As I mentioned in a previous post, one of our dogs died last week. Charlie, a dachshund, slipped a disk and started going paralysed and we had to have him put down. We were devastated. And even though Charlie was only a dog, I found myself asking, “Why did God allow this to happen? Charlie wasn’t a bad dog! Why not cause bad dogs to slip a disk? Why did he do to deserve it? What did we do that God is punishing our dog?”
Many in our church have suffered greatly, losing loved ones, parents, siblings, friends and even children. We have all seen the suffering caused by disease, death and disaster. Because we are created in the image of God, we instinctively know that there is something wrong with our world and this is not how it’s supposed to be. Perhaps the most common question people have is, “Why does a good God allow suffering and sorrow and slipped disks? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Real, relevant and reasonable
The question is a REAL question: We live in the age of CNN and Youtube, we see the world’s suffering every night on the news and we cannot escape the reality of suffering.
The question is a RELEVANT question: Suffering is not just an abstract idea, it’s a reality in all of our lives. We view suffering from our wheelchairs, not from our armchairs.
The question is a REASONABLE question: It is totally reasonable to ask in the midst of suffering, “Why me God? Am I worse than others? Don’t you care about me? If you care about me, are you not powerful enough to help?”
Most answer to the question of suffering move in one of two directions. Either God is not all-loving and is not too concerned with pain and suffering. He could stop suffering, but chooses not to; or God is not all- Powerful. Or God is not all-powerful and he also dislikes suffering but there is not that much he can do about it. The Bible however tells us that God is all-loving and all-powerful, yet permits suffering according to his good plan and purposes.
The Book of ob does not answer all our questions, but it does answer some questions while clearing up some terribly wrong views. According to Job, we should have a good understanding or theology of suffering, so we suffering does come (and it will) it should not surprise us or shipwreck our faith.
Here are three lessons we can learn from Job 1-2:
1. Job was a blameless man
Job was a godly, believing, upright man who took spiritual responsibility for his family. V1 says he was “blameless and upright” which means not that he was sinless but that he was a man of honesty and integrity. He “feared God”, in other words he was a believer. And he “turned away from evil”, in other words, his lifestyle matched his profession.
And yet Job suffers. Job’s suffering, contrary to the proponents of the “health, wealth and prosperity gospel” is not as a result of sin. God is not punishing him for wrongdoing. This is a massively important point. Suffering generally is a result of sin (Genesis 3) in the world, but 99% of the time our personal suffering is not the result of specific sin. God is not punishing Job. In fact quite the contrary, Job is suffering because he is godly.
The “Prosperity Gospel” (which is not the gospel) is psychologically scarring to so many Christians who inevitable get sick and suffer. Job blasts the prosperity gospel out the water. He shows us that sometimes good, godly people face great suffering. And yet in it and through it he still entrusts his life to God.
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10)
Two fundamental errors
Christians have been guilty of two opposing errors. Thinking that all suffering is God’s punishment or thinking that the Christian life should be free from all suffering
2. Satan has a powerful influence
In chapter 1:6 the scene changes and we are transported to God’s heavenly cabinet meeting. We do not live in a closed universe that operates by purely natural laws and cause and effect: there is a God and other spiritual beings that control, influence and hold great power. (cf. Psalm 82:1)
Now there was a day when the sons of came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6)
It seems that Satan does not belong there, so he gets special mention. Literally it says that “the Satan also came among them”. “Satan” is not the devils personal name but his title and it means enemy, adversary and accuser. He is God’s enemy and he is our enemy. This is very sobering: there is a powerful, evil spiritual being hell-bent on destroying you, your family, children and your country. All evil in the world is not just of human origin.
Satan says to God, “Job does not worship you for you, but he worships you for what you can give him. He does not love you because you are God, but for what he can get. Job honours you for reward, not because he cherishes a relationship with you. Take away all your good gifts and he will curse you.”
This is a good question: Do we worship God because God is God or because we want to get something from God? Most varsity students are fervent church attendees before final exams! Is this us? We don’t actually respect, honour and treasure God, we just want his gifts.
God, surprisingly, permits Satan to cause suffering for Job. Satan inspires band of wicked men to steal Job’s oxen and kill Job’s men. Next Satan causes lightning to destroy Job’s sheep and servant and a hurricane to kill Job’s children. Job is devastated. We must never forgot that Satan is powerful, he has some measure of control and he uses that influence to cause harm and suffering.
Gary Benfold says, “It is dangerous to ignore Satan. It is dangerous to dabble in the occult where Satan’s power may at times be seen openly. It is dangerous to play around with “small” sins and give Satan a foothold in your life It is dangerous to underestimate Satan.”
3. The Lord is absolutely supreme
The situation escalates and Satan, with God’s permission, inflicts Job with loathsome, painful sores. And yet Job continues to entrust his life to God. The question we are forced to ask is: Who is in charge?
Very definitely Job is not in charge and neither are we. We can plan and schedule and save, but you are not in control – our lives can change in a minute.
But note that Satan is also not in charge. Satan, as powerful as he is, can only do what God permits and allows. In fact, Martin Luther called Satan, “God’s Satan”.
Job will show us that God is loving and powerful, and that he allows suffering, even among his people, according to his good and loving purposes. Genesis 18:25 is a great memory verse, it says, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Job does not give us all the answers, but it does assure us that our lives aren’t random; our suffering is not meaningless/; and the Lord is absolutely supreme.
We take our children for vaccinations. Vaccinations aren’t pleasant, they cause pain and create suffering, but in the end they may save our child’s life. Jesus’ execution was the most evil act in human history and yet it was ordained, allowed and permitted by a good God. God permits suffering according to his good purposes and while we may not understand our suffering, we can entrust our lives to a God who is good, loving and all-powerful.