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How can a good God allow an innocent person to suffer?

Once upon a time a young child was stricken with cancer. The doctors tried everything to cure her cancer, but after suffering several years through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, the young child died. Many people hear that and ask, “Where is God? Why does God allow that to happen? How can a good God allow innocent people to suffer?” These questions are not new, humans have been trying to understand suffering for thousands of years. The question of suffering is so important, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to suffering.

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
This episode is part of a series on the book of Job called “Why do people suffer?” In this episode, we are going to answer the question, How can a good God allow an innocent person to suffer? Today’s episode will focus on chapter eight, but before we go there, let’s review the beginning of Job’s story.

First we are told Job was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. Then we’re told Satan destroyed all of Job’s possessions and afflicted him with boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Next, Job’s three friends visited Job to sympathize with him and comfort him. Job told his friends he was in so much agony he wanted to die, because he saw no point in living if he was going to suffer the way he was suffering. Eliphaz told Job he was suffering because of sin and that he should repent and then things would be okay. Job insisted he was suffering because God was against him for some unknown reason. And that brings us to today’s passage in which Bildad spoke.

Bildad basically repeated Eliphaz’s belief that Job should repent and then everything would be okay.

Job 8:1 ¶ Then Bildad the Shuhite answered,

Job 8:2 “How long will you[Job] say these things,

And the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?

First, understand that Bildad was talking to Job. Second, in order to understand Bildad, it helps to understand what he meant by “these things”. Bildad was referring to these two speeches. In the first speech Job said,

Job 3: 3 Let the day perish on which I was to be born,

Job 3:10 because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb.

Job 3:11 Why did I not die at birth?

Job 3:20 Why is light given to him who suffers?

  • The Suicide of American ChristianityThe Suicide of American Christianity
This is Hebrew poetry. There was a lot of repetition in Hebrew poetry, which is why his entire speech can be summarized in just a few statements. In the second speech Job said,

“God is against me.

My friends are not helpful.

My life is pointless.

Why doesn’t God leave me alone?”

Notice Job blamed God. Job insisted his suffering was unjust and undeserved. This belief is what Bildad was responding to when he said, “How long will you[Job] say these things?” Bildad continued.

Job 8:3 “Does God pervert justice?

Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?

Notice this question: Does God pervert justice? Bildad meant this as a rhetorical question. Bildad’s point was that obviously God does not pervert justice; therefore, people don’t suffer unless they deserve it. Behind this statement is a belief that a just God would not allow an innocent person to suffer. We will examine this belief later, but for now let’s read the rest of the passage.

Job 8:4 “If your[Job’s] sons sinned against Him[God],

Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.

In other words, your sons died because they sinned.

Job 8:5 “If you[Job] would seek God

And implore the compassion of the Almighty,

Job 8:6 If you[Job] are pure and upright,

Surely now He[God] would rouse Himself for you

And restore your righteous estate.

Notice the “if”. Notice the benefit that would accrue to Job. If Job would seek God, then God would restore Job. The rest of Bildad’s speech repeated and reinforced this idea.

Job 8:7 “Though your[Job’s] beginning was insignificant,

Yet your end will increase greatly.

Job 8:8 ¶ “Please inquire of past generations,

And consider the things searched out by their fathers.

Job 8:9 “For we are only of yesterday and know nothing,

Because our days on earth are as a shadow.

Job 8:10 “Will they[the past generations] not teach you[Job] and tell you,

And bring forth words from their minds?

Job 8:11 ¶ “Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh?

Can the rushes grow without water?

Job 8:12 “While it[the rush] is still green and not cut down,

Yet it withers before any other plant.

Bildad pointed out that papyrus and rushes are fragile plants. Without water they wither very quickly.

Job 8:13 “So are the paths of all who forget God;

And the hope of the godless will perish,

Job 8:14 Whose confidence is fragile,

And whose trust a spider’s web.

Notice the reference to the godless. Bildad said the godless are as fragile as papyrus. He said the godless are not confident, and they trust in things as fragile as spider’s webs.

Job 8:15 “He[The godless] trusts in his house, but it does not stand;

He holds fast to it, but it does not endure.

Job 8:16 “He[The godless] thrives before the sun,

And his shoots spread out over his garden.

Job 8:17 “His[The godless’] roots wrap around a rock pile,

He grasps a house of stones.

The problem with roots wrapping around a rock pile is rocks do not provide any nourishment. Plants that wrap their roots around rocks will wither.

Job 8:18 “If he[the godless] is removed from his place,

Then it[his place] will deny him, saying, ‘I never saw you.’

Job 8:19 “Behold, this is the joy of His[the godless’] way;

And out of the dust others will spring.

The pronoun “this” refers to the futility mentioned in the previous verses. In other words the most a godless man can hope for is to have his own place deny him.

Job 8:20 “Lo, God will not reject a man of integrity,

Nor will He support the evildoers.

Job 8:21 “He[God] will yet fill your[Job’s] mouth with laughter

And your lips with shouting.

Job 8:22 “Those who hate you[Job] will be clothed with shame,

And the tent of the wicked will be no longer.”

And that is the end of Bildad’s speech. Let’s summarize Bildad’s speech. Bildad said,

God is just.

Job’s sons died because they were sinners.

The godless do not prosper.

If Job repents, then he will prosper.

I’ve said this in previous episodes, but let me say it again. Job was not suffering because of sin. The first two chapters of Job make it clear Job was suffering because he was a casualty of a spiritual battle between God and Satan. Job and Bildad did not know about this spiritual battle, but the battle did take place.

Let’s go back to this statement about God’s justice.

Job 8:3 “Does God pervert justice?

Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?

This was a rhetorical question, and the answer was “No, God does not pervert justice.” Behind this question was a belief that God would not allow an innocent person to suffer. How do we respond to this? In Job’s case, he was innocent and yet he was suffering. How can a good God allow an innocent person to suffer? Spiritual warfare is not always the answer. In Job’s case it was the answer, and yet we can still ask why God allows innocent people to suffer during war.

The answer is free will. Suffering comes along with a free will. If God did not allow innocent people to suffer, then humans would not have a free will. Let’s look at some examples. Humans have the freedom to help people, but that also means we have the freedom to harm people. When humans harm other humans, then someone is suffering. If God prevents us from harming other people, then we don’t have a free will and we’re not able to choose to help people.Think about an alcoholic. Humans have the freedom to choose to abuse alcohol, but innocent family members suffer when someone chooses to abuse alcohol. If God prevented the suffering, then people would not have the free will to choose virtue over sin. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave them the freedom to obey or disobey Him. They disobeyed with the result that sin and disease entered the world. Sin and disease lead to suffering. If God did not allow suffering, then we wouldn’t have the free will to choose obedience over disobedience.

So how can a good God allow an innocent person to suffer? Suffering comes along with a free will. If God did not allow suffering, then humans would not have a free will.

 

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”

 

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