Sufferer Par Excellence

Pew-Thian Yap, ruling elder

Part of my job as a scientist is to understand assumptions and how they are involved, consciously or unconsciously, in reaching conclusions. At the very foundation of science is a collection of axioms scientists believe to be true. Assumptions shape our world views and influence how we interact with God, man, and the created world.

In a sense, the book of Job is about assumptions. It records the dialogues between God, Satan, Job, and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. A large portion of the book is about Job and his friends exchanging words to challenge assumptions about the creator and the created to make sense of suffering. It is down-to-earth in asking some of the most difficult questions about the nature of suffering in relation to God. It wrestles with the uncomfortable thought of why God, who self-proclaims to be good, allows suffering. It deals with the perplexing question of why good people go through sufferings, often beyond apprehension...

I can certainly identify with Job. If my possessions, family, and health were taken from me, I’m not sure if I could do better than Job. But the Bible tells us to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials (James 1:2-4). How is this even possible? A hindrance preventing us from joy in the midst of suffering, I believe, is our assumptions about blessings. Our understanding of blessings is often associated with a good life – a loving marriage, obedient children, a healthy body, a thriving career, etc. But earthly blessings are fleeting and can all disappear instantly. The biblical idea of blessing is revolutionary:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. ... Blessed are those who mourn. ... Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. ... Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4, 10–11)

No hint of material abundance and not quite what we would call a good life.

The book of Job can be mysterious and hard to decipher. Puritan Joseph Carroll took 23 years to preach through the book with 424 sermons, and in the final sermon he noted: “I’ve not attained a clear understanding of some of the passages.”  I’ve not spent nearly as much time and can be as clueless as many on the book of Job.

Here’s a shameless plug: If you’re like me and feel you could use some help on the book of Job, Sunday School this upcoming summer is for you. We will run a Ligonier video series where Dr. Derek Thomas will wittily expound some of the core concepts of the book of Job. It is my hope that through this we will be equipped with Job’s steadfastness (James 5:10–11), and will in times of suffering proclaim with Job, the sufferer par excellence, "I know that my Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25).