The problem of pain and the book of Job
36:15 “Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.”
“Why Me?” Almost everyone asks this question when terrible suffering strikes. An automobile accident, a diagnosis of cancer, a long-term disease like arthritis-each of these raises intense questions about why God allows pain.
Over the centuries, suffering Christians have gained help and comfort from studying the book of Job The book gives no compact theory of why good people suffer. Nevertheless, the following insights into the problem of suffering do come out of the book of Job.
Principles from Job
1. Some suffering is caused by Satan. Chapters 1 and 2 make the important distinction that God did not cause Job’s problems. He allowed them, but Satan actually caused the pain.
2. God is all-powerful and good. Nowhere does the book of Job suggest that God lacks power or goodness. Some people say that God is weak and powerless to prevent human suffering. Others, called deists, assume that he runs the world at a distance, without personal involvement. But in Job, God’s power is never questioned; only his fairness. And in his final summation speech, God used splendid illustrations from nature to prove his power.
3. Suffering doesn’t always come as a result of sin. The Bible supports the general principle that “a man reaps what he sows,” Even in this life (Galatians 6:7; also Psalms 1:3; 37:25). But other people have no right to apply that general principle to a particular person. Job’s friends tried with all their persuasive power. However, when God rendered the final verdict, he said simply, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). The Old Testament includes other examples of people who suffered through no fault of their own, such as Abel (Genesis 4) and Uriah (2 Samuel 11). And Jesus spoke out against the notion that suffering implies sin (see Luke 13:15; John 9:1-7).
4. God will reward and punish fairly in a final judgment after death. Job’s friends, along with most Old Testament folk, did not have a clearly formed belief in an afterlife. Therefore, they expected that God’s fairness-his approval or disapproval of people-had to be shown in this life. Other parts of the Bible teach that God will reward and punish fairly after death.
5. God does not condemn doubt and despair. God did not condemn Job’s anguished responses, only his ignorance. Job did not take his pain meekly; he cried out in anguish to God. His strong remarks scandalized his friends (see, for example, 15:1-16), but not God. Ironically, despite his bitter speeches, Job earned God’s praise, while his pious friends were soundly rebuked.
6. No one person has all the facts about suffering. Neither Job nor his friends had enough facts. Job concluded that God was unfair, treating him like an enemy. His friends maintained that God opposed Job because of his sin. All of them later learned that they had been viewing the situation from a very limited perspective, blind to the real struggle being waged in heaven.
7. God is never totally silent. Elihu made that point convincingly, reminding Job of dreams, visions, past blessings (chapter 33), even the daily works of God in nature (chapter 37). God also appealed to nature as giving evidence of his wisdom and power. Although he may seem silent, some evidence of him can be found. One contemporary author expressed that truth this way, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.”
8. Well-intentioned advice can sometimes do more harm than good. Job’s friends were classic examples of people who let their pride and sense of being right interfere with their compassion. They repeated pious phrases and argued theology with Job. His response: “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (13:5).
9. God asks for faith. God refocused the central issue from the cause of Job’s suffering to his response. Mysteriously, God never gave an explanation for the problem of suffering. He did not even inform Job of the reason behind it: the contest recorded in chapters 1 and 2. He concentrated instead on Job’s response. The real issue at stake was Job’s faith-whether he would continue to trust God even when everything went wrong.
10. Suffering can be used for a higher good. In Job’s case, God used a time of very great pain to win an important, even cosmic, victory of Satan. Looking backward, but only looking backward, we can see the “advantage” Job gained by continuing to trust God. Job is often cited as an Old Testament picture of Jesus Christ, who lived a perfectly innocent life but endured great pain and death. The terrible event of Christ’s death was also transformed into a great victory.
Thousands of years later, Job’s questions have not gone away. People who suffer still find themselves borrowing Job’s own words as they cry out against God’s seeming lack of concern. But ob affirms that God is not deaf to our cries and is in control of this world no matter how things look. God did not answer all Job’s questions, but his very appearance caused Job’s doubts to melt away. Job learned that God cared about him and that God rules the world. It was enough.