Job: Patience When God Doesn’t Make Sense
Behold, we count them happy which endure.
Ye have heard of the patience of Job….”
—James 5:11 KJV (all other references are ESV)
I remember the first time I read this text after reading through the book of Job. I thought, “Patience?? Job wasn’t patient! He complained; he accused God of mistreating him. How is that a model of patience? …Faithful? Yes. Godly? Yes. Committed? Yes. But patient? Not at all!”
My confusion led me to reexamine my understanding of patience. I had assumed that patience means “facing difficulty without complaint.” But a biblical picture of patience is represented by the ESV translation of James 5:11,
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job….”
Biblical patience is not the quiet acquiescence I expected when I said to my children, “Be patient; we will stop at the next rest area.” Biblical patience is not the compliance an employee must have when the boss says, “Be patient; you may get a raise next year.”
And biblical patience is certainly not the stoicism that responds to a cancer diagnosis with, “Que será, será.” Biblical patience is steadfast perseverance.
This understanding is illustrated well in Chinese. The Chinese character for patience shows a knife piercing a heart. Patience is perseverance when we feel that we have been stabbed through the heart. Patience is refusing to give up in the face of overwhelming pain. In Job, patience is refusing to give up on God even when we do not understand Him.
Job provides a model of patience when God doesn’t make sense. What can we learn from his example?
1. Patience is not an escape hatch
Job’s patience gave him no escape from his pain. Read the first two chapters of Job, not as a sermon text, but as a description of a real person. Job had lost his wealth and his family, and he was suffering unimaginable physical pain.
On top of that, he heard his wife say, “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Job was not suffering a case of the 48-hour flu. His pain had lasted for months—long enough that far-flung friends heard of his troubles and traveled long journeys to Job’s home. It is no wonder that Job’s wife decided, “There is no hope for him. Death is preferable to life in this condition.”
God does not guarantee an easy road for His children. Instead, He promises that the testing will produce patient endurance (Rom. 5:3). And when this endurance has its full effect, we will “be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). Patient trust in God does not provide an escape hatch from suffering.
2. Patience does not guarantee easy understanding of God’s ways
As I read Job, I do not hear him say calmly, “OK, God, I know your way is best.” No, his patient endurance is accompanied by screams of agony, and his physical suffering is made worse because he cannot understand what God is doing.
After a lifetime of intimate fellowship with God, Job suddenly found that what God was doing no longer made sense to him. The greatest hurt for a child of God is disappointment by what God seems to be doing. Listen to Job cry out:
Why have you made me your mark?
Why have I become a burden to you? (Job 7:20)
Never confuse surrender with stoicism. Biblical patience is not saying, “Praise the Lord” when you hit your thumb with a hammer. Even when you are surrendered fully to God’s will, pain hurts! With Job, you may find that God does not make sense. Job’s perseverance did not bring immediate understanding, but he refused to give up on God.
It does not fit well with our popular teaching, but God does not always work the way we expect Him to work. We have developed nice formulas that are easy to manage, but sometimes God does not follow them: “Pay your tithe and God will bless you”…but your business suffers bankruptcy. “Obey God and He will protect you”…but you still come down with an incurable disease.
Biblical patience is a dogged determination to remain faithful even when we don’t understand. It is a choice to do what God has asked for as long as He asks it—even when obedience brings pain. Patient, enduring Christians persevere even when they do not understand.
3. Patience is rooted in trust
Job exhibited biblical patience when he determined to trust God even though he did not understand what God was doing. “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Biblical patience is rooted not in our understanding of God’s ways, but in our trust in God’s goodness.
Vance Havner once wrote that God is looking for “but-if-not Christians.” They are people who say with the three Hebrew children, “Our God is able to deliver us…. But if not…we will not serve thy gods…” (Dan. 3:17-18). “But-if-not Christians” trust God and patiently persevere even when God does not do what they expect.
Like Job, Asaph learned to trust God when life does not make sense. Like Job, Asaph was confused by his suffering—and even more confused by the prosperity of the wicked. Asaph begins by stating orthodox teaching: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Psa. 73:1).
This is the way life should be. But when Asaph looks around, he sees a different reality. The wicked “have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are” (Psa. 73:4-5).
Meanwhile, faithful Asaph has “been stricken and rebuked every morning” (Psa. 73:14). Asaph says, “I want to believe that God is good to the righteous, but it is the wicked who prosper!”
Asaph is not alone. Naboth was faithful to God’s law—and was killed by Ahab. Stephen obeyed God—and was stoned to death. Today, Christian businessmen are sued for following biblical principles, while pornographers sell filth with impunity. In all ages, godly men suffer while the wicked prosper.
What was the answer to Job’s struggle? He trusted God. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (Job 28:28). Job didn’t know the answer, but he knew where the answers are found—with God. Later, Job’s steadfast patience was rewarded; “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).
What was the answer to Asaph’s struggle? He trusted God. When Asaph went to the sanctuary, he found that “it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge…” (Psa. 73:28). Asaph trusted God even when he did not understand what God was doing.
What is the answer for us? We must trust God. Biblical patience is rooted in trust in God—even when I do not understand Him. When I don’t know the answer, I can trust the One who knows the answer.
4. Patience with God will give me patience with people.
I have focused on patience with God. Let me speak briefly to patience in our relationships with other people. Patience with people grows out of patient faithfulness in our walk with God.
I must be honest—after the first speeches by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, my version of Job 15:1 would have read, “And Job spake, ‘Get out! Now!’” Yes, Job got frustrated with these “worthless physicians.”
He argued; he insulted them. But he endured their speeches, and at the end of the book, he even interceded for them (Job 42:8-10). Notice, he prayed for them before his situation had been resolved. Job was still covered with boils, he was still childless, he was still penniless, and he had no reason to believe his condition would improve. But patient endurance with God had given him patience with people.
How can I have patience with those who wrong me? By recognizing that a sovereign God is working all things (even their offense) for my good. How can I have patience with difficult people in my life? By recognizing that God uses difficult people to shape me in His image. Patient endurance in my walk with God bears fruit in patience with those around me.
When life doesn’t make sense—when God doesn’t make sense—it is good to remember the words of an old hymn:
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide.
In ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
The hymn doesn’t promise an escape from grief or pain, but it testifies that we can trust God “to order and provide.” Patience recognizes that God knows what is best, and that in “all things” He is working for our good.
What is biblical patience? Not stoic resignation; not quiet and calm; but steadfast endurance because I trust the heart of a loving and good God.
Dr. Randall McElwain is the Teaching/Discipleship Pastor at Hobe Sound Bible Church, Hobe Sound, FL. Additionally, he is an educator, author, and speaker who spends significant time overseas teaching pastors and church leaders.
He has multiple graduate degrees in education, music, and theology.
He and his wife Sue reside in Hobe Sound and have two grown children.