Why would a good and loving God allow unjust suffering?

We’ve all witnessed, whether through our own lives, or through witnessing events in the world around us and throughout history, the autocracies of suffering present in our world today.  Countless innocent people suffer at the hands of the evil on a daily basis.  The horrific and evil events of this world, have caused most of us at one time or another, to question how their could be a good and loving creator of the universe and whom would allow the tragedies of evil we all witness to varying degrees on a daily basis.

The Biblical book of Job wrestles with this very premise, which, is perhaps  the most common reason that people reject faith in a good and loving God: the presence of unjust suffering.

Here’s a brief summary of the story of Job:

There is a righteous man named Job who was showered with blessings (a large family, riches, and possessions). He’s described as “blameless and upright one that feared God and turns from evil” (Job 1:1).

God holds a meeting up in heavenly courtroom with the angels, and an angel named “the Satan” (which means ‘the accuser’) insists that Job only loved God because he has protected him from all suffering and showered him with blessings (Job 1:10).  He proclaims that if God were to allow Job to suffer and remove his blessings, that he would curse God to his face (Job 1:11).

In other words Satan believed that Job didn’t love God but just worshiped God so that he would protect him and bless him, and that he would cease worshiping God if he lost these things.  God accepted Satan’s challenge and allowed Satan (through the means of natural disaster and evil people) to kill Job’s children, destroy his home and possessions and inflict him with a terrible sickness.

Some of Job’s friends come to comfort him (well for a short time), and then proceed to engage Job in a theological debate over why he is suffering (as a side note the book of Job also serves as an example of how not to treat your friends when they are suffering!).

Job and his friends are unaware of the exchange between God and Satan and what was going on behind the scenes in the heavenly realms.  The majority of the book is a back and forth dialogue between Job and his friends written in the format of epic poetry.

Jobs friends primarily view God and the world through the lens of ‘fairness’ and view suffering primarily as ‘punishment.’  Since they believe God to be a fair, they logically conclude that Job’s suffering indicates he has sinned and God is thus punishing him.

They urge Job to repent and confess his hidden sin to God.

Job, however, insists that he is innocent.

Although at the start Job gives a pious response to God, saying “the Lord gives the Lord takes away blessed be his name” (Job 1:21), as the story progresses he becomes increasingly angry with God, and likens God to a harsh father of whom their children could never live up to their father’s expectations and one and one who is just waiting to see his children fail so he can punish them (Job 7:20).  By the end, Job actually accuses God of being unjust (Job 34:5).

Job’s friends are unable to actually take an honest assessment of reality because they hold to there assumed views of God despite the glaring contradictions scene in reality.  For example one of Job’s friends says probably the most outlandish statements ever made asking Job “who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 3:7).  

Job on the other hand, actually tries to wrestle with the difficulties of reality, realizing the obvious fact that the innocent suffer all the time, and instead insists on being able to meet with God and “argue his case with God himself” (Job 13:3).

At the end of the story Job eventually gets his request granted…well kind of.

God meets with Job, and answers him “out of the whirlwind” and tells him to “dress for action like a man” (Job 42:3), instructing Job that rather than Job getting to question God and God providing answers for Job, as Job was wishing for, it would be God questioning Job and asking Job to provide answers.

God proceeds to go through various acts of creation and asks Job to explain to Him how it all works.

After encountering God for himself and now not just hearing about God through his ears but seeing him with his eyes (Job 42:5), Job is humbled, and realizes his audacity to question God’s goodness and “repents in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6),  saying that now “he knows that God can do all things no purpose of God can be thwarted” (Job 42:2) and that “he spoke of things that he did not understand and things that were to wonderful for him to know” (Job 42:3).

At the end of the story, Satan (the accuser) was proved wrong and God was proved just for declaring Job as righteous, because by the end Job trusted in God’s goodness and love despite his suffering and loss of possessions.

Satan accused Job’s love for God to be based purely on receiving God’s stuff blessings and protection instead of God and thus making him suffer and lose those blessings would lead Job to abandon God. However, on the contrary, the suffering of Job caused him to cry out to God and allowed him to see God for who he really was.

If we understand the central message of Christianity, this should not surprise us that God chooses suffering as a means in which he reveals himself to us.

Is is not  through the most tragic and unjust suffering this world has every experienced, the crucifixion of the truly innocent one, Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, the way in which God has revealed his sacrificial love most clearly to us?.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:10)

After Job’s encounter, with God, Job was then restored with more stuff than he he even had in the first place and now most assuredly it was more enjoyable because he was now able to receive his greatest gift of all: God himself.

And the later blessings given to Job serve to show us the promises of God made for all of us who choose by faith to trust him. For example consider the words of Jesus regarding those who suffer loss for following him:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Mathew 19:29)

This test of Job is really a test all of us must face in life:

Will we the accuser’s accusations prove right and will we accuse God of being unjust and curse God to his face? Or, will trust in God’s loving kindness in the midst of suffering and gaze our eyes upon the beauty of the cross to be brought to repent in dust and ashes for out audacious claims that God could ever be anything but good and loving and hold on to the hope he’s given us of future redemption?

Now many will read the story of Job and to try and, a bit like Job’s friends, try and escape facing the reality that God’s sovereign hand is ultimately involved in the suffering of this world, they will point out that it wasn’t actually God that caused the suffering, it was Satan and the Chaldean’s (Chaldean’s is another name for Babylonians, and are the Biblical prototype for wicked kingdom’s of sinful humanity) that causes the suffering.  Therefore, they conclude, this story shows us that we shouldn’t blame God for bad things we should know they are the result of Satan and sinful people.

In one sense this is true. God is most certainly not the source of evil, and apart from Satan and sinful humanity, there would be no suffering in this world.

On the other hand, however, it is actually quite false, and is giving Satan and people way too much credit.  God not only permitted Satan to attack Job, but was so bold as to suggest it to Satan! (Job 1:8)

Now, if we view suffering as something inheritable evil (i.e. primarily the work of Satan and people) and primarily in terms of ‘fairness’ or ‘punishment’, we will end up taking one of two views: we will either be like Jobs friends and see all who suffer as having done something bad to earn their suffering and receiving the just punishment for their sin, and we will become self-righteous condemning jerks, or, we will be like Job before his encounter with God and become bitter towards God attacking his character seeing him as unfair, cruel, or perhaps even weak (for example, there is a common saying that God is either powerful enough to stop suffering and evil or is good enough, but not powerful enough to do so).

However, if we allow for the possibility of an entirely different reason for suffering than viewing it as divine punishment, one perhaps, “beyond our understanding” and “too wonderful for us to fully comprehend”, and give at least a mustard seed of faith to the fact that it may be in actuality the divine blessings of a loving father who can see a little bit more than our toddler minds can comprehend at the moment, he will begin opening our eyes to see the deep revelation of his love and goodness.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. (Habakkuk 1:5)

There is a song written by Laura Story called: “Blessings” that beautifully illustrated this reality.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All along You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

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