Recently, the book of Job has become very precious to me and I rejoice that I was able to study it in preparation for teaching from the book in an adult Sunday School class. My hope is to help pass some of the lessons on to other counselors. These are: (1) God vindicates Himself in the end, (2) God is sovereign over suffering, (3) Expressing our faith through lament, (4) Don’t be like Job’s friends, (5) Learn from what they did right, (6) Be patient with the sufferer, and (7) Accurately apply Scripture to your counselee’s life.
1. God Vindicates Himself in the End
Job was probably the first book of Scripture ever written. Job happened after Genesis, but was written first. The first thing God revealed was His sovereignty in all His decrees. In the end, God vindicated Job’s faith in Him—the righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4b), and when there are no rational or theological explanations for afflictions, a believer can and must trust God. Jerry Bridges aptly remarks, “In the arena of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God—1) God is completely sovereign; 2) God is infinite in wisdom, and 3) God is perfect in love. God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty, He has the power to bring it about.”1Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 15. We must never separate any of these three truths from each other but rest in His sovereignty, wisdom, and love to bring about the good that He is working out in us and for us.
2. God is Sovereign over Suffering
The main purpose of the book of Job is not suffering. Wait a second! Job suffered so much! Yes, but that’s not the main point. The primary point is God’s sovereignty—in suffering. One thing that Job and all his counselors got right is that God is in control of all things. And we know from Romans 8:28-29 that God has a good plan for it. In the end, God didn’t answer Job’s questions. Rather, He reminded Job that He controls all things. This can provide tremendous comfort to those who suffer because they can see that suffering is not random or hopeless. Rather, God sovereignly allows suffering because it will serve the purposes of the gospel in His child’s life.
3. Expressing Our Faith through Lament
Job demonstrated a two-fold godly response to suffering. In chapter 1, after Job lost everything, Job responded with worship (1:21). In chapter 2, after Job lost his health, he responded with passive acceptance (2:10). In both instances, Job did not sin (1:22; 2:10). We must allow for both in our counselees. We should all seek to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4) and count it all joy (James 1:2). We must not grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), BUT Job helps us to see that God allows His child to quietly suffer until the tears flow into worship.
4. Don’t Be Like Job’s Friends
Job’s friends had a theological problem in their counsel, which was documented excellently here in the ACBC podcast. They mistakenly accused Job of being punished by God for his own sin (8:16). Job made the same theological error, though, because he thought he shouldn’t suffer since he perceived himself as righteous (10:1-2). God can, and does at times, physically punish the wicked on this earth (Proverbs 3:7-8; 13:15). At other times, though, the wicked prosper (Jeremiah 12:1). Meanwhile, physical suffering comes to all due to the curse of sin (Genesis 3:16-19; 2 Corinthians 4:16). As counselors, we should not assume a counselee suffers because of their own sin but we may need to remind a counselee that they are not innocent victims since we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
5. Learn from What They Did Right
While Job mourned greatly and erred at times, he looked toward the genuine hope God provides. One can see this sprinkled throughout the book and culminated in his return to trusting God in the end. In the midst of the book, Job looks up to heaven and (though he would not have wholly understood), cried out, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth” (19:25).
There are also some things Job’s counselors did well (which are often overlooked). First, they went to see him (2:11). Second, they had good intent (2:11). Third, they wept with Job who wept (2:12; cf. Romans 12:15).
These friends cared and sat silently with him around the clock for seven days straight. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) records that the ashes Job used on his boils (2:8) were from a pile of burnt dung, which was no doubt in the dump outside the city (cf. Leviticus 13:46). Would you do that? Do we go when someone suffers? Sure, Job’s counselors had errant theology, but they cared and went.
6. Be Patient with the Sufferer
Job started strong in chapters 1 and 2, but he lost momentum by chapter 3 (as most would). The remaining chapters are Job’s emotional roller-coaster, wanting to honor God while having painful struggles that can lead one to feel despair. That kind of roller-coaster of emotions is normal, and we can use Job’s struggle to help others see that they are not alone. As 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, every struggle is common—but God is faithful.
Job’s wife was not helpful. Rather than encourage and comfort Job, she told Job to “curse God and die” (2:9). We easily forget, though, that Job was not the only one to suffer. All her kids were dead, all her security was gone, and by this point it looked like she would lose her husband as well. In that culture, it would have been devastating and scary. How would you feel if you were her? Would you harshly rebuke a counselee who went through all this and was struggling with her faith? In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul exhorts the readers to, “encourage the fainthearted” and “help the weak,” (which no doubt, she was).
7. Accurately Apply Scripture to Your Counselee’s Life
Be careful when applying Scripture from Job. I have heard many quote it out of context. God ultimately rebukes Job (38:2) and his first three counselors (42:7) for errant thinking. To quote from Job or his counselors—from chapter 3 to chapter 37—can easily be a proof text. For example, in 31:1, Job speaks of his diligence to not look at a woman with lust. The context, though, is his argument that God has treated him unfairly (31:35; cf. 19:6). You need to examine the context of a verse (usually at least that chapter) before you use a verse to prove your point.
We can learn much from Job. We would do well to study it, and study it some more. As New Covenant believers, we are blessed to know far more than Job or his counselors because we have the example of the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of the Father who is too wise, too kind, and too good to err in His sovereign rule (Romans 8:28-30). We can confidently say that our suffering is momentary and light in comparison to the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). May the God of all comfort use us to counsel well those who suffer (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).