Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Suffering With Steve Goble. Don’t miss this – why suffer elsewhere?

So was advertised a church Youth Fellowship meeting in East Twickenham in 1991, which I led on The Book Of Job.

Memories of such meetings are the stuff of shame. Although I had co-led an 1823 meeting on the same subject about a year earlier, my abysmal preparation still found me winging the entire evening without having actually read the book.

So the whole ‘teaching’ thing became very much a floor-discussion. “What do you think?” I kept on asking them all, deflecting their attention away from me and onto themselves. It must be said, such a shameless piece of Kostanzaing served me pretty well, and afterwards the church’s pastoral assistant grinned encouragingly at me “You have such a gift, mate!” He proceeded to offer me a few pointers on how to deal with the crowd, which I took to be encouragement for possible future leadership. Today I have to wonder if he was just trying to improve my blagging technique...

17 years later, I have read The Book Of Job a couple of times now, and I have to say, if I were somehow Quantum Leapt back into myself on that dark recession-filled evening, the amount of explanation I could offer those teens would now be significantly less.

In fact, far from speaking for an entire evening on the subject, I think I can now sum up the entire Book Of Job in just one, easy-to-comprehend, one-syllable word...



1. Satan is reporting back to his boss, who is God.

2. Because a man called Job is so good, God agrees with Satan that he can steal his belongings, murder his children and afflict his body with all manner of physical agony.

3. Job’s three friends sit with him for a week, saying nothing, following which they all argue with him in very long poetic monologues, which the clutching-at-death Job somehow responds to in equally long poetic language.

4. However God’s side of the case is then argued by Elihu, who is Job’s fourth friend of the three.

5. Then God shows up, talks about how great he is and doesn’t answer Job’s questions, so Job repents.

6. Finally God blesses Job more. We never get back to Satan.

Whilst writing this post, I looked this book up on Wikipedia, fully expecting to find much discussion of whether the book is in fact considered allegorical fiction, but was surprised to learn that it’s generally considered to be true.

As Job himself gasps:

"Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on [Or and] lead,
or engraved in rock forever!

- Job 19:23-24

Yeah, or if only they were reproduced for 3,000 years in the most popular book on the planet...

However Wikipedia has also helped me to find some of the following solutions to the above points...

1 & 2. The word translated into English as ‘Satan’ is sometimes translated as ‘the accuser,’ implying that it is/was this being’s... err... job to find and expose mankind’s sinful nature. This would make his and God’s motivation one of deliberately provoking Job to see which path he chose.

3. I think a lot of this dialogue, as with other bits of the Bible such as crowd dialogue, may be paraphrased.

4. Elihu’s sudden presence as Job’s previously unmentioned fourth friend, for me, qualifies the account as genuine. If you were making this story up, or at least editing it, you’d go back and fix the earlier verses.

6. Well of course he does – he’s God.

5. I saved this point for last, despite Word 2007’s rather obsessive attempts to renumber these paragraphs. Job’s expression of his pain in (probably not serious) cries for God to be called to account for afflicting him, which I think we’ve all been through, are in fact an attempt to reconcile logical reasoning with faith. When God speaks of his sovereignty in such beautiful terms, Job’s faith is strengthened against his imperfect human logic, so he abandons his logical arguments in favour of emotional trust.

"The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

- Job 39:13-18 (NIV)

I have to say, I’m challenged quite deeply on that last point. We have been made with a brain. If we are not to test God to discover whether he is indeed good, then we are not to test any false god either. Or, in discovering a ‘god’ who appears to do wrong, we must be expected to knuckle down and trust that it is the perfect God anyway. That sort of reasoning would seem to endorse random idolatry.

We do have some comfort:

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering;
he speaks to them in their affliction.

Job 36:15 (NIV)

In Job’s case, God does actually provide him with an experience to strengthen his faith. I guess the lesson for us is that, in our suffering, we must look for that.

But what do you do if you don’t find it?


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