In my quiet time lately, I’ve been reading through the book of Job. When was the last time you read this book? It is a pretty long book (forty-two chapters!), but it’s well worth the read. Job, a righteous man, asks perennial questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God in the midst of undeserved suffering? Those questions are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago, when the book of Job was written.
Many people in today’s world, especially young people, question the existence or fairness of a God who would allow terrible things to happen to decent people. Even the story of Job can be offensive, since the whole of the book shows God allowing Job to endure the loss of his health, wealth, security, and children – but not his nagging wife! – for no good reason. How could a just and loving God allow senseless suffering?
What amazes me about Job’s story is how he resists the urge to accept trite answers to his questions. Job’s three friends try to console him, to reason with him, to explain why Job has suffered so much. (Their constant belief, by the way, is that Job clearly must have sinned somehow, and that sin is the cause of his losses. But Job knows better, and so do we as readers!) But Job never accepts the “easy” explanation for his situation.
That is a crucial component of the story for people asking the same questions today. Too often, Christians attempt to provide quick and easy answers to life’s biggest questions: Why did this terrible, nationally-televised tragedy take place? It’s because of God’s judgment for sin. Why did my friend, my cousin, or my girlfriend lose her job? Because she didn’t have enough faith in God when things were tense. Why does the world seem stacked against me? Don’t worry, God will provide a way through. Everything happens for a reason.
Sufferers today often agree with Job when he rejects his friends’ explanations, well-intentioned though they were. For Job, a simple answer was never enough – the “why” questions still nagged at him, chapter after chapter. And yet his faith in God never wavered. He knew that God was just and righteous, and he never blamed God for being unfair. In fact, even though he did not know why God allowed his suffering, he knew that God’s justice would shine through in the end:
Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:23-27, NIV)
Present-day sufferers, take heart: God is still God, and our current struggles do not disprove his love or his compassion – or the truth of his redemption. There may not be any quick and easy answers to our difficult questions, but God promises to walk with us through our difficult times. In the end, as Job discovered, God is still there. And perhaps that’s the whole point.