Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand


When I was little, my mom used to tell me that God knew me better than I knew myself. I protested, “No, He doesn’t. No one knows me better than I know myself!”

My mom gently tried to persuade me otherwise, but I couldn’t understand how this could be true.

Now, as an adult, I understand through reading God’s Word and evidences in my life just how well God knows me. Not only does He know me, He knows what is best for me. However, I still struggle to let go of control when the decisions He wants me to make are not those that I would choose for myself. Even though I know from experience that I am not adept in making wise choices, I still struggle to let God have full control. I want to pick and choose the assignments He gives me. I don’t like or understand some of the directives He gives me.

Lessons from Job When We Don’t Understand

Recently through a series of circumstances, God revealed this tidbit to me: I think my way is better sometimes. If I can’t understand what He is asking me to do (it doesn’t make sense logically to me), I struggle to obey. But faith requires that I step out even when I don’t understand why, trusting that God has a purpose in what He asks of me.

Job 42:2-6 says this:

I know that you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Job says these words to God after Job accuses God of being unjust. God answers back with a series of questions revealing His sovereignty over the universe and freedom to do as He pleases. Job accuses God earlier when his home, wealth, and family are destroyed in a day. Shortly after losing what he does, he breaks out in painful boils. His wife emotionally abandons him. His friends try to comfort him but make him feel worse when they accuse him of sin he didn’t commit.

What Job doesn’t know when he is hit with misfortune is that God gave permission to Satan to afflict Job to test Job’s faithfulness. Job doesn’t turn against God, but he naturally tries to understand the mishaps that befall him. In chapter 38, God answers Job, but does not provide a reason for his suffering. After hearing God’s response, Job realizes the holy nature of God in a new way. He changes his position and utters the words recorded in the passage above.

What can we learn from Job in this passage about times of suffering when we want to understand?

1. We will not understand all that God allows or asks us to do.

Job says this to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (v. 3). Essentially, Job acknowledges that there are some things that he will not understand. For many of us, we may wear ourselves out wanting to find out why, demanding God tell us why. However, at times, He will choose not to reveal the answers to our questions.

We should ask questions in our suffering, and it’s not wrong to do so. Yet, if God doesn’t answer us or explain the way we want, will we accept what He has allowed and do what He says without understanding? For many of us, we are OK with stepping out in faith as long as the action makes sense to us, but if God doesn’t explain the whys to us, we may balk and hit a stopping point. God, I am not doing this until you tell me why. God, I am not going to act in this way towards this person unless you explain x, y, and z.

Job learned in his situation that while God chose not to answer his questions, God did let him know He was aware of what was going on. I have found that to be the case. We may not get the exact explanations we hoped for in our situation, but if we keep pressing in, God will give us what we need to keep going. And — we have His presence even when we don’t have His answers.

2. Affliction teaches us self-awareness.

Job says, “My ears had heard of you, but my eyes have seen you” (v. 5). While Job is still left in the dark in many ways, even at the end of Job, he discovers a deeper awareness and revelation of God in His situation. Not only that, he gains a greater self-awareness.

While at the beginning of Job, he considers himself extremely righteous — perhaps more righteous than other people — he repents and sees what is in his soul: presumption and sin like that in the heart of any other person.

Similarly, as happens with Job, the hardships we go through will bring to the surface what lies within us. I mentioned that God revealed to me that I think my ways is better on occasion. This revelation came after a series of hard God assignments that appeared like sheer lunacy to me. One such assignment, I responded with a half-hearted, halfway obedience because I thought His direction to me was a very bad idea. Then, he revealed my reliance on my own wisdom in the aftermath.

However, when He revealed what He did, I repented and asked for help in this area. Did I even know before this that this ugly reality was true about me? No, I didn’t. Maybe it was obvious to other people, but not to me. When we walk closely with God in our affliction, not only will we see Him more clearly and learn more about Him, we will see ourselves more clearly.

3. Affliction reveals what is in us, so that we can repent.

Suffering comes for different reasons. Suffering doesn’t always come in our lives because of God’s discipline and a need to repent of sin. However, at times, God does want to point out something we need to change. In those instances, we can learn humbly from Him during our affliction and repent.

For many, the word “repent” means walking around with our head down in guilt and shame, feeling bad about ourselves. While such feelings can lead us to confess our sin and allow God to forgive and restore us, repentance is about changing our mind and thinking differently about what God has pointed out to us.

Job says in the passage, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (v. 6). He says what he does about despising himself because he wants God to know he abhors the evil in himself and recognizes his wrong in accusing God and trying to stand on his own merit before God. He makes a change by confessing his sin to God and deciding to go a new way. By stating that he repents “in dust and ashes,” he is outwardly displaying what he feels inside. In this time, people who were grieving would sit in ashes and cover themselves with ashes to show outwardly their inward emotion. In saying what he did, Job wanted to express his turn away from his previous attitude.

Job’s actions here teach us that God doesn’t send affliction to make us feel bad about ourselves and stay there. Through affliction, we can learn what God wants to teach us, and we can emerge a better person. Joseph Benson says on this point, “The more we see of the glory and majesty of God, the more we shall see of the vileness and odiousness of sin, and the more we shall abase and abhor ourselves for it; and repent in dust and ashes.”


Is there a situation in your life that has you tied up in knots, and you have told God you won’t proceed until He explains to you what is going on? Or is there an action He is nudging you towards without disclosing the reasons why?

Job teaches us that God doesn’t have to explain everything to us because He is God. Sometimes, He chooses to answer our questions, but understanding shouldn’t be a prerequisite for obedience. In addition, even when we can’t immediately see how the bad God has allowed will lead to good, we shouldn’t give up.

Like Job, we can trust Him even when it looks bad and feels bad — not because He has explained everything to us — but because He is trustworthy and cannot ever make a mistake. God Himself is the very standard of truth and justice. He cannot slip up or lie, ever!

When things are going sideways and we’re caught in a circumstance we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, we can accept what God has ordained and surrender to Him — believing that, like Job, when we cling to God in the midst of our affliction, we will come out of it stronger and more blessed than before.

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering. In Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” we look at how the biblical mandate to rejoice in suffering is not insane or bad advice, but is actually helpful in uplifting our mood and changing our perspective — even if our situation doesn’t immediately get better.

Want to look at another resource on Job 42 and suffering? Check out the following article on the same passage: “Where Is God When We Suffer?”

*Revised and updated February 23, 2020.











Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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