Why does man suffer? That is a question humans have asked for thousands of years.
In Job’s time, it was thought man suffered because he had sinned. And at times, that line of thought was and is correct. For example, if a man abuses his body with drugs or alcohol, that man may suffer.
God may use suffering to get our attention. Recently, I heard a pastor talk about what happens when we go through adversity. He said we can learn from it. He said, “Sometimes, God has to knock the stuffing out of us.” He was right. At times, God has to get our attention.
Elihu tells Job that God may have been trying to get Job’s attention in order to cause him to seek repentance. While that may sometimes be the case, we see other purposes in God’s actions toward Job.
Purposeful Discipline (8–11)
Throughout the Book of Job, his “friends” echo a sentiment of their day, saying Job must have sinned for him to be suffering as he was. God must be punishing him, they thought.
Elihu affirms this sentiment when he says in verse six that God “does not keep the wicked alive but gives justice to the afflicted.”
There are times when someone gets a disease due to drug or alcohol abuse, but we must be careful not to suggest others are suffering because of their sin.
For example, my Dad died of Parkinson’s disease. How did he get it? We don’t know. Lots of people have been diagnosed with it, and as with other diseases, it doesn’t mean those people afflicted by the disease are being punished.
We need to be reminded that suffering is not always a result of sin. At times it is, but some people suffer, and we never know why. It’s just part of life.
Judgment Coming (12–16)
Elihu reminded Job that those who choose to ignore God face His righteous judgment and death.
He said, “He delivers the afflicted in their affliction, and opens their ear in time of oppression. Then indeed, He enticed you from the mouth of distress” (vv. 15–16).
God can use suffering to get our attention and lead us to repent. A classic example of this is Jonah. God spoke to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh.
Instead, Jonah went to Tarshish. Jonah was tossed overboard into the sea, and God caused a fish to swallow Jonah. In the belly of the fish, Jonah decided God’s way was best.
The Apostle Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute other Christians. Suddenly, a great light burst out of the heavens and startled Saul and knocked him off his mount.
Lying on the ground, God spoke to Saul. God had gotten his attention, and now God would begin the process of calling Saul. God had to knock the stuffing out of Saul.
Justice Seen (17–23)
Job had asked questions of God. Elihu says of God, “Remember that you should exalt His work. … Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him. The number of His years is unsearchable” (vv. 24, 26).
Elihu thought Job was suffering due to sin. Suffering can be a result of sin. But God can also use suffering to get our attention. For example, someone can lose a job or experience disappointment.
None of those are physically related, but God can use them to get our attention. Perhaps you know someone whom God has used adversity to get their attention. Pray that they are willing to listen to God.
By Gregg Potts, D. Min.
Potts served as a pastor for more than 30 years in Mississippi and Georgia.