the right to take away. And it helps to keep in mind the truth of Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God never takes back his blessings just for the fun of it. There’s always a purpose, and it always works together for our good.
So how do you suffer well? You start right now—especially if things are going well. You live a life of thanksgiving—not just one day every year. You suffer well by making every day Thanksgiving Day. And then when tragedy strikes you simply repeat what you say every day: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”