Thousands of years ago a man named Job experienced terrible suffering, and asked the same question of God "... what have I done to you ...? Why have you made me your target?"
Job is one of the oldest stories in the bible. This is not surprising because it deals with one of the oldest questions known to humanity, the question of suffering. Scholars place the story around or before the time of Abraham. As we read, it is important to realise that Job is among the Wisdom books in the bible. Job is not primarily teaching us about history. While I am certain Job and his sufferings were historical, the writer of the book is vague about the historical setting. The book of Job contains poetry like that of the Psalms, pithy sayings like those in Proverbs and a search for meaning like that of the writer of Ecclesiastes. It is in the genre of Wisdom writing. The discussion between Job and his friends are in the form of Hebrew poetry. While we seek knowledge, to know why suffering happens, this book turns us towards wisdom, to trust that God knows.
We see the quest for wisdom most clearly in Job 28. Job states that people can find gold and silver, copper and iron, then asks, “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.” (Job 28:12–13) He goes on to say, “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (Job 28:23–24)
Much of the discussion between Job and his friends touches on what scholars call the Retribution Principle. This basically means if you sin you will suffer, if you do good you will be blessed. While there is an element of truth in this, it is not a universal truth that applies to every situation, certainly not to a godly person like Job. But his friends come with common misconceptions about suffering. It is clear to them Job has done something really bad to deserve this punishment; and from their perspective Job is in denial about his sin. Job is equally adamant that he has done nothing wrong. This goes to the heart of the question we often ask, What have I done to deserve this? Job had done nothing to “deserve” this suffering.
While the book of Job is set in the context of suffering, and allows Job and his friends to explore the reasons for it, ultimately the book does not give a definitive answer for the reason we suffer. There are questions in this book that remain unanswered. But we find Job helps us explore the question of suffering and encourages us to be wise enough to develop a trusting relationship with the God who knows us and comforts us. As the Apostle Paul would later write “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor1:3–4)
I encourage you to watch the Bible Project overview of Job below.
Rev John Malcolm