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The Learning Curve of Life

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Job 32–37

Job’s friend Elihu did not have all the answers, but he knew when we are suffering and see no end to it or purpose for it, we need to recall the basic, comforting truth that God is sovereign and uses suffering to teach us. Our responsibility is to “listen and serve him.”


A learning curve is an expression that relates to certain times in life when changes and challenges happen so quickly that you need to learn or adapt in a very short amount of time.

My roommate in college encouraged me to take golf lessons. He explained how difficult it is to hit a golf ball. I said, “It can’t be that hard.” He said, “Let me show you.”

I should’ve walked away. Instead, we went to the front yard of our dormitory with a golf club, and after giving me a few instructions, he placed a large ripe orange on the ground and said, “Okay, hit it.” I smiled and swung—and missed. He said, “Keep your head down,” which didn’t make any sense to me, but I did and swung even harder. That orange just sat there mocking me. After several more tries, I finally hit it – but only because in frustration I finally swung down like an ax.

That orange never left the ground. Golf, I learned, has a learning curve.

How about the learning curve for driving a car? I learned on a Volkswagen Bug—baby blue, with a stick shift on the floor. When I was fifteen, my parents let me practice in front of our house. With a stick shift, you have to remember several things at the same time—how to let the clutch out slowly until it engages, being careful not to pop the clutch too quickly and stall, all while accelerating with the gas pedal. It wasn’t long before I was zipping back and forth in front of our house. Nobody got hurt—the neighbors stayed indoors.

How about the learning curve for marriage? After two sessions of premarital counseling and a finished notebook, you probably wondered, How hard can this be? You had no idea the learning curve for marriage didn’t actually start until after the ceremony.

Someone said that marriage is like getting on a plane heading for the Bahamas and landing instead at the North Pole. Instead of a breeze, it’s a blizzard, and you find out then that you needed a fur coat, not a swimsuit. Let the learning curve begin!

The truth is, you never know when the learning curve is coming, and you’re never fully prepared when it does.

The psalmist David wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). In other words, suffering put him on a steep learning curve that ultimately taught him wise and godly principles for living. And it can do the same thing for you and me. Job has been living on that learning curve for as long as a year or more.

With their speeches and dialogue completed, Job and his three friends fall silent at the end of chapter 31. Then a young man steps forward here in chapter 32. He is going to speak for the next six chapters, and he is going to deliver better counsel to Job.

His name is Elihu, and he has been struggling for some time to remain quiet. We are told why, here in verses 2 and 3:

He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.

He has grown angry with what he considers Job’s self-righteous attitude, and he has also grown angry at the empty and false accusations of Job’s three friends. 

So, Elihu launches into his own speech. He begins in chapter 33 to bring out some new insights that are, for the most part, right on target.

First, he says to Job that even when life is confusing, God is still communicating. Recalling Job’s earlier words, Elihu asks him here in verse 13, “Why do you contend against [God], saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?”

Elihu says God is speaking. At this time, before the Bible was available, God spoke to Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob—and Job—through dreams. More important, though, God is speaking to Job through his suffering. Elihu says in verse 19, “Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed.” The word here for “rebuked” can be translated “instructed.” Sickbeds have a unique way of instructing us—we’re tuned in, as it were, to the Spirit of God when we suffer. 

In chapter 34, Elihu gives this second insight: Even when life seems unfair, God is never unjust. Job had complained earlier that delighting in God evidently did not bring any benefit. Elihu says in verse 10, Far be it from God . . . that he should do wrong.”  

Elihu then goes on to defend the nature and character of God, emphasizing that God is the Rewarder (verse 11), the sovereign authority (verse 13), the Sustainer of life (verses 14-15), and the impartial Ruler (verses 17-20).[1]

When you think life seems unfair, a good counselor will remind you that God always does what is right, even if He does not give us an explanation.

Elihu’s third point is expressed in chapter 35: Even when life seems hard, God is not heartless. Elihu encourages Job by reminding him that God, his Maker, can even give him “songs in the night” (verse 10).

Fourth, Elihu delivers this insight: Even when life becomes unsettled, God has not been unseated. In chapter 36 and on into chapter 37, he defends God’s character. He begins in verse 2 of chapter 36, saying, “Bear with me a little, and I will show you, for I have yet something to say on God's behalf.”

Elihu is warning Job not to charge God with wrongdoing. God is powerful, Elihu says, and nobody can fully understand His ways.

And Elihu presents as evidence the way God manages nature. Beginning in verse 27 and continuing through chapter 37, Elihu points to the majesty of God in nature. Elihu mentions the rain, the clouds, thunder and lightning, snow and ice. And he says to Job in chapter 37, verse 14, “Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” God is in control of that lightning storm, Job, and the storm that swept into your life.

Job’s other friends were convinced Job was suffering because of sin. Elihu recognizes that God uses suffering to keep us from sin. It keeps us close to Him.

So, Elihu is much closer to the truth than the other three men, but he is only partially correct. And that is because we know what Elihu does not know, and we know what Job and his three friends do not know. We know that Job is suffering uniquely at the hands of Satan, who wants to prove that God will not be worshiped by someone who suffers so greatly. There was something bigger going on than any of these men could have imagined.

But listen, beloved, these insights from Elihu are actually true for us all, and the rest of the Bible confirms them.

First, God may appear to be silent, but He is always speaking—through His Word, through our circumstances, and through His evident power in nature around us. The problem is we are hard of hearing.

Second, life might seem unfair, but God is never unjust. He will eventually make everything right.

Third, life might be difficult, but God has not abandoned us. He will never leave us or forsake us.

And, finally, when life becomes chaotic, God is actually in control of the chaos. Life might become unsettled, but God will never be unseated. He is already King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let’s trust Him today.


[1] Steven Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Job (Navpress, 1993), 206.

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