How Big Is Your God?

Lenten Lessons Learned in Suffering

From the Book of Job | Lent 2021

Calamity strikes. Pain sets in. Suffering is your plight. Palpable evil invades. A child dies. A war escalates. A mother of three succumbs to cancer. A dad walks out the door and never looks back. These are the moments when God seems distant, uncaring, out to lunch, on vacation, or not even there. Yet, what if God never left? How does God show up in the midst of suffering? When evil seems to permeate a situation? When pain is searing? Where there are no answers and all hope seems lost? The Ancient Wisdom Literature--Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes--gives us several pictures of God that assist us on the journey of life in a broken world. These pictures are not exhaustive answers to some of our biggest questions, but they do convey a God who knows and loves us better than we could know and love ourselves. And, the Book of Job, confusing and consternating at times, is no exception...

An Introduction to the Book of Job

This book is a peculiar piece of the genre of Ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature. In the Bible, there are three books of Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Proverbs speaks of a God who is wise and just. The calculus of the book is that people get what they deserve. From Proverb to Proverb, the unrighteous sow and reap evil while the righteous sow good and harvest it as well. Yet, Ecclesiastes suggests that the world is not always fair and equitable; life is unpredictable and hard to comprehend. A question looms: Is God wise and just?

This question is explored in the Book of Job. The story takes place in an obscure land far from Israel. There is little attention given to placing the book in a particular time period. The characters are not Israelites. Keeping the place, the period, and the people generic clears the way, allowing the author to give direct focus to this question of God’s being wise and just as well as many other questions posed in the throes of suffering. 

One commentator suggests that the three questions that loom largest in the book are these:

  • Is God wise and just?
  • Does God operate the cosmos according to God’s justice?
  • How is Job’s suffering to be explained?

The Book of Job could be viewed as a framed piece of art addressing these questions amidst others. The first two chapters are narrated prose as is the last chapter (Chapter 42). The narrated chapters serve as the frame that encases the artistic poetry of the book (Chapters 3-41). More specifically, Job 1-2 narrates a conversation between God and the Heavenly Court, then between Job and the Accuser. Then, the poetry of Job 3-26 takes up the dialogues between Job and his friends. Job 27-41 directs the reader’s attention to the poetic monologues of Job, Elihu, and God. Finally, in Job 42, the narrator’s prose concludes the book.

Job 1 begins with an introduction of Job. He is a very wealthy man with a very large family (“the greatest man amongst all the people of the East” (1:3)). Job “fears God” (this an expression for fidelity in that time). He is rich, wise, and kind—he is the textbook definition of integrity. Of Job, people would say, “That’s a good man.” “He’s a great guy!” 

And yet, Satan (in Hebrew, the word means adversary, accuser, prosecutor), after roaming the earth to and fro, questions this depiction of Job, arguing that Job only fears God because he is protected and blessed by God. As God is holding court with his counsel in this courtroom scene common in Ancient Near Eastern literature, Satan is granted permission to take away all that Job holds dear to see if he will curse God. The only requirement is that he cannot lay a finger on Job. His livestock, his home, the lives of his children and grandchildren--all is taken away--yet, Job remains faithful.

In Job 2, Satan returns to God’s court--this time he is granted permission to take away Job’s personal health and vitality. He can deal with Job directly, he must simply spare his life. From the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, Job was afflicted with painful sores (2:7). Only shards of glass provide temporary relief. Job wants to die but still does not curse God.

Then, in Chapter 3 and following, Job is visited by his three friends, and later a fourth. These four friends represent the best Ancient Near Eastern thinking regarding God, justice, suffering, and the human condition. The calculus is simple: If a human action is wise or good, then God justly rewards with blessing and success. If a human action is stupid or evil, then God justly condemns with blessing and failure. Job struggles to find himself and the given circumstances in that logic.

Then, his friends conclude, not by accusing God, but Job! Job is at fault. He must repent. Yet, Job does not see it that way. Instead, he dismisses his friends, then takes up his case with God: “I’m innocent so my suffering cannot be a divine punishment. Perhaps God is a bully? Maybe God actually orchestrates all of the injustice in this world (Job is terrified at the thought)?” 

Job then demands that God show up personally. Instead, a fourth friend, Elihu, shows up: “Perhaps God uses pain and suffering to build character or to teach people valuable lessons? Job, you are wrong to accuse God of being unjust.”

At this juncture, the dialogue terminates--all of the wisdom of the ancient world has been tapped. Now, it is God’s turn! God shows up in the whirlwind and then gives Job a whirlwind tour of Cosmos--what he sees is pretty impressive! God jests, “Job, would you like to micromanage the world, even for a day? Could you mediate precise retribution and perfectly carry out justice? Perhaps it is harder than it looks. Or perhaps you don’t fully understand my ways?”

Six weeks together during the Lenten season will not permit us to take up this wooly and wild book in its entirety. Instead, we seek to gather these Scriptures around six topics that explore the appropriate gravity we grant God in our life, and the lessons that we might learn in suffering.

Overview of our Lenten Series

As with the other Pauline Epistles written in the first century and recognized and canonized as God’s Word, Philippians is particularly occasioned and eternally relevant. Yet, Paul rarely writes his letters in a form or outline that aligns with our western sensibilities. There is a basic structure to Paul’s letters (things like a Greeting, Salutation, and Thanksgiving), but this doesn’t keep him from sometimes bursting into doxology, admonishing a brother, and mining a theological truth--and all in one sentence! Thus, when I teach through Paul’s letters, which I often do, I seldom go verse-by-verse through an entire letter. Our treatment of Philippians is no exception. We are indeed covering most verses of this joy-filled letter, but we will jump around a bit, addressing the major teachings of the letter. Each topic will be addressed as a straightforward question with a provocative answer. Like this:


February 17, 2021

Where Did God Go?



February 21, 2021
Why Do We Ask "Why?"


February 28, 2021
The Lies Suffering Tells Us


March 7, 2021

Lessons Learned in Suffering



March 14, 2021
How [Not] To Be A Friend In Suffering


March 21, 2021
How Big Is Your God?

Outline of the Book of Job

Some of you will want to take up the Book of Job and read it through a few times during Lent. The book can be read in its entirety in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Here is a helpful outline that will help you pace your reading:

Prologue: Job’s Character and the Circumstances of His Test (1:1–2:13) 

  • The integrity of Job (1:1–5) 
  • The first test (1:6–22) 
    • The challenge in heaven (1:6–12) 
    • The loss of family and possessions (1:13–19) 
    • Job’s confession and confidence (1:20–22) 
  • The second test (2:1–10) 
    • The challenge in heaven (2:1–6) 
    • Job’s affliction and confession (2:7–10) 
  • Job’s comforters (2:11–13) 

Dialogue: Job, His Suffering, and His Standing before God (3:1–42:6) 

  • Job: despair for the day of his birth (3:1–26) 
    • Introduction (3:1–2) 
    • Job curses his birth (3:3–10) 
    • Job longs for rest (3:11–19) 
    • Job laments his suffering (3:20–26) 

  • The friends and Job: can Job be right before God? (4:1–25:6) 

  • First cycle (4:1–14:22) 
    • Eliphaz: can mortal man be in the right before God? (4:1–5:27) 
    • Job: life is futile (6:1–7:21) 
    • Bildad: the wisdom of the sages (8:1–22) 
    • Job: how can a mortal be just before God? (9:1–10:22) 
    • Zophar: repent (11:1–20) 
    • Job: a challenge to the “wisdom” of his friends (12:1–14:22) 
  • Second cycle (15:1–21:34) 
    • Eliphaz: Job’s words condemn him (15:1–35) 
    • Job: hope for a sufferer (16:1–17:16) 
    • Bildad: punishment for the wicked (18:1–21) 
    • Job: my Redeemer lives (19:1–29) 
    • Zophar: the wicked will die (20:1–29) 
    • Job: the wicked prosper (21:1–34) 
  • Third cycle (22:1–25:6) 

    • Eliphaz: Job is guilty (22:1–30) 
    • Job: God is hidden (23:1–24:25) 
    • Bildad: an unanswered question (25:1–6) 
  • Job: the power of God, place of wisdom, and path of integrity (26:1–31:40) 
    • The mystery and majesty of God’s ways (26:1–14) 
    • A claim to integrity and a wish for vindication (27:1–23) 
    • Where is wisdom found? (28:1–28) 
    • The path of Job’s life (29:1–31:40) 
  • Elihu: suffering as a discipline (32:1–37:24) 
    • Introduction: Elihu and his anger (32:1–5) 
    • The voice of youth (32:6–22) 
    • An arbiter for Job (33:1–33) 
    • An appeal to the wise (34:1–37) 
    • What right does Job have before God? (35:1–16) 
    • The mercy and majesty of God (36:1–37:24) 
  • Challenge: the Lord answers Job (38:1–42:6) 
    • The first challenge: understanding the universe (38:1–40:2) 
    • Job’s response: silence (40:3–5) 
    • The second challenge: understanding justice and power (40:6–41:34) 
    • Job’s response: submission (42:1–6) 

Epilogue: The Vindication, Intercession, and Restoration of Job (42:7–17) 

  • The Lord rebukes the three friends (42:7–9) 
  • The Lord restores Job (42:10–17)

Weekly Community Group Discussion Guide

What is Lent?

Throughout much of the church’s history, Lent has been observed very broadly as the season of forty weekdays and six Sundays leading up to Easter. In Latin, the word used for this season is quadragesima (translated from the Greek, tessarakoste, or, the “fortieth” day before Easter). However, in the Middle Ages, as sermons were delivered in the vernacular, the English word, lent (meaning “spring”), was adopted. This spring season is a period of preparation for Easter via self-examination and repentance, hopefully ushering in a season of spiritual renewal.

Protestants might be averse to Lent for a couple of reasons. Some view Lent as a season that commends a legalistic approach to life. Lenten practice is seen as an external, behavioral modification of the self through rigid discipline or denial: “Aren’t Christians saved by grace?” Others are simply freaked out by the rituals of Lent--things like ashes, candles, and darkened rooms, all of which create a mood of somber lament: “Aren’t we past the sad, empty rituals of religion?”

Yet we should not see Lent as a merit-based approach to winning God’s favor. Rather, Lenten practice is a heightened response to God’s salvation and our favor in God’s eyes through Christ. The New Scriptures are full of indicatives (God loves you. God saves you. God forgives you.) followed by imperatives (So obey him. So walk with him. So be grateful). Lent trains us to respond to grace via obedience. Lent should not be avoided for fear that it is legalistic. Rather, Lent should be observed as a season of amplified awareness of God’s work on our behalf, and the cultivation of our obedient response to that work.

What of the other perception that Lent is full of vacuous ritual and empty religious practice? What might be said to those who ask, “Aren’t we past the smells and bells, whistles and thistles, incense and nonsense? Aren’t candles and ashes the relics of ritual of a bygone era?” Answer: “Absolutely not!” For we are creatures of habit. We are people who fully embody deep patterns, behaviors, and rituals--practices that we might call liturgies for living. To be human is not to be a mere bundle of nerves, bag of hormones, or a brain on a stick. Rather, it is to be a fully embodied self that thinks, feels, and does--and often not in that order! Think about the habits, patterns, and rhythms in your own life. What do you do first when you wake up in the morning? When you get to work? What do you feel on the commute home? What sort of smells do you love and what do they remind you of? Where do you go when you need to escape? What do you do when you need to feel released from anxiety or fear? What you think, feel, and do in these situations forms your liturgies for living: Practices become habits become patterns become rhythms become rituals become liturgies for living.

Good liturgies for living form and shape us in humanizing ways. Bad ones form and shape us in dehumanizing ways. Lent is a special season that trains our focus on the how’s, what’s, and why’s of life. Lent grants us the opportunity to center ourselves as we practice taking off the vices and putting on the virtues. Lent helps us to become human again. Some questions to consider:

  • What could I “give up” during Lent? As I give this up, what might I “take up”? (What will I feast upon as I fast?)
  • Who might I share my fast with, and how will we hold one another accountable?
  • Could this practice be taken up collectively as a community group? (talk about it as a group)

Week 2 (Beginning February 28)

The Lies Suffering Tells Us

  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.)
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What lies have crept into your heart when you have suffered?
    • What do you find most difficult about suffering?
    • What sort of “posture” does god take during your suffering?
  4.  What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.)
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 3 (Beginning March 7)

Lessons Learned in Suffering

  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.)
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • Describe one thing that you feel God taught you during a season of suffering?
    • What is a lesson you feel like you have learned during this pandemic?
    • If you could ask God to teach you something more, what would it be?
  4.  What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.)
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 4 (Beginning March 14)

How [Not] to be a Friend in Suffering

  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.)
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is the worst thing someone has said to you when you’ve been suffering?
    • What is the worst thing you’ve said to another person who is suffering?
    • What are the two or three things you could do as a friend in suffering?
  4.  What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.)
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 5 (Beginning March 21)

How Big is your God?

  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.)
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • How do God’s responses to Job “strike” you?
    • What glory has God revealed to you in suffering?
    • What does it mean to “suffer with Christ and on behalf of Christ”?
  4.  What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.)
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Works Explored

Bible Project: The Book of Job
Bible Project: The Book of Job in Context of Wisdom Literature
When You Want to Yell at God (The Book of Job), Craig Bartholemew.
Job (Baker Commentary), Tremper Longman.
The Message of Job (Bible Speaks Today), David Atkinson.
Job (The Wisdom of the Cross), Christopher Ash and Chris Hughes.
Signs Amid the Rubble, Lesslie Newbigin.
Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin.
Making Sense of God, Tim Keller.
The Reason for God, Tim Keller.
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis.