WHY DO PEOPLE SUFFER?

God's Word Reveals the Answer!

By Kenneth G. Parker

Why do we have trials and suffering?" Is it because: we sin and God punishes us, or is it because time and chance come to all people or is it because there is no rhyme or reason to life; or because suffering is supposed to teach us something that we need to learn? Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the “bottom falls out of our lives.” This can leave us baffled as many survivors of disasters undoubtedly are around the world today. The Book of Job gives great insight into the question of human suffering.

One writer in commenting on the Book of Job, stated: “It is unmatched in the writings of the old testament for it’s.... depth of feeling and the sensitivity with which the meaning of human suffering is explored". The book of Job shows us that God is always in control and there may be reasons for our calamities and suffering beyond anything we can comprehend.

Divisions of the Book of Job

 Chapters 1 & 2 of the book of Job give us a "behind the scenes" view of the reason for Job’s suffering. Here the thesis that nothing can be done on earth without having first been decreed by God is established!  God praised Job to Satan (2:3) and, at the last, to his friends (42:7). Job’s suffering was not punishment for sin. His own children and many faithful servants of Job died in the calamities that befell Job! God said Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil! The key to Job’s suffering seemed to be in Satan’s boast that he could destroy Job’s integrity and lead Job to curse God!

  The book divides easily into five parts. Chapters 1 & 2 are a prologue which sets the scene for the subsequent events. Chapters 3 through 31 record a dialogue between Job and his three friends. Chapters 32 through 37 record the speeches of Elihu. Chapters 38 through 42:6 record God’s speeches to Job and Chapter 42:7 to 17 comprise the epilogue.

Satan’s Role

 Satan is the major player in this book even though he is only mentioned in the first two chapters. Satan accuses humans of only being willing to obey God when they will get something out of it. The central drama is: the calamities that occurred left Job stripped of children, property, and personal belongings, left him with only a bitter, distraught, nagging wife and a very loathsome disease.  Consequently, in his anguish of undeserved, unexpected suffering, will Job continue to love and obey God? Satan seemed sure that God’s plan for human beings is not workable! Contrary to popular misconception, God declared Job as righteous and not self-righteous!

 God knew how Satan would react when he caused Satan to focus on Job's righteous obedience. Satan's initial attacks on Job's family and servants were physical and obviously supernatural. Satan did not succeed in destroying Job's faith and trust in God! In Chapter 2:3 God praised Job for maintaining his integrity and told Satan he was wrong! God said Job had obeyed God when there was nothing in it for him! This provoked Satan to accuse Job again! Satan next attacked Job spiritually. In chapter 2: 9-10 we see that Satan began his spiritual attack on Job by influencing Job’s wife to rail Job to curse God which, if successful would prove Satan right! We learn from Job’s wife’s outburst that it is Job's integrity that is on trial.

Friends?

 Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, the Temanite, Bildad, the Shuhite and Zophar, the Naamathite and a younger man named Elihu the Buzite came to console him and they showed respect for his suffering by maintaining silence for seven days and nights! This silence led Job to a bitter outburst. Job regretted being born, wished he’d been born dead and wondered why he should live under such appalling conditions. When people are grieving and suffering, what they say should not be taken seriously.

 Job chapters 3 through 37 record a discussion of Job's suffering. His three friends and Elihu offer Job trite answers to Job's pain, but they provided him no comfort. What they repeatedly said amounts to "contract faith,” that is “do good and be blessed; do evil and be punished” The truth is, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals and dynasties have prospered tremendously even though they have not always been honest and truthful!

 Job wanted to know: "why good people suffer?" Job and his friends thought God ought to enforce:” be good and prosper, or sin and suffer.” Job was in both mental and physical agony beyond anything imaginable. This is reflected in his opening words. Job's afflictions had begun to wear him down. Job could not determine who his enemy was so he assumed it was God!

Satan the powerful manipulator

 Satan continued in his attempts to provoke Job to sin. He used Job's friends to launch an attack on his integrity. A grieving person may unload grief or pain by lashing out at life in general. Job's friends did not understand this. Job’s friends came to console him and while Eliphaz began courteously, he soon implied that Job was suffering because he was guilty of something in spite of Job’s claim of innocence. In Job 4:12 through 21 we learn that a Spirit fed Eliphaz misinformation in an attack on Job's integrity! Job’s friends thought that Job's extreme suffering had to be an outward sign of serious, unconfessed, hidden sin and if Job would only stop being stubborn, confess and repent, he would be forgiven by God, all would be well and his fortunes would be restored. This is what today is called the "health and wealth gospel" which is based on the premise that calamity is the result of sin. However, the theory that “you must be doing something wrong if you are experiencing problems” is a misconception.


 Job did not know Satan was trying to provoke him to sin and prove God wrong! Job knew God is in control and attributed his unjust punishment to God! Job had enjoyed a close relationship with God and now felt deserted and attacked for no reason. Bildad, in Job 8:47 claimed Job’s children’s deaths were the result of sin when their conduct had been introduced to show how fastidious Job was in his submission to God! Bildad assumed Job was insincere in his desire for God. Job's friends had to learn not to judge another's relationship with God because he did not have all the facts!

Job’s initial conclusion

 Job thought he must have been tried and found guilty by God and was being punished accordingly. He knew how great and how just God is and felt God must have made a mistake! He wanted to know what he had been found guilty of! He was afraid to say too much for fear he would be punished further! But in Job Chapter 10:1 Job decided to throw caution to the wind and say what he thought. Job never gave up on God. He appealed to God for two things: One, that God withdraw his punishment; and two, that God talk to him and to show him what he had been found guilty of!


 Eliphaz, in Job 15:15 accused God of not trusting his servants. This was not true. God was showing great trust in Job unknown to them. God knew Job would not break under pressure. Job indicated that the most caring thing his friends had done for him was to sit in silence for seven days. Job felt betrayed and no longer able to make sense of life. He had faith in the love and justice of God, consequently he couldn’t reject God or curse him for causing his suffering but to admit that his suffering was deserved, Job would have to "find" some non-existent sin.

Job had great faith and vision. Job’s demand for a confrontation with God and an explanation for his sorrows were scandalous to his friends. Job had begun to understand that many wicked people prosper in life while all die irrespective of the life they have led. He desperately wanted to discuss his situation with God. In Chapter 31:35 Job called on God to account for his condition of suffering. His demand for an answer came from a natural human reaction to despair when there is no meaning that can be attached to suffering. The people who survive disasters often are in a similar situation – baffled by and at a loss to explain what happened! Job knew that only God could provide proper perspective on his situation. His friends ceased to argue with him because they thought he was self-righteous and mainly because they had nothing more to say.

Satan’s unwitting advocate

The young man Elihu began his discourse which unknown to him, was Satan's last attempt to undermine Job's integrity and lead him to curse God. We know Job’s three friends were wrong because Elihu said they were wrong! Elihu also attacked Job's integrity and accused him of rebellion against God! Elihu had an inflated opinion of himself (Job 36:4). He accused Job of preferring sin to suffering!


God responded to Job's demand for a confrontation but ignored his friends and said nothing about the reason for Job’s suffering. God gave Job no apology. He turned the tables on Job by demanding an explanation from Job about the wonders of the creation.  God’s message seemed to be, "if you don't even know how the physical creation works, don't complain about the spiritual one.” Job realized that his knowledge of God's work was flawed. God said, in effect, “My ways are so far above your ways that you cannot discern or judge the purposes that I am following. You just follow the way I have laid down for you and leave the situations you face in my hands!”

Job’s integrity upheld

Job acknowledged God’s sovereignty and repented of claiming to know more about God than he really did! Job learned that humans cannot second-guess God or question His motives! God rebuked Job’s friends, saying they did not speak what was right as Job had! This shows that Job’s attitude was right and that God makes allowances for our incomplete knowledge when our attitude is right!

God is love!

What can we learn from the book of Job? The common concept is that Job was self-righteous and was punished to bring him to repentance. That is not God’s view of Job either in the Book of Job or in the Book of Ezekiel 14:14 where God said, “though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God.”


God cannot do anything but love because God is love (1 John 4:8)! Therefore everything that happens in this world happens because God is working in love towards the ultimate repentance of all mankind!


A byproduct of Job’s suffering was his having developed a deeper relationship with his Creator and more a more complete understanding of the awesomeness of God. God acknowledged Job’s righteousness by requiring his friends to have Job pray for them! God then showed his love for Job by giving Job more than he had before!


All calamities in our world including the deaths and suffering from hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes are ordained by God for reasons beyond our understanding and will result in eternal life for all involved. God says not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his permission, Matthew 10:29. Ours is not to know the whys and wherefores but to worship God, to love others and to do all in our power to assist our fellow man in need.


Let’s continue in the sure knowledge that, no matter what situation arises, we have the absolute assurance that Jesus Christ is working things out for everyone’s betterment!