The Problem of Suffering: Excerpts from Job: The Faith to Challenge God

By Amy Paulsen-Reed, Academic Sales Manager, Key Account Sales Rep, and Acquisitions Editor, and Jocelyn Lee, Editorial/Marketing Intern

In our darkest moments, our instinct is to reach for answers. Even veteran Christians sometimes struggle to reconcile the truths they’ve learned about God in the Bible with the suffering they see in their own lives. For many, the problem of suffering is the single greatest obstacle between them and being able to confidently trust God. After all, how can a righteous and loving God allow his children to be subjected to the immense pain and sorrow that we see in the world every day?

Michael Brown guides the reader through these questions in his book Job: The Faith to Challenge God. This unique translation, commentary, and collection of essays attempts to bring to light the rich insights that Job has to offer, in a way that is accessible without oversimplifying the issues.

The Translation

The Hebrew of the book of Job is notoriously difficult. It mainly consists of poetry, a genre that uses flowery and obscure vocabulary. In addition, the syntax of poetry is less structured than prose, making it more difficult to discern the connections between the words. Yet Brown has produced a translation that combines accuracy with simplicity. Take, for example, Job 6:8-13, where Brown provides an elegant yet straightforward translation of how Job is feeling:

8If only my request would be realized and that God would grant what I hope for—9that God would be willing to crush me, that he would loose his hand and cut me off. 10This would be my consolation (and I would revel with joy even in unrelenting pain)—that I did not deny the words of the Holy One. 11What is my strength that I should still wait expectantly, and what end can I look forward to that I should patiently endure? 12Is my strength the strength of stones? Is my flesh bronze? 13Surely I have no help within me, and resourcefulness been driven from me.

Brown’s translation often serves as a helpful clarifier of other more common translations. Take for example, Job 38:1-3. The KJV translates this as

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

However, Brown’s translation is more straightforward:

Then YHWH answered Job from the tempest and said, “Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge? Get yourself ready like a real man. I will ask you, and you will inform me.”

Another aspect of Brown’s translation is that, although it’s clear you’re reading poetry, when Job and his friends speak, it still feels like real people are speaking. For example, in Job 19:2-6, Job bursts out in frustration:

2“How long will you torment me and crush me with words? 3This is now ten times that you have insulted me. Aren’t you ashamed to mistreat me? 4If indeed I have erred, my error remains with me alone. 5If indeed you want to exalt yourselves over me and use my disgrace as an argument against me, 6know, then, that it is God who has wronged me and enclosed me with a net.”

The Commentary

In addition to clear and expressive translations, Brown also includes a thorough commentary on every chapter and verse of Job. His commentary helps the reader stay oriented throughout the verbose dialogues that take place between Job, his friends, and God, while providing crucial insight that comes from years of studying Job in its original Hebrew. Take, for example, the following commentary on Job 3:4-6:

4That day! May it be darkness! May God above not seek it out and may light not shine on it. 5May darkness and deep shadow reclaim it, and may a cloud cover it; may the blackness of the day terrify it. 6That night! May pitch darkness seize it! May it not be included in the days of the year; may it not appear among the number of months.

3:4—The Hebrew calls for a vivid translation, hence, my rendering replete with exclamation points. Job’s passion is palpable, and in this verse, he calls for the day of his birth to be darkness (another image of non-existence), not sought for by God—in other words, it will be missing and he won’t go looking for it—with no light shining on it at all.

3:5—Job now wishes that darkness and deep darkness would reclaim (lit., “redeem”) the day, a highly ironic use of what is otherwise a positive word in the OT. That day belongs to the realm of darkness, so let that realm take it back! He wishes that the day were covered by a cloud, using the verb sh-k-n, “to dwell,” elsewhere used for the cloud of God’s presence dwelling among the Israelites (Exod 40:35) and related to the noun mishkan, tabernacle, and so, once more, using a verb that is generally (or always) positive with a negative connotation. Finally, he wishes that the blackness (lit., “blacknesses”) of the day would terrify that day, with the verse ending with yom, “day,” before transitioning to “night” with the next verse. In Job’s upside down world, where everything is the opposite of what it should be, he wishes for light to be “redeemed” by darkness and for a dark cloud to overshadow (lit., “dwell, tabernacle” over the day).

3:6—Job wishes that ʾofel, another term for darkness, would seize (lit., “take”) the night so that, having been literally wiped off the calendar, it would not be counted in the days or months of the year. The repetitive nature of Job’s imprecation, coupled with its vivid poetic imagery, underscores how desperately he longs to be as if he had never been. From his current perspective, that would be the only way for the nightmare to end.

This kind of commentary helps the lay reader to better understand both the linguistic sophistication and the rhetorical force of the original Hebrew – and in an accessible way!

The Theological Reflections and Exegetical Essays

In addition to a new translation and a commentary on the entire book of Job, Brown also includes sixteen individual essays that focus on specific issues and verses. The topics range from “Challenging God as an Act of Faith,” to “The Danger of Holding a Too-Rigid Orthodoxy,” to “The Chaos Monsters in Job.”

Here is a representative excerpt from “The Danger of Holding a Too-Rigid Orthodoxy,” that shows how Brown writes clearly and eloquently on the topic at hand:

Yes, rules are rules, but rules without heart do not reflect God’s nature, and rules without flexibility do not reflect God’s agenda, one in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:13).

A compassionate approach to Job’s sufferings would have required the friends to see past Job’s verbal transgressions and to move beyond the offense of his accusations against God. It would have enabled the friends to understand by the spirit, not the letter, focusing on Job’s spiritual pain rather than being put off by his violation of godly decorum.

In contrast, a too-rigid orthodoxy sees a drunken man lying in his own vomit and condemns him as a vile sinner without first asking, “How did this poor soul get into such a broken condition?” It judges a prostitute to be an evil seductress without wondering, “Perhaps she herself is a victim of sex trafficking or some other form of sexual abuse?” This kind of religious attitude is careful to keep every last jot and tittle of the Law—like the Levite and the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan who could not risk being defiled by tending to a beaten and bloodied man—in contrast with the religious outsider (the Samaritan!) who is moved by compassion to help (see Luke 10:25-37).

. . .

That, in short, is the danger of holding to a too-rigid orthodoxy: it becomes so stiff that it is destined to break. And it is a corpse which grows rigid and inflexible, while the living, in contrast, are supple, because the living have a beating heart.

In the theological reflection “Job and the Problem of Suffering,” Brown takes on the thorny issue of why God allows suffering, and explains that it is okay that there can never be a completely satisfactory answer:

Finally, there is one last lesson in Job. When the sufferer has a personal encounter with God, there are no more questions. And as you look at Jesus and what He suffered for you, you can take refuge in the arms of a loving, caring God even when there is no apparent answer to the pain. We’re not talking about fairy tales here. We’re talking about a living God who has sustained people through living hell—and who has proven Himself to be more than enough.

It is one thing to suffer; it is another thing to suffer alone. But to suffer and have the comfort and encouragement of your closest Friend—that changes everything. In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, the courageous rescuer of the Jews and Holocaust survivor: “Now I know from experience that Jesus’ light is stronger than the deepest darkness”; and, “There is no pit so deep but God is deeper still.”

When we see God and recognize who He really is, we don’t need answers to our questions. He Himself is enough—and with Him we have confidence and hope. He is the living God!

That’s why His people have been able to look death in the face without backing down, overcome almost unimaginable obstacles, and bring hope and healing into some of the darkest places on the earth.

In the end there are no answers. There is only God. But because there is God, there are answers.

Brown’s book does not claim to have all the answers about Job, just as Job is not a book that claims to have all the answers about suffering. Instead, he shows that a righteous wrestling with these ideas ultimately leads back to the seemingly contradictory, apparently unsatisfying, yet ultimately sufficient love of God. “God’s love is the answer” might seem like a cheap cop-out, yet it always proves true when encountered directly. May you encounter the love of God, not as an easy answer to your painful circumstances, but as a transforming peace that transcends the need for an easy answer.

Michael L. Brown (PhD, New York University), is president of FIRE School of Ministry and has served as an adjunct or visiting professor at seven leading seminaries. He is the host of the daily, syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire, and is the author of more than thirty-five books and over one thousand popular articles. He has contributed to numerous scholarly publications, engaged in public debates on a wide range of theological and cultural topics, and is considered a leading Messianic Jewish apologist.

Amy Paulsen-Reed is an Academic Sales Manager, Key Account Sales Rep, and Acquisitions Editor at Hendrickson Publishers. She has a doctorate in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University, where she focused on Jewish biblical interpretation in antiquity. She lives in Gloucester, MA with her husband Michael and her daughter Lillian. She is a self-confessed language and grammar nerd, and enjoys cooking, baking, and napping in her spare time.

Jocelyn Lee is an Editorial/Marketing Intern at Hendrickson Publishers. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree from Regent University. In her free time you can find her changing her major every other day and listening to the same three musicals on repeat.

For more information about Job: The Faith to Challenge God, visit our website.

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