By Henry M. Morris
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).
How often this unanswerable question bursts from the lips of a grief-stricken parent, or an innocent accident victim, or most anyone hurting in some way for some unknown reason. In fact, such problems and unexplainable sufferings are often used as an excuse for rejecting God altogether. “How could a loving God permit bad things to happen to good people?” That was actually the sort of reason given by Charles Darwin himself for turning away from Christianity and the God of the Bible early in his adult life. No doubt every reader of these lines (including their author) has had difficult experiences for which he or she could find no obvious answer to the “Why?” question.
Even the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly sinless throughout His life, yet suffering and dying a terrible death on the cross, cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We now understand that Christ was dying for our sins, but why does God so often leave our own questions unanswered?
As a matter-of-fact, one of the longest books of the Bible, and probably its oldest, devotes all of its 42 chapters to this very question. The patriarch Job was said by God Himself to be “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). Yet he suffered more than just about anyone who ever lived, and could not understand why, in spite of repeatedly calling on God for an answer.
It is true, of course, that all people – good and bad alike – live in a wonderful world that has come under God’s curse because of human sin. Every person experiences much that is good in God’s creation, but also much that is not good. “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).Yet, in Job’s case (and often in ours as well), his sufferings were more than could be explained by the ordinary vicissitudes of life. In one day, all his great wealth and possessions, and even his ten grown sons and daughters, were taken from him in violent catastrophes. On another day soon afterwards, his health was also taken away and he was stricken with a painful and hideous disease. His friends and even his wife finally forsook him, and the high esteem in which he had been held by everyone in the community soon turned to loathing and ostracism.
What he did not know, of course, and could not be told at the time, was that God was permitting Satan to make a scientific falsification test on Job’s faith in God. The old Serpent who had led to Adam’s fall had accused Job of serving God solely because of God’s blessings, so God allowed him to make this test.
But Job persisted in his faith in spite of everything, and finally Satan seemed to depart for a season. Behind the scenes, however, he was continuing his attack, using one of his fallen angels (note Job 4:12-21) to deceive three old friends of Job into demeaning his character, accusing Job of such sin and hypocrisy as to incur God’s wrath and judgment.
Job acknowledged more than once that he, like all men, was sinful by nature but kept insisting that he was unaware of any specific acts of sin for which he was being punished. This conflict is recorded in chapters 3 through 31 of the Book of Job. In spite of all his suffering, capped by the spiritual torment inflicted by his erstwhile friends, Job continued to have faith in God, saying: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). He wanted to present his case to God, but could not seem to reach Him, somehow yearning for “any daysman [that is ‘mediator’] between us, that might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:33).
Eventually the three friends gave up and quit arguing. But Satan had one more stratagem. A young religionist named Elihu had been listening to all the arguments, waiting for an opportunity to inject his own opinion into the debate. He did have considerable knowledge of spiritual matters, but was also quite arrogant and proud. He not only proceeded to claim that he was speaking as a “spirit” within him constrained him, but also that he was the very “daysman” who could be the needed mediator between Job and God. “The spirit within me constrains me,” he said, and also: “Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead” (Job 32:18; 33:6).
But that “spirit” could not have been God’s Spirit, for he merely led Elihu to repeat and embellish the false charges that Job’s three friends had been lodging against Job, and making it even worse by claiming that he was inspired by God in doing so. The spirit in him was apparently a “lying spirit” also, like the one who had influenced Eliphaz (Job 4:2-21), for he accused Job of saying and doing several wicked things which Job had not said or done. (Note Job 34:7-8; 35:2-3; etc.)
Elihu’s harangue continued through six chapters (32-37), and Job remained silent. He knew Elihu’s charges were false, but Elihu was claiming to be speaking for God, and Job did not know how to answer.
God did know how to answer, however, finally breaking His long silence. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) God said. He obviously was not addressing Job, whom He knew very well, for it was Elihu, not Job, who had been sermonizing for so long. That put-down was His only response to Elihu, but now He “answered Job” (Job 38:1) in a most remarkable four-chapter monologue, after which He acknowledged that all Job had said about his own freedom from sin had been “right” and that the charges of his friends had all been wrong (Job 42:7).
But what did He say about why Job had been suffering so severely? Almost with astonishment, we find that He said nothing at all! He did not mention either Job’s suffering or suffering in general, never responding to Job’s repeated questioning, nor did He deal in any way with the broad issue of why bad things happen to good people.
Instead, the entire four-chapter monologue was about the wonders and intricacies of creation – His unique special creation of all things in the beginning and His providential preservation of His creation since that time. God did this in the form of about 77 scientific questions about creation which Job (and the others) evidently should have been able to answer, but could not.
But we should realize that this exposition of the vital importance of creation was His answer! That is, the real solution to the problem of suffering – whether that of individuals or society in general (wars, racism, poverty, etc.) – is renewed recognition of God as Creator of the world and its inhabitants, and that He has an eternal purpose for His creation far transcending our own immediate problems. He has the right to do what He will with His own, especially since He has also become the Redeemer and Savior of all who believe Him. He has also promised that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Job did not have to understand, but simply to trust God, and he had continued to do that, just as God knew he would. God did rebuke Job, however, not because of any sins, but because of his lack of knowledge and concern about God’s creation. God had given Adam and his descendants dominion over His creation as His stewards, but even Job (as godly as he was) had been more concerned about his own works of righteousness than about God’s purposes in creation. Thus one vital way to view our own personal problems today is to place them in the perspective of God’s creative purposes for us in eternity.
As the Apostle Peter said (and he also had been severely tested by Satan – note Luke 22:31-32): “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
We need also to keep in mind God’s immediate reason for allowing Job to be so severely tested by the devil. Not only was the reality of Job’s saving faith being tested, for Job’s sake, but it was also being demonstrated as real and effective to Satan and to all the angelic sons of God, both those who were faithful to the Creator and those who had followed Satan in his rebellion. Some of these had even been aiding Satan in trying to seduce Job away from his faith in the goodness and justice of the Creator.
Perhaps, therefore, there are times in our lives when God also allows the devil to test the reality of our own faith, as he did that of Job and Peter. Satan is, after all, “that old serpent, . . . which deceives the whole world: . . . the accuser of our brethren . . . which accused them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:9-10).
In fact, it was the Apostle Paul (who had himself gone through tremendous trials all during his ministry) who said that he was seeking “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:9-10).
With all this in mind, when God allows us to suffer some great sorrow or hardship, and we see no immediate reason for it, let us simply continue to trust Him, as Job did, putting it into the context of His creating us for some divine creative purpose which we shall someday “know even as also (we are) known” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and so that “the trial of (your) faith, . . . though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).