Many suggest the moral of the story of Job is that God is a mystery and we cannot possibly understand God as mortal human beings. I am not convinced that is the lesson to learn from reading Job’s encounter with undeserved suffering. God rejected Job’s friends’ assumption that bad things don’t happen to good people. People don’t get cancer because of sin. Those who claim natural disasters strike because of national sin fail to explain innocent lives that are lost.
God also rejected Job’s assumption that the wicked must be judged or the righteous rewarded immediately: “…Why should I not be impatient…Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days” (21:4, 24:1)? Job understandably contemplated if God really cared by not intervening sooner in his suffering. God defended Himself: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself”(40:8)? God doesn’t react to suffering, inevitable in a free world, as we do. Job’s questioning helped him to appreciate more God’s love and knowledge in running a free world.
I must admit that not all of suffering is explainable according to the freedom model. Natural disasters cannot be easily explained though surely human accumulated mismanagement of the earth over thousands of years has contributed to destruction by earthquakes, floods, and droughts. Drunk drivers kill innocent people but what about when a parent backs out of a garage and kills their child? If humans cannot fully understand one another, perhaps we cannot totally understand God. There are times when we have to trust that God loves us deeply and is by our side. We do know that God has not avoided senseless or undeserved suffering through His Son.
The truth is much of suffering results from personal evil, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by other. Evil choices make by cruel and lawless people result in a great deal of suffering. God’s alternative to control all circumstances is to negate or manipulate freedom. Human parents who respect freedom are not cruel parents. The good that can result from evil never justifies the evil actions of others, but was God’s risk in allowing freedom necessary to obtain the greatest good in relationships? Freedom is necessary to change as many people as possible of their own volition rather than just annihilate them. Not even God can force people to be unselfish.
Destroying freedom is to destroy true love and the good that results from free, moral decisions. God certainly allows suffering because He is capable of interfering, but God is not the cause of all of suffering. Understanding why God allows sufferings and is not unjust for doing so may help us to not feel alienated from God and know we have a Friend in the midst of our suffering:
- Most understand deserved suffering. Cheat on your partner and expect all hell to break loss. Provoke your children to wrath unnecessarily and don’t expect them to visit when older.
- Undeserved sufferings are a reality in a free world. Depending on God in such times enables us to not fall in love with what the world offers. I become more aware of my character flaws during suffering than prosperity, thus I benefit more when my prayers are not answered.
- Personal tragedies or undeserved insults can empower us to be more sensitive and serve others in similar situations. Miracles turned heads but Jesus’ suffering turned the hearts of billions of followers. Suffering is necessary if you are going to be of much use to others.
- Suffering prepares us for disappointments which are inevitable in a free world. Leaning on God in times of suffering allows us to gain wisdom for living in the world we do.