If God is so loving, then why do people suffer? In particular, why do bad things happen to good people? These questions are as old as time itself.
In my chronological Bible reading plan, I've been reading from the book of Job. (Yes, you heard me right. Though the book of Job may not have been written until much later, there is evidence to suggest that Job may have lived at the same time as Abraham.)
For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of Job, he was a man described as "...blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." (Job 1:1, NIV) He was a good and wise man. The next few verses in the book of Job relate how wealthy and respected he was.
The scene then moves to the royal courtroom of heaven. All the angels are appearing before God, and Satan shows up. God points out to Satan how wonderful Job is. Satan's response is that Job is only good because God has blessed him. He suggests that if God were to take away his possessions, Job would curse God to his face.
Then the unthinkable happens. God gives Satan permission to strike Job's possessions. At this point in the story, our human minds start to question God. Is this how a loving God repays someone who has lived a blameless life? But it gets worse...
Job loses it all--his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his camels--even his children. What?
Job's response? "...he fell to the ground in worship and said: "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." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20b-22, NIV)
Satan shows up again in heaven, and God points out once more that Job still has his integrity intact. Satan suggests that Job has not been truly tested until personal suffering in his flesh takes place. And God, in His infinite wisdom allows it.
Job's skin becomes covered with painful, itchy sores from head to toe. His body is covered with worm-infested scabs that never stop hurting. Fever racks his disfigured body. No one, including his wife, wants anything to do with him. He becomes a social outcast and goes to sit on the outsides of the city at what we would call the city dump.
If there was ever a good person who suffered unjustly, it was Job.
Usually I struggle with this story, but I caught something new this time. This time I saw God's confidence in Job. God trusted Job enough to allow him to be as severely tested as one person can be.
Though the book of Job doesn't solve the problem of human suffering, it does show us through the life of Job, how one man's faith in God can sustain him through intense suffering and unanswered questions.
It also shows us three different responses that are available to us in our suffering.
His wife said to him (Job), "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. (Job 2:9-12, NIV)
Response #1: Turn your back on God. (Job 2:9)
This is the response of Job's wife, which makes it easy to see why Satan chose not to remove her from the scene. This is a typical human response to suffering. Unfortunately, it only makes matters worse. God is our source of help and comfort. He's the one that had enough confidence in us to allow the suffering in the first place. He's the One who cheers us on from the sideline of heaven!
Response #2: Cry about it. (Job 2:12)
This is the response of Job's friends, who were supposed to be there for the purpose of comforting Job. Again, this is a typical and understandable response. Even Job later cries out to God. Though tears may be a catharsis initially, after a while they become unproductive.
Response #3: Accept it. (Job 2:10)
This is the response of Job. He was the one suffering. We would expect him to respond with cursings or tears, but he chooses to accept the suffering as a part of God's perfect plan. Oh, that I could respond with that kind of faith!
The following link will take you to a wonderful testimony of a woman who has suffered greatly. Like Job, she chooses to view her suffering as a part of God's loving plan for her life.
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