WHY DO GOOD PEOPLE SUFFER?: GOD’S ANSWER to JOB

The Old Testament Book of Job is about a good man whom God allows to suffer. The first verse introduces the title character, “a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil” (Job 1:1). God Himself declares, “There is no one on earth like [my servant Job], blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil” (Job 1:8). Nevertheless, God allows “the satan” to test Job through a series of horrible afflictions. Job’s possessions were destroyed, his children were killed, and his body covered “with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). Despite all this, Job did not sin. Rather, he declared, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Job did not sin. The Book of Job is quite clear about that. But Job did question God and he did complain. Much of the book is taken up with Job’s complaining about how God has treated him. Here are some examples:

The arrows of the Almighty are in me, and my spirit drinks in their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me. (Job 6:4)

I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. (Job 7:11)

He is God and he does not relent . . . With a storm he might overwhelm me, and multiply my wounds for nothing; He would not allow me to draw breath, but might fill me with bitter griefs. (Job 9:13,17-18)

I will say to God . . . Let me know why you oppose me. Is it a pleasure for you to oppress, to spurn the work of your hands . . . even though you know that I am not wicked? (Job 10:2,3,7)

Job did not sin by complaining about how God treated him. On the contrary, when God rebukes Job’s friends, who had accused Job of failing to admit his sin, God says, “You have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job” (Job 42:8). Job had spoken rightly about God. He proclaimed God’s power, wisdom, and goodness even as he protested his own innocence and cried out for justice.

Job had spoken rightly about God, but he had also spoken rashly. He had supposed he could call God to account in the way he might settle matters with another human being. He says, for example, “Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature: let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!” (Job 31:35). Job spoke as if he could stand on equal footing with God and contend with God in a court of law. But when God spoke to him out of the storm, that notion was dispelled. God asked,

Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. (Job 38:2-4)

God continued to interrogate Job in this way until Job was compelled to answer, “I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). And, “I have spoken but did not understand; things too marvelous for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).

God’s answer to Job, the just man whom God allowed to suffer, is God’s answer to us when we or the good people we love are suffering. There are two parts of that answer I would like to highlight. First, we are not wrong to complain. Second, God’s purposes are marvelous beyond our understanding.

When Job complained of how God permitted him to suffer, God replied that Job had “spoken rightly” and called him his “servant.” Job was right to protest his innocence and, in lamenting and questioning the reasons for his affliction, he did not sin. Similarly, when we suffer, we can be angry and protest and question and that’s okay. We are not unfaithful. We affirm God’s wisdom and goodness. But we are also honest about our feelings. When we aren’t happy about our lot in life, we can tell God about it and God doesn’t blame us for that. God can take it.

God is merciful and patient with us. God is also infinitely wise, and His purposes are far beyond human knowing. We can never comprehend why certain people, especially good and innocent people, are permitted to suffer. Why does God, whose power, wisdom, and goodness are beyond measure, allow such things? God’s answer to Job is an important answer for us: You couldn’t possibly understand.

Job was “a blameless and upright man . . . who feared God and avoided evil.” What Job came to understand is that being upright and God-fearing means acknowledging that God’s ways are far above our ways and God’s purposes transcend our scrutiny. Saint Paul marveled at “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments,” he says, “and how unsearchable his ways” (Rom 11:33). We cannot evaluate God. Our judgments cannot preside over God’s judgments. Instead, we have to trust that God’s ways are truly wise and God’s purposes are really for the best.

God’s answer to Job is God’s answer to us. But it’s not His final answer. God’s final answer is given to Jesus and given to us through Jesus and in Jesus.

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