Received Into the Number: A Theology of Adoption Part III- The Suffering of Job and the Fatherless

In this series, we’ve been looking at what God’s Word says about adoption as both an earthly call to care for orphans and as a picture of how He saves undeserving sinners in need of a right relationship with Him. You can read Parts I and II here. In this article, we will see how the suffering of Job relates to God’s concern for the fatherless.

Why connect the suffering of Job to orphan care and adoption? While there is no excuse to avoid a call to orphan care—or worse, to wallow in self-pity if you’re already doing it—Christians should count the cost of following Christ at every stage of life as a disciple (see Luke 14:25-33). For my wife and me, adopting and fostering children has brought some of the greatest joys and greatest challenges we have ever known. Several times now, I have had to tell my wife (and myself) “This is an incredible blessing we get to be part of … and at the same time, it’s ok to admit this is hard.” I highly recommend Jason Marianna’s articles on “Myths and Truths About Foster Care”, here and here. I read these to my wife shortly after our most recent placement of foster children and Jason had us “yes-and-amening”— the whole way through.

Suffering to the Glory of God

Many professing Christians don’t want to ever think or talk about the connection between suffering and being a follower of Christ. This is one of many reasons that the prosperity gospel can never deliver on its promises. God’s Word tells us that we will experience suffering. As just one example, look at 1st Peter 4:12-16.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Notice that Peter does not say to rejoice “if” trials come upon you, but “when” (vs. 12). Also, we must remember that it is not all trials that we should rejoice in per se, but specifically when we share in Christ’s sufferings (vs 13). Peter is not saying to rejoice in suffering that we bring on ourselves because of our sins (vs. 15). He is saying that we glorify God through the suffering that comes with being a Christian (vs. 16). In other words, the glory of union with Christ includes the glory of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

The Righteous Suffering of Job

In one sense, Job was a sinner in need of grace like everyone else (cf. Romans 3:23). At the same time, there was apparently some sense in which Job could be called blameless and upright (cf. Job 1:8). He was a man who “feared God and turned away from evil” (cf. Job 1:1). He even went so far as to offer sacrifices and pray on his children’s behalf in the event that they sinned (cf. Job 1:5).

In the book of Job, the curtain is briefly pulled back and we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between God and the devil (cf. Job 1:6-12). Satan approaches God and claims that it is only God’s hedge of protection that keeps Job in line. Give Job a little push, and he will curse God to his face (cf. Job 1:11). To our shock, God grants Satan permission to touch everything (and everyone) that Job has, but not Job himself (cf. Job 1:12).

One messenger after another comes to Job with more and more devastating news of death and loss. Eventually, even Job’s children are taken from him. Some of Job’s friends visit him. They tell him he must have done something to deserve all this and that he is wrong for even asking why it is happening. Let’s just say that Job’s friends may have good intentions but at best they are simply unhelpful. Even Job’s wife fails to stand by him. She asks how he could still hold onto his integrity and tells him that he should just “Curse God and die.” (cf. Job 2:9).

The Suffering of the Fatherless in the Book of Job

The word “fatherless” is used 8 times in the book of Job. We won’t look at every single one of these references but a few of them stick out. Job laments the fact that the wicked steal from the fatherless and snatch them away from their nursing mothers (cf. Job 24:3,9). Job not only made a covenant with his eyes to never lust after a young woman (cf. Job 31:1), he also consistently fed and cared for the fatherless (cf. Job 31:16-18). Orphans always had a place at Job’s table.

Crushing and Casting Lots

Somehow, Job was eventually able to express hope in the knowledge that his “Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (cf. Job 19:25). Who is Job’s Redeemer? The eternal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Why would there ever be any doubt that the eternal God still lives? What it would mean for God to die and yet be vindicated in the end?

In the middle of his suffering and struggling to understand, Job seems to wonder if it would please God to “crush” him and cut him off (cf. Job 6:9). He also contemplates the horror of one who would “cast lots over the fatherless” (cf. Job 6:27). How could a righteous God allow injustice to go unpunished even for a split second? What could possibly be the purpose of suffering?

The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of a suffering servant who was truly innocent and yet it was God’s will to “crush” him (cf. Isaiah 53:10). The Psalmist writes from the perspective of someone who suffers while lots are cast for his clothes (cf. Psalm 22:18). With the benefit of being on this side of redemptive history, we know that all of this points to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is the suffering servant that Isaiah wrote about. Christ is the one that we see being crucified on a Roman cross as we look through the time machine of Psalm 22. Christ is the one that all the Scriptures, including Job, ultimately testify to (cf. Luke 4:21; John 5:39-47).

What does all this have to do with adoption? Christ is also the perfect Savior who is the firstborn among many brothers graciously adopted by God the Father (cf. Romans 8:29). By the grace of spiritual adoption, fatherless sinners are brought into right relationship with God the Father. This truth fuels our passion for orphan care and shows why suffering is to be expected and rejoiced in. God’s people can and will share in Christ’s suffering, even as we seek to relieve the suffering of the fatherless. It’s ok to admit it’s hard. But we know our Redeemer lives.

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