Permission granted for use by the visually impaired audience only on listen.wels.net.
“The WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired presents “Job.” Original text produced by the Prison Ministry Committee of the Commission on Special Ministries of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Text adapted by Multi-Language Publications of the Board for World Missions of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Copyright © 2016.”
This book will help you understand why God allows pain and misery. You will learn that God loves you and cares for you. You will see yourself as a sinner and learn that you cannot judge what God is doing but also that God forgives you.
After each set of questions and after each chapter test, you will see a page number where you can find the correct answers to those questions. Check each of your answers and correct them if necessary.
At the end of the book is a final test. Before you take the test, go back and review the chapter tests. When you complete the final test, you can either return it to the person who gave you this book or mail it to the address found on the back cover of the book. Someone will check the test.
May God help you to learn that he is with you in your painful times and how much you need Jesus. He promises to love and care for you when you’re hurting and grieving, and he promises an end to your pain and grief when you’re with him in heaven.
I can’t question God’s actions! (Can I?)
Maybe nothing really terrible has happened in your life. Maybe you grew up in a home where there was nothing but love and kindness and respect. Maybe you were always treated fairly in school and at the places where you’ve worked. Maybe there was no horrible sickness that ever hit you or anybody close to you. Maybe no one has ever lied about you or betrayed you. Maybe all the people you love have lived long and happy lives and have died peacefully. Maybe.
Probably, though, your life hasn’t gone that way. Hardly anybody’s life ever has. Almost all of us are grieving from terrible losses. Almost all of us have grown up in families that were at least a little messed up, and possibly very messed up. Almost all of us have been treated unkindly and unfairly by some of the people we trusted. Almost all of us have been abused or ignored or disrespected. Almost all of us have been hurt badly. And almost all of us end up wondering, “Why?” And maybe we don’t even have to say “almost”: probably every one of us has had pain and tragedies come into our lives, leaving us asking, “Why?”
In this first chapter we’re going to look at how:
• You can be sure that God isn’t rejecting you, but is happy to have you as his child, and how
• You don’t have to be afraid to ask hard questions about God’s love and power.
You can read about this in the first three chapters of the book of Job.
When painful things come into your life, you’re going to wonder “Why?” And if you believe in an all-powerful, loving God, you may really be wondering, Why?” Why would God let these painful things happen to you if he loves you so much? Why wouldn’t God stop them from happening if he’s so powerful?
But a lot of people are afraid to ask those questions. They think that they’re not supposed to ever question God. They’re afraid that if they ask “Why?” it means they don’t really have faith, and they’re afraid that God might reject them if they don’t have faith. Or they might be afraid that if they start asking hard questions, they’ll find out that their faith can’t stand up to those questions and they’d rather not discover that. So a lot of people avoid asking God, “Why?”
But there’s nothing in the Bible that tells you you’re not supposed to ask those questions when you’re hurting. In fact, one whole book of the Bible, the book of Job (pronounced “Jobe”) is all about the questions, hurt, and confusion that a person may have when God allows something terrible to come into his life. That’s what this study guide is about: a part of the Bible where a man named Job, who was hurting and confused, asked God, “Why?”
That tells you something about God right there: The fact that God had a part of the Bible written about grief and pain means that God must care about people who are grieving and hurting. And he does. As you read through the rest of the Bible you find that God cared enough about people who are in pain and misery that he came into this painful and miserable world and joined us in our pain and misery. The New Testament of the Bible tells us that God became a human being – Jesus – who lived with us in our world, felt all the sadness and misery that happen when you live in this world, and was unfairly arrested and then tortured to death. But God’s love for us didn’t end there. Jesus came back to life to tell us that he suffered and died in order to rescue us. He paid for our sins with his holy life. Now he is with us as our loving Savior – here in this painful world and forever in the joy of heaven.
The Bible says that you can boldly tell God about your misery and your frustration because of what Jesus did for you on the cross; it says in Hebrews Chapter 4, verses 15-16,
“We have a high priest who can feel it when we
are weak and hurting. We have a high priest
who has been tempted in every way, just as we
are. But he did not sin. So let us boldly
approach the throne of grace. Then we will
receive mercy. We will find grace to help us
when we need it.”
The “high priest” the Bible is talking about here is Jesus. Because of what he did, you can always be sure that God holds nothing against you and is glad to have you in his family. He is near you to listen to your pain and help you with it. That’s how the book of Job starts out: with God announcing that he held nothing against Job and that he was glad to have Job in his family.
The first two chapters of the book tell about a meeting that God called together. He called his angels to this meeting, and, surprisingly, he had Satan come to this meeting, too. Satan, the powerful angel who fell away from God soon after God created everything, had been trying his best to ruin people all over the world, just like he does now; but God had a question for him:
“Have you thought about my servant Job?
There isn’t anyone on earth like him. He is
honest. He does what is right. He has respect
for me and avoids evil.” (Job Chapter 1, verse 8)
Clearly, God was very happy with Job, a generous man who loved God and everyone else. Of course Job had his faults, like anybody, but he trusted God as his Savior, and God forgave Job’s faults. God was happy to have Job in his family and wanted everyone, including Satan, to know how happy he was with Job.
Of course you have your faults, too, just like Job. They may even be very serious faults that are going to have to change so you won’t make life miserable for yourself or other people. But think of God looking at you with love and acceptance, forgiving your messes completely because of what Jesus did on the cross, and telling everybody how happy he is to have you in his family. It’s true. Trust that Jesus has given you forgiveness, and you can be sure that God is looking at you the same way he looked at Job.
What God said about Job really stung Satan. Satan knew he’d failed, which was just what God wanted him to know. So Satan started to make up excuses:
“’You always give Job everything he needs,’
Satan replied. ‘That’s why he has respect for
you. Haven’t you guarded him and his family?
Haven’t you taken care of everything he has?
You have blessed everything he does. His flocks
and herds are spread all through the land. But
reach out your hand and strike down everything
he has. Then I’m sure he will speak evil things
against you. In fact, he’ll do it right in front of
you.’” (Job Chapter 1, verses 9-11)
A very helpful truth shows up here in the Bible: Satan can’t do anything to harm anyone unless he gets God’s permission. Satan is not some kind of god of evil with powers equal to God’s powers. Satan is just an angel who defied God and got kicked out of heaven. Powerful, yes, but not almighty: only God is almighty. So when terrible things happen it’s not that Satan managed to sneak past God to make them happen. Nobody, not even Satan, does anything without God knowing it and allowing it.
God then gave Satan permission to bring some painful and tragic things into Job’s life. All Job’s farm animals were killed or stolen. All his wealth was wiped out. Almost all the people who worked for him were killed. And, worst of all, a building fell in on his children, and they all died. And when Job still did not turn against God, Satan was allowed to give Job a terrible skin disease. So Job was not only broke and grieving, sores covered his body, and he was itching everywhere.
Job was sad and miserable. His wife was, too. She gave in to her pain and bitterly told Job,
“Are you still continuing to be faithful to the
Lord? Speak evil things against him and die!”
(Job Chapter 2, verse 9)
But Job wasn’t having it. He told his wife,
“You are talking like a foolish woman. We
accept good things from God. So we should
also accept trouble when he sends it.” (Job
Chapter 2, verse 10)
So Satan didn’t win. Even when all this pain and horror came into Job’s happy life, Job did not turn into a bitter man full of self-pity. He still looked to God for help and for meaning.
But later, all this pain and horror did turn up a problem in Job, a problem God wanted to deal with: Job would disagree with God’s decision to let these horrors happen. But at first, he didn’t say this at all: Job Chapter 1, verse 22 (translated literally) says:
“Through all this Job did not sin nor did he
Job’s negative feelings began when he decided that his life was a mistake. He became so full of pain and misery that he finally just exploded.
He called down a curse on the day he had been
born. He said, “May the day I was born be
wiped out. May the night be wiped away when
people said, ‘A boy is born!’ May that day turn
into darkness.” (Job Chapter 3, verses 3-4)
That’s pointless nonsense, of course: you can’t “curse” a day, let alone a day that’s long past. But Job was near the edge. He wanted to die; yet, he wouldn’t take his own life. He left the matter in God’s hands, and the terrible pain continued. That’s when he began to wrestle with the difficult question: Why am I suffering like this? And soon after that, he would make the mistake of thinking that God is doing wrong!
Like Job, people who suffer greatly feel a powerful need to find a reason for the agony they feel. But a lot of people who believe in an all-powerful and loving God are afraid to “connect the dots” between God and the terrible things happening to them. They may be afraid that they’ll get God angry with them if they start questioning why he could allow these horrors to happen. Or they may be afraid that if they start asking those hard questions, they’ll find out that their faith is actually a lie, that the loving and all-powerful God they believe in really doesn’t exist.
If you have been afraid to question why God would allow misery into your life, maybe you’ll find some help here in the beginning of the book of Job. Here is God inviting us to look behind the scenes and see that he actually IS involved when terrible things happen to people. That means that asking the simple question “Why?” is not out of line at all. And God also gives readers of the book part of the answer to “Why?” in the first chapter: what happened to Job had absolutely nothing to do with punishing Job for anything, because God had nothing but love and forgiveness and acceptance for Job. You can believe that same thing about yourself: God loves you; Jesus died for you; God accepts you completely; and if you question him, he won’t reject you or punish you or stop loving you.
Chapter One Review
The book of Job deals with the question of why God allows pain and misery. It lets us know that we don’t have to be afraid to ask the question, “Why, God?” God looks at us with grace and love; thanks to all that God has done to save us, our faults and sins don’t keep him from being happy to claim us as his own. Job believed he was loved by God, and Satan wanted to get him to stop believing that. God allowed Satan to bring pain and misery into Job’s life. When that happened, Job didn’t stop believing in God’s love, but he didn’t know what to do with his grief and his misery. Why was God allowing this pain to happen? God wanted to help Job and everyone to see that we can ask him “Why” questions – as long as we continue to trust his wisdom, power, and love for us.
End of Chapter One
The temptation to take on the blame yourself
One thing Satan didn’t manage to take away from Job was his connection with people who cared about him. When Job’s children died, and he got sick, and all the other disasters happened, there were people who came to be with him in his time of grief and pain. There may have been a lot of people who came to see Job and comfort him, but the book of Job focuses on three men (and later on, one more) who showed up and tried to comfort Job. But they only made him feel worse.
Their names were Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (and later on we hear from a fourth one, named Elihu. We’ll look at him in chapter 4). The Bible says:
Job Chapter 2, verses 12-13
“When they got closer to where he lived, they
could see him. But they could hardly recognize
him. They began to sob out loud. They tore
their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.
Then they sat down on the ground with him for
seven days and seven nights. No one said a
word to him. That’s because they saw how
much he was suffering.”
At this point these men were showing real care and concern for their friend Job. It hurt them to see him in so much misery, but they stayed with him anyway. And at first they were silent: which can actually be a very caring thing, too. Sometimes when you’re with somebody who is full of pain and grief, your words aren’t going to help them. They just need you to be there with them. So at first these men just silently shared Job’s misery.
But Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had another reason for their silence: Job’s pain and grief was making them feel very nervous and uneasy. They believed that if you do right, only good things will happen to you. They believed that bad things only happen to people who have been doing wrong and who deserve the pain. These men had known Job as a man who did right. Yet here he was in terrible pain and sadness. That shook them up. It made them afraid that their understanding of how life works had been all wrong.
After seven days these three men decided that they would not change their way of looking at life; instead, they were going to change their way of looking at Job. They decided that since Job was hurting, that must mean Job wasn’t as good as they’d thought he was. It must mean he’d done something terrible to make these terrible things happen. Now it was up to them to help him see the error of his ways and to get him to repent so he could have a good life again.
In this chapter we’re going to look at how:
• People make the mistake of thinking that they have ultimate control over what happens in their lives, and how
• The Bible teaches that our loving God has ultimate control over what happens to us.
Chapters 4 – 31 of the book of Job contain the speeches that these three men made to Job, as well as Job’s answers. The speeches of Job’s friends are in chapters 4-5, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22 and 25.
Job Chapter 4, verses 7-9
Eliphaz spoke first. He put it this way:
“Here’s something to think about. Have
blameless people ever been wiped out? Have
honest people ever been completely
destroyed? Here’s what I’ve observed. People
gather a crop from what they plant. If they plant
evil and trouble, that’s what they will harvest.
The breath of God destroys them. The blast of
his anger wipes them out.”
In other words, Eliphaz was saying that anytime you’re hurting, you brought it on yourself.
Zophar explained the other half of their belief system:
Job Chapter 11, verses 13-17
“So commit yourself to God completely. Reach
out your hands to him for help. Get rid of all of
the sin you have. Don’t let anything that is evil
stay in your tent. Then you can face others
without feeling any shame. You can stand firm
without being afraid. You can be sure you will
forget your troubles. They will be like water that
has flowed on by. Life will be brighter than the
sun at noon.”
In other words, Zophar was saying that you can make good things happen in your life by repenting and doing good.
Is it as simple as that? Do blessings happen because you do right, and disasters happen because you do wrong? There are, of course, plenty of times when you can see a simple cause and effect connection between bad behavior and painful results: You drive drunk and end up with a totaled car, a broken nose, and jail time. You step out on your wife and you end up losing your marriage and your children’s respect. And if you don’t do those things you avoid those painful results. So are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar right?
Not really. Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad understood the fact that our actions have results, but this is what they didn’t understand: God is in control, and we are not.
It’s a very easy mistake to make: you think that you, not God, are in complete control of your fate. Little children assume everything is about them, and if their parents get divorced they often think that they made the divorce happen because they were bad, and that if they start being good boys and girls, their parents will get back together. It can be hard to get rid of this way of thinking. Sometimes sexual assault victims will tell themselves that they brought the attack on themselves (“I shouldn’t have been wearing that dress,” “I shouldn’t have been out that late”). Powerlessness feels terrible, so they tell themselves they weren’t really powerless, that they were actually in control and that they made bad choices which caused the sexual assault to happen. That feels terrible, too, but when they tell themselves that the bad things happened simply because they made bad choices, it helps them hold onto some feeling of control. And they can tell themselves, then, that these terrible things will never happen to them again if they make the right choices from now on. People like this are making a trade-off: they’re feeling shame and guilt as a way of avoiding the feeling that they are powerless.
It gets even worse when you put a religious spin on this idea: “I’m in complete control of my fate” – the way Job’s friends did. Some people might call this idea “karma.” They believe that all your good deeds and all your bad deeds will eventually catch up with you; that all the good things you’ve done in life will come around to bless you, and all the bad things you’ve done in life will come around to bite you. People with that belief may talk about how God will judge them, but they believe that God really doesn’t have much of a decision to make. In the “karma” way of thinking, by the time you’re face to face with God, your fate has already been decided by the amount of good things or bad things you’ve done.
Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz were completely stuck in this way of thinking. They wanted to believe that because they’d never done anything too terrible, nothing really terrible would ever happen to them. So they tried really hard to convince Job that he must have done something awful that caused these horrible things to come into his life, and that he had the power to make it all better again by repenting. Bildad even told Job:
Job Chapter 8, verse 4
“Your children sinned against him (God). So he
punished them for their sin.”
He was actually telling this grieving father that his children got what they deserved when their house collapsed on them! These men were so stuck in their beliefs that they didn’t need any evidence to accuse anyone of sin; all they needed was the fact that someone was suffering. That was all the proof they needed to accuse that person of doing wrong.
Of course, if anyone had looked over Job’s life closely enough, they would have found some things he’d done wrong. Someone who believed what Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz believed could then say, “See? Job sinned, and God is punishing Job for his sins!” But remember what God said to Satan about Job in chapter one?
Job Chapter 1, verse 8
“He is honest. He does what is right. He has
respect for me and avoids evil.”
The fact that Job had sinned didn’t explain the bad things that were happening to him. God said he was very happy with Job! God’s way of looking at us has nothing to do with “karma.”
The Bible tells about a time when Jesus had a talk with his followers about this way of thinking that Bildad and his friends had. In John Chapter 9, verses 1-3 it says:
“As Jesus went along, he saw a man who was
blind. He had been blind since he was born.
Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned?
Was this man born blind because he sinned?
Or did his parents sin?’
‘It isn’t because this man sinned,’ said Jesus. ‘It
isn’t because his parents sinned. This
happened so that God’s work could be shown
in his life.’”
When Jesus looked at this painful situation, he didn’t see God just sitting back and letting “karma” happen; he saw God hard at work doing something loving and powerful in this man’s life. Read the rest of John 9 to find out how God’s actions played out for this blind man.
The Bible says over and over that God is all about grace. Grace means God’s love for you that doesn’t get stronger if you do right or get weaker if you do wrong. You, as a believer in Jesus your Savior, can be sure that God’s grace-love is 100 percent yours no matter what. Jesus dying for you on the cross means that your guilt was shoved out of the picture entirely and that nothing that happens to you is because God is punishing you. In Psalm Chapter 103, verse 10 the Bible says,
“He does not punish us as we deserve or repay
us according to our sins and wrongs.”
If you, as a believer in Jesus your Savior, have been living in fear that God is holding your sins against you and that one day he’s going to haul you into his courtroom and find you guilty and sentence you to be punished, the Bible invites you to put that thought out of your mind. That’s not what God is like.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of why terrible things happen in your life. That’s going to get more discussion later in the book of Job. But for right now, what you have learned is this: God ISN’T just letting all the bad things you’ve done catch up with you. God loves you too much to put your life on some kind of automatic control. The book of Job teaches that God doesn’t let the good or bad things you’ve done make his decisions for him. God wants you to trust the love which he gives you in Jesus Christ. That, not your behavior, is what decides your fate.
Chapter Two Review
Job had three friends named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar who came to be with him when they heard about his troubles. But these men believed that bad things only happen to people if those people have done something bad, and that if you do right, you can keep bad things from happening to you. Some people call this belief “karma.” Job’s friends assumed that he had done some terrible things that nobody knew about, and they told him that all he needed to do to make his life better again was to admit his sins and start living the right way.
Even though there are plenty of times when bad things happen to you as a direct result of doing something bad (like getting injured because of drunk driving or getting divorced because you were unfaithful), God doesn’t let “karma” be in charge of your life. God looks at us with grace, and sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. He forgives and accepts us and doesn’t hold our sins against us. His love is in charge of our lives, not our “karma.”
End of Chapter Two
I hold God responsible for this tragedy!
When Job’s troubles started, he refused to say that God was to blame. But the pain of all his losses hurt badly, and no matter how many right, religious
things Job said, it didn’t go away. His pain got even worse when Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad insisted that his troubles were entirely his fault. Finally Job reached his breaking point. Because he believed that God is all powerful and that everything is under God’s control, Job knew that the horrors that had come into his life must have happened because God let them happen. And Job couldn’t see any good reason for God letting those things happen. So Job said:
“I want you to know that God hasn’t treated me
right.” (Job 19:6)
Job’s friends thought they needed to defend God,
but Job was painfully aware of God’s power. He
knew that God could defend himself.
In this section we’ll look at how:
• Job believed he could be honest with God about what he really felt, and how
• God likes it when people who trust and respect him are honest with him.
Job’s answers to his friends are written in Job chapters 6-7, 9-10, 12-14, 16-17, 19, 21, 23-24, and 26-31.
Job’s friends had insisted that painful events come from doing wrong, and that a happy life is always the result of doing right. Job said this was obviously false, and anyone with two good eyes could see that bad things don’t always happen to people who live badly:
“Why do sinful people keep on living? The older
they grow, the richer they get. They see their
children grow up around them. They watch their
family increase in number. Their homes are
safe. They don’t have to be afraid. God isn’t
punishing them.” (Job 21:7-9)
For years Job had believed that God took good care of him he had trusted in God’s kindness and help. But now terrible things were happening to him, and his friends were insisting that God was paying Job back for something bad he had done at some point in his life. They tempted Job to think that God’s love isn’t dependable, and that he’d been wrong to depend on God’s loving care. So in great pain Job cried out to God:
“How many things have I done wrong? How
many sins have I committed? Show me my
crime. Show me my sin. Why do you turn your
face away from me? Why do you think of me as
your enemy? I’m already like a leaf that is
blown by the wind. Are you going to terrify me
even more? I’m already like dry straw. Are you
going to keep on chasing me? You write down
bitter things against me.You make me suffer for
the sins I committed when I was young.” (Job
Job was looking at the horrible things that had come into his life and wondering why these things could be happening. What great wrong had he done to deserve God’s punishment? Job complained that God was being too hard on him.
Job’s friends were shocked and horrified by Job’s open honesty with God, but it didn’t shock God. God appreciates honesty, even if it isn’t pretty because it’s coming from weakened believers whose complaints make God look bad. There are a lot of other places in the Bible where suffering people openly told God they were unhappy with him. For instance, in Psalm 13:1 King David wrote:
“Lord, how long must I wait? Will you forget me
forever? How long will you turn your face away
Maybe that sounds disrespectful and ungodly. But God made sure that David’s complaint got into the Bible so everyone could read it! God wants people to know that he understands the fears that we have when our faith is weak, and he patiently listens to our complaints.
You don’t have to pretend you’re okay with whatever God is allowing in your life. If you’re questioning God about what he’s allowing to happen; you’re not going to chase God away by telling him what you’re feeling. In fact, he respects honesty.
We’ve all known people who try to get on our good side by pretending to be our best friends and covering up what they’re really feeling about us. God doesn’t want you to be that kind of person. He has let us know in the Bible that we don’t have to get on his good side by saying things we think he wants to hear. He has already accepted us completely, just as we are, whether we’re happy or unhappy with him. Jesus died for you, and that’s all it takes to make you totally acceptable to God. The Bible says:
“God was bringing the world back to himself
through Christ. He did not hold people’s sins
against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
That means you and me, no matter what. You don’t honor and respect God by acting as if he can’t handle your questions and your doubts and complaints. And you don’t honor and respect God by trying to convince yourself or anyone else that God has nothing to do with the painful things that happen in life. But when you trust God with your hidden feelings, including your anger and unhappiness with suffering, honor him as the God of grace by asking him to give you greater faith in his love. And when you see that he is controlling everything that happens in the world, including the sad and tragic things, honor him as the almighty God by trusting that at all times he does what is best for you.
A lot of people think you can’t have faith in God and doubts about God at the same time. But that’s not true. Job had doubts about God, and at the same time he believed in him. Right in the middle of telling how frustrated and confused and unhappy he was, Job said:
“I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end he
will stand on the earth. After my skin has been
destroyed, in my body I’ll still see God. I myself
will see him with my own eyes. I’ll see him, and
he won’t be a stranger to me. How my heart
longs for that day!” (Job 19:25-27)
There’s no need to deny any disappointment or doubts about God we may have; we can always come to the God of grace and speak the truth that a man once spoke to Jesus:
“I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”
Chapter Three Review
Job believed that God was good and loving, all-powerful, and in charge of everything. When all the pain and horror started in his life, Job saw both God’s love and power in what he was suffering. But eventually the terrible pain and losses, plus the false ideas of his three friends, raised questions in Job’s mind: If God was really all-powerful, why didn’t he end Job’s troubles? And if God was allowing Job’s troubles to happen and keep on happening, what was the reason for this – what had Job done? Job finally went too far. He said that God was not doing right in what he was allowing in Job’s life.
God didn’t react with shock or anger when Job talked honestly about being unhappy with him. God was patient and ready to provide the help Job needed. And he still is when believers trust him with their feelings, even if those are feelings of anger or doubt about him. The Bible says that just because you have doubts about God, that doesn’t mean you have no faith in him as your Savior. The faith God creates in us is powerful enough to live in the presence of doubts.
End of Chapter Three
You can’t explain away pain, so don’t try
Job was in agony, and he was asking, “Why? Why have these terrible things happened to me?” Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar thought they could explain, but they failed miserably by blaming Job for his own troubles. So Job tried to answer his own question, but the only answer he could come up with was that maybe God isn’t as fair and as loving as he’s supposed to be. He didn’t like that answer, but he didn’t know what else to think.
There was a young man named Elihu among the people who had come to visit Job in his time of trouble. He had been listening while the four men talked. When their conversation ended, he spoke up:
“I’m young, and you are old. So I was afraid to
tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Those who are
older should speak first. Those who have lived
for many years should teach people how to be
wise.’ But the spirit in people gives them
understanding. The breath of the Mighty One
gives them wisdom. Older people aren’t the
only ones who are wise. They aren’t the only
ones who understand what is right. So I’m
saying you should listen to me.” (Job 32:6-10)
He thought he had the answer. He thought he could explain everything, and he thought that would solve the problem. He was wrong.
In this chapter we’ll look at how:
• Painful things that happen in our lives can end up serving a good purpose, and how
• People in pain need to be loved more than they need to be preached at.
You can read Elihu’s speech in Job chapters 32-37.
Elihu wasn’t wrong about everything: for one thing, he had some good ideas about what pain and trouble mean. He understood that painful life events aren’t about punishment: God can use painful events to help get a person back on the right track when they’ve gone off course. He said:
“Some people are held by chains. They are tied
up with painful ropes. God tells them what
they’ve done. He tells them they’ve become
proud and sinned against him. He makes them
listen when he corrects them.” (Job 36:8-10)
God’s corrections aren’t punishment. For instance, God might allow a person to be caught and jailed for his criminal actions, or God might allow a man’s car to get totaled when he’s driving drunk. That doesn’t mean God is punishing that person; it means God is getting that person’s attention, and stopping him before something much worse happens. God’s corrections are actions of love, not punishment.
Elihu also understood that when painful things happen to us, it’s not because God is paying us back for hurting him. He said:
“If you sin, what does that mean to God? If you
sin many times, what does that do to him? If
you do what is right, how does that help
him? What does he get from you? The evil
things you do only hurt someone like
yourself. The right things you do only help other
human beings.” (Job 35:6-8)
God doesn’t have to pay us back for anything. If you do right, that doesn’t force God to repay you by blessing you, and if you do wrong that doesn’t force God to repay you by causing you pain. Elihu was absolutely right: you don’t do good and avoid evil to get God to be nice to you; you do good and avoid evil because you want to help other people and not harm them.
And Elihu understood that what happens to you in life isn’t a simple matter of “karma” (the idea that everything that happens to you is because of good or bad things you’ve done in life). Elihu understood that when you have someone who cares about you and prays for you, that means that something much bigger than “karma” is shaping your life. He said:
“Suppose there is an angel who will speak up
for him. The angel is very special. He’s one out
of a thousand. He will tell that person what is
right for him. He’ll be gracious to him. He’ll say
to God, ‘Spare him from going down into the
grave. I know a way that can set him free.’ Then
his body is made like new again. He becomes
as strong and healthy as when he was
young. He prays to God and finds favor with
him. He sees God’s face and shouts with
joy. God makes him right with himself
again. Then the person comes to others and
says, ‘I sinned. I made what was wrong appear
to be right. But I wasn’t punished as I should
have been.’” (Job 33:23-27)
Most of us have had “angels” on earth who were praying to God for us while we were busy messing up our lives. It might have been our mothers or our grandmothers; somebody was talking to God about us even during times when we were totally ignoring God, and God took their prayers very seriously. We may never know until we get to heaven what miracles happened in our lives because of somebody’s prayers for us. And even more importantly: we’ve all had Jesus loving us and praying for us all our lives. John the Apostle wrote:
“My dear children, I’m writing this to you so that
you will not sin. But suppose someone does
sin. Then we have one who speaks to the
Father for us. He stands up for us. He is Jesus
Christ, the Blameless One. He gave his life to
pay for our sins. But he not only paid for our
sins. He also paid for the sins of the whole
world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
The most important thing that shapes your life isn’t how well you’ve behaved; the most important thing that shapes your life is the fact that you are loved. People love you and pray for you, and on top of that, God loves you, Jesus died for you, and Jesus prays for you.
Elihu had some good thoughts, but he didn’t have a very loving heart. He was talking to a man who was in a world of hurt, and he thought that he could just explain Job’s pain away. It doesn’t work that way. Telling a person, “Here’s why you’re in pain,” doesn’t change the fact that the person is in pain. Elihu said a lot of true things, but he failed to ask himself an important question before he spoke: that question is NOT, “Is what I am about to say true?” The real question is, “Is what I am about to say kind and loving and helpful?” A very wise man once said, “If you don’t speak the truth in love, you don’t speak the truth.” Elihu seemed to care only about saying true things, not about saying kind and helpful things; he didn’t seem to truly care for Job, and that meant that everything he said to Job was
basically meaningless. He started his speech by announcing:
“I’m full of words. My spirit inside me forces me
to speak. Inside I’m like wine that is bottled
up. I’m like new wineskins ready to burst. I must
speak so I can feel better. I must open my
mouth and reply.” (Job 32:18-20)
Elihu really didn’t seem to be thinking about Job’s pain; he seemed as if he only wanted to hear himself talk.
Paul the Apostle wrote:
“Suppose I speak in the languages of human
beings and of angels. If I don’t have love, I am
only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal. Suppose I
have the gift of prophecy. Suppose I can
understand all the secret things of God and
know everything about him. And suppose I have
enough faith to move mountains. If I don’t have
love, I am nothing at all.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)
It’s important to ask yourself, “Am I trying to understand and care for this person I’m talking to, or am I just shooting off my mouth?” Elihu failed to ask himself that question. So Elihu’s pretty speech was ignored, and so was he. At the end of the book of Job, God spoke to Job, and to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but he said nothing at all to Elihu. It was almost as if God was telling him, “So you know a few things. So what? Go back and learn about love and care for people, and then you and I will have something to talk about.”
Paul the Apostle wrote,
“Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with
those who are sad.” (Romans 12:15)
When a person is hurting, he probably doesn’t need sermons and speeches; what he needs the most is to have somebody there who cares about him. You can’t talk someone’s pain away. You can only be there with that person in his pain, and let him know that there is love in his world, not just pain. That’s what God did. He didn’t see us in our troubles and merely send us teachings; he came to be with us in our troubles. That’s why Jesus was called Immanuel: The name “Immanuel” means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
Years ago a professor at a Christian college asked his class what they could say to a couple who just found out that their newborn baby had severe birth defects. The students came up with little speeches and sermons they could give to this shocked and grieving couple. They all sounded a lot like Elihu’s speech; they were all attempts to explain away this tragedy. The professor, who happened to have a daughter with serious birth defects, listened to all these suggestions, and then he said, “What about telling the couple, ‘May I hold your baby?’”
Chapter Four Review
Elihu decided he had to set everybody straight about how God works. He said some true things about God. He talked about how troubles can sometimes wake a person up to see he’s gone off course and that he needs to ask for God’s help. He talked about how you don’t do right to get God to treat you better; you do right to help other people in your life. And he talked about how having somebody care about you and pray for you (the way Jesus does) may make all the difference in your life, even when you’ve really messed up your life.
Elihu was using his head, but not his heart. He wasn’t seeing Job as a hurting soul who needed to be loved. He was only seeing Job as someone whose thinking needed correcting. And since Elihu’s efforts to teach Job had no love in them, they amounted to nothing. God loves brokenhearted people, and he wants us to love those people just as he loves them, and to help them see how much they’re loved.
End of Chapter Four
God’s invitation to people in pain: “Let’s talk about it”
While Elihu was talking, something was going on in the sky. A storm was coming. Elihu noticed it, and he kept saying things like “Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice! Listen to the thunder that comes from him!” (Job 37:2) Elihu believed that God had caused the storm that was on its way. But then the storm broke, and something happened that Elihu wasn’t expecting: “The Lord spoke to Job out of a storm.” (Job 38:1) Yet, God was not angry with Job. He spoke to him the way a powerful, loving father bends down to help and comfort his crying child. All the men who had been talking – Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu – had some ideas about what would happen if God would show up. Job’s friends were sure that if God showed up he would announce that he agreed with everything they were saying. Job was hoping for a chance to question God to his face and get some answers from him. So now they all thought they were going to get their wish. But when God joined the conversation, it didn’t go in the way any of them expected. God wasn’t there to take sides in an argument. God was there to help a man who was in a world of hurt. Job had questions and complaints about his painful experience with God’s power and love. God answered to help Job and all people respectfully see that his power and love go beyond our understanding. They are wider, longer, higher, and deeper than any of us can imagine.
In this chapter we’ll look at these points:
• God wants to get us away from judging others so we can give and receive love,
• God wants us to get to know him, not just facts about him, and
• God wants us to realize that he’s always there for us, with understanding and love.
You can read about God’s meeting with Job, and what came after, in Job chapters 38 – 42.
Until God spoke, most of the conversation had been about judgment. Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad wanted to get Job to believe that his troubles were happening because God was judging him for something bad he’d done. Job looked at himself and couldn’t see that he’d done anything to deserve the horrors that had come into his life. So he passed judgment on God, and decided that God was unfair and unreliable.
God wanted to get Job out of judgment mode. He told Job:
“Would you judge me in order to make yourself
seem right? Is your arm as powerful as mine
is? Can your voice thunder as mine
does? Then put on glory and beauty as if they
were your clothes. Also put honor and majesty
on. Let loose your great anger. Look at those
who are proud and bring them low. Look at
proud people and bring them down. Crush
those who are evil right where they are. Bury
their bodies in the dust together. Cover their
faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to
you that your own right hand can save you.”
God knew that Job had to get rid of the bad thoughts in his heart — whether he was thinking bad things about God or about himself — so that he could humbly receive God’s love. And then Job’s broken heart could start to heal.
Jesus talked about how important it is not to judge people. He said things like:
“Do not judge others. Then you will not be
judged.You will be judged in the same way you
judge others. You will be measured in the same
way you measure others.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
When you look at other people and think that they are beneath you if they’re not smart enough, or modern enough, or tough enough, or religious enough, or whatever measurement you use, then you’re putting yourself in a mode of judgment. And before long you’ll start worrying about whether you measure up, and you’ll find yourself judging yourself. That’s a miserable way to live, and God wants people to be freed from that life. That’s why the Bible has so many encouragements to come out of negative thinking, and to live in the real and wonderful world of God’s grace.
God made his point, and Job got it: he said,
“I’m not worthy. How can I reply to you? I’m
putting my hand over my mouth. I’ll stop
talking. I spoke once. But I really don’t have any
answer. I spoke twice. But I won’t say anything
else.” (Job 40:4-5)
At first it might look as if God was simply telling Job, “I’m the Creator, and you have no right to judge me.” But there was a lot more to it than that. God kept talking about creation long after that point had been made. In chapters 38-41 of the book of Job, God spoke for a long time about things like snow and hail, thunderstorms, stars, the oceans, lions, mountain goats, deer, ostriches, horses, and eagles. He painted a dramatic and poetic picture of an animal called a Behemoth (“be-HEE-muth”) and another animal called a Leviathan (“le-VY-a-thon”), which might be descriptions of a hippo and a crocodile, or maybe of dinosaurs, or some other animals altogether. God talked to Job about the wonders of creation in great detail and with a lot of feeling. It was as if God was saying, “I want you to know me, Job. I want you to know the things I’m interested in and the things I’m happy and sad about. I want you to know my heart.”
Job got the message, loud and clear. He told God:
“My ears had heard about you, but now my own
eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)
Job had thought he needed answers about God; now he knew that what he’d needed all along was God himself at his side. And God was with him, including all of his power and love. Job still had his pain and his grief, but he also had our wise, powerful, loving God with him in his pain and grief. And he was now content.
Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Job all thought they knew exactly what God would do and say to them. Maybe you have thought that way, too. In the beginning of the book of Job we got a quick peek behind the scenes of God running the universe. We got to see that encounter between God and Satan. Maybe you thought that God would tell Job about that meeting, and explain how Job’s troubles were connected to that event. Maybe you thought that God would tell Job how Satan had planned to destroy Job’s love for God, and how God had complete confidence that Job’s faith would hold up no matter what. But God didn’t reveal that behind the scenes event to Job, and he doesn’t reveal any more of those events to us in the book of Job, either. That door stayed closed.
It’s a mistake to want to force that door open and keep trying to look behind the scenes, to figure out all the things that God has kept hidden. There are people who spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out hidden things: like what will happen in the future or how to get direct messages from heaven. Many people want to see the big picture that God sees. The truth is that God is keeping a lot of things under wraps. But he has revealed plenty of very clear information about himself so we can get to know him. Most importantly, he has given us Jesus. The Bible calls Jesus “God’s Word.” (John 1:1) Jesus is God’s ultimate message to us about who he is and how much he loves us. Jesus told his disciple Thomas, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) We don’t need to know the hidden things of God; we
When you read through the book of Job, you can see that there are two basic ways of looking at pain and tragedy. One way, the way of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, is to believe that you can get God to be good to you if you do good things, and you can get him to treat you badly if you do bad things. So (according to this way of looking at life) you’re completely in control of your own fate; God is simply reacting to what you’re doing wrong when he lets pain and tragedy come into your life. The other way of looking at pain and tragedy is the way God showed to Job: don’t think that God loves you and cares for you only if you have done everything right, and don’t think that the painful things in your life mean that God is hurting you for all the things you’ve done wrong.
In addition, after God lovingly showed Job that he was with him, God helped Job by gradually, proving to him that he had no right to judge God’s actions. God did this by reminding Job that he is the source of all life, of all creation. He made everything that exists. Then, he questioned Job about the hidden details of nature, and Job soon saw that he understood none of this, none of what God had done. God’s knowledge, power, and love are far greater than Job or anyone else can imagine. Since this is true, we are in no position to judge anything that God does. When Job realized this, he was very sorry for accusing God of doing wrong in allowing him to suffer. That is why, near the end of the book, Job said to God:
“I spoke about things I didn’t completely
understand…. I’m really sorry for what I said
about you.” (Job 42:3,6)
God then ended the conversation by speaking to Job’s three friends about their false way of looking at pain and tragedy, and God praised Job’s renewed, humble faith in God’s love:
After the Lord finished speaking to Job, he
spoke to Eliphaz the Temanite. He said, “I am
angry with you and your two friends. You have
not said what is true about me, as my servant
Job has.” (Job 42:7)
God makes it very clear in the book of Job: don’t ever think that when you have pain and tragedy in your life, it means that God has abandoned you and that you have to somehow convince him to be on your side again. God invites you and me to come to him with our pain, to come to him with our confusion and our questions, even to come to him with our disappointment and anger. God invites us to believe that we can come to him no matter what, that he hasn’t abandoned us. He is always with us, surrounding us with his power and love; speaking to us through his word in the Bible. He always loves and listens to us, and he will help us in the middle of our pain and our tragedies.
The book of Job has a wonderful ending that says a lot about how God cares about us and our pain. Some very nice things happened to Job after all his pain: he ended up with twice as many sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels as he’d had before. And he had more children, too, BUT not twice as many! He and his wife had seven more sons and three more daughters, the same number as he’d had before! Don’t misunderstand this loving gift. God was not trying to REPLACE the children who had died as if they, like the animals, were gone and forgotten. God understands and respects the pain and loss that you feel when someone you love dies. Those children of Job’s could never be replaced, and Job would always miss them. Yet in a way, Job was ending up with twice as many children as he’d had before. Unlike his animals, half of his children were now here on earth for Job to enjoy, and half of them were waiting for him in heaven.
God understands our grief and pain, and he cares. He went through grief and pain himself when his Son Jesus suffered and died, so he knows exactly how bad it feels. He is with us in our grief and pain in this life, and he promises that because of what Jesus did to save us when he died for us on the cross, there will be an end to our grief and pain in heaven.
Chapter Five Review
God wants people who are hurting, as Job was, to talk to him and let him love them. But when you are suffering, you probably aren’t going to reach out to God for help if you’re busy trying to blame and punish yourself, someone else, or even God himself for your troubles. So God urges us to stay away from judging. He wants us to see him, ourselves, and others through his eyes of love and grace.
It’s easy to believe that when we have painful troubles it’s because we’ve done something bad enough to make God quit loving us. But God wants us to believe that he’s with us in our painful times, that he never stops loving us, and that we can go to him no matter what. God knows what pain and grief is like, because he’s been through it. He promises to love and care for us when we’re hurting and grieving, the way someone who understands pain and grief can do. And he promises an end to our pain and grief when we’re with him in heaven.
End of Chapter Five
Review, Plan, Pray, Go Forward
The book of Job deals with the question of why God allows pain and misery. It lets us know that we don’t have to be afraid to ask the question, “Why, God?” God looks at us with grace and love. Our faults and sins don’t keep him from being happy to claim us as his own. Job believed he was loved by God, and Satan wanted to get him to stop believing that. God allowed Satan to bring pain and misery into Job’s life. When that happened, Job didn’t stop believing in God’s love, but he didn’t understand why God allowed his grief and his misery, and he complained bitterly because it seemed to have no end. God saw that as a problem, and he wanted to help Job to see not only that he didn’t have to be afraid to tell God he was unhappy with what God was doing, but also that he had no right to judge what God was doing.
Job had three friends named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar who came to be with him when they heard about his troubles. These men believed that bad things only happen to people if those people have done something bad, and that if you live right you can keep bad things from happening to you. Some people call this belief “karma.” Job’s friends assumed that Job had done some terrible things that nobody knew about, and they told him that all he needed to do to make his life better again was to admit his sins and start living right.
Even though there are plenty of times where bad things happen to you as a direct result of doing something bad (like getting injured because of drunk driving or getting divorced because you were unfaithful) God doesn’t let “karma” be in charge of your life. God looks at us with grace. He sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins, and he forgives and accepts us and doesn’t hold our sins against us. His love is in charge of our lives, not our karma.”
Job believed that God was good and loving, and that God was all-powerful and in charge of everything. When all the pain and horror came into his life, Job at first tried to keep his thoughts about God’s power and God’s love in harmony. But after some time, he couldn’t do it any more: If God was really all-powerful, that meant that God had allowed Job’s troubles to happen. And if God had allowed Job’s troubles to happen, then was God really good and loving? Job finally said out loud what he now was thinking: he didn’t believe God was doing right in what he was allowing in Job’s life.
God wasn’t shocked or offended when Job talked honestly about being unhappy with him. He listened patiently as Job poured out his feelings, even his feelings of doubt that God was doing right. The Bible says that just because you have doubts about God, that doesn’t mean you have no faith. The faith God creates in us is powerful enough to live in the presence of doubts.
Elihu, a young man introduced later in the book of Job, decided he had to set everybody straight about how God works. He said some true things about God. He talked about how troubles can sometimes wake a person up to see he’s gone off course and that he needs to ask for God’s help. He talked about how you don’t do right to get God to treat you better; you do right to help other people in your life. And he talked about how having somebody care about you and pray for you (the way Jesus does) may make all the difference in your life, even when you’ve really messed up your life.
Elihu was using his head, but not his heart. He wasn’t seeing Job as a hurting soul who needed to be loved; he was only seeing Job as someone whose thinking needed correcting. And since Elihu’s efforts to teach Job had no love in them, they amounted to nothing. God loves brokenhearted people. He wants us to love those people just as he loves them, and to help them see how much they’re loved.
God wants people who are hurting, like Job was, to talk to him and let him love them. But those people aren’t going to reach out to him for help if they’re busy trying to blame and punish themselves or someone else for their troubles. So God urges us to stay away from judging ourselves or others and stay away especially from judging him. He wants us to see everything through his eyes of love and grace.
It’s easy to believe that when you have painful troubles, it’s because you’ve done something bad enough to make God quit loving you. But God wants us to believe that he’s with us in our painful times, that he never stops loving us, and that we can go to him no matter what. God knows what pain and grief are like, because he’s been through it. He promises to love and care for you when you’re hurting and grieving, the way someone who understands pain and grief can do. And he promises an end to our pain and grief when we’re with him in heaven.
Now that you are finishing this Bible study, there are a number of practical matters for you to take care of as you get on with your life. Pray that God will guide you and give you strength to do what will be best for living your life as a Christian. Always remember that the goal of your life is to live forever with Jesus in heaven. The following is a list of things for you to do.
1. Pray for and look for a WELS pastor who will bring you the good news about Jesus. You can call the number on the back of this booklet to get help with finding a WELS pastor.
2. Pray for and make Christian friends who will encourage you, listen to your frustrations, and offer you good advice. You will also want to avoid contact with people who want you to get into trouble. Stay away from anyone who wants to lead you away from Jesus and the eternal life he has prepared for you.
3. Ask God to help you avoid having sex with anyone but your husband or wife. Say “No!” to tempting invitations. Sex is a gift Jesus gives husbands and wives in marriage. People who want you to have sex outside of marriage are trying to lead you away from Jesus.
4. Ask God to strengthen your faith. Spend time every day with Jesus. Read a portion of the Bible every day, especially in the morning. Talk to Jesus in prayer every day. Thank him for saving you from your sins. Thank him for all the blessings he gives you. Ask him for help in your life. Ask him for strength to remain faithful to him. Reading the Bible and learning about God’s love for you will strengthen you so you can remain close to him. Jesus can give you the power to overcome any addiction that might control you. Examples: alcohol, sex, gambling, drugs, money, pornography. He sometimes gives help through recovery groups which provide ideas, warnings, and encouragement to overcome addiction.
5. Pray for and look for a job where you can earn an honest living. It is better to bag groceries in a supermarket out of love for Jesus than to get lots of money dishonestly. Money soon disappears. Jesus is with you now and you want to be with him in heaven forever.
6. Ask God to help you show respect to the people God places above you. Jesus has given these people to you to help you and to hold anyone responsible who breaks the law.
7. Ask God to help you stay calm in all situations. Uncontrolled anger is sinful and will get you into trouble. Remember that Jesus is always with you to take care of you and to help you stay calm. In all your dealings with people, tell the truth. Telling lies is sinful. If speaking the truth reveals some of your shortcomings, ask people to be understanding.
As you live your life from now on, you can say this prayer:
Lord, I confess that I have sinned against you. I
have often failed to give you the glory for all that
you do for me. You gave me my body, my soul,
and all my abilities. You give me food, a place to
live, medical care, exercise, and all I need to
take care of my body and life. Above all, you
sent Jesus to save me from my sins.
I confess I have not done what you want me to
do and often I have done what you forbid me to
do. I have sinned against you and deserve
nothing but your punishment. Thank you for
sending Jesus to save me from all my sins. I
believe that Jesus kept all of your
commandments in my place. I believe that
Jesus has paid for the sins of all people as well
as for my sins.
I believe that, through faith in Jesus, I have
eternal life. Lord, in view of all Jesus has done
for me, help me to be content with what you
provide for me. If you took care of my greatest
problems, my sins and the eternal punishment I
really deserve, you will certainly take care of me
in this life. When I am unhappy, help me to
remember all you have done and will do for me.
Help me to remember this when I am tempted to
want what others own. Help me to share what
you have given to me, especially the good news
of salvation through faith in Jesus. Help me to
remember that you will never leave me or
Lord, thank you for all Jesus did for me. I am
content. Please use me as your instrument to
share the good news about Jesus with others. I
ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As you plan the rest of your life, take your concerns, your fears, and your worries to God in prayer. Talk to him about them. Remember that God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to save you. You may be worried about how you will be able to stay faithful to Jesus all the days of your life. Remember that Jesus is your faithful Savior. He suffered the punishment for your sins and for the sins of all people. He bought you with his own blood. He rose again from the dead and promises to raise you to eternal life. Jesus gave his life for you. He will never leave you or abandon you. You are safe in his arms. He will never break his promises. He will make all things work out for your good.
End of Chapter Six and the Bible Teachings Series A self-study about the life of Job