APPENDIX to Job:
Considering Suffering & God
There are five
main points that come out so clearly in the book of Job:
Job IS righteous.
Yet Job suffers terribly.
The cause of the suffering is provoked by the Lord.
The cause of the suffering is debated strongly by the participants.
NO neat answers are provided.
The question that
arises in the mind of many is, how can a God of love cause such
suffering, at what seems a whim. At first sight there seems such
a petty reason for this suffering to come about. Within all of
this comes a further concern: what happened to all of Job's family
and why did they have to die?
Attempts at Answers:
The truth, of course, is that after reading the book, we have
to accept that NO theological answers are given beyond the fact
that God provoked these things. The following are some of the
areas for consideration that are provoked by the contents of this
Fact or Fable:
We cannot be certain whether the book is an historical record
of something that happened – including revelation from God – or
whether it is a made up story to convey teaching. Some say the
problems are not as acute if it didn't involve literal deaths
but only deaths in a story, but the problem is still there even
if it is a fable: how can you justify God's activity even in a
Questions of a Fallen World:
Going behind the scenes, so to speak, in chapters 1 & 2, means
we are given reasons why bad things happen:
People: If God did not
exist, the atheist still has a problem – this is a world where
bad people do bad things to other people, exercising their free
will for evil acts. It is thus a harsh world where it is survival
of the fittest which goes against everything we think life in
a civilization should be. [Dictionary Definition: ‘ the
state of human social and cultural development and organization
that is considered most advanced'.]
Satanic Spiritual Force:
Within the narrative of ch.1, Satan, a fallen angel, is given
permission to go out and stir up evil men to come and plunder
Job's farmland, and then to use his power to stir up the weather
to bring such damage on it that it kills all Job's children. It
is Satan's activity that chapter 2 shows is what inflicts Job
with sores from head to foot.
of Mankind's Failures:
Critics are rarely heard speaking against mankind or even demonic
forces that bring suffering to mankind. Yes, it is evil but living
in a world with memories of two world wars in the last century,
culminating in the use of two nuclear weapons, has inured or desensitized
us against the fact of evil done by humans on humans. Add to that
the doctrines of extreme right or extreme left-wing politics (seen
in Naziism and Communism – Hitler & Stalin) that have caused
so many deaths and it is an unhappy picture of mankind. Wars,
genocides, slavery, murders, rapes etc. etc. etc. continue as
blots on the history of mankind right up to the present time.
The critics rise at the thought of the God of the Bible being
involved and even though He is not attributed with directly bringing
these things, He is seen to permit them, if not actively encourage
them. It is at that point we must ask for what reason?
Questions of death, and questions of the afterlife:
The end product of suffering is death, the great unknown, and
yet it is the one thing guaranteed for every single one of us.
The ‘big picture' revealed in the Bible is that this life is merely
an ‘entrance hall' to a life in eternity, the goal it reveals
that is on God's heart from before the foundation of the world.
From our perspective, premature-violent or even non-violent deaths
are shocking and where it involves loved ones, is never easy.
Bereavement grief is all about coping with such loss.
Heart: We need to wait
until the New Testament to see God's heart revealed through His
Son outside the tomb of Lazarus [Jn 11], a heart that grieves
with those who grieve. An observation of king David, described
as a ‘man after God's own heart' will note his regular anguish
over the deaths of those near him. The apostle Paul also described
God as “ the
Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” [2
Cor 1:3] Questions rarely or never heard are,
“How did God FEEL about setting this test for Job?” and
“How did God FEEL about letting His own Son take human form, be
rejected, beaten, tried and crucified?”
absence of these questions is perhaps because the Bible never
says how He felt, but it is worth considering. In the latter question,
strong reasons are given – the sin of man and the need to appease
justice. Although the reasons for the former question are not
given [apart from HOW they came about] in this book, one has to
conclude that the reasons for what took place must be equally
Questions about Repentance:
But more, it took the prophet Ezekiel to bring God's word, “Do
I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked ? declares
the Sovereign Lord.
Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and
live?” (Ezek 18:23 & 33:11)
I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the
Repent and live!” (Ezek
18:32) echoed in the New Testament with, “he
is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but
everyone to come to repentance.” (2
Pet 3:9) So blended in with this, is teaching that God does NOT
want death but would much prefer life to flow, and it comes as
teaching that we have seen within the book, that God's intention
is to bring repentance to mankind so that we may be restored to
a position where we enjoy God, enjoy the blessings He desires
to bring us, and enjoy His world.
Questions of the meaning of life and what we learn in it :
It is not a popular teaching but nevertheless the Bible does indicate
that learning often proceeds a) after repentance and reconciliation
to God, b) by overcoming the difficulties of life in this fallen
world [including experiencing suffering] and c) receiving revelation
in the midst of those difficulties. This is not to ask for some
form of stoicism or masochistically revel in pain, suffering and
humiliation BUT to note that nevertheless we do often mature or
gain knowledge and understanding by passing through such times.
It is in the midst of the darkness of suffering that Job makes
some of his most powerful faith statements.
Questions about Faith and Trusting God and His word: There
are definitions to be considered here:
v Trust: It is often
said that faith is about responding positively to what God says,
and trust is about remaining faithful in the absence of a word
from heaven. Both of these things are founded upon truth found
in the Bible about God, about us, and about how He works.
Perfection: The Bible
teaches that God is perfect [e.g. Mt 5:48] and perfection must
mean “cannot be improved upon”. Biblical faith is never ‘blind
faith' but is a positive response to whatever God has said, whether
it be a personal word such as that to Abram (Gen 12:1) or general
teaching such as that found, for instance, in the New Testament
Gospels or letters. Faith is built by hearing God speak, responding
positively to it, hearing Him again and responding again, and
so on. Trust – which we have said is remaining true and faithful
to God in the absence of any word from heaven – comes as a result
of a relationship with God being built over a period of time,
learning that God's word is always true and He CAN be trusted.
in Suffering: When, to
use a modern idiom from a children's book, ‘the sky falls on you'
– as happened in Job's case – without any apparent cause [we didn't
bring it on ourselves and others didn't bring it on us], then
the challenge comes, will I trust God and continue to believe
that He is for me as His word says? [e.g. Ex 4:6, 34:6, Jn 3:16,
Rom 8:28,31 etc.] Yes, this is recollecting His word but it is
in the midst of darkness where otherwise all is silent except
those who would criticize and oppose us.
Questions about God's Intervention:
There are a series of facts and questions to be considered about
what we think we would like God to do:
The Fact of Free Will: God giving us free will – the ability
to choose a course of action [operated dozens if not hundreds
of times a day] – is clearly apparent in the Bible. God may tell
someone to do something or not do something and they go and do
What we want God to do: If we want God to step in and stop
‘wrongs', that creates three problems. First, where do we want
Him to stop and start? With murders, with you saying something
nasty to another, you having wrong thoughts? It is impossible
to draw a line. Second, for God to impose His will means we cease
to have free will, cease to love, cease to be creative etc. etc.
Third, without imposing His will on us, God can tell us what is
wrong and warn us against it, but He HAS to leave it up to us
to decide to obey Him, otherwise it is no longer free will.
Consequences that follow free choices: All decisions have
consequences. Bad decisions produce harmful or self-destructive
results. God has to live with this, with us making bad choices
with harmful consequences otherwise he is overruling our free
will. Thus in this ‘fallen world' [since Gen 3] ‘Sin', that self-centred,
godless propensity within each of us that makes bad choices, prevails.
God's releasing or restraining actions: There is an indication
in Scripture [see Rom 1:24,26,28] that one form of God's disciplinary
judgment is by lifting off His hands of restraint [see
following] to allow sinful humanity to do their own thing and
embark on a downward spiral of depravity or moral decline with
the goal that they come to their senses and repent and turn back
to God as their self-brought-about circumstances get worse.
‘restrains' without imposing His will, we suggest, by simply speaking
into the human conscience to convict of wrong and guide into the
right. When He ‘lifts off His hands of restraint', he simply goes
quiet, steps back and allows Satan to whisper negative words,
to release further that sinful disposition that encourages that
moral downward spiral that brings an accompanying self-harm and
destruction. We see this approach many times in the book of Judges
where, in the face of Israel's disobedience and rebellion, God
steps back and allows the enemy to provoke their enemy neighbours
who oppress them until they repent and call out to God to help
them – and He does.
Lessons from Job's case: What we see in chapters 1 &
2 is God essentially stepping back from providing protection for
Job and speeding up the process that allows the enemy to move
against him. In Job's case there is an important lesson, a major
lesson, being imparted through this book. It is because Job IS
declared righteous by God what happens to him is NOT because of
guilt, is NOT punishment, but is instead to fulfil a hidden plan
to test Job and show it IS possible in the worst of circumstances
to remain true to the truth. For the onlookers there are three
lessons to observe:
first, don't jump to wrong conclusions about what is happening
to others [see Jesus' words or warning not to judge wrongly in
Luke 13:1-5] and,
second, don't see yourself as greater than others who may be passing
through sufferings and,
third, such people need your compassion and care, not criticism.
Let God sort out their misdemeanours! [There ARE times when God
instructs His prophets to speak int the situation to call for
God & Human Restraints:
God does not simply stand at a distance and let human sin
run rampant. He does three things:
Act Himself to discipline / bring judgments
to restrain sin where He sees that nothing else will restrain
this sin that is bringing unlimited harm,
Teach us, convict us, to establish
authority to restrain unruly elements – use of police and laws
– and a system of holding one another accountable – the courts
to administer the law. Also to encourage parents to lovingly
teach and discipline their children,
Speak to and convict individuals to
act to restrict or restrain wrongdoing in others and in society,
sometimes to become ‘activists' [political or otherwise] to
bring changes to create a more just, fair and caring society.
His wisdom means that sometimes
He WILL act into society or an individual's life to bring change
Sometimes He will not act because He sees more harm could ensue
[see Jesus' parables of the Weeds – Mt 24:24-30, and the Net –
Mt 13:47-50] and so leaves judgment until after life at the Final
Judgment where justice will be imposed on every person and situation
– either through Christ's applied work on the Cross, or by imposing
the penalty of eternal death [i.e. no further possible chance.]
above are some of the aspects of suffering and a sinful world
that are raised by the book of Job. Thus the following are some
of the conclusions to be faced:
God is Perfect & Loving and neither makes mistakes nor causes
God works into the fallen world, often using Satan to bring discipline
Often our perspective is limited and our vision blurred either
by our past histories, or our self-concerns or our misunderstandings
and inability to see the full picture. If we could see more fully
and more clearly we may find all our questions resolved.
is sometimes suggested that when we get to heaven, if God so allows
us to see with His perfect vision, and we are allowed to look
back on history with His perspective, (including the ‘what might
have been with alternative courses of action' – seeing God's knowledge
in a similar way to the pseudo-scientific philosophers ‘multiverse')
we will never have cause to criticise Him for anything He thought,
said or did OR DIDN'T think, say, or do.]
If we can gain the perspective that Job obtained in chapter 42,
we may be less hasty to utter foolish comments about the Holy
God who is the creative Lord of all creation.