If God is good and loving, why does he allow suffering in the world? If God is omnipresent and all-knowing, why does it feel like He’s far from me or that He is quiet? If God is almighty and powerful, why does he not heal all those who are infected with COVID-19? If you have struggled with questions like these, you are not alone.
We continue our walk through the Bible and today we look at disease and pain in the book of Job. It is not one of the easiest books to read, not simply just because it is extremely sombre, but also because of its complex writing. Most of it is poetry and wisdom literature, sandwiched between historical narrative at the beginning and end of the book. We are not entirely sure of where it fits into the timeline of the Bible or who authored it, and in that way, it helps us to simply draw into Job’s world and emotions, without any context, safe for it being in the Old Testament.
Chapter one immediately introduces us to Job: a rich man in the land of Uz, who “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1 – ESV). He had seven sons, three daughters and an incredible amount of cattle and servants (1:2-3).
In verse six the location shifts to Heaven where God is meeting with the “sons of God”. He is speaking about his servant, Job, who is upright and God-fearing. The Satan is also amongst those assembled. His title can be translated to mean “the Adversary” or “the Accuser” and that is exactly what he does: “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9) The Accuser thought that the only reason why Job feared God was because of his prosperity; take that away and Job will fear the Lord no more. God answered in the following way: “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (1:12). Only spare Job’s life.
Almost instantly, Job’s world came crashing down. In verses 13-17 we read of messenger upon messenger who comes to bear terrible news: all of his cattle have been taken, most of his servants have been killed, and all of his children died when the roof collapsed on them. To make matters worse, Job is struck “with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). We are uncertain of the exact disease inflicted, but it sounds an awful lot like the leprosy of Leviticus.
While Job is scraping his wounds in what we would call a rubbish yard today, his wife says that he should simply curse God and die, to which Job responds: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). That is a scary thought indeed…although we know that God is not the author of evil.
News of the sorrow that had befallen Job has spread, and three of his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) decide to visit him to offer their wisdom and condolences (2:11). When they arrive, they almost don’t recognise Job, and are so saddened that the next seven days and nights are spent in complete and utter silence. Imagine that for a moment. So much despair and misery, that nothing could be said. No words could comfort.
On the 8th day, Job breaks the silence and curses the day he was born (3:1). He feels that death would have been more palatable than the pain he is in. Chapters 4 to 37 consist of back and forth conversation between Job and his friends on why this misery had befallen him. At first, it might seem like his friends were very wise, but a closer look would reveal that they were very much like the ‘prosperity-gospel’ preachers of today – those who trust and believe in God, will always prosper, be in good health and have many material blessings. Obviously, that means that Job is a wicked man and that God is punishing him through this calamity. Job disagrees with them – sometimes the wicked prospers and the God-fearing are struck with suffering. And so it goes on.
After their infinite debating, Job grows weary and demands that God answer him directly: “Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! (31:35)” Does God tell him about his conversation with Satan? Does God tell him that he allowed the Accuser to do this to him? No. But God answers him nonetheless.
From chapter 38-39 God explains to Job in beautiful poetry the immense detail of what happens in his universe:
“What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” 38:24-27
What is God’s purpose with these words? To remind Job who God is, and to remind Job who Job is. You are not God. You do not have the answers to everything. You have to trust me. Job is humbled and repents:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” 42:2-6
We might never know exactly why the Coronavirus came when it did. We might never know why some died of it and others were spared. But what we do know is that God is still in control. He is still sovereign. He is still both a loving and righteous God. He is still the King And Ruler of the universe, and we can look forward to spending eternity with Jesus, our Redeemer, in a perfect, beautiful and restored creation. And if we know that, we know enough. The author, C.S. Lewis, said the following: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
How do we share this with others? How do we bring comfort to the desolate? How do we bring peace to the fearful? Apart from those infected with COVID-19, many people have fallen into depression and consuming anxiety in these times. How can we be spotlights pointing to Jesus in a world that has turned dark?
Ever heard of the saying “silence is golden”? The New Bible Commentary says “the book of Job is an eloquent commentary on the inadequacy of the human mind to reduce the complexity of the problem of suffering to some consistent pattern. It is a book where silent men accomplish more than speaking men…The word of man is unable to penetrate the darkness of Job’s mind; the Word of God brings abiding light.”
Stop trying to explain why bad things happen. You are not God. Be a listening ear to the weary. Be a helping hand to the needy. If you have to, sit in utter silence for seven days and seven nights, like Job’s friends did, and if you have to speak, point your spotlight to Jesus on the cross. He Himself is the Answer.