A LifeGuide® Bible Study
9 STUDIES FOR INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPS
1 When Your World Falls Apart
2 The God of All Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:3–11
3 Praying Our Pain
4 Waiting for the Lord
5 The Power of Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:1–10
6 Wounds That Heal
7 The Suffering God
8 The Death of Death
1 Corinthians 15
9 The Shattered Silence
Job 38; 40:1–14; 42:1–6
Getting the Most Out of God’s Comfort
In the book All Quiet on the Western Front, the author, Erich Remarque, describes the horrors of frontline battle in World War I. In the preface he writes:
This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the War.
Suffering has enormous power. For some that power is destructive—it tears their hearts, wounds their spirits, and leaves them broken and scarred for life. Suffering can turn healthy people into cynical, bitter distortions of their former selves.
Yet what a mystery! Suffering also has the positive power to transform us. My grandmother is an excellent example. Her firstborn son died of a staph infection when he was twenty. Her third child was born a dwarf. Her husband became an alcoholic and died when he was sixty-five (she outlived him by twenty years). And yet she emerged with a beauty and inner grace that could only have been forged in the intense heat of suffering.
My own experience with suffering has been somewhere in between. There is a time I refer to as “my former life”—a period of years when I felt overwhelmed with anguish in my relationships and ministry. Although more than a decade has passed since that time, like Jacob I walk with an emotional limp that may never go away (see Genesis 32). But just as Jacob hobbled off with God’s blessing, so my weakness opened me up to God’s grace and comfort, and my helplessness led me to trust in his tender care.
The fact that suffering’s effects are so varied should warn us against analyzing suffering itself. Instead, we should focus our attention on the people who suffer and why they respond to it well or poorly. We should also learn from their experiences how we can receive God’s comfort and strength during difficult times.
That is what these Bible studies will attempt to do. We will sit with Job in the ashes as he cries out for answers from the Lord. We will listen to Paul’s prayer as he begs God to pull out a painful thorn. We will discover why David’s fear is replaced by strength and confidence when he is surrounded by enemies. And we will consider the supreme example of suffering and triumph—the Lord himself.
We can never escape from suffering in a fallen world. Neither can we mystically rise above the wounds it inflicts. But we can find God’s comfort in the midst of it in a way that brings glory to God, personal growth and a rich experience of his grace.
Suggestions for Individual Study
1. As you begin each study, pray that God will speak to you through his Word.
2. Read the introduction to the study and respond to the personal reflection question or exercise. This is designed to help you focus on God and on the theme of the study.
3. Each study deals with a particular passage—so that you can delve into the author’s meaning in that context. Read and reread the passage to be studied. The questions are written using the language of the New International Version, so you may wish to use that version of the Bible. The New Revised Standard Version is also recommended.
4. This is an inductive Bible study, designed to help you discover for yourself what Scripture is saying. The study includes three types of questions. Observation questions ask about the basic facts: who, what, when, where and how. Interpretation questions delve into the meaning of the passage. Application questions help you discover the implications of the text for growing in Christ. These three keys unlock the treasures of Scripture.
Write your answers to the questions in the spaces provided or in a personal journal. Writing can bring clarity and deeper understanding of yourself and of God’s Word.
5. It might be good to have a Bible dictionary handy. Use it to look up any unfamiliar words, names or places.
6. Use the prayer suggestion to guide you in thanking God for what you have learned and to pray about the applications that have come to mind.
7. You may want to go on to the suggestion under “Now or Later,” or you may want to use that idea for your next study.
When Your World Falls Apart
On the morning of April 18, 1906, the San Andreas fault settled violently, and San Francisco was shaken by a terrible earthquake. Huge cracks opened up in the earth, buildings shuddered and collapsed, and fire swept through the city, leaving it virtually destroyed. Thousands who went to bed peacefully the night before awoke to a world that had fallen apart around them.
Group Discussion. Why do we often feel that God has abandoned us when tragedy strikes?
Personal Reflection. Think of a time in your life when your world seemed to fall apart. What were some of the thoughts and feelings you experienced?
If seismic devices could measure personal tragedy, then Job’s “earthquake” would have registered 8.5 on the Richter scale. In one day he lost everything he owned and almost everyone he held dear. Even though Job’s suffering was extreme, it was by no means unique. In one form or another, his story is reenacted every day in a broken and fallen world. During such times, we find that Job personifies our grief and our painful sense of loss. Read Job 1.
1. In Greek tragedy the greatness of the main character emphasizes the heights from which he falls. In a similar way, how do verses 1–5 set the stage for the tragedy that follows?
2. At the outset of the story, why do you think we are allowed to overhear the conversation between God and Satan (vv. 6–12)—a conversation that is never revealed to Job and his friends?
3. The name Satan means “accuser.” What is the essence of Satan’s accusation against Job (vv. 8–12)?
How does his accusation lead to Job’s disaster?
4. Try to put yourself in Job’s place. How might you have felt as wave after wave of disaster struck (vv. 13–19)?
5. Have you ever wanted to bang on the gates of heaven, demanding an explanation for the pain you were experiencing? Why is this desire so strong within us?
6. What is astounding about Job’s response (vv. 20–22)?
Why do you think he is still able to worship and praise the Lord?
7. Read Job 2. The scene in heaven repeats itself with a new twist. Why is Satan still unsatisfied with Job’s character (vv. 1–5)?
8. How would Job’s new affliction intensify the pain he already feels (vv. 7–8; see also 7:5, 13–14; 30:17, 30)?
9. Those who cursed God (v. 9) were to be stoned to death (see Leviticus 24:10–16). How does Job respond to his wife’s “solution” to his suffering?
Although Job does not answer his own question, why would it be wrong to accept good from God but not trouble (v. 10)?
10. What can we learn from Job’s friends about comforting those whose suffering is intense (vv. 11–13)?
Bring to the Lord any pain you are currently experiencing. Ask him for comfort and strength to endure that pain without compromising your integrity.
Now or Later
In his book God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg writes that Job’s friends “sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was. It’s worth pausing here for a moment. Imagine sitting with someone in silence for seven days. This was such a powerful act it became part of Jewish life. To this day they will speak of sitting shiva—literally ‘sitting sevens’ because friends will come and sit with one who mourns over a period of a week. This is perhaps the greatest example in scripture of what Paul commands in Romans: ‘Mourn with those who mourn.’ He doesn’t say: ‘Find an explanation to give them about why they’re suffering’ or ‘remind them everything is going to be ok so they can stop mourning now.’ ”
When has a friend been a comfort to you in this way?
The God of All Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:3–11
We have two small children, ages three and five. They are like accidents waiting to happen! At least once a day, one of them will scuff his knee, fall off her bicycle, pinch a finger or stub a toe.
When they cry out in pain, we always rush to their side. We would gather the basic facts (“What happened?”), but our primary job at such times is providing comfort and support. We hold them while they cry, kiss the hurt finger and lovingly apply a Band-Aid.
Group Discussion. When you are in pain, what can others do to comfort and support you?
Personal Reflection. How have you been drawn closer to God during a time of difficulty?
Whenever we comfort others, we imitate our heavenly Father—the God of all comfort. Second Corinthians 1 describes the comfort we receive from the Lord during our suffering and trials. It also emphasizes the important role other Christians—especially those who know God’s comfort—can play during our troubles. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3–11.
1. What words or phrases does Paul use in this passage to describe suffering?
2. How and why does God respond when we suffer (vv. 3–4)?
3. Do these verses apply only to suffering for the gospel, or do they include other types of suffering? Explain.
4. How do suffering and comfort go hand in hand (vv. 5–7)?
5. In what ways have you experienced God’s comfort during times of difficulty and pain?
6. How have you been able to help others because of the suffering and comfort you have experienced?
7. In verses 8–9 Paul describes a time of intense personal pain. What words reveal the magnitude of his suffering?
8. Why is it important to learn how to rely on God rather than ourselves (v. 9) during life’s trials?
How is this attitude different from passive acceptance of suffering?
9. God delivered Paul from his deadly peril (v. 10). Why is Paul so confident that God will continue to deliver him (vv. 10–11)?
10. How can God be glorified as a result of our suffering (vv. 10–11)?
11. In what situation do you need to experience God’s comfort?
12. What can you do this week to extend God’s comfort to someone else in pain?
Ask God to cause his comfort to flow into your life so that it can overflow to others.
Now or Later
Write down the names of two or three people who you know are experiencing a time of difficulty. Spend time praying for them now. If possible, set up a lunch appointment with one of them this week so that you can comfort them—perhaps just by listening.
Praying Our Pain
In the book Early Widow, Mary Jane Worden describes some of the physical and emotional pain of losing her husband:
I find that some of the very physical symptoms of those first days are diminishing: extreme shortness of breath, that choking sensation, involuntary moans, the bone-weary feeling that my whole body is made of lead, a dry mouth, heart palpitations.
There is still the stabbing, piercing pain as the realization that Jim is indeed gone sweeps over me again and again. I sometimes find myself moving about as though I am enshrouded in a thin casing of ice, like a sapling after a winter storm.
Fragile. If I move suddenly or in the wrong way, I will shatter. And then, like Humpty Dumpty, who could put me together again?
Sometimes our pain is so great that we feel overwhelmed. Expressing that pain is one source of relief.
Group Discussion. What are some of the benefits of expressing our pain rather than internalizing it?
Personal Reflection. How has praying helped you to find relief by expressing your feelings to God?
During times of intense pain, we can find welcomed relief in the psalms. Eugene Peterson writes that the psalms “are provided not to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” Psalm 6 provides a wonderful medium for expressing our pain, anguish and doubts to God. The psalm provides very few “answers” but rather gives full vent to our questions. Read Psalm 6.
1. How would you describe the mood of this psalm?
What words or phrases reveal the depth of David’s suffering?
2. Why do you think David assumes that his suffering is due to God’s anger or wrath (v. 1; see also Psalm 38:1, 4, 18)?
3. Should we normally assume that our suffering is due to God’s anger? Why or why not?
4. What questions does David bring to the Lord (vv. 3, 5)?
5. In addition to “How long, O Lord,” what other questions do you tend to ask during difficult times? Why?
6. What specific requests does David make of the Lord (vv. 1–4)?
7. What do David’s requests reveal about God’s character?
8. What aspects of God’s character do you cling to in times of anguish? Explain.
9. How does the mood of the psalm suddenly shift in verses 8–10?
10. Why do you think David is so certain that God has heard and accepted his prayer?
11. In what situations have you felt assured of the Lord’s answer before it actually came?
What gave you that confidence?
If you are suffering or oppressed, make David’s prayer your own. Quietly pray the words of the psalm. Because of God’s unfailing love, trust that he has heard your prayer and will answer it.
Now or Later
According to the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, “this psalm is one of seven penitential psalms (6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143) of the early church.” Choose one of the other psalms from this list and meditate on it this week. How does the psalm help you to understand your need for God’s grace and comfort?
Waiting for the Lord
One of Samuel Beckett’s most famous plays is titled Waiting for Godot. Throughout the play the characters wait and wait for Godot to appear, but he never does. The play is Beckett’s way of saying that hope is futile—especially hope in God. For those who do not trust God, waiting can be a desperate state. For those who do trust in God, waiting can be incredibly difficult as well, but we can wait with hope.
Group Discussion. In what kinds of situations do you find it hardest to wait?
Personal Reflection. How has waiting strengthened your ability to be patient?
In contrast to Beckett’s despair, the Bible offers hope to the sufferer. When we see no possibility of relief, David assures us, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Read Psalm 27.
1. David’s confidence in this prayer is based on God’s promises to him in 2 Samuel 7:5–16 (see also v. 28). What specific items in the psalm are related to God’s promises?
Why must our hope in God be based on his promises?
In what ways does life look different for you when you put your trust in God’s promises?
2. Why is David able to be fearless in the face of evil men, armies and even war (vv. 1–3)?
3. What images of safety does David apply to the Lord in verses 1–2 and 5–6?
4. How does it give you hope to know that the Lord is your stronghold (or “mighty fortress”) during battle and your shelter from life’s storms?
5. David seeks not only the Lord’s protection but also the Lord himself (v. 4). How is David’s intense desire for God revealed in this psalm?
6. What does it mean for us to “dwell in the house of the Lord” (v. 4), “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (v. 4) and “seek his face” (v. 8)?
In what ways can you actively pursue these goals?
7. David’s confident statements about the Lord (vv. 1–6) lead up to his prayer in verses 7–12. What is the substance of his prayer?
What real dangers does he seem to be facing?
8. The psalm ends as it begins—with David’s confidence in the Lord’s help (vv. 13–14). How can David’s view of God help you to “be strong and take heart” in the midst of suffering?
9. Why must your hope not only be confident but also patient (v. 14)?
Ask God to strengthen your confidence in his promises and to make you patient as you wait for his answers.
Now or Later
Find a psalm that reflects your current feelings and circumstances. Take time to reflect on the psalm and then use its words as a prayer to God.
The Power of Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:1–10
When I was three, I loved to play Superman. At first my mother pinned a towel around my neck for a cape, and I would fly around the house with my arms outstretched. Later she made me a red cape with a Superman “S” on the back.
A few years ago, I mentioned the cape to her. She disappeared into a back room and emerged with the neatly folded, tiny red costume I hadn’t seen for over thirty-five years! (Mothers are like that.)
In a sense, Superman has become a myth of our culture. We feel we must be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap over any obstacle in a single bound if we are to be successful in life.
Group Discussion. In what ways does society reward personal beauty, power, size and strength? How does that make you feel?
Personal Reflection. When have you wished you could change your weaknesses into strengths?
God’s Word stands in sharp contrast to our culture: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul discovers that God’s power is best displayed in those who are humble and weak. We find God’s comfort as we accept our own weakness. Read 2 Corinthians 12:1–10.
1. Beginning in 11:16, Paul reluctantly began “boasting” to silence his opponents. What additional incident does he boast about in 12:1–4?
2. If this experience had happened to me, I would be tempted to write an entire book about it! Why do you think Paul gives such sketchy details, avoiding even his own name (“I know a man in Christ”)?
3. Explain in your own words why Paul prefers to refrain from boasting (vv. 5–6).
4. Why are we often tempted to boast about our education, credentials, talents and accomplishments?
5. When Paul is tempted to float aloft with conceit, how does God nail his feet to earth (v. 7)?
What effects does Paul’s “thorn” have on him?
6. Like Paul, we often assume that God’s power is best displayed by removing our weaknesses (v. 8). Why does the Lord sometimes refuse to remove our “thorns” (v. 9)?
How would you explain in your own words the meaning of God’s reply to Paul and us?
7. Scholars have speculated in vain about the precise nature of Paul’s thorn. Yet, according to Paul, what various types of difficulties might qualify as thorns (vv. 9–10)?
Why does Paul learn not only to endure such thorns but to “delight” in them?
8. What weakness, insult, hardship, persecution or difficulty feels like a thorn in your flesh?
9. If God chooses not to remove your thorn, how might it be a source of his grace, power and comfort in your life?
Thank God for his sufficient grace. Ask him to perfect his power in your weakness.
Now or Later
“If I really got my wish for absolute strength, unlimited wealth, and total competence, I wouldn’t feel any need for God. I would never experience his faithfulness or discover his sufficient grace. I would never learn to live in humble dependence upon him, and I would be tempted to rely on my own power instead of the power of God. In fact, my feelings of pride and self-sufficiency would make me believe I was a god myself” (Jack Kuhatschek, The Superman Syndrome).
How do you respond to the quote above? Journal or pray your thoughts.
Wounds That Heal
At the age of seven, Glenn Cunningham and his older brother were badly burned in a schoolhouse fire. His brother died, and doctors thought Glenn would never walk again.
Refusing to accept their verdict, Glenn not only walked but began to run. He entered the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in the 1500-meter race. He was the fastest miler in the Amateur Athletic Union every year but one between 1933 and 1938. In 1934 he astonished the spectators by running a mile in 4:06 minutes—a world record that remained unbroken for three years.
Group Discussion. Why is discipline—whether at home, at work or in sports—essential to success?
Personal Reflection. In what areas of life do you find it most difficult to be disciplined? Why?
All runners must overcome pain and hardship if they want to win. As our hearts begin to pound and our muscles start to ache, the author of Hebrews urges us not to give up but to keep on running. In chapter 12 he provides powerful incentives for completing our race.
1. Look briefly at chapter 11 of Hebrews. Who are some of the “witnesses” who surround us as we run our race?
2. Read Hebrews 12:1–13. The Greek word translated as “witnesses” (12:1) is related to the English word martyr and refers to those who testify. What do you suppose these witnesses are saying to us as we run?
3. How would you describe the race you are currently running?
4. The author urges us to “throw off … the sin that so easily entangles” (v. 1). In what ways can sin entangle us as Christians?
5. We should also “throw off everything that hinders” (v. 1). Although some things are not sinful in themselves, how might they hinder our spiritual progress? (Give examples.)
6. Just as a runner fixes his eyes on the finish line, so we are to focus on Jesus (vv. 2–4). Why is he our supreme example—and more?
7. When suffering and hardship invade our lives, why do we sometimes question God’s love?
8. How can the “word of encouragement” in verses 5–6 along with verses 7–8 change our perception of hardship?
9. How does our heavenly Father’s discipline compare with that of our earthly fathers (vv. 9–10)?
10. What are the spiritual benefits of submitting to the Father’s discipline (vv. 9–11)?
11. In what sense are we like injured athletes in rehabilitation (vv. 12–13)?
12. How can cooperation with the trainer—or lack of cooperation—make a big difference in recovery for you?
Ask God for the strength to run with perseverance and for the insight to see the joy that awaits you at the finish line.
Now or Later
John Ortberg writes: “There is an enormous difference between trying to do something versus training to do it. Take for example a marathon. How many of us could run a marathon right now? Even if we tried, really, really hard? But many of us could run a marathon eventually, if instead we trained for it.… Training means arranging life around those activities that enable us to do what we cannot do now, even by extreme effort. Significant human transformation always involves training, not just trying” (“True [and False] Transformation,” Leadership Journal, summer 2002).
In what area of your life is God currently training you?
The Suffering God
In his book Night, Elie Wiesel describes how a young boy was tortured and hanged by the Nazis at Birkenau. As the prisoners were forced to file by the dying boy, a man behind Wiesel asked, “Where is God now?” Wiesel writes: “And I heard a voice within me answer him, ‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.’ ” This incident symbolized the death of God for Wiesel.
Group Discussion. Have you ever wrestled with how a loving God could allow so much suffering and evil in the world? Explain.
Personal Reflection. What personal incident has made you question God’s goodness and love—or even his existence?
The event that symbolized the death of God for Wiesel became a parable of hope for Philip Yancey (writing in Where Is God When It Hurts?): “The voice within Elie Wiesel spoke truth: in a way, God did hang beside the young [boy]. God did not exempt even himself from human suffering. He too hung on a gallows, at Calvary, and that alone is what keeps me believing in a God of love.” Read Mark 15:1–39.
1. This is the same Jesus who earlier in Mark’s account gently cleanses a leper, heals a paralytic, raises a little girl from the dead, feeds five thousand hungry people, gives sight to a blind man, and teaches people to love God and their neighbor. How then would you explain the intense hatred and hostility displayed throughout this passage?
2. Evidently, the religious leaders decide to accuse Jesus of treason rather than blasphemy (v. 1). Why do you think Jesus refuses to defend himself before Pilate (vv. 2–5)?
3. What does the incident involving Barabbas teach us about the crowd, the chief priests and Pilate himself (vv. 6–15)?
4. The whip used for flogging (v. 15) was made of several strips of leather embedded with pieces of bone and lead. Although the Jews limited the number of lashes to thirty-nine, the Romans had no limit. How does this help you to understand Jesus’ condition when he is led away into the palace (v. 16)?
5. Look at the additional ways the Roman soldiers humiliate and abuse Jesus (vv. 16–20). Why do you think they treat him so viciously?
6. Crucifixion was usually reserved for slaves, the basest of criminals and those who were not Roman citizens. Why would this be a horrible way to die?
7. According to Mark, how else is Jesus insulted and mocked (vv. 25–32)?
8. The cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” comes from Psalm 22. Look briefly at that psalm, especially verses 1–21. What additional insights does it give you into Jesus’ agony on the cross?
9. Why do you think Jesus’ loud cry and the way he dies convinces the Roman centurion that Jesus is the Son of God (vv. 33–39)?
10. How does it help you to know that God himself, in human form, has shared in our sorrows and deepest suffering?
11. How does the cross shatter the notion that God is remote, uncaring, far-removed from such horrors as the Nazi death camps or the Cambodian killing fields?
The author of Hebrews reminds us that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Approach Jesus now in prayer, confidently asking him for the mercy, grace and comfort you need today.
Now or Later
Isaiah 53 is a classic passage about the Suffering Servant. Take time to read and meditate on that passage. Write down the additional insights you gain about the Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.
Much of the background material related to the crucifixion is derived from The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1985), pp. 1527–30.
The Death of Death
1 Corinthians 15
In a Christianity Today article titled “Why I Like My Pie in the Sky,” J. I. Packer laments over how seldom Christians today think about heaven. He writes: “When persons suffering loss of memory cannot recall where their earthly home is, we pity them; but Christians who forget that heaven is their true home, and never think positively about heaven at all, are much more to be pitied. Yet this, it seems, is how most of us proceed most of the time.”
Perhaps one reason we seldom think about heaven is because it seems so remote, so far-removed from our experience. We imagine ourselves as disembodied spirits, floating on celestial clouds around the throne of God
Yet the Bible’s view of eternity is much more tangible than that. Just as the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision came together at God’s command and were covered with muscle and skin and filled with the breath of life, so too we will one day be raised from the dead.
Group Discussion. When you think of life after death, what images come to mind?
Personal Reflection. Do you tend to think about heaven and life after death very often? Why or why not?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes this final victory—the death of death—and the comfort and encouragement it brings. Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–34.
1. According to Paul, what are the most important elements of the gospel (vv. 1–11)?
2. Why do you think Paul places such emphasis on Christ’s resurrection appearances (vv. 5–8)?
3. Greek philosophy taught that the body was the prison of the soul. Any thought of a resurrection, therefore, seemed repugnant (v. 12). Yet according to Paul, what are the consequences if there is no resurrection (vv. 13–19)?
Why are these consequences so closely connected to the resurrection—especially to Christ’s resurrection?
4. If there were no hope of being raised from the dead, how would it affect Paul’s lifestyle—and ours (vv. 29–34)?
5. Think of non-Christians in our society. To what extent do you think their behavior and attitudes are the result of a lack of hope? Explain.
6. Because Christ has, in fact, been raised from the dead (v. 20), how does that radically change our concept of the future (vv. 21–28)?
7. Read 1 Corinthians 15:35–58. It is difficult to imagine what our resurrection bodies will be like. (How old will we be? Will we be thinner or better looking?) According to Paul, how will our resurrection bodies differ from our present bodies (vv. 35–49)?
8. Although we hate the thought of seeing our loved ones die, why would living forever in our present bodies be unthinkable and impossible (vv. 50, 53)?
How and when will we experience this change that Paul describes?
9. Although all of us will die (unless the Lord comes first), how has Christ taken away death’s victory and sting (vv. 54–57)?
10. Our hope of being raised from the dead and living forever with Christ has immediate implications (v. 58). How should we live in light of this hope?
11. How can this hope encourage and comfort you in times of suffering?
Thank God for the hope of the resurrection. Pray that this hope will sustain you in times of suffering and motivate you during your earthly labors.
Now or Later
Make a list of several ways the hope of the resurrection should affect your values, your goals and your relationships. Ask the Lord for help to transform you in each of these areas.
The Shattered Silence
Job 38; 40:1–14; 42:1–6
C. S. Lewis wrote the book A Grief Observed after the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. In her introduction to this new edition, Madeleine L’Engle writes: “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is a part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged. It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”
Group Discussion. Have you ever felt that God treated you unfairly, that he owed you an explanation for why you were suffering? Explain.
Personal Reflection. How can you avoid the mistake of thinking God’s silence implies his absence or a lack of concern?
Our study will end as it began—with the book of Job. After numerous chapters in which Job and his accusers wrestle with why Job is suffering, God himself finally speaks, shattering the divine silence. If we listen carefully, the echoes of his words can still be heard today. Although the Lord never gives a direct answer to Job’s questions (and I wonder if Job—or we—could understand the answer anyway), he calls Job and us to trust him even when our suffering seems unjust and meaningless. Read Job 38.
1. How would you describe the emotional tone of this chapter?
2. When God finally speaks, it is not with answers but questions. How would you summarize some of the questions he asks of Job?
3. What is the point of this endless barrage of questions—over seventy—in chapters 38–41?
4. How do these verses show us why it is essential to remember that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9)?
5. Read Job 40:1–14. What are some of the charges the Lord makes against Job?
6. When we or others we know suffer, why do you think we are tempted to question God’s justice, to condemn the Lord, to justify ourselves (40:8)?
7. Why does a true vision of God’s character cause us to declare with Job: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (40:5)?
8. Read Job 42:1–6. What does Job learn about God and himself from this encounter?
9. In forty-two chapters, why do you think the Lord never directly answers Job’s questions about his suffering?
10. How does it affect you to know that you may never fully understand why God has allowed you to suffer?
11. Why is trust in God even more important than understanding?
12. Drawing on what you have learned in each of these studies, what are some key sources of comfort for you?
Thank God for his wisdom, power and love. Ask him for the strength to trust him even when your suffering seems unjust or meaningless.
Now or Later
If you are going through a time of suffering, you may want to read Philip Yancey’s Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997), which would be a great follow-up to this study guide.
 Kuhatschek, Jack. God’s Comfort: 9 Studies for Individuals or Groups: With Notes for Leaders. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2004. Print. A LifeGuide Bible Study.