Job’s friends were unrelenting in their understanding of spiritual retribution and Job was fortified in his position as a righteous sufferer—a category undefined amongst his contemporaries. Job questioned how the One who punishes the guilty and blesses the upright would allow so much calamity to come upon a righteous person like himself. Job concluded his defense by uttering an ode to the wisdom he longed for, verses that resemble the proverbs of Solomon and represent Job’s petition to God.
When Eliphaz arose to prosecute Job for the third time, he accused Job of thievery and lack of mercy to orphans and widows (Job 22:6-9). The punishment Job was enduring had to be the result of heinous crimes, Eliphaz thought. Job needed to come back to God and let God be his gold (Job 22:21-30), then God would restore him. Job’s response to Eliphaz in chs. 23-24 is a profound theological confession. Job had lamented over the absence of a friend (ch. 19) but his greater problem was that he could not get a hearing with God (Job 23:3). Job was sure that if he could only interrogate the Almighty, his uprightness would win the day (Job 23:6-7). Job questioned the injustices of his day (Job 24:1-12). Job did not understand why those who oppressed the weak were not punished more quickly. While Job questioned his own situation as a righteous sufferer, he understood that God would deal with the treacherous in His time (Job 24:13-25).
Job’s continued claims of righteousness compelled Bildad to confront Job again (ch. 25). In Bildad’s mind, no one was as innocent as Job claimed to be, especially one who was suffering like Job. Job’s final reply to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is recorded in chs. 26-27. Even in light of God’s majestic greatness and power, Job confessed to his friends that he was innocent before the Almighty: “I will maintain my integrity until I die. I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live!” (Job 27:5b-6). The third cycle of questioning in the book of Job concluded with Job’s description of wisdom (ch. 28). Job began with a description of the work of a miner who works diligently to bring from the earth that which is unseen (Job 28:11). Job said that the precious metals gleaned by a miner cannot compare with the value of wisdom, which “cannot be found in the land of the living” (Job 28:13) and whose location is known only to God (Job 28:23). Job concluded, “Look! The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
Job’s reflection on wisdom in Job 28 provides a window for understanding suffering in the storyline of Scripture. While Job extolled the wisdom of God, he longed for some clarification of how God’s wisdom applied to his specific situation as the righteous sufferer. One distinct feature of Christian suffering in the New Testament is the supply of the Spirit to empower and counsel believers enduring trial.
(1) Jesus taught that the Spirit instructs and encourages those suffering for their Christian testimony. Jesus encouraged the disciples that in their hour of trial before public authorities, they should not worry because words would be given them (Matt 10:19-20//Mark 13:11//Luke 21:14-15) by the Spirit (Luke 12:11-12). In Jesus’ Farewell Sermon, He told the eleven that the Spirit would come and provide counsel, understanding, so that they could have clear minds and conviction regarding God’s revelation in the Son (John 15:26-16:15). Christians are thus equipped to suffer better than Job, fortified with mental clarity by the enabling Spirit of God.
(2) Paul described the Spirit’s ability to help Christians in prayer during times of suffering for Christ. Paul’s logic in Rom 8:18-30 rests on the assumption that Christians will suffer for righteousness and their testimony of Christ. For Paul, Christian suffering confirms one’s identity as a follower of Christ. In addition, as followers of Christ, believers enjoy the indwelling presence of the Spirit. The Spirit, Paul wrote, invigorates the Christian to endure the present age of bodily suffering as they groan and long for the day when their bodies are redeemed (Rom 8:23-25). Job wanted an advocate that would plead his case before God. The Spirit enables the suffering Christian to pray and prays for them. “The Spirit also joins to help in our weakness,” Paul wrote, “because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings” (Rom 8:26). Believers can be assured that God hears the intercession of the Spirit because He intercedes for believers in accord with God’s will (Rom 8:27).