Suffering Wisely and Well, book review
Okay, I’ll admit it—Job is probably my least favorite book in the Bible. I’m more likely to skim the long, confusing speeches in Job than I am to skim the dietary laws in Leviticus. I suspect I’m not the only one. When you think of the book of Job, chances are what comes to mind is Job’s unimaginable loss, his terrible “friends” (Seriously, they’re the worst. Don’t be like Job’s friends.), his two faith-filled declarations in Job 13:15 and 19:25, and maybe hints of dinosaurs. So what does Job have to do with your life and ministry? Enter: Eric Ortlund.
Where in Scripture do you turn when the bottom has fallen out in someone’s life and they’ve turned to you for help?
In his new book, Suffering Wisely & Well: The Grief of Job and the Grace of God, Eric Ortlund seeks to unlock the book of Job in a way that transports Job’s distant, ancient suffering to the immediacy of the pastor or counselor’s office, the small group leader’s living room sofa, and the Christian friend’s kitchen table over a cup of coffee. Where in Scripture do you turn when the bottom has fallen out in someone’s life and they’ve turned to you for help? Ortlund, an Old Testament scholar, suggests Job.
Ortlund recognizes that not everyone experiences suffering in the same manner as Job. Suffering enters the lives of Christians for a variety of reasons, so before embarking on his journey through Job, he takes the first chapter to inventory the various types of suffering Christians are prone to encounter. After all, if we are going to suffer “wisely and well,” we must at least attempt to identify the cause of our suffering so that we may respond appropriately. Needless to say, Job’s suffering was unique, though he is not alone.
Through seasons of suffering, we are being drawn to the simple conclusion that God is enough.
No time is wasted in getting to the heart of Job’s matter. As Ortlund breaks down Job’s circumstances of losing everything while unaware of the heavenly debate going on about his motivations for following God, he points out that the issue on the table for Job and sufferers of all time is simply this: Is God enough? That’s what’s at stake as Job and many a Christian today find themselves in inexplicable seasons of suffering. In our efforts to be practical, we often rush to “help” sufferers by prescribing repentance or offering trite suggestions as to what God must be trying to teach them. But according to Ortlund, what Job teaches us is that “What God wants from us in Job-like suffering is neither repentance nor deeper spiritual discipline. All he wants for us is to hold on to him–not to curse him and walk away from him, but to just maintain our relationship with him through tears and sackcloth” (49). In other words, through seasons of suffering, we are being drawn to the simple conclusion that God is enough.
The two greatest practical lessons to be gleaned from Suffering Wisely & Well come from Ortlund’s treatment of the seemingly rambling speeches of Job and his friends. First, Ortlund challenges us to take the opportunity to pull up a chair and sharpen our listening skills. He reminds us that as we walk with sufferers, we must practice patience. We will hear modern-day Jobs say crazy, angry, and even unbiblical things at times. But “as we work through the forty-two chapters of Job, we simultaneously become better able to journey with friends through their ordeals” (91). Second, Ortlund helps us avoid the pitfalls of Job’s friends, the infamous un biblical counselors. He suggests that studying the book of Job carefully as pastors, counselors, and friends will lead us to “a greater caution in how we speak to others, a deeper humility, an unwillingness to assume we understand what God is doing in the midst of suffering, and a deeper hesitancy to blame others” (81). In the end, Ortlund suggests that the surest way for sufferers to arrive at the conclusion that God is indeed enough is to repeatedly glimpse the goodness and grandeur of God on display. As counselors, we must do our best to facilitate that view.
As somewhat of a devotional commentary on Job that can come across as clinical in its tone, Suffering Wisely & Well may not be the first resource I’d look to put directly in the hands of a sufferer, but Eric Ortlund has done a marvelous job of simplifying the book of Job in a way that puts another tool in the toolbox of anyone who preaches, teaches, or counsels.
Title: Suffering Wisely and Well: The Grief of Job and the Grace of God
Author: Eric Ortlund
Publisher and Year: Crossway, 2022
Andrew Watkins is the associate pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Annapolis (Maryland).
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