The Gospel, God's Purpose, and Suffering - Radical

The Gospel, God’s Purpose, and Suffering

What is God’s purpose in suffering? What areas of my faith is God refining through this suffering? God has a purpose for our suffering. Our suffering is not meaningless. God’s purpose is sometimes different than what we may think, but it is always God. He uses our suffering to reveal himself to us. In this message on Job 32–37, Pastor David Platt shows us how God uses suffering for our good and for his glory in our lives.

  1. God uses suffering to refine our faith.
  2. God uses suffering to reveal his glory.
  3. God uses suffering to teach us to rely on him.
  4. God uses suffering to bring us to repent of and renounce all sin in our lives.
  5. God uses suffering to lead us to our reward in Him.

If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, then I invite you to open with me to Job 32. Over the last couple of weeks, I have received some emails from some of you, talking about how you have seen the truths we’ve been looking at in Job come alive in your life and in your family as you have walked through suffering in the past or maybe in the present.

And what I want to ask you to do is to keep them coming. In fact, I want to take it a step deeper and I want to invite you to email me this week and give me pictures of how you’ve seen the truths about God and His Word come alive in your life as you’ve walked through suffering. Next week, we’re going close out this series and look at the triumphant picture of God that is in Job 38 through 42 and we’re going to celebrate the greatness of God in our suffering.

And I think it would be good for us to celebrate with each other’s stories. So if you email me, we won’t use your name and say well, this person’s going through this, but we’ll just share some testimonies anonymously of how God is showing His greatness in the middle of suffering. So I invite you to do that sometime this week; that would help us in our worship for next week.

We have seen the sovereignty of God in suffering. Last week we saw the sufficiency of God in suffering, how His presence and His goodness and His wisdom, His hope is sufficient for us in suffering. And that, in and of itself, would really be enough to trust in God, but what happens when we get to chapter 32 is we get a whole new picture, what I want to call the purpose of God in our suffering. This is probably the closest we get in the book of Job to an answer to the question of “why”. Why do we suffer? What’s the purpose behind our suffering?

Up until this point, Job has had a lot of conversation with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and he’s basically rebuked them and shown their doctrine to be faulty. You get to chapter 32 and a new guy comes into the scene. His name is Elihu. Elihu causes a lot of question amongst Biblical scholars. A lot of people don’t know exactly what to do with Elihu.

This is a guy who seems like a pretty sharp guy, at the same time seems pretty arrogant. You read chapter 32 to 37 straight through, you’re going to think this guy is pretty arrogant and thinks a lot about himself.

What’s interesting though is when you get to chapter 38 and God speaks, God rebukes Job’s other three friends, but he does not rebuke Elihu and many believe that’s because a lot of the things Elihu says are pretty solid and actually pave the way for what we’re going see about the character of God in Job 38 through 42. And so I want us to think about the purpose of God in suffering based on what Elihu says to Job. Job never responds verbally.

Chapter 32 to 37 is all Elihu speaking.

Foundations …

Now, I want you to see three foundations from the start about the purpose of God in suffering, and I want us to dive in. We’re going to be all over chapters 32 to 37, and I want you to see this picture. The why of God in suffering according to the book of Job.

God has a purpose.

Three foundations, though, number one, God has a purpose. Go with me to chapter 36:5, key verse in this section in the book of Job. God has a purpose. Chapter 36:5. Elihu is speaking to Job and he says this, “God is mighty, but does not despise men” (Job 36:5). Listen to the second half. “He is mighty, and firm in his purpose” (Job 36:5). You might underline that phrase, key phrase, God is “firm in His purpose.”

Job has been struggling all throughout this book up to this point. “Is the suffering that’s happening to me, is it arbitrary or is it purposeful? Is there something behind it or is God just haphazardly doing this to me?” And Elihu is saying very clearly, God has a purpose and it is firm, it is set, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that happens from the hand of this God that is haphazard or arbitrary, it is all purposeful. God has a purpose.

God’s purpose is sometimes different.

Second foundation, God’s purpose is sometimes different. Now, go to chapter 37 with me on this one and follow along. I’m not saying at this point that God’s purpose is changing, that it’s flexible and it’s kind of changing according to whims or moods in God. That’s not what we mean. God’s purpose is firm, it’s set. But I want you to see how God’s work in situations, in circumstances often has different purposes, multi purposes.

When you get to chapter 37, Elihu starts talking about God’s work in creation. Listen to what he says in verse 2, “Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (Job 37:2—5).

And he begins to talk about all the things He does in nature, and it’s talking about a storm here in particular. It’s kind of reminiscent, kind of appropriate after the storms in the last 24 hours in Birmingham. But then you get down, look at verse 13. I want you to listen to this verse. “[God] brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love” (Job 37:13) Did you catch that? The clouds, storm clouds, He brings them sometimes to punish, other times to water the earth and show His love. And so the picture is, same storm clouds, different purposes. You can go to different places in the Old Testament and the New Testament to see God brings storms and judgment on His people and God brings storms to bless His people and to show His love for his people. The same kind of picture with the storm has different purposes at different times and that’s the picture we’re going to see.

There’s five different ways we’re going see that God uses suffering. God uses suffering in different ways at different times. This doesn’t mean that in every circumstance of suffering we can know exactly what God is doing or we can pinpoint exactly the motive of God. In fact, we’ve got to be careful even in trying to pinpoint the motive of God and trying to answer this question, because remember Job? For example in this book, Job still doesn’t know and never finds out, as far as we can tell, about the conversation that God had with Satan at the beginning of this book. He’s still not completely in on the purpose of God in this whole picture. But we are going to see a glimpse. Just remember, God has a purpose and His purpose is sometimes different.

God’s purpose is always good.

Third, God’s purpose is always good. Elihu comes to this conclusion at the very end of his speech. Verse 23 of chapter 37. “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness,” listen to this, “[God] does not oppress” (Job 37:23). That’s key. Part of the crux of Elihu’s message to Job is that suffering is good to Job, it’s a good plan in the hand of God. It’s a good purpose, not an oppressive purpose, it’s a good purpose in the hands of God.

I was thinking this morning, even as I was preparing and looking over this text again, of the purpose of God in suffering, even in my speaking in front of you about the purpose of God in suffering. It was almost three years ago to the day when Heather and I were living in New Orleans and hurricane Katrina came and sent our house under water, about ten feet of water in our one-story house there and our world turned upside down. I remember us sitting at a shelter in Central Louisiana, and we had set up a video projector where we were showing the news on the side of a wall.

And it was one of those times, after Katrina had happened, when they were doing helicopter flyovers in the city of New Orleans. And I had been telling Heather, “Heather, I’m sure our house is fine, everything’s okay.” You know, giving her all the assurance that I had no authority to give whatsoever, just what you say during those times. And we see this helicopter flyover our neighborhood and we see this gas station, and we think, well, that gas station looks familiar, and it’s about two or three blocks up from where our house was and it was up to the top of the building with water. And it was one of those times when Heather and I lock eyes and we realize our life has just turned upside down.

And so we are not going be able to go back home for a while, forever really as it came to be, because a few months later I start filling in preaching with this church in Birmingham, Alabama, and they invite me to come back a few more times, and long story short, here I am. That’s the picture of the purpose of God. Three years ago I never could have imagined as I was sitting and looking at our house under water that tonight I’d be talking to you about the purpose of God in suffering as the pastor of this church in Birmingham, Alabama. He’s got a purpose, it’s sometimes different, but it is always good, never oppressive, always good.

 Job 32–37 Explains The Purpose of God in Suffering

Those are foundations. Now, based on those foundations I want us to dive into the purposes of God in suffering. Now again, I want to be careful… When we’re walking through suffering, we’ve got to be careful. We don’t have the divine perspective of heaven, so we have to be careful not to think, okay, this is exactly what God is doing. We don’t have to try to determine the motives of God in this or that. But what I want you to see is these different purposes of God in suffering unfold as Elihu speaks to Job, and I want you to think about how these purposes apply to suffering that you may be experiencing now, or maybe have experienced in your past. Think about the purpose of God in our suffering.

God uses suffering to refine our faith.

First, God uses suffering to refine our faith. He uses suffering to refine our faith. Go back with me to Job 32:10. One of the things that Elihu tries to do at the very beginning is separate himself from Job’s other three friends. He wants to make it very clear that he’s not saying the same thing they’re saying. Remember they’re false doctrine, false gospel. They had taught that God always prospers the righteous, He always afflicts the wicked, therefore, if Job is afflicted he must be wicked.

Elihu is going to set himself apart from them and from some of the things that Job has said. Listen to verse 10. “Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you,” talking to his friends, “none of you has answered his arguments. Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom; let God refute him, not man.’ But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments” (Job 32:10—14).

So he’s setting himself apart. Elihu is not going to say that Job is afflicted because he is wicked, and therefore, if he just gets right with God everything will be okay. That’s what we saw last week, we saw that it didn’t have any foundation. Elihu is saying, that’s not what I’m saying. At the same time, Elihu is going to talk about how the suffering that Job is experiencing is intended to refine his faith, though it’s not attributable, so to speak, to a direct sin in Job’s life, it still has a lot to do with the refining that’s going on in his faith.

Turn over to the next chapter, chapter 33. Look with me at verse 14. Listen to what Elihu says. He says, “For God does speak—now one way, now another—though man may not perceive it” (Job 33:14). We’ll come back to that in just a minute. “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings” (Job 33:15—16). Listen to this, purpose clause, “To turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:17—18). Do you see the purpose there? God may speak to a man. He may do things in a man’s life to turn him from wrongdoing, to keep him from pride. Not just to say, “Listen, you’ve done something wrong,” but to keep him from doing something wrong. God may bring actions or particular circumstances into his life to preserve his soul from the pit.

It is really interesting. That word, this image of a pit of destruction is repeated over and over again in this chapter. Look down at verse 22, you might circle it, it’s there in verse 18, “to preserve his soul from the pit.” Get down to verse 22, “His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death” (Job 33:22). Verse 23, “Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, ‘Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him’—then his flesh is renewed like a child’s; it is restored as in the days of his youth. He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state” (Job 33:23—26). Listen, “Then he comes to men and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit” (Job 33:27—28). There it is again, “and I will live to enjoy the light.’ God does all these things to a man—twice, even three times—to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him” (Job 33:28—30)

There is the picture. Elihu is not saying you’re suffering because you’re wicked. Instead he’s saying, your suffering is evidence of God ransoming you, refining you, renewing you, restoring you and guarding your life from the pit. There is a refining purpose in the middle of suffering here and it’s a good refining purpose.

Even to borrow last week from the illustration I used about going into the emergency room with a broken wrist, and we all know if you’ve been in circumstances like that, that oftentimes there are things that doctors will do that are painful. It’s not fun to have a bone snapped back into place, that doesn’t bring delight to our hearts to think about that process and the doctor says this is going to hurt, and he’s underestimating what’s about to happen. And he rips that back into place and it’s painful, it’s excruciatingly painful, but it is what? – it’s good, it’s good. It’s painful but it’s good. It’s part of a refining process. This is the picture that Elihu is giving us here and it is all over Scripture. It’s all over the New Testament.

Hebrews 12, I wish we had time to dive into all of these, but look at Hebrews 12:10—11. God disciplines us for our good. Though it may not seem pleasant at the time, though it may seem painful, He is disciplining us like a father disciplines his children. James 1:2—4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Do you want to be mature? Do you want to be complete in your faith? Then James says suffering is a part of that.

Same picture you got in 1 Peter 1:2—7, what Peter says to a suffering people, to a persecuted people, is he says God is allowing these trials, He’s ordaining these trials that you’re going through in your life so your faith may prove genuine. Romans 5:3, Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings.” That’s weird. We rejoice in our sufferings. How do you rejoice in suffering? – “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:3—5).

So the reality is, perseverance, character and hope – anybody want those things? Yes, we want those things. They all come from suffering. In fact, the implication in all of these different verses is that we will not be mature and complete in our faith apart from suffering. We won’t know perseverance and character and hope apart from suffering. The picture Scripture gives us is there are dimensions of godliness that are reserved only for those who walk through suffering, because there is a refining process that is going on in that. Suffering makes growth, maturity and completeness in Christ a reality in our lives. So sometimes God uses suffering to refine our faith. It’s what He’s doing in Job’s life.

Job 32–37 Shares How God Shows His Glory When You Are Suffering

God uses suffering to reveal His glory.

Second, God uses suffering to reveal His glory. Come back up to chapter 33:12. I want you to listen to what Elihu says. Job has been wrestling with the character of God in the middle of his suffering, wondering about the character of God, even at points seeming to question the character of God. And it was one of those points where it almost seemed like he was calling out for God to say something to him. You ever been there, walking through some sort of suffering in your life and it seems like God is silent, seems like He’s not saying anything, maybe He’s forgotten about the details going on in your life?

Listen to what Elihu says to Job concerning that. He says, “I tell you, in this you are not right” (Job 33:12). Verse 12, “For God is greater than man. Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another— though man may not perceive it” (Job 33:12—14). Let’s pause there for a second. The picture Elihu is giving is God is speaking, He’s always speaking but He may not be speaking in the ways you’re used to Him speaking. He may not be saying the things you’re used to Him saying. But it doesn’t mean that God has gone silent. And so he says—How does God speak? “In a dream, in a vision of the night”—verse 15—“when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings” (Job 33:15—16). And you see the purpose as we saw earlier. Then you get down to verse 19, “Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones, so that his very being finds food repulsive and his soul loathes the choicest meal” (Job 33:19—20).

So God is still speaking, maybe one way here, maybe another way here. So how does God reveal Himself? Elihu points out three primary ways God reveals Himself. Number one in creation. This is all over Elihu’s speeches, especially when you get to chapter 36 and 37, which we’ll look at later more in depth and we’ve already looked at a little bit, this picture of God in creation, in the clouds and in the thunder and in the lightning. God is working all the time and we see His work. Don’t doubt that God is working in the middle of your suffering.

You see Him, He is sustaining every single living thing around us. He is working in every single way in creation. So God reveals Himself in creation.

Second, God reveals Himself in the Word. This is where you come back to verse 15, “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds” (Job 33:15). This is a great phrase, “He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings” (Job 33:16). Now, remember this is Job in the day of the patriarchs, time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Needless to say, those guys didn’t yet have a copy of the Bible that we hold in our hands. Most of it had just plain not been written. As a result, the picture is, you’ve got to hear the imagery of God speaking in men’s ears, and it is an awesome thought to realize that the Book you and I hold in our hands is a picture of God’s revelation. It’s His speaking in our ears and showing us who He is and telling us who He is. We have an incredible treasure here that God has revealed Himself in. He reveals Himself in creation, He reveals Himself in the Word.

We’re familiar with that, God reveals Himself in creation and God reveals Himself in the Word. But then you get down to verse 19 and we read it, “Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones” (Job 33:19). God reveals Himself in creation and in the Word, and God also reveals Himself in our pain. The pain is part of the revelation of God. That’s the picture that Elihu is giving to Job. And you think about it in the three short weeks, including today, that we’ve been looking at this book, the magnitude of the character of God that we have seen. The magnitude of the sovereignty that is just put on display all over this Book, and its sufficiency. We’ve seen His presence and His power and His wisdom and His hope, all these facets of who God is on seemingly every page of this Book. We haven’t even gotten to the climax in Job 38-42 where we see God speak and reveal Himself in one of the clearest revelations of who He is in all the Old Testament.

Isn’t it interesting that in this book of the Bible that gives us such a heavy, severe picture of suffering, we also see one of the most grand, glorious pictures of God. Do you think there’s a correlation in there? That maybe it’s in the severest most painful points of suffering that the grand and glorious character of God is revealed most clearly. This is the picture.

  1. S. Lewis said it best in a book he wrote called The Problem of Pain. He said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but He shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” God’s revealing Himself, His glory in our pain.

Now, what does He reveal about Himself? Elihu points out three primary dominant characteristics of God in these chapters, these six chapters here. Number one, He is just. This is all over chapter 34 and chapter 35. Look at chapter 34:10 with me. I want you to see the picture of the justice of God that Elihu puts before Job. Verse 10, chapter 34, Elihu says, “So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:10—12). This is a zealous affirmation of the justice of God. It’s unthinkable that God would do wrong, and this is huge.

We have seen that God is sovereign. He has ultimate sovereignty over everything that’s going on in the book of Job. At the same time, at no point in the book of Job is God charged with evil, wrongdoing—at no point. Instead, who is charged with evil, wrongdoing in this picture? It’s Satan who’s morally responsible for that. It’s the picture we have all over Scripture. Satan, sinful man—morally responsible for evil. God, ultimately sovereign, Satan and sinful man, morally responsible. This is the picture. Job did not sin by charging God with wrong, end of Job 1. That’s the picture here.

So God is sovereign, at the same time, there is nothing that comes from the hand of God that is evil, nothing. Everything that comes from His hand is good, that’s the picture. He’s just. And Job had been on the brink, maybe even fallen off a couple times in impugning the justice of God, questioning the justice of God, maybe even asserting that He wasn’t just.

And Elihu makes very clear, God is completely just. If He were to do evil, then how could He judge the world? Impossible. He is just.

Not only just, second, He is merciful. We’ve already seen grace in chapter 33 in this picture of ransom and restoring and keeping our life from the pit, but go over to chapter 36 and I want to show you just some beautiful phrases in the middle of this chapter. Verse 15 and 16, I want you to see the mercy of God here. Listen to what he says. Elihu says, “Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food” (Job 36:15—16). Aren’t those great phrases? He delivers you in suffering. He speaks to you in the middle of your affliction. He woos you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place of freedom where you enjoy the choicest of foods.

Elihu says, “Job, in the middle of your suffering God is not showing His hatred towards you, He is showing His love towards you.” This is huge. People of God, if you trusted in Christ, there is absolutely nothing, neither death nor life, angels nor demons, present nor future, nor any powers, nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is merciful and even suffering is evidence of love not hatred towards you. This is the picture that Elihu is showing us.

God is just, He is merciful, and third, God is great. Go to chapter 36 and 37 on this one. What Elihu does is he starts going off on the greatness of God, and there’s a couple of times where he just bursts into praise. Look at chapter 36:22. Elihu says, “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out” (Job 36:22—26). I love chapter 37:1. He starts talking about creation and he says, “At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place” (Job 37:1).

And what he does is he starts talking in the rest of chapter 37 about how God’s glory is seen in creation and it really kind of follows the pattern of season. You see God’s glory in winter – in fall and then winter and spring and summer, just read through it and you see this picture of the greatness of God revealed. And then you get to the end of Job 37 and he says in verse 23, “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. Therefore, men revere him” (Job 37:23—24). The picture is clear here in Job. God is showing His justice, His mercy, and His greatness in the middle of Job’s suffering.

Job’s wrestling with that, and it’s understandable, we too wrestle with the character of God. This is how we learn the character of God and see the glory of God revealed. But as we wrestle with God’s revelation of Himself in suffering we need to avoid these extremes. Elihu is addressing Job in these ways to counter some extremes that Job seems to have gone to in his response to God in suffering. Where he has, again, kind of been on the edge or probably fallen off at a couple of points. We see this when we get to the end of the book and Job comes to a point of repentance for some of the ways he has responded.

So I want to encourage you, based on the picture we’ve seen here of God’s revelation of His glory, I want to encourage you to avoid these extremes when you walk through suffering. Extreme number one—declaring our innocence. Go back with me to the end of Job 31. We have seen Job as a blameless and upright man. He is righteous; he’s a good man. He’s not done something specifically to warrant what has happened to him. At the same time, I want you to see how Job takes this innocence that he is claiming and begins to assert it at points at the very expense of the grace of God and the justice of God. Listen to his boldness.

The end of Job 31, right before Elihu comes and starts talking. Verse 35, listen to what it says, “Oh, that I had someone to hear me” (Job 31:35)! This is Job talking, “I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him” (Job 31:35—37). Does that seem bold to you? “Let the Almighty answer me. Let the accuser put his indictment in writing.” I want you to see how Job, and this has happened at different points, is taking things a bit too far and saying, God’s got to answer to me for what’s going on here.

The picture is, Job is blameless and upright but he is not perfect and there is a proper humility that comes in any picture in suffering that should cause us to avoid the extreme of declaring our innocence. Practically how does this look? My encouragement to you would be, when you walk through suffering, especially suffering that has not been caused by some particular sin in your life, I want to encourage you not to get too caught up in saying why did this happen to me? Or what did I do to deserve this? Be very, very careful not to go too far to the point where you miss humility. When you get over to chapter 33, Elihu says, “Don’t forget, you are a man and He is God.” Beware of the extreme of declaring our innocence.

Second, beware of the extreme of distrusting God’s justice. What Job had begun to do is basically calling God to court. Let’s see if He’s just. Let Him show His justice if that’s real. This is one of the reason I wanted us to walk through this book at this time in this faith family. I know that suffering for individuals and families and maybe even for this faith family, could be around the corner. We never know. We need to be prepared not to let bad theology creep in in times of suffering, because it does suddenly. When people go through suffering they begin to say things about God that are not true, about the Word that are not true. And we say these things because we want to feel better. They seem to make us feel better. The only problem is if these things that we say are not true, then they are not good. They are not good for us to say or to cling to. They’re false. We don’t need to cling to false hope.

And the picture here is Job doesn’t know why he is suffering. What he starts to do is he starts to question what is true, he questions what he does know, namely that God is just. He starts to distrust the very character of God and it’s that whole principle, we talk about this a lot, when you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do. When you don’t know exactly what to believe, believe what you know to believe. In curiosity, in the wondering and the wrestling and the struggling, don’t wander from that which we know is true. Cling, hold fast to the character of God that we know is true when we wrestle with the questions of suffering and pain in our lives.

Avoid the extreme of distrust in the very character of God, and particularly His justice. When we see injustice in our lives, in the world around us, still cling to what we know. Wrestle with the questions but cling to what we know. Avoid the extreme of declaring our innocence, distrusting His justice.

Third, missing His mercy. We can get so focused on the details, the difficulties and the darkness right in front of us, that somewhere along the way we begin to miss the mercy and the presence and the goodness and the hope that is behind it all. And so what Elihu says to Job when he talks about the mercy of God is he says, yes, you’re walking through suffering, but don’t forget mercy is still there, God has not withdrawn His mercy from you and He will not withdraw His mercy from His people. So look for evidence of His mercy.

When you walk through suffering – if you’re walking through suffering now, look for evidence of His mercy, be careful not to miss His mercy in the darkness that is before us. It’s not an easy thing, but don’t miss His mercy.

And fourth, avoid the extreme of minimizing His greatness. We’ve already talked about this some, especially a couple of weeks ago, when we talked about examples like Rabbi Harold Kushner who drew the conclusion that if suffering was happening in his life, that apparently God was not powerful enough to overcome it, God couldn’t have stopped it. He begins to question the very character, power, and sovereignty of God. The whole picture that Elihu is showing Job is God’s greatness is exalted in the middle of our suffering, not minimized. And so look for evidence of the greatness of God.

In this whole picture, God uses suffering to reveal His glory, seems kind of out there but this is where the gospel and suffering intersect. Look at the cross. See the suffering of the Son of God and see the clearest revelation we have of the glory of God. This is the justice of God and the mercy of God, the wrath of God and the grace of God, the love of God and the purpose of God in suffering all brought together in a way that causes us to resound to His praise and honor and glory. Praise God for the cross and the demonstration of the glory of His name in that picture.

Similarly, God helps us to see similar revelation of His glory in the suffering of our lives, just as we see it in the suffering of His Son. God uses suffering to refine our faith and second, to reveal His glory.

Suffering Is A Lesson Taught By God

God uses suffering to teach us to rely on Him.

Third, we’re going move through these next couple fairly quickly. God uses suffering to teach us to rely on Him. Turn over to chapter 34:13. When Elihu speaks, and he does this a couple different times, chapter 32:8, chapter 33:4, and then here, he uses this phrase to talk about how we are dependent on God. He is dependent on God for breath. We are dependent on God for everything, for our very breath. Look at verse 13, chapter 34. “Who appointed him over the earth?”—talking about God—“Who put him”—God—“in charge of the whole world? If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust” (Job 34:13—15).

This is Elihu saying, Job, don’t forget, when you’re walking through suffering, don’t forget that every breath you have, every single good thing you have comes from God. Everything you are, everything about you is dependent on God. You rely on Him for everything, period, everything.

We greatly respect every medical professional, every doctor, nurse, who is an instrument in the hand of God and taking care of our bodies, and we praise God for His gifts and skills that are represented in them, in you, if you fall into that category. But the reality is, we do not trust in doctors, we do not trust in percentages or chances of survival. We do not trust in diagnoses or prognoses. Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses, some trust in the things this world has to offer, we trust in the name of the Lord, our God. Everything we have is dependent on Him and if He chooses for us to live, we live. If He chooses for us to die, we die. This is 2 Corinthians 1:8—9. Paul says, “We receive the sentence of death, the very sentence of death.” Why? So that “we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9).

Suffering is a humbling reminder to every single one of us that the only reason we have health at this moment is because God gives it, and the reason we would not have health tomorrow is because God is sovereign over it. And we rely on Him whether in health or not in good health. We rely on God whether things are going well or not.

If our trust and foundation that we try to stand on is in our circumstances or in our health or in the things that we hear from others, from doctors or this or that, then we cannot rely on those things. If our trust and confidence that we stand on is God then we have a firm foundation. And suffering is intended to bring us to rely on God more and more and more and more, to where He is becoming everything. This is part of the design of God in suffering to teach us to rely on Him.

Job 32–37 Illustrates How Suffering Teaches Us To Repent

God uses suffering to bring us to repent of and renounce all sin in our lives.

Fourth, God uses suffering to bring us to repent of and renounce all sin in our lives. I want to show you this in chapter 36:17. This is probably the part of my study this week in these chapters that was most enlightening, most challenging, especially in light of what we’ve been studying at Brook Hills for the last four or five months.

Listen to chapter 36:17. Listen to what Elihu says as he talks about Job’s suffering and sin. This is very different than what Job’s other three friends had said. I want you to listen to what he says. Verse 17, “Now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes” (Job 36:17—20). Listen to Verse 21, “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem”— Job—“you seem to prefer to affliction” (Job 36:21).

Now, remember, Elihu is not saying, Job, you’re wicked and that’s why you’ve received all of this suffering. At the same time, take a step back for a moment and think about this picture and the Holy Scripture and what we’ve seen over the last few months as we’ve looked at the gospel.

We talked a couple months ago about natural disasters, we talked about moral evil and natural evil in the world. We talked about moral evil, violence, murder, school shootings or slanderous tongues or gossip, evidence of moral evil all around us in this world. Then we talked about natural evil, tsunamis and tornadoes and earthquakes and cyclones, pictures of natural evil. Now, we talked about and we looked at the gospel, the series on Life Blood. We talked about how all evil in the world, moral and natural evil ultimately goes back to what? – to the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3, it goes back to the very beginning of the story. Everything’s good, Genesis 1 and 2, very good. Sin enters the world, one sin. Romans 5 says that one sin brought condemnation to all men, and the picture is, as a result of that one sin, we have all the effects of sin that we see in the world today and we talked about this. The gravity of one sin, all the moral evil we have seen, holocaust and genocide and the natural evil and tsunamis that have swept away a quarter of a million people overnight, all of these pictures resulting from one sin. And the reality is we’ve committed thousands of sins in this room, the gravity of sin is real in Scripture. From one sin, all these things came.

And so the picture is, when Job is walking through suffering and he sees these disasters come upon his family, they may not be directly the consequence. At the same time, there is a relationship here between the suffering that Job has seen and sin and the effects and the consequences of sin in the world. And what Elihu is saying is, Job, let your suffering, your experiencing the consequences of sin drive you away from sin not towards sin.

And I want you to think about this practically. Maybe when you walk through suffering that is not due – is not attributable to some specific sin in your life, maybe something happens to your family, to your child, maybe something happens to you, maybe you’re abused some way, whatever it may be, hurt, mistreated. What Elihu is saying is let your suffering, though it is not attributable necessarily to some specific sin in your life, let it drive you to hate sin all the more and to repent of any and every sin in your life and to renounce sin in your life and to long to be delivered from sin in your life. Let suffering and all of its effects and its severity and the pain that it causes, let it cause you to hate sin all the more.

New Orleans, house going under water, I don’t think, at least from my perspective, at this point, I don’t think that there was some specific sin in my life that caused our house and the rest of these houses in New Orleans to go under water. But if Heather and I walked through that process where we lose all of our things in this world, we walk through that process and we don’t hate sin on the other side more than we did before, then we have missed part of God’s design for us in that suffering. If you’ve walked through cancer, if you treat sin as casually after cancer as you did before, then you’ve missed part of God’s design for your cancer.

When things go wrong that you didn’t necessarily warrant, you didn’t deserve, when a child is born with some sort of deformities that cause such pain, when a student passes away unexpectedly, is tragically killed, when you walk through some fiery trial, when something goes wrong in your life that you could never have imagined happening to you and you did nothing to deserve it, in those instances, let that suffering and all the effects of that suffering and the pain of that suffering, let it drive you to hate sin, to long to be delivered from sin. Let it drive you in this way to Christ and to the gospel and say, “I want to be delivered from sin, not sin that caused this, but sin in the world. I hate it and I renounce it and I repent of anything in my life that has anything to do with it.”

Do you see the picture here? God uses suffering to lead us, to teach us to repent of sin and renounce sin in our lives so that we do not prefer evil to affliction. Let suffering cause you to hate sin all the more. God uses suffering in these ways, multifaceted, to refine our faith, to reveal His glory, to teach us to rely on Him and show us that we need to repent of and renounce all sin in our lives.

Job 32–37 Solves Suffering With Finding Comfort In Jesus

God uses suffering to lead us to our reward in Him.

But it ultimately comes down to this, and this is where Elihu closes out. God uses suffering to lead us to our reward in Him. Look at chapter 37 with me, look over in verse 21. This is how Elihu closes. We’ve read it a couple times, at least different parts of it, but let’s put it all together. He comes to the end and he says this, “Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean. Out of the north he comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart” (Job 37:21—24)? You see that imagery? You can’t look at the sun; it’s too bright when the sky is clear. And out of the north, God comes in golden splendor. He comes in awesome majesty.”

The way Elihu brings this whole discussion to a close is he says, Job, see God in splendor and in majesty and in great righteousness. And the picture he’s giving us here is the end of our suffering, the goal of our suffering, the purpose of our suffering, the reward of our suffering, is the glory of God as our reward. We see Him more clearly, more majestically as a result of suffering.

Please don’t miss this, our reward in suffering is not that everything gets to the point where it’s okay. Our reward in suffering is not that all the pain that we have struggled with suddenly goes away. Our reward in suffering is God, it’s God. I remind you, this is the gospel. The gospel means we don’t want stuff, we want God, we want more and more and more of God, not comfort, not security, not safety, not contentment with the things of this world, we want God. He is our treasure. He’s our reward and if suffering is a means by which we can know Him more, then we embrace it as a means to our reward, the fullness of our reward.

Let me give you a picture of this practically. When I first started teaching down at the seminary in New Orleans, my first semester teaching began a week and a half after my father had passed away. Obviously it was a very sensitive time in my life as I started teaching classes just one week after preaching at his funeral. And I was teaching one particular class, it was a spiritual disciplines class, which meant it was a small group of about eight folks sitting around a table talking during the semester about spiritual disciplines.

And there was a lady in that class who was studying counseling there at the seminary, precious lady who, the first day, as I shared what had happened in my life recently, she said, “David, I want you to know what happened in my life recently.” She had two teenaged daughters, if I remember correctly, and a couple of years before, I don’t remember the exact timeframe, but it was about two years before, her husband had gone out hunting with one of his friends. They had been sitting on a boat in the middle of water and her husband was sitting in the front of the boat and the friend was sitting in the back of the boat. And long story short, her husband stood up at a time when his friend was aiming his gun and her husband ended up being shot and killed accidentally in that boat.

And she shares this story with me and with us, and I can’t tell you during the semester how encouraging she was to me based on what she had been through. But I remember the very last day we met together in this semester, and all through the semester each of the students had had an opportunity to go in depth and basically share their faith journey. And she was the last one to go, and so she shared her faith journey, and she talked about what her relationship with her husband was like, great relationship with her husband leading up to that time and how they had been through a rough time over the last couple of years. But then she said these words, I’ll never forget what she said. She looked at us and she said, “Well, the conclusion I’ve come to today is this, it’s worth it to lose my husband to know what I know today about God.” What a statement.

And I’ll be honest, I heard that and I thought, I don’t think I’m there. How can you say that? How can you say that? The only way you can say that is if God is the goal of your salvation. Not even the best treasures this world has to offer. Only if God is the goal of your salvation and the gospel is at the core of your heart. You say, “What do you mean, what does the gospel have to do with that?” You cannot say that and mean it without the gospel, and here’s why.

I’m going take you to Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our inequities. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him.” Don’t miss it, this is the cross. “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” The Lord’s will, to cause Him to suffer. The purpose of God to cause Him to suffer. But don’t miss what it says after that in Isaiah 53, it says, “After the suffering of His soul,” talking about Jesus, “He will see the light of life and be satisfied” After the suffering of our soul, we see the light and are satisfied.

This is the picture of the cross. Suffering is not the end, it is not the end, God is the end. When you walk through suffering, it is difficult and it’s painful, hurtful. Tears are shed in the middle of it, but you know that by the power of Christ and the cross, the suffering He endured, that we might have life at the end of our suffering is not death, the end of our suffering is not pain, the end of our suffering is not tears, and at the end of our suffering it’s not stuff is better. The end of our suffering is God and we will see His light and be satisfied in Him, that’s the gospel as it relates to the purpose of God in suffering.

Malcolm Muggeridge said it best. He said, “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction and not through happiness. This, of course, is what the cross signifies and it’s the cross more than anything else that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

And J. I. Packer said, “It is often the case as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest.” And so I want to invite you and I together to contemplate the cross when we think about the purpose of God in our suffering.

I know that there are people who do not know the purpose of God in suffering because you do not know the cross and its reality for your life. And apart from the cross, suffering is meaningless. It is meaningless apart from the cross. But with the cross it is meaningful and the reality is, I want you to hear this, God of the Universe poured out suffering on His Son, Jesus Christ. All the effects of your sin on His Son so that you might be freed from sin and freed from the effects of suffering for all of eternity. That you might know God as the end of your suffering. That you might have relationship with God and have the hope of no more sin or sorrow or sickness or pain one day.

And I want to invite you, if you have never trusted in Jesus, trusted in the cross, then I invite you to say in your heart for the first time tonight, “I trust in Jesus. I trust in Jesus and the work of the cross to forgive me of my sins, to cleanse me from my sins and to give me life, eternal life.” I want to urge you to do that, to trust in Him, not to waiver another second without trusting in Him. If you’re not at a point where you’re ready to do that and you’ve not trusted in Jesus in that way, I want you to know that we can do nothing without Christ and He is the reason behind everything that goes on in our lives. And for those of you who have trusted in Christ, who do know Christ, especially if you’re walking through some sort of suffering, but even if you’re not, I want to invite you to consider the purpose of God in the suffering of His Son and bring that to bear on what God maybe doing in your life as you walk through suffering tonight.

Father, we praise you for your purpose in suffering. We praise you for your purpose in the cross and we praise you for the reason we have to celebrate as a result of that. Father, I pray that people, for the first time, would trust in Jesus. Trust in His life, His death and His resurrection. Father, I pray that you would find our faith, you would reveal your glory and teach us to rely on you, that you would bring us, even now as we reflect on suffering in our lives, and God, that you would bring us to repent of and renounce all sin in our lives, and God that you would bring us to the point where we long for you as our reward more than anything else. God, give us a glimpse of your purpose in the cross and bring it to bear, we pray on your purpose in our lives, especially as we walk through suffering, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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