For many of us, we know that the book of Job exists and is about suffering, but beyond that, our understanding is hazy. Some English and Literature majors may have read this book while learning about irony. Others of us may know that this book is often used to encourage those who are suffering but how it does it specifically, we are unsure.

What is its place in the Bible and what does it really mean for young people? Here are 5 thoughts to start us of!

1. Some of us still hold on to retribution theology practically

Most Christians will agree and profess faith in the fact the our sins have been paid for by Jesus Christ. But, deep down, some of us still believe that God is punishing or will punish us as a direct response to our sins. We learn from the three rounds of discourse that the fundamental argument Job's 3 friends and Elihu hold to are not very dissimilar: Job is suffering because he sinned (and how dare he not admit it). And their proposed remedy is simple: repent of your sins and God will relieve you of your afflictions.

While Job seems to disagree with them, he probably does believe that too. He believes that if only he can get an audience with God, he'll be able to give God a piece of his mind and put God in his place. he believes that his suffering is unjust (and he thinks God's unjust to let him suffer cause since he's righteous, his suffering is uncalled for).

Godly living may lead to better a better earthly life and outcomes, but it is not a guarantee in this fallen and sinful world. We may still hold onto the same retribution theology because it gives us a sense of control, that if we started doing xx or stopped doing yy we will a better outcome. We need to run away from placing our hopes in what we can do, and trust that God is fully sovereign.

At the end of the book (spoiler alert), Job repents not of his sin as his friends insinuated, but of him thinking that he's wiser/more just than God.

How have you held on to the belief that God punishes you for your disobedience and rewards you for your obedience?

2. God being sovereign over sin and suffering doesn't mean that God is the author of sin and suffering

We struggle to perceive God's sovereignty, especially when bad things happen, or when we struggle to overcome sin. God being ultimately in control doesn’t mean that when we sin, he causes us or leads us or causes us to sin. This is what James writes about James 1:13-15.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

As we read the book of Job, we are continually challenged to think about this: What is our understanding of God based on?

3. There's a difference between lamenting and complaining

Sometimes we have superstitious tendencies, and in those moments we are afraid to pour out what we really feel towards God (be it anger or bitterness) and the book of Job seems to bring about a tension - Job repents of him thinking that God in unjust for his suffering and yet all over in Psalms there are examples of psalmists "complaining about God". But are they really complaining, or lamenting?

When one laments, one laments to God - so the relationship and trust in God and desire to continue to trust in God is there. But when one complains about God, the attitude towards God is remarkably different. Job starts off careful with his words, cursing the day he was born and the circumstances of his life but his attitude towards God is made increasingly clear - he starts off indirectly blaming God and ends off doing so rather directly. So yes, on tough days when our hearts and minds are blanketed in darkness and bitterness let us go to God, still!

Are your laments actually complaints? Or, are you afraid that God cannot bear the weight of your struggles?

4. The book of Job is wisdom literature because it shows us how living in a fallen world is like

The book of Job isn't ultimately about why we suffer but wise living - how should we suffer as God's people. When Job repented and chose to suffer in silence in the presence of God, he didn't yet know that his wealth and physical possessions will be restored. Life doesn’t always follow a clear set of cause and effect. The innocent man who does the “right things” may suffer, and it doesn’t mean God is silent or powerless. Ultimately, the book of Job points us to Jesus, who was the truly innocent man but yet, was cursed and bore the wrath meant for deserving sinners.

Do you realise how we need not just knowledge but wisdom in this world, and how this wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord?

5. God answers our "why" questions with "who" He is

The book brings us through predicaments, arguments, thoughts about suffering and God but finally presents an image of a man whose trust in God has deepened so much that he chooses and is able to go through his suffering in silence. We are not to read the book of Job as a manual for getting lost materials back. In fact, it shows us the God who awaits us at the end of all our struggles, because ultimately, more of Him is the end goal of suffering and all of the Christian life in this world (c.f. Rom 8:29).

Do you know who God is?

Written by Cherie Sim