What Are the Hopeful Lessons in the Depressing Book of Job?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2019 5 Nov
I’ve been having some really serious health problems and one of my Christian friends recommended that I read the book of Job. That was the worst advice I’ve ever gotten. Job was an incredibly depressing book. I stopped reading about the middle of chapter five. All it did was make me feel worse. Why is this book even in the Bible?
Many are the reasons why the book of Job should be in the Bible. Among other things, it deals with the age-old question of why good people suffer.
But, there’s a lot more than that to the book of Job.
I think it will help if I overview the book and draw some lessons.
The First Two Chapters of Job: ‘The Test’
Satan appeared before God in heaven. God asks Satan if he’s noticed his servant, Job. God says to Satan: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Satan replied, “Job only loves you because of all the things you give him. Take away everything he has and he will curse you to your face.”
God says, “Okay, I’ll take the challenge; I’ll take down my hedge of protection and you may strike everything he has but on the man himself, do not lay a finger.”
In rapid succession Job loses his sheep, servants, oxen, donkeys, camels and all of his children.
Job fell to his knees in worship and said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Instead of cursing God, he blessed him.
God said to Satan, “Job kept his integrity and refused to curse me, even though you incited me against him.”
Satan replied, “Skin for skin! A man will give all that he has to save his life. Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
God said, “All right, do with him as you please but you cannot kill him.”
Satan afflicted him with painful sores from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. He took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself as he sat among the ashes in the garbage dump.
In a quick and brutal sweep of calamities, allowed by God, but engineered by Satan, Job is reduced to a twisted mass of brokenness and grief. He is left penniless, homeless, helpless, childless—and healthless.
Then, his wife taunted, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?”
Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? In all this Job did not sin with what he said.
Three friends arrive with plans to comfort him. First, they don’t recognize him, which tells us something of the swelling and sores all over him. Then, at a loss for words, they sit and stare wordlessly for seven days. Unfortunately, when they spoke, they switched from their comforting intentions to massive condemnation.
-Hold everything lightly. The Lord can give and the Lord can take away.
-Be alert! Many of our troubles are the result of the spiritual battles behind the scenes.
-We face an unseen, god-hating enemy who would love to destroy us. Fortunately, we are not defenseless.
-God provides us a hedge of protection. Don’t be stupid. Stay inside it.
-Satan can’t touch us unless God lowers the hedge.
-Sometimes the best comfort is when someone puts their arms around us and never says a word.
-Life is not fair. There are trials we endure that we do not deserve. Mourn and receive comfort for your hurts and live on.
-Never curse God. You may need Him one day.
Job 3: Descent into Depression
Even the godly can be depressed. There is no contradiction between being a person of great faith and a person of great despair at the same time.
Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth...Why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child--like an infant who never saw the light of day...For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared most has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. (Job 3:1-26)
Some say that it is a sin for a Christian to be depressed! People will threaten, “If you have more faith, you wouldn’t have this problem.” This kind of thinking is hurtful and ignorant. Those who think like this have never experienced the “black dog of depression.” Think about it. No one complains about receiving medicine for high blood pressure or thyroid problems: “If we had more faith, we wouldn’t have high blood pressure!” That’s ridiculous. Sometimes we need some medicinal help to balance the struggles of life.
The language of depression sounds something like this: “There’s no hope; nothing is going right; I’ve never been so miserable in my life; I’m trapped; Things will never get better; Nobody loves me.”
To help the depressed, we must speak with words that the depressed can understand. To be of any help we must speak the language of comfort.
Jesus taught the language of comfort in Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall receive comfort.”
Notice what Jesus didn’t say: “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be told, “Don’t cry “It’s not that bad; or, “All things work together for those that love God (and then aunt Susie dies); or “Let me give you the reasons why this happened; or, “I’ve been through a lot worse than this;” or “If you were just a better Christian, this never would’ve happened”; or, “Would you please stop crying, you’re just making everyone nervous.”
No! The language of comfort sounds like this: “I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Or, Life is not supposed to be that way. Or, “my heart is breaking as you’re going through this.”
Valuable Lessons in Job 3:
-Depression is a natural response to hurt and loss.
-When you’re mourning, find people who know the language of comfort.
-To help the depressed, we must speak the language of comfort.
- Encouragement, understanding, reasoning, and how to fix it are important; however, these come later on after sufficient mourning has occurred.
Unfortunately, Three of Job’s Friends Judge Him in Job 4
I’ll summarize their speeches.
Eliphaz: “You are suffering because you sinned.”
Bildad: “You won’t admit you sinned, so God is sending more suffering.”
Zophar: “Your sin is so bad that you even deserve more suffering than this.”
Job responds to each: “It is not my fault. I have done nothing wrong.” He has flashes of insight mixed with depression, self-condemnation, and pain.
Valuable Lessons in
-In our arrogance, we often forget that we can be dead wrong.
-Don’t argue theology. Don’t attack. Someone always gets hurt. When discussing theology, remember Solomon’s advice: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
-The goal is not who wins or loses. The goal is to reach an understanding of another’s position.
-Listen attentively to what’s being said. Repeat carefully what you think the other person is saying. When both of you are on the same page, you may proceed.
-If the discussion becomes hot and angry, and you feel that you’re getting into a fight, it’s often best to disengage before anyone gets hurt.
-Arguing theological differences has instigated wars with victims in the millions.
Fortunately, in Job 32, One of Job’s Friends Helps Him
Again and again Job has declared himself to be a righteous man who can’t comprehend why God would “pick on” a blameless man like him.
So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet they had condemned him (Job 32:1-3).
Then, Elihu speaks to Job:
But you have said in my hearing, I heard the very words, ’I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me as enemy.’ However; I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man.
Finally, in Job 38, God Speaks
It is as if God said: “Since you can’t answer my questions, who are you to question my motives and sovereignty? The issue all along was trust. I wanted to know if you served me for Who I am and not for what I give you?”
Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings laid, or who laid its cornerstone—when all the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy...Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the consolations in their seasons and lead out the bear with its Cubs? (Job 38:1-41)
What Job Learns from God
Job is absolutely horrified as he faces the vast distance between him and God.
-Our most debilitating sin is pride. Most of us are not as good as we think we are. We must deal with our pride.
-Refuse the temptation to think that we know how to run our lives better than he does.
-Don’t argue with God. He always wins in the end.
The Lord God Wraps up the Story in Job 42
In Job 42, it finally dawns on Job what the Lord is saying. His plan is profound. His reasoning is right. His ways are higher than we can understand. Finally, Job waves the flag of surrender and says, “I back away, I retreat, I repent. Lord, my heart is yours and I place myself at your disposal.”
Like Isaiah, Job was allowed to see the Lord high and mighty and lifted up as he knelt to worship.
God was quite angry with Job’s three friends. He told them to make sacrifices and ask for forgiveness. That done, Job prayed for them.
The Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before: 14,000 sheep; 6,000 camels; 1,000 yoke of oxen; 1,000 donkeys; seven sons; and three daughters.
He lived 140 years which enabled him to see his children to the fourth generation.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. (Job 42:12)
Valuable Lessons in Job 42
-God wants to bless us.
-Listen carefully and respond properly when someone gives you a loving, biblical rebuke.
-“Lord, help me to see myself from your perspective,” is a great prayer.
-When pride creeps in, confess your sin and humble yourself before God.
-God has plans to bless us.
-When we encounter trials and sufferings it’s good to first ask God what’s going on.
-God disciplines us for our own good that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12).
Well, Christine, I hope this answers your question. There are many good lessons to be found in the book of Job if you persevere. Happy reading!
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Roger will respond in as timely a manner as possible. Due to the large volume of questions, patience is requested. When questions involve mental health issues, no part of any response to an “Ask Roger” question should be interpreted as a substitute for seeking professional counseling from a licensed mental health professional. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Motortion