“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
– Job 1:21
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone ask, “If God is all-powerful and He is just, then why do good people suffer?” Over the centuries atheists and agnostics have asked this question. Most Jews and Christians have—at some point or another—asked it as well. And honestly, most answers to this question have been dead wrong.
Many skeptics have used the problem of suffering as an opportunity to cast aspersions on God’s character: “Perhaps good people suffer because God is not as powerful or as just as we once thought Him to be. Maybe God wants to squelch suffering, but He’s powerless to do so. Or perhaps He’s powerful enough to do so, but He chooses not to because He doesn’t care.” When faced with this question of human suffering, skeptics have responded by saying, “Good people suffer because God is NOT all-powerful, and He is NOT just.” To the average agnostic, it’s as simple as that.
Yet to the Jews in both Old and New Testament times, this answer was completely unacceptable. It flew in the face of everything they believed about God. You see, they believed with all their hearts that Yahweh is the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. And they believed the Old Testament Scriptures that testify to God’s goodness and justice time after time. Therefore, the Jews came to the conclusion that every person’s suffering is a direct consequence of his/her guilt before our holy God. In other words, if I sin a lot, I will suffer a lot. But if I sin a little, I will only suffer a little. To most Jews, it was as simple as that.
Do you recall what Jesus’ disciples asked him in John 9:2 when they saw a man who had been blind since birth? They asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It seemed so obvious to the disciples: The ONLY reason this man was blind was because someone had sinned. Otherwise, our all-powerful, all-just God wouldn’t have allowed him to be born blind. So, when faced with the question of why good people suffer, the Jews’ typical response would have gone something like this: “God IS all powerful. And God IS perfectly good and just. Therefore, good people don’t suffer.”
Well, the truth is: The answers offered by both the skeptics and the Israelites were wrong. And to them and to all others who hold false views of God’s character and/or human suffering, God gave the Book of Job.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the story: Job was a man who lived to the East of Israel around the same time as Abraham. We are told in chapter 1 that he was “blameless and upright” and “he feared God and shunned evil.” You might call Job “God’s pride and joy.” Job was a very dedicated follower of God, and he was also the richest man in his neck of the woods. But with God’s permission, Satan unleashed his fury on Job—stripping him of all his wealth and even murdering his ten children in one fell swoop. By the time we reach the end of chapter 1, Job is a broken man, lying on the ground grief-stricken and baffled by his misfortune. Yet in the midst of his unimaginable suffering, he cries out to God saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Over the next thirty-six chapters, Job struggles to find meaning behind his suffering. He begs God to answer the “why” question. Yet surprisingly, God never gives Job a satisfactory answer. The LORD never reveals to Job that he was the apple of His eye. The LORD never informs Job that Satan was the instigator and perpetuator of his intense suffering. And He never reveals to Job that his very faithfulness to God in the midst of his suffering both shamed Satan and brought much glory to the LORD.
So, the Book of Job does not give Job or us a satisfactory answer to the question of why good people suffer. [This “why” question is answered later in Scripture: in Luke 18:19, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9, Hebrews 12:4-13 and John 9:3.] But the book does answer two similar and equally important questions about suffering. To the question: “Is there such a thing as innocent suffering?”, the Book of Job answers with a resounding “Yes!” The Book of Job clearly demonstrates that God IS all-powerful and just. But even still, sometimes—through no fault of their own—the innocent suffer.
And to the second question: “How should I respond to my suffering?”, Job gives us a marvelous answer: “The Lord gave and the LORD has taken away. May the name of the LORD be praised.” In other words, when suffering rushes in—even through no fault of our own—we as Christ’s followers are called to ride out the storm in humble worship and praise. Like Job, we may never know why we suffer, but we can and should trust, obey and worship our great God in the midst of our pain. Ultimately, He will see us through.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship tomorrow at 10 a.m.