Asking the Right Questions – Job 29
By Hannah Anderson
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, let me assure you that you are not the first. Human beings have been wrestling with the question of suffering and personal choice since the Fall, and most of the time, coming up miserably short.
For example, in the face of Job’s suffering, his three friends assumed, like many today, that it was the result of personal sin. When Job tries to assure them that he has no known sin in his life, Bildad responds in typical fashion, “Yes, but who can really be righteous?” (chapter 25) In today’s language, “Okay, but we’re all sinners and so anything bad that happens to us is deserved anyway.” The bottom line? Your suffering is always your fault. And by extension, when other people suffer, in some way, it is their own fault too.
I think a lot of us see the weakness in this answer. We’re experienced enough to know that life is complicated, that some of us are born with certain privileges, that not all suffering is the result of bad choices. But what we may not understand is that while suffering is not always the result of bad choices, good choices do not inoculate us from suffering either.
And this is exactly what Job is struggling with in chapter 29. After his friends accuse him of sin, Job examines his own conscience and finds nothing. In fact, what he does see there—a life of righteous choices and walking with God—only makes him more confused.
The chapter opens with Job longing for the past:
“Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness… I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.” (verses 2, 3, 14)
He then lists all the things that characterized his life. He pursued justice; he cared for the oppressed; he didn’t ignore the suffering of others.
In today’s terms, he bought only free trade, organic, and local. He sponsored World Vision. He fostered to adopt. He supported single mothers. He even searched out injustices in order to make them right. He encouraged the depressed with words of affirmation and blessing. He cared for the poor, the marginalized, and the weak.
He was doing it all right. So why was he suffering?
The funny thing is that Job never really gets an answer to this question. We as the readers know about the conflict between God and Satan, but he never finds out. In many ways, the point of the book is not to answer this question at all. Instead it is to teach us to ask the right questions in the middle of suffering; and “what did I do to deserve this?” is not one of them.
Reading Job 29 reminded me of another passage that speaks of pursuing justice and loving mercy. Micah 6:8 says,
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Like Job, many of us are eager to participate in the fight for justice, to own the cause of the orphan and widow. But just like him, it’s easy to forget the last past of this verse. We must also walk humbly with God.
Some questions—like why we suffer—are simply too far above us to understand. When we try to reduce the question of pain to what we did wrong (as Job’s friends did) or what we did right (as Job did), we put ourselves at the center of the conversation. And when we are at the center of the conversation, we are no longer walking humbly with God.
I don’t think Job was an arrogant or self-righteous man. But he was a man. And like the rest of us, he needed to remember his place in this world. When God finally speaks to him, He reminds Job of Who He is as the sovereign Creator and who we are as His creation. Thankfully, Job gets the message; and even though he never finds out why he had to suffer, he does learn to trust in the midst of suffering. In chapter 42, he confesses,
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (verses 2,3)
And in this moment, Job embodies Micah 6:8. In this moment, his life is characterized by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
Hannah Anderson lives with her husband, Nathan, and their three young children in the haunting Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As a pastor’s wife in a rural setting, no two days are ever the same which suits her short-attention span perfectly. Hannah is passionate about helping women discover their God-given identity as His image bearers and is the author of Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody, 2014). She also contributes to a variety of Christian publications, and you can find her on her blog, SometimesALight.com, and on Twitter @sometimesalight.