The meaning of most things elude us. We do not understand the meaning of mosquitoes, for example, or the hairs that fall from our head, nor of the often unhappy events in our lives, because we tend to look for their meaning in terms of ourselves. The meaning of all things is theocentric—God-centered, not man-centered—which means that of necessity things are meaningless if we try to read them in terms of man, in terms of ourselves.
“Why is this happening to me?” Have you ever said that? You’re doing your best to obey the Lord, and yet, there is a steady stream of troubles bubbling through your life. You try to understand that we learn obedience by the things which we suffer (Heb. 5:8), but it can often feel as if we’re being singled out. Our prayers become, “Why, God?”
No other Biblical example personifies this like the story of Job, and if you haven’t read his discussion of Job, then treat yourself to a remarkable study of providence in Rushdoony’s By What Standard in a chapter also titled, “By What Standard?”
In the course of my thinking, it was the book of Job that gave direction to my theology. The book of Job made me a Calvinist. The book of Job made clear to me by what standard we must understand the whole of life.
Trials, struggles, and problems fill our lives, but it is our understanding of these matters that determines whether we’re living Biblically, or not. For most of us, it doesn’t take much to move us off of faith to where we question God’s love for us. We feel unique in our particular suffering, and we forget the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job:
Many a godly man has been afflicted as Job was afflicted, has seen his life’s work dissolved by catastrophe, has seen the wicked prosper while he has been brought low, humbled and destroyed, has cried out with Job in agony of spirit and bitterness and wondered at the ways of God that permitted such things to come to pass.
Faith Without Understanding
Job’s wife advised him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), and in verse ten, Job answered, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” This marital exchange about suffering is reminiscent of the hyper-faith teaching of expecting only blessings from God, and that the reason for trials and tribulations is due to a lack of faith. Job did not sin in any of this because his faith was buttressed with a deeper understanding of God.
Job’s friends were no better, and their “group discussion” with Job takes up the majority of the story. Their simple point to their suffering friend was that God doesn’t punish the righteous, so the calamities must surely be the result of Job’s unrecognized transgressions:
Again, we find in Job’s three friends faith but not understanding. There is much that is to be commended in the discourses of the friends of Job, much that reveals faith and insight, but the basic lack of understanding of the standard of God, the standard by which man must discern all things, is lacking, and in that lack is the basic conflict between Job and his friends. The three friends argued with Job that affliction is always a result of sin … Job found it difficult to understand why a righteous God permitted a righteous man to suffer grievously.
Don’t we often find ourselves thinking in the same manner as Job’s wife and friends? The secret counsel of God’s providence is a wonderful topic to study and discuss, but it also the standard by which we are to understand the outworking of our own lives to the degree that we glorify God in all things—including our suffering.
Forrest Gump and the Book of Job
It should be noted that Job’s example is beyond extreme. It’s a hyperbolic tale much the same as that of Forrest Gump where the protagonist is made into a mentally challenged man who experiences almost miraculous happenstances throughout his life. In other words, Gump does not achieve greatness by his wit and ingenuity. It’s as if he’s blessed—unlike the Jenny character who seems cursed in her rebellion.
The film poses a philosophical question about whether “life is a box of chocolates, and you never know what you’re going to get,” or is it predetermined as the character Lieutenant Dan suggests when he tells Gump that he was supposed to die in Vietnam as his forebears had died in all the previous wars going back to the colonial revolution?
Job’s suffering is due to a wager between God and Satan that escalates into unspeakable personal tragedies such as the deaths of all Job’s children and then the attacking of Job’s own body. All the while, Job defends God, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15), and his only cursing is directed at himself when he says, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived” (Job 3:3).
Job is the most righteous of all men, yet he suffers far worse than the most evil of men, and this is all to make a point about God Himself. The Lord says,
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (Job 38:4)
God speaks this and more to Job out of the whirlwind, and this is the understanding that neither Job, his wife, or his friends had added to their faith. Therefore, they could not interpret their circumstances properly because their starting point was themselves, and we are no different. Rushdoony writes,
God here declares that the heavens and the earth were created before Job, that God’s creative purpose transcends the life of Job and the purposes of Job, that Job cannot expect that God’s providence moves in terms of himself when not only the creation but the Creator has priority over Job.
We may never understand the purposes of God in our own lives, but we will find great comfort when we learn that all of life is to be God-centered, not man-centered. Our lives will likely never feature suffering as extreme as Job’s, but in the end, God blessed Job abundantly, and that began when Job acquiesced to thinking and living a more God-centered life.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology in Two Volumes (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), p. 19.
 R. J. Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1995), p. 189.
 ibid., p. 190.
 ibid., p. 196.
- Chalcedon Editorial