John Piper – Job: (2) When the Righteous Suffer

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you can listen to the sermon audio here at DesiringGod.org.

These are notes from the session, not the manuscript that the message was preached from. They are adapted from the sermons „Job: Rebuked in Suffering,” „Job: The Revelation of God in Suffering,” and „Job: Reversal in Suffering.”)

What we’ve seen now is that Job has triumphed in the conflict that Satan brought against him. His possessions and health were taken from him, but he did not curse God—he worshiped him.

Then he endured months of terrible suffering. In chapters 4 to 31 Job conversed with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, about the meaning of suffering. The upshot of it all was that the theory of his friends was unsatisfactory. It is not the case that the wicked always suffer and the righteous always prosper.

A Change in Job’s Talk About Dying

Something happens to Job through this long conversation with his three friends. He begins in chapter 3 with utter dismay and he cries out against the wisdom of God in giving him birth. The duration of his disease had almost defeated the initial stand of faith that he took at the first (1:22; 2:10). But little by little you can watch his faith regaining its strength as he fights against the superficial theology of his friends. His faith finally breaks out into victory in chapter 19.

In every speech up till then Job had expressed the conviction that he would certainly die and go to Sheol in misery. He longs for it. But there is a gradual change in the way he talks about dying. At first in 7:9–10 (his response to Eliphaz) he is sure that death is the end of everything, „As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.” In 10:20–22 (his response to Bildad) he is still sunk in despair about death, „Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go whence I shall not return to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is as darkness.”

Then in 14:7–14 (his response to Zophar) Job again faces the certainty of his death in suffering and cries out to be released to die (v. 13). But this time he asks a question in verse 14: „If a man die, shall he live again?” Also in his second response to Eliphaz (17:13–16) the reference to Sheol is one of question rather than despair.

In 19:25–27 Job reaches an answer. „For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh (or: apart from) I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Job is finally sure that beyond the grave he will meet God as a Redeemer and not an angry Judge. He will be redeemed from all his misery—even if it will only be after death. There will be life and light not just death and darkness.

This confidence does not answer all Job’s questions or solve all his theological problems. He still is utterly perplexed as to why he should have to suffer as he does. His suffering goes right on. God seems utterly arbitrary in the way he parcels out suffering and comfort in this life.

Job Silences His Friends

But Job’s confidence of new life after death does enable him to hold fast to three of his cherished convictions, namely, the sovereign power of God, the goodness and justice of God, and the faithfulness of his own heart. With those convictions he holds out against the simplistic doctrine of justice in the mouths of his three friends. He finally puts them to silence.

The Argument Won, the Question Unanswered

He has won the argument. But he has not answered his question. He has shown that suffering cannot be explained by the simple principle of retributive justice, where each person gets what he deserves: suffering for the evil and prosperity for the good. But he has found no other answer.

We are left at the end of chapter 31 with the apparent capriciousness of God. All seems to be arbitrary. God rules the affairs of men. And no doubt he does so wisely (28:12–28). That Job never doubts. But why the righteous suffer—so far he has no answer.

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