What’s the Point of Suffering?

Norbert Lieth

Job’s suffering provides a divine answer to the individual suffering of mankind. Why did the righteous Job have to suffer so much? Of an ostrich and God’s non-response…

First, Satan is the originator of suffering.

Second, God allows suffering for various reasons: as chastisement and for the glory of His name, or as a visual demonstration for the angelic world. He also permits it as evidence for Satan that there are still godly people, and He allows it as a testimony for other people. Whatever the reason may be, in the end it all makes sense.

Third, Job’s friends show us that mankind is unable to find any explanation for suffering.

Fourth, the fourth man (Elihu) indicates in his wisdom that God hasn’t given an explanation regarding His own actions; that He isn’t accountable to us: “Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters” (Job 33:13).

God is God, and not a person.
He is the Creator, we are the created.
We cannot control Him, although He controls us.
He has us, and all events, in His hand.
We never have Him in our hand.
He isn’t required to respond to us. However, we must respond to Him.
He isn’t accountable to us, but we certainly are to Him.
Whatever He determines is always divine, righteous, and good.
Everything serves a purpose determined by Him.

Fifth, Job wanted to argue with God and justify himself. God answered him: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it” (Job 40:2). Job later confesses, “therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (Job 42:3b).

Sixth, God Himself answers Job only indirectly, referencing nature: Where were you when I established the earth? Have you commanded the morning in as long as you’ve lived? Have you ever reached the source of the sea? Who makes the rain, the snow, the ice, the frost? What is the way to the dwelling place of light? Do you fasten the chains of the Pleiades? (HCSB) Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you display the images of the zodiac? (cf. Job 38:4, 12, 16, 26, 22, 29, 19, 31). In other words: If you have to answer no to all of that, how will you find an answer to suffering?

The Lord then refers to the creation of the animals (Job 39). Without wasting even one syllable on Job’s suffering, He tells of ibex, deer, wild donkeys and oxen, of horses and vultures, and the ostrich. Let’s just imagine: neither Job nor his friends, nor any other person, can explain suffering. They’re desperate and looking for an answer. Job argues with God, and finally He answers. And how does He answer? He talks about an ostrich! The ostrich flutters its wings, but it cannot seem to fly. She leaves her eggs defenseless on the ground; she treats her children harshly. She has little intellect, but when she whips herself upward, she laughs at the horse and its rider. Why? Because she is as fast as a muscular horse, namely 70 km/h (about 43 mph). This funny bird is truly a puzzle (cf. Job 39:13-18).

And that’s supposed to be an answer to suffering? At most, it’s a bit of a distraction, considering why this bird is the way it is. But suddenly, one discovers that there are dimensions behind it more profound than the secrets of creation, but God alone (and not man) has perfect insight. For us, everything is unfathomable and we are looking for an answer, and suddenly we have a whole book by way of an answer!

Then the Lord speaks of a leviathan (dinosaur? dragon?) and his sinister power. Of it, He says, “None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?” (Job 41:10). That too is an answer. God, in His greatness, isn’t accountable to us for the things He allows, which are too high for us, which we don’t understand.

Seventh, the angels, called “sons of God” in the book of Job, take part in how humans fare. The angels have insight into our world; we are a testimony to them, a drama (1 Cor 4:9; 11:10; Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 5:21). This alone can be a reason for suffering to be permitted, because the entirety of events in our world time and with regard to Israel serves the angels in their worship of God. This was already the case with creation (Job 38:7), and will be so again at the end of the age (Rev 4:9; 16:5; 19:1, 3-4, 6).

Eighth, the end of the book of Job shows us that none of what God permits is ever arbitrary or tyrannical. It always serves a specific purpose, and shows us that God isn’t callous and apathetic, but, on the contrary, full of compassion and mercy: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (Jam 5:11 NIV).

In the end, Job was repaid double all his goods and lived for another 140 years. This makes spiritual sense: the invoice is tallied at the end, and anyone who has steadfastly persevered and overcome will receive wages. It also shows that suffering, however difficult it may be and however long it may last, is always finite. The day is coming when it will end.

News from Israel - 07/2019

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