Job 32-37: Does suffering refine us?
One problem with this section of Job is that it interrupts the flow of Job’s last gasp attempt to call on God for his day in court to plead his innocence. It takes a fourth friend, Elihu, six chapters to get to his point. Still, his point is worth hearing, just remember that God’s response is coming, and don’t get too sidetracked with Elihu to miss what’s coming in Job 38-41.
Elihu’s point he finally gets to is that suffering can refine Job. Or maybe suffering keeps Job from doing evil. Suffering acts as a refining fire in this view. This may be true that suffering may change us, refine us by fire, but while someone is suffering may not be the best time to tell them that.
This was the view Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner had, that suffering in this world has some purpose, to refine us. Until Rabbi Kushner’s son died. Then he did not like that idea anymore, at least didn’t appreciate people telling him that in the midst of his suffering.
And then Christian theologian C.S. Lewis also thought of suffering as a way humans are refined for better purposes. That is, until Lewis lost his wife, Joy. In their deep grief, both Kushner and Lewis found Elihu’s wisdom not so helpful as it seemed before. Surely we are changed by grief, pain, suffering, but in the midst of this may not be the time to impose that view on our suffering friends.
Maybe the best thing to do when our friends are suffering is to keep our opinions about the outcomes to ourselves.
Lord forgive me for thinking I can know, predict, or impose an outcome on someone’s suffering, whether I think it will help them be better or not. Help me be present, silent, helpful in the suffering of others.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.