Is God Listening?
Since God is love, why do even zealous Christians suffer? The Book of Job offers insights we need to consider
Robert E. Gentet
© 1986; Revised 2015
Not long ago, I began to again study the Old Testament Book of Job. I say "again" because I had studied it a number of times, albeit mainly from an historical or scientific viewpoint. But shortly after beginning the study something happened in my life that caused me to shift the emphasis this time to the primary reason the book was written.
One morning I severely injured my lower back. I became almost the proverbial "basket case" in a matter of a few seconds. And, instead of the condition improving rapidly (as it had in previous times), it only seemed to grow more complicated. The perfect setting had now come into my own life to study the Book of Job for its intended spiritual application!
I'm sure that you have found yourself in a similar situation in the past. Why all this human suffering - even for believers in Christ? Doesn't the Bible teach that if we do good we reap good and if we do evil we reap evil?
Yes, we are all sinners, but earnest believers in Christ regularly confess their sins and know that through the shed blood of Christ they receive forgiveness. Yet the toll of human suffering continues in one form or another upon the forgiven Christian.
The Good Guy Job
Job was such a righteous man that God Himself says of Job:
"Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:8.) God is addressing this question to none other than Satan himself!
Satan, in answer to God's provocative question, gives this stunning insight question in reply:
"Is it for nothing that Job reveres God?" (Job 1:9.)
What Satan is really asking here concerns Job's motivation for serving God. In short, did Job serve God expecting nothing in return? Now that is an interesting question, not only about Job, but about you and me.
Job had been richly blessed with material wealth, prestige and family. God had set a hedge about him and his possessions so nothing bad came near him. Yet, the important question of Satan remained to be answered: did Job serve the Lord from the right motivation or did he merely serve Him because of selfish reasons? We can ask ourselves the same question.
One Tragedy After Another
The bulk of the Book of Job concerns how God allowed Satan to take away from Job all he held dear. In four drastic blows God gave Satan permission to strip Job of his herds, flocks, herdsmen, material wealth, servants and all his children (Job 1:13-19).
Job's response to this first series of calamities was far beyond the response of most people. Job 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." (Job 1:21.)
How many people do you know who would have such a godly response in the face of such overwhelming personal disaster? What would be your response?
God was not yet done with His servant Job. Once more God confronts Satan with the uprightness of Job's character (Job 2:1-3). Satan tells God that Job's relationship with God was wrong, implying that Job was willing to lose external possessions if he could still have personal health and well-being.
So God gave Satan permission to take away Job's health and reduce him to a pitiful human covered with loathsome sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Job's wife urges him to "Curse God, and die." No help from her!
Even after all this, the Bible records that "in all this Job did not sin with his lips." His response to his wife had been:
"Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"
In passing, we should also not fail to note that Job clearly showed that all his suffering had come upon him because of GOD - not because of Satan. Satan could do none of this unless God had given the approval. Do we view our calamities in the same way?
Friends Don't Always Help
But Satan does not easily give up. He now drafts Job's three trusted friends into the battle. Satan is still determined to prove his original point: Job serves God from the wrong motivation. And as the long (and often complicated) discourses are developed in the next thirty chapters between Job and his friends, we find that Satan proves that Job's love of God is disguised self-love. Job serves the Creator for what it will bring him in return. He looks on God as someone who owes him justification because he had done what was right.
The jist of the long conversations between Job and his three friends involves the assumption on their part that Job's afflictions must indicate a hidden sin on Job's part for which God is punishing him. Their reasoning is very simple: if you obey God you will be blessed. If you sin you will be cursed. Job is cursed so he must have unconfessed sins for which God is severely afflicting him.
Job knows this is a false accusation. He has been living a good life and harbors no secret, unrepented, obvious sins.
These tedious discourses take their toll on Job. As the woes pile up in his life, Job begins to express some misgivings about God. He cannot understand why his God-fearing way of life that once reaped such reward now only reaps suffering. Why, he wondered, when he "looked for good, evil came" (Job 30:26).
Isn't this the situation with many today? Why suffering? Why pre-mature death? Why? Why? Why?
Does God Owe Us?
In all this, Satan was delighted. Here was his proof that Job indeed did not serve God with an unselfish attitude. His love for God was only self-love. When his "fear of the Lord" failed to get him the good life, he started to question God and His ways.
Now isn't this just like the dilemma of us today? We believe in God, but we do so "just in case." We want to cover all the bases and obtain an eternal reward for our belief. Profit, not love, may motivate our piety and belief.
A vivid example of this happened to me while I was under the sore distress of an out-of-place lower back. I had taken a nap on a couch and in the process of trying to get up discovered that I could not. I was at home alone - except for our calico cat "Patches." Now Patches had conveniently placed herself on the couch beside me. While I was in extreme agony trying to position myself better, she failed to note at all my need to move where she sat.
I thought to myself: "How interesting. Here is my cat. That cat which loves to sit in my warm lap on a cold winter's day; that cat that likes to brush up against my leg (when she wants some food in her bowl or to be petted). Yet, all she does is out of self-preservation. She does not love me. She loves what I can do for her (and lets me know when I displease her!). She 'serves' to gain advantage out of me."
Now isn't that the way it is with many Christians you know? They think of God as some benevolent supermarket manager who stands ready to give them whatever they ask him because they come with the needed resources. It's a kind of barter. Lord, I've been trying hard to please you and do what is right. This puts me in a position so that God must bless me. God is now at my command (our actual thoughts may not, of course, be so crude, but check to see if your own motives often don't boil down to something like this).
Does God owe us anything because we "do what is right"? Isn't it true that God promises good to those who do His bidding? Isn't punishment the result of sin and good the result of obedience?
Consider the Covenant God made with ancient Israel. This covenant was full of blessings and cursings. Blessings if one obeyed; cursing if one disobeyed. And certainly even the New Testament shows that we reap what we sow!
The Love Factor
But, wait! In all of this discussion, as was also the case in nearly thirty chapters in the Book of Job wherein his friends tried to teach him why all this evil came upon him, something very important is missing. I call it "the love factor."
To more fully understand, let's begin by asking a simple question: "Why do we love God?" Now the more spiritual of us will probably answer with the famous verse of the Bible: "We love him because He first loved us (I John 4:19). And, of course, it presents the real reason we should love God, so let's examine it more closely.
Why did God first love us? Did He love us because He owes us something? No, not because of anything I can think of. In fact, carefully study the latter part of the Book of Job (38-41). You will see that when God finally did personally appear before Job He did so on the basis of One who has done quite well at creating all things without the help of anyone! Puny man had no part in the creation of the galaxies, the Earth, or the unbelievable variety of life upon it.
Job, and all humanity, was nowhere around when God's creation took place. There is nothing God owes us. He is not indebted to us and required to bless us based upon our deeds whether we be believers or not.
When Job comprehends this simple truth, he says: "I know that thou canst do all things" (Job 42:2). Job was acknowledging that God can do everything apart from the works or effort of man and therefore Job comes to despise himself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).
We too must come to see that everything God has done, is doing, and will do, for us is not out of a debt He owes us (because of our works and goodness), but simply because of His LOVE for us. Remember John 3:16? God the Father was willing to give up His Son to die for our sins simply because of His LOVE for us.
This means our relationship with God is meant to be a pure love relationship. God wants us to serve Him out of love for Him -not out of self-love with an attitude of only gain.
God's blessings come to us because of His love for us. He will also use sickness, marital problems, financial problems, and all the other host of human problems which fill this world as a means to let us learn the greatest lesson of all: God wants us to love Him for what He is, for what He has done freely and without any debt towards us on His part, because He loves us!
We all know that worldly business is conducted on the basis of "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine." Satan was right! Job originally did serve God for what he had gotten out of the relationship! It's nice to have wealth, position in the community, and a large family. We like to have all these good things. But ultimately God wants us to see that He wants to give them (in His due time) out of love for us and not out of obligation.
Think how many marriages would be happy if each partner loved the other one out of this pure form of love and not out of a self-love! This becomes possible only when our relationship with God is set aright. The vertical relationship we have with God is extended to our relationships with our fellow human beings around us.
Let's come to understand that the evil that comes to us in our lives is all meant for our ultimate good. God does not forsake His people in bad times or in good times. Neither should we ever forsake Him. One of the prime ingredients of love is perseverance.
As the Scriptures say:
"Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him...Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness [perseverance] of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." (James 1:12 and 5:11)
Job had no idea why all these calamities came upon him, but he persevered until God made it plain to him on what his relationship to God should be based. He came to see that he, of himself, was nothing and came to despise himself "and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). He came to see himself for what he really was: a creation of God loved by God not because of anything he had done. His approach to God was not to be based upon his personal deeds or goodness. It was to be a love relationship to a Creator who made all things for our good out of His love for us.
The Bible uses Abraham as the supreme example of the proper relationship with the Creator:
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? [It then quotes Genesis 15:6] 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." (Romans 4: 2-3)
When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded on their behalf. Abraham did not attempt to use his good deeds as a way of swaying God's favor. Rather, he approaches God as a humble creation of God made from the dust of the earth:
"Abraham answered and said, 'Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes." (Genesis 18:27)
Abraham had learned the lesson of the Book of Job, perhaps from the book itself that seems to date from early post-Flood times. The Book of Job is a primer of what our relationship to God is to be based. It is the love factor. It's about God who first loved us and wants us to inherit all things. He will do anything to have that relationship with us. With the same perseverance of Job, we'll learn that lesson too.