The Lord Gave and Took Away

Lessons on Suffering from Job

My fourth miscarriage flattened me. I couldn’t believe it. I’d buried an infant son a few years earlier and was unprepared for yet another loss. I’d finally started to feel like myself again after Paul’s death, but the miscarriage left me bewildered and unsure of what I could trust.

Months before, my husband and I had planned to go on a retreat to the Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, but I miscarried two days before the conference. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go. Add to that, the retreat was on the book of Job — and I felt too much like Job already. But I went anyway, and as John Piper began teaching on the first two chapters, my outlook radically changed. During those few days immersed in Job, God reoriented my life.

At the end of the weekend, I saw how much of my faith had been Scotch-taped to God’s blessings. I had valued God not for who he was but for what he’d given me. As God took away the things I treasured, I had pulled away from him, wondering why he would let the losses happen to me. But as I studied the book of Job, I saw that God was still worthy of my worship, even in my losses.

Will Job Curse God in Suffering?

The book begins by telling us about Job, a wealthy and righteous man who feared God and turned away from evil. When Satan enters God’s throne room, the Lord points out Job’s virtue. The devil responds,

Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face. (Job 1:9–11)

Satan proclaims that Job loves God not for who God is, but because of what God has given him. The Lord is confident in Job’s faithfulness, so he permits Satan to touch whatever Job has, so long as he does not harm Job himself.

And so disaster comes, in a flood. Messengers are suddenly standing in line to tell Job about one calamity after another. Everything Job has is destroyed. His property. His servants. His livestock. Even his children. In one fateful day, everything is gone. Job goes from one of the wealthiest men in the East to one of the poorest.

Amazingly, however, Job responds not with anger or turning away, but with humility and worship as he blesses the Lord (Job 1:21). Job’s magnificent response decimates Satan’s initial premise, but the devil refuses to concede defeat, this time maintaining Job’s allegiance was tied to his physical well-being. So, God gives Satan permission to afflict Job’s body, so long as he spares his life. Soon, Job’s body is covered with disgusting sores, but he still refuses to speak evil against God (Job 2:9–10).

God Is the Reward

These initial chapters of Job have taught me many important truths, truths that continue to shape my life. First, when we worship and trust God in trial, we declare that God is more valuable than anything he gives us.

“When we worship and trust God in trial, we declare that God is more valuable than anything he gives us.”

God, not our earthly blessings, is the ultimate object of our delight. Job continued to trust God after everything he had was destroyed, declaring, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). While this response speaks highly of Job, it speaks far more highly of God. God is as worthy of our praise in times of loss, pain, and scarcity as he is in times of fruitfulness and abundance.

This first truth undid me. I saw how linear my functional theology was — if I worshiped God and obeyed him, I expected him to give me what I wanted. And if I remained faithful through one big trial, he wouldn’t keep letting me suffer. In my mind, the reward for following Jesus was a prosperous, fruit-filled, blessing-laden, trouble-free life. But as I saw in Job, God himself is the reward. When we turn away from God in suffering, questioning his love and care, we are agreeing with Satan — that God’s value is tied to the material blessings he gives us. And that is an immeasurable assault on God’s worth.

The Heavens Are Watching

Second, Job taught me that my response to suffering matters. The book takes us into the throne room of God, where we see that the angels and demons, the unseen world, are watching what is happening on earth. They see our responses. When we respond to trials and loss with worship and praise, we are demonstrating God’s value to the heavenly realms.

God intends that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). The rulers and authorities in the heavenly places learn about God and his wisdom, in part, by watching us. Though we may feel that we are suffering in obscurity, we are never alone. Our struggles are being seen by countless heavenly beings, so the stakes are higher than we think, and our calling is greater than we can imagine.

Through our faithfulness in trials, we show the unseen world that God himself is more precious than anything he gives or takes away.

Good Purposes in Suffering

Though we may not know why we are suffering, we do know there is always a reason. Everything in our life ultimately comes through the hands of God. Satan cannot touch us without God’s permission. And we know that, in Christ, the God who knows all our sorrows and holds all our tears in a bottle is always for us (Psalm 56:8; Romans 8:31). Though God never told Job why he was suffering, Job knew he must have had a reason. He knew God could be trusted.

We know that Job’s suffering came in part because God trusted him. God knew that Job’s faith would come forth like gold (Job 23:10), albeit refined by fire (1 Peter 1:7), and that God would be glorified through it. So our suffering may be entrusted to us by God to display his glory.

Suffering is a great revealer of what we value and what we cling to. God’s value is not in the gifts that he gave Job, though they were many. God’s value lies in who he is — and often it is in the taking away of gifts that we see him most clearly. Job knew God before his calamity, but in suffering he saw God in a new and more profound way. And that changed him.

How Will You Receive Suffering?

After hearing the message of Job that weekend, I was convinced I needed to trust God with what I could not see. I needed to put the glory of God above my glory. I needed to praise God through loss and pain, highlighting his worth and declaring that he is more precious than anything he might give me.

“God is as worthy of our praise in times of loss, pain, and scarcity as he is in times of fruitfulness and abundance.”

The truths I learned about God through Job have carried me through single parenting, an unwanted separation and divorce, and my current declining health, which could end in quadriplegia. Without these truths, I would have turned inward, giving in to doubt and despair. With them, I can turn to the Lord with gratitude for his unending love and presence, even when the worst happens to me.

How will you respond to suffering? Will you see it as a sign that God has abandoned you? Will you curse God and walk away, convinced that he doesn’t exist or doesn’t care? Or will you bless God even in great pain, and trust that he has a purpose, maybe ten thousand purposes, for your pain, even if you cannot see any of them?

Such trust will deepen your love for God and bind you to him with cords that nothing and no one can sever.