suffering

Job’s Suffering and God’s Sovereignty

As a seminary prof I have always tried to make my exams a learning experience for my students. That’s why I call them “Bible Reviews,” rather than “exams.” My hope is that even when a student loses points because of an incorrect answer, the ultimate goal of the class can be achieved as I offer a correction and try to help them see the importance of the correct answer. One of the nicest compliments I ever received from one of my students was written on their final Bible Review. The student wrote, “This review has been a great learning experience!”

Another opportunity for learning has taken place this week as I have been grading the last Bible Review of the semester. The majority of the students missed agree/disagree question #3 on their Bible Review. The statement reads, “God gave Satan a free hand in bringing suffering and pain to Job’s life.” Do you agree or disagree?

I believe the correct answer is “Disagree.” God actually set limits on what Satan could do to Job. In the first round of suffering, God said, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him” (1:12). Then Satan went out and caused the loss of Job’s possessions and children, but he was not permitted to harm Job physically. In the second round of suffering, God said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life” (2:6). Satan was given permission to destroy Job’s health, but not to take his life.

Why is this an important point in discussing Job’s suffering? I tried to point out to my students that it is important to know that when trouble comes our way it is not because God can’t control the situation or that Satan can do what he wants to harm us. God permits suffering, but He does set limits on it. He remains in control. He retains His sovereignty over our lives (Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11).

I believe that this truth is practical and comforting when we face trials. Nothing comes our way that has not passed before God’s throne to receive his permission. And while Satan might try to use suffering and pain to destroy our faith, God is using the same circumstances to build our endurance and make our faith stronger. James writes that “the testing of your faith produces endurance (hupomone), or “staying power” (James 1:3). And Job exemplifies this outcome (“the endurance of Job”) by his response to the trials that came his way (James 5:11).

Most of my students lost two points by their incorrect answer on the Bible Review. But I am confident that they will remember the point of the question long after they have forgotten about the grade on their review. And I hope it has been a good learning experience.

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).