“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ . . . But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 1:21; 2:10 NKJV).
Some of the greatest questions faced by humans are those related to suffering. Why does suffering come? Why do innocent people suffer? Why do some seem to suffer disproportionately? These have no easy answers and contemplation of them causes great anguish to many.
I received two telephone calls from abroad within a three-day span, both from the same person. The first call was to inform me of the death of his oldest brother that same day. The second was to tell me of his mother’s death on the day of the second call. I can recall other incidents where a particular individual or family was repeatedly and frequently afflicted by illness, death or other tragedy, whereas many others seem to go for years or decades with no comparably obvious problems. Our hearts go out to all who suffer, and especially for those who seem especially burdened.
Job is the most familiar example of such suffering in the Bible. Within a space of a few days this righteous man lost his wealth, children, and health. Soon thereafter he also lost the respect formally accorded to him by his community. He was perplexed, as he could see no apparent reason for those calamities. Not surprisingly he turned to God in indignation, asking the equivalent of our familiar question, “Why me, Lord?”
Ultimately the book of Job teaches us that God has reasons for all that he does, and that we may not know or understand those reasons. But the more immediate explanation of the book to Job’s sufferings is to be found in his own initial responses, in chapters 1 and 2. His words teach the following lessons.
First, God is the source of all things, including both good and bad. If we are willing and even eager to accept one, how can we deny the other? One who is angry at God for sending hardships has no right to enjoy pleasure and prosperity from the same source.
Second, nothing which God gives us is earned by us. We came into this world with nothing. We will leave it with nothing. We can place no demands upon our creator, nor compel him to treat us with favor. Whatever we receive is due to him, not us (cf Ephesians 2:8-9). We understand that our salvation is unearned and is a product of God’s grace. Job reminds us that the same principle applies to tribulations – we do not suffer only because we have sinned.
That is not to say that sin has nothing to do with suffering. It is in the world because of sin (Romans 5:12). But a particular illness, accident, or death may be totally unrelated to the sin of the sufferer (Genesis 3:9-19; John 9:1ff). God has created this world with certain physical laws, such as the law of consequences, which often cause suffering as a direct result of sinful actions (drunken driving and accidents for example). That does not mean that God is consciously punishing someone for his particular sin.
Finally, Job’s faith in God remained strong. Whether he understood or agreed with all that God did, he was still willing to bless his name. As we read the remainder of the book we sometimes think that Job lost his faith in or respect for God, but that is not the case. He demanded a hearing. He came to wrong conclusions about God’s intrinsic nature. But he never renounced him or “sinned with his lips.”
We too may question God’s treatment of us. But let us never blaspheme or doubt. God is glorious and is worthy to be praised (Revelation 4:13).