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FRAMEWORKS: APPENDIX to Job: Considering Suffering & God


Basics: There are five main points that come out so clearly in the book of Job:

1. Job IS righteous.

2. Yet Job suffers terribly.

3. The cause of the suffering is provoked by the Lord.

4. The cause of the suffering is debated strongly by the participants.

5. NO neat answers are provided.


Concerns: 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?


Some 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 book.


1. 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 story?


2. 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:


Bad 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'.]


A 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.


Acceptance 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.


God Involvement: 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?


3. 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.


Overview: 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.


God's 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,

i) “How did God FEEL about setting this test for Job?” and

ii) “How did God FEEL about letting His own Son take human form, be rejected, beaten, tried and crucified?”

The 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 significant.


4. 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) also, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. 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.


5. 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.


6. Questions about Faith and Trusting God and His word: There are definitions to be considered here:


Faith 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.


God's 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.


Responses 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.


7. 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:


i) 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 the opposite.


ii) 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.


iii) 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.


iv) 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.

He ‘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.


v) 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 change.]


vi) 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.


Exercising His wisdom means that sometimes

i) He WILL act into society or an individual's life to bring change or

ii) 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.]


And So?


The 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:


1. God is Perfect & Loving and neither makes mistakes nor causes unneeded harm.

2. God works into the fallen world, often using Satan to bring discipline or judgment.

3. 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.

[It 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.]

4. 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.