In this fourth instalment in our “Image of God” series (see previous entries post 1, post 2, post 3), Andrew Prideaux discusses the place of humanity as it is revealed in the book of Job. He argues that part of the reason why humans suffer is that they are so important to God.
What does suffering tell us about human worth?
For some modern commentators, suffering undermines human value. Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer would rank the life of a gravely sick child below that of a healthy pig because the first would have a less worthwhile (i.e. more painful) life than the latter.
For Christians, suffering attacks our sense of self in different ways. It cuts us down to size and humbles us before God. But it can also make us wonder whether God is really present or on our side. In the book of Job we find helpful perspectives on all these responses to suffering. We also find that there is a way which suffering can make us think more highly of what it means to be human.
Job – Slapped Down or Held Up?
Many commentators think that the primary message of Job is that humans must learn their place before God. The great theophany and creation speeches of chapters 38-41 are seen as a divine silencing Job’s questions and reminding him that he is the creature and not the Creator. According to this reading, the most important thing for Job to grasp is that only God is qualified to run his world. Job needs to learn to surrender to the mysterious and sovereign rule of his Maker.
No doubt Job humbled by God, but it’s also clear that God honours Job. In the opening chapters of the book we see God staking his own reputation on Job. Job is a test-case who will reveal whether it is possible for a human being to “fear God for nothing.”(1:9 cf. 2:4-5). The testing that Job experiences is also a test, and vindication of God against the cynical accusations of Satan. Through Job and his suffering, God sends a message even to heavenly powers.
This connection between the glory of God and the suffering of his people is echoed in many New Testament passages. Peter speaks of Christians being, “grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 1:6-7)
Paul writes that God’s plan was so that, “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (Eph 3:10-11)
On a number of occasions in the book of , Job wonders at the disproportionate attention God seems to level at this one human being who in the larger scheme of things is as transitory as a breath. He wonders why God fixes his eye on him and wishes that he would not – for the result is so painful:
Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? … I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning and test him every moment? (Job 7:12, 16-18)
But Job is too important for God to leave him alone. When the LORD finally grants him relief, he begins by addressing Job in these terms:
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (Job 38:3)
What follows is far more than a simple slap-down. God treats Job like a new Adam. He gives him a unique vision of his own (God’s) kingly rule as he leads him through the many wonders and threatening realities of all creation (38:1-41:34). As the LORD speaks to Job, he not only demonstrates concern for him as a suffering individual; he also deals with him as a man. Caught between God and God’s creation, Job is both humbled lifted up.
In the story of Job we see suffering as an expression (rather than a disproof) of God’s commitment to humanity. This pattern is finally and fully realised through Jesus.
Jesus, the “man of sorrows” who was “marred beyond human semblance” (Is 52:14; 53:3), now bears the scars of his suffering in glory (John 20:24ff). The Lamb who was slain is now at the centre of the throne of heaven (Rev 5). Neither the Father nor the Son are embarrassed or ashamed about Christ’s suffering, for these scars reveal their glory and by these wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Campbell Morgan, the predecessor of Martin Lloyd Jones at the Westminster Chapel, says that the story of Job shows how God brings humans low that “they might discover the true majesty of their life according to Divine purpose.” God first “humbles a man to the dust in abnegation,” and then “lifts him … into the realm of the glory and the majesty of his being.”
The apostle Paul makes the point more simply: “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory,” (Eph 3:13)
Paul was not ashamed to share in the sufferings of Christ as he carried the gospel of Jesus forward. Christians know that if we share in the sufferings of Christ we belong to Him; and that we will also share in His glorious destiny.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:16-17)
Andrew Prideaux is a senior staff worker at the University of Melbourne with the Christian Union (AFES). For the last 20 years he has been wrestling with the message of the book of Job, and has had a number of articles published on the book. He is currently writing a commentary on Job for the Reading the Bible Today Series (ed. Paul Barnett). Andrew is married to Vannessa and they have four school age children. When not teaching and reading the Bible with students or writing, he enjoys listening to records and taking part in various musical projects.
Photo: Oscar Murillo (original sculpture by Rodin)
 G. Campbell Morgan, (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott LTD, 1934), 105, 106, 107. Italics added.