Most people are familiar with the story of Job. Job was a good and prosperous man who loved God. But what started out as an ordinary day for Job suddenly turned into his worst nightmare, as he was flooded with wave upon wave of tragic news (Job 1). One at a time, messengers delivered devastating reports (paraphrased here):
“Enemies stole your oxen and donkeys and killed your servants who tended them” (Job 1:13–15).
“Lightning struck and killed your sheep and your shepherds who tended them” (Job 1:16).
“Another powerful enemy has stolen your camels and killed your servants” (Job 1:17).
“A great wind came and killed your sons and daughters” (Job 1:18–19).
Crushed but not defeated, Job fell to the ground and, astonishingly, responded by worshipping God. But as one day led to another, Job’s misery deepened; his life continued to go from bad to worse. He became deathly ill with a painful and debilitating disease that transformed him into an outcast. Overnight, Job went from being one of the most successful men in the East to a rejected beggar. As his physical pain increased, he began to ask the natural, human questions of every sufferer:
Where is God? Has he abandoned me? Why won’t he answer my prayers?
When it seemed like nothing worse could happen, Job’s friends, with the best of intentions, traveled from afar to comfort him (Job 2:11–13). For seven days they sat in silent mourning with their friend. But then they decided to help him make sense of his suffering. They were convinced that the only logical explanation for his plight was some sin he had committed—so they began to hurl accusations at him. Job’s friends quickly became his tormentors. After losing everything, Job suffered the added burden of ridicule and shame. Job asked for the one thing that could reverse his tragedy. He cried out for God to declare him innocent. But God was silent, seemingly not listening to Job’s pleas (Job 3–37).
What Job really wanted was God’s presence. Job wanted to see God, because seeing God meant that God was listening. Not seeing God meant that he was gone and not listening. Where was God as Job was crying out to him in anguish? Job was certain that God’s silence meant that he was absent. But Job’s assumptions were wrong.
Job’s “comforters” assumed something different. All throughout Job’s suffering, the comforters argued that he must have done something very wrong for him to suffer so severely. After all, everyone suffers; but no one suffers as much as Job unless they have done something terrible. Job’s counselors interrogated him to determine what he had done to deserve such suffering. They believed that if they found out what Job had done to offend God, then his problems would be fixed. We often believe the same thing—that if we can find the answers to the “why” of our suffering, that we can fix the situation. But Job, knowing he was innocent, repeatedly called on God to appear and defend his reputation.
Where Is God? Is He Listening?
When all hope seemed lost, God appeared in a whirlwind (Job 38). Job and his counselors were stunned. God did answer Job’s prayer. He revealed that he was listening the entire time by responding to the questions Job had asked throughout his ordeal. God was listening. He had heard every word.
And God hears every word of your prayers, too. As he was with Job, he will also be with you the whole time and will never leave you. Job and his friends wanted to understand the why of Job’s suffering, but God spoke out of the whirlwind and did something different. He offered his presence. And Job responded with faith (Job 42:4–6).
James, reflecting on Job’s suffering, came to an unexpected conclusion. He was not interested in why Job suffered. Instead, James proclaimed, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10–11). Rather than focus on the intensity of Job’s suffering or the error of his friends’ counsel, James emphasized God’s compassion and mercy. Why was James less concerned with the reason for Job’s suffering?
The answer is found in James’s premise: “we count those blessed who have persevered” (v. 11). He chose to focus on the blessing that often comes after suffering. We can apply this to our own suffering. Suffering hurts, but one of the best ways forward is to look for and focus on the outcome, especially our relationship with the One who one day will end all suffering.
Suffering can feel like a darkness that blinds us to God’s presence. In the dark, you can stand next to someone and not even know they are there. Suffering can do that to us spiritually. Although God is always close by, we can feel alone. We must remind ourselves that regardless of how we feel, God is with us and wants to have a relationship with us.
How does our relationship with God grow? That happens as we go to him with our questions and as we listen to him in the Bible—his words to us. God is not silent. As we have already seen, he speaks to sufferers through the Bible. And he speaks as someone who understands suffering from the inside. God the Father watched as his own Son died a cruel death. Jesus, the only innocent person to ever live, was betrayed by one friend; abandoned by other friends, his community, and his Father in heaven; and died a terrible death. Read Isaiah 53 to get a picture of how Jesus suffered. Isaiah predicted that Jesus would be “a man of suffering and familiar with pain” (v. 3). Does that also describe you? If yes, then remember that you have a God who understands suffering and draws close to you in your pain. Ask him to show himself to you. That’s how God responded to Job’s questions, and it’s what we need the most. It’s out of your relationship with God that you will get answers to your most pressing questions about the suffering you are enduring.
Excerpted from Is God Listening? © 2019 by Joni and Friends. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Is God Listening? What if He Doesn’t Answer?
Nothing in life is turning out the way you expected. You pray and ask for relief, help, and changed circumstances. But what are you to think when it seems like life is going from bad to worse? You wonder if God is even listening. Does he hear your cries for help? If he does, why doesn’t he do something?