This morning, I had an interesting encounter with one of my partners concerning why God allows suffering. This universal question is not an easy one to address. But I will admit that my ministry partner was definitely struggling with this issue this morning. And my responses to this individual plight certainly did not help at the time.
So, after my discussion with this person, I was prompted to further investigate this question from the scripture for clarity, which led me to the Book of Job. In my writings, I have addressed this topic before. But through this study, I gained more insight and revelation, which I was able to later share with my ministry partner that I previously had this discussion with – which did bring her some comfort.
The complexity and complication behinD god
As I seat here and complicate the discussion I just had, one thing I learned in my walk with Christ is that he is complex and complicated.
Complex means hard to separate, analyze, or solve. Another way of describing this is that he is incomprehensible. Complicated means consisting of intricating parts that are difficult to analyze, understand or explain.
So, here lies the problem from our discussion this morning. Many of us truly believe we can explain God – His ways, His reasoning, and why He does or does not do a thing. We believe we can explain God – although God’s Word shows that He is multifaceted, complex, and complicated. Job had this same complex about God. He too thought He understood all there is to know about God. But we can gain some insight through his circumstances in the Book of Job. That he and his friends did not understand God as well as they thought they did. And Satan truly underestimated God and how and why God does the things He does. So, let’s gain some insight and maybe revelation concerning why Godly people suffer through the conversation Job had with his three friends.
Now, it is quite natural to start with Job chapters one and two where Satan challenges God concerning the faith and fate of Job. But for the purpose of this discussion, that is not the best place to start. I think it is best to start where Job’s three friends come into the picture and focus our attention on the words of Job’s fourth friend who will provide us some insight concerning human suffering and why we sometimes we do not get the response we expect from God.
Job’s Health declines
The first thing we want to point out about the Book of Job is its theme. It not only speaks of the sovereignty of God. But throughout the book, it focuses on the suffering of Godly people – particularly in Job’s case.
In Job chapter 2, we see that his health begins to deteriorate. At Job chapter 2, verse 7 says
As a result, his wife despitefully responded to Job.
The question that Job’s wife proposed is important in analyzing the universal question as to why the righteous (Godly people) suffer. Job’s three companions as well as his fourth friend will provide us with some insight.
Job’s three friends
Just like any loving friend who hears of a friend’s dying situation, Job’s three companions come to the aid of Job as soon as they hear about it. In Job chapter 2, verse 11, says that Eliphaz the Temanite, Bilad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite came from his own place to see Job, in order to mourn and comfort him.
When they arrived, they all did not recognize Job. So, for the first 7 days and nights, they did not speak a word because of Job’s great grief (Job 2:13).
Eventually, each friend will speak concerning Job’s plight and when they did this is what they said.
Eliphaz: proclaimed that Job was suffering due to some sin of his own that Job committed. We see this in chapter 4, verse 8 when he says to Job
Eliphaz believed that those who have sinned in some way is deserving to be punished. And this is what Job was experiencing.
Bildad: further adds that not only has Job sinned, but he needs to repeat from whatever sin he has committed. He said
This was followed by the thoughts of Zaphar who continues by saying.
Zaphar: not only did Job sin and needs to repent. But he is getting what he deserves.
All three of Job’s friends drew the same conclusion concerning Job’s predicament. Job’s suffering is directly linked to his sin, which is deserving of punishment. Yet, through it all, Job maintained his innocence. (See Job chapters 12 and 16).
At some point, a fourth friend shows up in the mix of their conversation – Elihu. Elihu takes a different approach from Job’s three friends. He is conflicted by what Job’s three friends have concluded as well as Job’s response to their assumptions. Elihu strongly believes that Job’s three friends provided him with no real answer to his suffering and yet they condemned Job any way (Job 32:3). This in itself is hypocrisy.
At the same time, Elihu draws the same conclusion about Job’s perspective about his situation. Elihu declared that Job was righteous in his own eyes. While at the same time, Job was attempting to justify himself rather than God (See Job chapter 32, verses 1 and 2).
Initially, Elihu avoids offering his own opinion concerning Job’s situation. Stating – “… I dared not declare my opinion to you” (Job 32:6). Instead, Elihu fully acknowledges that it is only God who can give understanding to Job’s situation.
And then he adds, “great men are not always wise. Nor do the aged always understand justice” (Job 32:9). Elihu continues in chapter 33 by stating, “… God is greater than man.” (verse 12). Therefore, God is not required to give an accounting of any His words, along with His actions or the lack thereof (Job 33:13). Elihu acknowledges that in different circumstances God may speak one way than another in a different set of circumstances. Either way, man does not always perceive it (Job 33:14).
The key thing Elihu wanted Job and his companion to understand were that God will never act wickedly nor pervert justice (Job 34:13). Then Elihu asked this timely question at Job 34:17 and 35:2.
He goes on and declares that God will not listen to empty talk, nor will the Almighty regard it (Job 35:13).
Before God interjects, Elihu continues by saying that God is righteous (Job 36:3). Perfect in knowledge (Job 36:4). He is might in strength of understanding (Job 36:5). That God is exalted by His power (Job 36:22). He acknowledges that God is great and yet man does not know Him (Job 36:26). He declares that God does great things that we as humans cannot comprehend (Job 37:5). That God causes things to happen whether it is for the purpose to correct, or to show His mercy (Job 37:13). He goes on and says that God is excellent in power, in judgment and abundant in justice and He does not oppress (Job 37:23). Then he adds that God does not show any partiality to any who are wise of heart (Job 37:24).
god'S response to job
Then in chapters 38 through 41, God responds to Job’s plight by questioning Job to ask. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4)? Tell me if you have understanding? Who determines its measurements? Surely you know (Job 38:5).
The point behind God questioning Job is not that God believe Job had or knew the answers. For Job did not. The point God was making to Job was that God is sovereign. Therefore, man cannot understand His workings by means of rational thinking alone. God is sovereign in that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere. Therefore, His decisions, and the way He chooses to do things is final and do not need the confirmation or understanding of man’s logic. (Compare to Job 42:2; Daniel 4:17).
What Job needed to understand above all things is that God’s intention toward him was good. What God allowed concerning his life was not for the purpose to harm him. Instead, it served to solidify Job’s faith. To show Job and his companion that God was Job’s advocate and not his adversary. Through his circumstances, Job declared his innocence and questioned God’s justice. When in turn he should have waited for God to work out his situation and exercised patience and humility. Job’s experience came about through circumstances beyond his control. And yet his perseverance and endurance resulted in Job receiving the full unfolding of God’s goodness – that is the complete restoration of his situation.
We do not always know or understand why we suffer – like in the case of Job. Some things about human suffering cannot be explained without destroying the very purpose for which it was designed for. But in the case of Job. It was through his suffering that God was able to bring Job to the end of himself- his self-righteousness, self-vindication, and self-wisdom. So, that Job can truly find God – God's pure essence.
So Let’s wrap this up by concluding
Elihu, Job’s fourth friend, demonstrated the previous paragraph when he said a person’s understanding is not due to age or status in life but rather is a result of the operation of the Spirit of God (Job 32:8).
God summarizes it this way. Understand that honest struggle on faith’s journey is more honoring to God than religious-sounding talk or mere religious observance (Job 43:7-8).
As a result, Job closes by declaring I know you can do everything. Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand (Job 42:3).
He continues in verses 5 and 6.
Then in verse 10 of Job chapter 42, Job prays for his three companions who misunderstood what God was allowing to take place in his situation.
The key point we need to walk away with is this.
God's word is for the edification, exhortation, and consolation; for teaching, reproving, correcting, and training so that every Christian is equipped for the work of service, to build up the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3; 2 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 4:12).