Christian Suffering and the Story of Job

 Avoiding the view that each book of Scripture is independent and written by men alone, the Church has always declared the entirety of Scripture to be an interconnected saga of God’s salvific plan for humanity.It is the Holy Spirit who illuminates the human writers and ties their thoughts together towards one divine plan that is centrally focused on the Christ event or the Incarnation.With such thoughts in mind, and dismissal of Modernist heresy and supposed “scholarly” interpretations of Scripture, I turn to the Book of Job and how it can be applied to Christian Suffering.

 The Book of Job is considered to be wisdom literature and the historic basis for it is subject to debate
Job's distress
Job’s distress
within Christian circles. Whether the story is a history or not, however, is not a pertinent matter regarding the purity of the faith—as would be the case of the historicity of Adam, Moses, Jonah, or any other historic prophet. What matters most is its message. At first glance, the book shines light upon the issue of human suffering and misery. Its theodicy is not in depth nor does it attempt to bridge the enigma of an All Loving God who permits suffering. Those issues were later left for other theologians such as St. Augustine who would probe the philosophy of such things. Instead the book in its simplicity accepts a God who gives and takes and instead of questioning, merely accepts God’s omniscience in such matters. It points to the traditional view that suffering is a result of sin and one reaps what he sows in this life. This philosophy continues in Jewish circles today regarding earthly prosperity. Unfortunately, such overemphasis on temporal prosperity can find its roots from misconceptions from the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar who propose that Job’s suffering was a result of reward/punishment system used by God. After Job’s many misfortunes, they attempted to console him but only hurt him more by their reproach that these misfortunes were due to sins. Job in turn declared he had committed no such sins and was a just man (as the text alludes) and proclaimed his innocence only to the irritation of his three friends. Hence enters a new philosophical thought on suffering – one that the human writer of Job could only hint at, but the Divine writer had already foreseen since the dawn of time. This theology on suffering was not simply a one layered element based upon sin, but also a theology that would elevate suffering to a supernatural level that would not correlate suffering with only sin but with redemption. These redemptive qualities were not seen by the human writer of Job within the context of the text, but the source of inspiration from the the Divine writer squarely pointed to Christ as the suffering servant. In this regards the Book of Job would lay foundations for Christological implications regarding Christ’s suffering and man’s redemption. Job became more than a tale about suffering, but a pre-figurement of Christ.

 Christian Suffering and the Old Testament

The whole idea of suffering and justice were tied together in the Old Testament. The death of Adam, the flooding of the world, the wandering in the desert, and the many miseries of Israel are all correlated with sinful actions. While sin is the source of suffering and the ultimate reason for the fall of man, the idea of suffering for purpose other than justice and judgment was foreign before the Book of Job. The author of Job presented an individual who was just before the Lord and did not deserve the sufferings that plagued him. Job, while far from stoic and controlling his anguish, never curses the Lord himself, but empathetically cries to God for answers, still loving him, but feeling and expressing the full effects of his unjust punishment. What benefit can come from this unneeded and unjust suffering? Was it merely a wager between God and Satan or was there more? Through Job’s unjust suffering and his offering and acceptance of it, Job elevates his suffering to a level of love; a love that proves his worth beyond mere observance of the law, but a love that sheds its own tears, blood and sweat. Job’s love for God becomes redemptive and his faithfulness is rewarded. A reward not based upon Old Jewish Law but a reward based solely on love—of a mutual loving covenant not a legalistic contract.
 With this theological view on suffering as a redemptive agent, one begins to see a Soteriology develop that corresponds with Christ’s unjust suffering, anguish, and death. Can one not see the Christ figure Job as a suffering servant as Christ was? Did not both cry to their father in their deepest anguish for him to reveal himself? Did not both refuse to allow the chalice of suffering to pass unless it was God’s will? Did not both suffer unjustly? Did not both ultimately rise from the ashes in the end? While Job is only a pre-figurement of Christ, one can see these resemblances. While it is obvious Christ was truly unspotted by sin and that his suffering was for the redemption of humanity, one can see in the story of Job, a foreshadowing of one who would elevate suffering to a new level and through his perfect sacrifice and unjust torture, would redeem humanity through suffering and death. It is with these thoughts that one can truly marvel at the intricate designs of the wholeness of Scripture in preparing the world for the Messiah who would not only suffer and carry our sins, but also teach us how to suffer with nobility, love and redemptive value.
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By Mark Moran, MA