If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering

 

Week of February 23, 2014

 

Bible Verses:  Job 30:26-31; 42:1-6.

 

The Point:  God meets us in our suffering.

 

Job’s Suffering:  Job 30:26-31.

 

[26]  But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came. [27]  My inward parts are in turmoil and never still; days of affliction come to meet me. [28]  I go about darkened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. [29]  I am a brother of jackals and a companion of ostriches. [30]  My skin turns black and falls from me, and my bones burn with heat. [31]  My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep.

 

“Job’s final monologue consisted of his past honor and blessing [chap. 29], his present dishonor and suffering [chap. 30], and his final appeal [chap. 31]. Like a lawyer summing up his case, Job began the monologue with an emotional recall of his former happiness, wealth, and honor [chap. 29] and proceeded to lament, not the loss of wealth, but the loss of his dignity and God’s friendship [chap. 30]. He completed this trilogy with a final protestation of innocence [chap. 31]. This chapter is sometimes called a negative confession. It is really an oath of innocence that effectively concludes with Job’s signature in 31:35. There is no more Job could say; the case rested in God’s hands. Job had to be shown to be a liar and suffer the punishment he calls upon himself or be vindicated. Chapter 29 deals with both active and passive aspects of Job’s former life. He was blessed by God and honored by men. But he was also socially active, a benefactor and leader. His benevolence was an important part of the high position he held in his society where social righteousness was expected of every ruling elder. So a description of Job’s benevolence is in the climactic position in this chapter, with the key line [14] in the exact middle of the poem. This verse sums up his benevolence in a striking metaphor about his being clothed with righteousness. Such benevolence established his right to the honor and blessing the surrounding verses describe. This chapter then is the stage for chapter 30. The contrast between chapter 29 and chapter 30 is purposeful and forceful. The threefold use of But now in 30:1, 9, 16 ties the chapter together and reveals the author’s contrastive intention. Moreover the very first verb (laugh) seems to be used to heighten the contrastive effect. In 29:24 Job said, I smiled on them (at his people who were discouraged) and now a brood of ruffians laugh at me. Throughout verses 1-15 Job expanded this theme: the loss of his dignity. If one feels Job exaggerated his honor in chapter 29, the hyperbole on his loss of honor in chapter 30 is even more extreme. Verses 3-8 are typical. Having your peers mock you is bad; but to prove how honorless he was, Job told how boys, whose fathers he could not trust to handle his sheep dogs, mocked him. This lengthy description of these good-for-nothing fathers is a special brand of rhetoric. To define every facet of their debauchery, to state it in six different ways, is not meant to glory in it but to heighten the pathetic nature of his dishonor. To achieve a full measure of contrast, Job dwelt on the negative side of the three themes of chapter 29 in the following order: honor, blessing, and benevolence. The removal of God’s blessing is far worse than affliction by men; so it is put in the climactic central position. The contrastive arrangement is as follows: No honor from men [1-15]; No blessing from God [16-23]; and No benevolence for Job [24-31]. The contrast between 30:1-10 and 29:7-11 is striking. Note the emphasis on the young and old [29:8] and on the chief men and nobles [29:9-10]. The highest strata in society had stood hushed in respect [29:9-10] and then had spoken well [29:11] of Job. Here in chapter 30 the lowest riffraff mocked him. Indeed they could not be kept quiet, for he had become a byword among them [9]. There men had commended him [29:11]; here they detested him [10]. There they had covered their mouths with their hands [29:9]; here they spit in his face [10]. Verses 11-15 begin with a line that takes us right back to 29:20, where Job had mused on his former life as a hero with his bow ever new in his hand. But here God has unstrung his bow, resulting in the opposite situation as pictured in 29:21-25. Job’s tribe had gathered about to hear every good word that fell from the lips of their benevolent leader. But here he was no longer leading the way like a king among his troops [29:25]. Instead he saw himself like a city under siege. Verses 12-14 use the terminology of siege warfare known from other biblical passages. Job had already used similar language of God’s imagined attack on him [19:10-12]. Here the language was even more precise. The siege ramps at the end of verse 12 are called ways of destruction. Verse 14 is very vivid. Job thought of himself as a city with a wide, gapping breach in its wall. The stones come crashing down, and amid the rubble the instruments of siege warfare roll through. The tranquility and dignity he had so enjoyed have vanished like a cloud. Job shifted from this sorry relationship with his fellow man to an even sorrier subject, the removal of God’s blessing from his life [16-23]. He cried out to God but got no answer. When God was his friend, it was like having a light over him in the midst of darkness [29:3]. But at this time his days were full of suffering and his nights of misery [16]. These verses are important in that they show us that Job’s basic complaint still remained. It was not only God’s silence [20] but His violent treatment of Job that had become the sufferer’s greatest problem. It would be no problem at all if only Job’s concept of God was limited. That not being the case, in Job’s mind, it must have been God who was responsible for all this. Job saw his problem with God as twofold. First, God would not answer him; and, second, God actively afflicted him. This was exactly the bifold nature of his complaint in chapter 13:20-27, even including the point of his being tossed about by the wind [13:25]. As in that speech [chap. 13-14], Job’s only prospect for the future was death [23]. What was so devastating to Job was not the fear of death, for he had already asked for it as a relief [6:8-10; 14:3], but that he should have to face it with God as his enemy [13:24]. God’s constant attack, His ruthless might [21], was so completely the opposite of Job’s intimate friendship with God in those bygone days when he had still perceived that God was on his side [29:4-5]. Verses 24-31 complete the contrast with chapter 29. Here Job was in the position of those poor wretches to whom his heart and strength went out in 29:12-17. As a summation of his case, he packed his argument with emotion and righteous indignation. Justice was all on his side. The very benevolence he so freely had dispensed [25] he now looked for in vain [26]. Verse 26 also reminds us of his expectations in 29:18-20. So here [27-31] he presented himself to the court as he was, his body marred and burning with fever; he himself was exhibit A. As he often did, Job closed the stanza [31] with a strong figure of speech.” [Smick, pp. 980, 985-987].

 

Job’s Confession and Repentance:  Job 42:1-6.

 

[1]  Then Job answered the LORD and said: [2]  "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. [3]  'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. [4]  'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' [5]  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; [6]  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."  [ESV]

 

[1-6]  “Job’s immediate response shows that he understood clearly the thrust of the second divine speech. The prologue [40:8-14] sets the tone – that God is all-powerful, especially as Lord over the moral sphere. He alone puts down evil and brings to pass all His holy will. This is the thought also of the climax of the Leviathan poem [41:11-12]. Job opened his mouth to tell God that he had gotten the message: God’s purpose is all that counts, and since He is God He is able to bring it to pass [2]. There is nothing else Job needed to know – only, perhaps, that this Sovereign of the universe was his friend [42:7-8]. There are two unannounced quotations in verses 3-4. In verse 3 Job appropriately agreed with the quote from 38:2. He admitted that he did, indeed, obscure God’s counsel through ignorance. Chastened thus by the wonders of God, he quoted in verse 4 the line God Himself had seen fit to use twice on Job [38:3; 40:7]. The question is expressive of the nature of the divine discourses. God took the witness stand in His own behalf and cross-examined Job who now records the final effect of this proceeding. Finally his often-requested prayer to come into the Lord’s presence has been answered – the result: withdrawal of his rash statements when he fanaticized about God’s failure to be just and loving. Through this ordeal Job had gained understanding of his Sovereign Lord. Whereas he once knew God only by hearing about Him, now Job knows God by seeing (or personally experiencing) Him. The verb translated I despise myself [6] could be rendered ‘I reject what I said.’ A major interpretative issue centers on the meaning of the second verb in verse 6, translated and repent. Job did not need to repent over sins that brought on his suffering since his suffering was not the result of his sin. One should not, however, assume that Job had nothing to be sorry for. His questioning of God’s justice, for which God chided him in 38:2, is enough to call forth a change of heart and mind. But the word for repent has a breadth of meaning that includes not only ‘to be sorry, repent’ but also ‘to console oneself’ or ‘be comforted.’ So it may be that Job was saying that because he had had this encounter with God [5] – since he has really seen God – he has been delivered of his fantasy about God. Job thus rejected (despised) what he had so recently said; for he now understood that God was his friend, not his enemy. So he was consoled and comforted though still suffering. Job has learned that man by himself cannot deduce the reason why anyone suffers. Still unknown to Job was the fact that his suffering had been used by God to vindicate God’s trust in him over against the accusations of the Accuser. So without anger toward him, God allowed Job to suffer in order to humiliate the Accuser and provide support to countless sufferers who would follow in Job’s footsteps. Once the purpose of the book had been fulfilled, Job’s suffering could not continue without God’s being capricious. We see here the heart of the difference between the suffering of the wicked as punishment and of the righteous to accomplish God’s higher purpose. The lavish restoration (twice as much as he had before [10]) is not based on Job’s righteousness but on God’s love for him as one who had suffered the loss of all things for God’s sake and for no other reason.” [Smick, pp. 1055-1056].

 

“If God is all powerful, then why does He allow suffering?

A common objection to religion is, ‘How can anybody believe in God in light of all of the suffering that we see and experience in this world?’ John Stuart Mill raised this classic objection against the Christian faith: ‘If God is omnipotent and allows all this suffering, then He is not benevolent, He is not a kind-hearted God, He is not loving. And if He’s loving to the whole world and allows all this suffering, then He’s certainly not omnipotent. And given the fact of evil, or the fact of suffering, we can never conclude that God is both omnipotent and benevolent.’ Keep in mind that from a biblical perspective, suffering is intrinsically related to the fallenness of this world. There was no suffering prior to sin. Scripture teaches that suffering in this world is part of the complex of God’s judgment on the world. Our understanding of God is rooted and grounded in the teaching of Scripture that He is the just Judge. The Judge of all of the earth always does right. The fact is, if there were no sin in the world, there would be no suffering. God allows suffering as part of His judgment, but He also uses it for our redemption – to shape our character and build up our faith.”  [Sproul, pp. 465-466].

 

“When we experience trials, how can we determine if they are the consequences of violating a scriptural principle, a test from the Lord, or an attack from Satan?

First of all, we need to recognize that any one of these possibilities exists when we enter tribulation, suffering, or trials of any sort. In fact, other things may be the cause of a trial we are called to endure. We may be the innocent victim of somebody else’s unrighteous behavior, and we might ask why God allows us to be the victim of someone else’s unkindness. Sometimes trials and tribulations come to us as a direct judgment of God. It can be part of the corrective wrath to His children, or the punitive wrath to those who are obstinate in their disobedience toward Him. Sometimes the Lord does send circumstances or people that will help us develop our spiritual muscles and character. It is not easy to discern between these causes. We need to begin by recognizing that God is sovereign over all tribulations. Whether it is a tribulation that follows as a consequence of my sin or God’s putting me to a test or my being the victim of another person or the object of Satan’s attack. God is sovereign over all of those things. In the midst of tribulation, instead of losing myself in trying to discern for sure what the cause is and trying to figure out why this thing is happening to me, it is important that I ask the deeper question, ‘How am I to respond to it?’ We can begin by searching our hearts to see if there are any wicked ways in us that could be legitimate reasons for God to be correcting us. We ought to rejoice that God does this because it is an indication of His love for us. The correction of the Lord is designed to lead us to repentance and to the full restoration of fellowship. When I enter into a trial or into some type of tribulation, I should be saying, ‘Lord, is there something that you are trying to say to me? Is there an area of my life that needs attention or cleaning up?’ Our normal posture of confession should be intensified in the midst of tribulation. It may not be an act of God’s chastisement, but He may be, in a sense, complimenting us by calling us to suffer for righteousness’ sake so that we can participate in the trials that were so much a part of Jesus’ ministry. We come before God and say, ‘I don’t know for sure why I am suffering. But God, I want to suffer honorably in a virtuous way, in a way that will show my loyalty to you.’ That is the important thing when these things happen.”  [Sproul, pp. 468-469].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Note the contrast between chapter 29 and chapter 30. In chapter 29, Job describes his former life whereas in chapter 30, Job describes his present life with the threefold use of But now. What twofold problem did Job have with God in the midst of his suffering?

 

2.         Describe Job’s final response to God in 42:1-6. What had Job learned through his ordeal of suffering? What is Job saying in verse 5? Can you make the same statement?

 

3.         Read Sproul’s answers to the two questions he is responding to. How should a believer deal with suffering in their life?

 

References:

Job, Peter Bloomfield, Evangelical Press.

Job, Elmer Smick, EBC, Zondervan.

Now, That’s a Good Question!, R. C. Sproul, Tyndale.

Expositor’s Bible : The Book of Job, Robert Watson, Kindle version. Loc. 4941-5002.