to suffer well

by Elizabeth de Barros


“The problem of reconciling human suffering

with the existence of a God who loves,

is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning

to the word ‘love’, and look on things

as if man were the center of them.” 

– C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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Job and suffering may well be synonymous the world over, but God defines things differently. His language is of a higher assent — the true meaning of things are revealed at His discretion, on His timetable. That’s why it’s important to read carefully all 42 chapters of the book of Job. Its length and breadth is perhaps a cue to take a closer look at the rendering of a man who knew how to suffer well. We might learn something.

Since antiquity, many have found a measure of comfort when encouraged to compare their heartache to that of Job’s. A cursory glance at the ordeals he endured is sure to snap one back into reality. Work a fast cure should self-pity begin to drip its goo. But the book of Job was intended to say so much more than this — God is never long-winded for no good reason.

In the early chapters, Job’s feet are firmly planted on the ground, despite the unspeakable loss of home, livestock, all ten children, and his health. Aware that his contest with the devil is not some freak wind that will soon blow over, he takes it well enough. At least, his faith is still intact. But the shame of it all — is too much for his wife to take. The persistence and severity of the testing takes its toll. We look on as he’s dragged, in all his humanity, to the gutter of gloom and festering wounds. In the swollen mire of bitter complaint he curses the day he was born, winning nothing but a sympathy parade of friends. His wife offers even less comfort, nearly kills him with her words:

“Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

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Job in Despair Chagall

Job in Despair, Chagall

Lithograph, 1960

As the book attests, Job remains composed, albeit barely, as God confronts him in chapter 38, telling him to be quiet and to brace himself like a man. In response, he beats his breast in earnest, barely able to whisper a prayer. Once put in his place, he’s again told in chapter 40 to brace himself like a man.

God has a way of getting His point across.

Job’s medal of honor shines bright in the Hall of Faith in that he never once shook his fist at God. His integrity won the day and defined the man. The truth of God prevailed and the latter end of Job’s life serves as a glorious monument to the fact that God takes pleasure in a man who understands something of Divine prerogative, even when Divine prerogative means taking 42 chapters to say so.


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