Bad things happen to good people

The Standard May 20, 2023

In our church’s reading plan of the Old Testament wisdom literature, we recently finished Ecclesiastes. The Sunday School class I attend is studying Job. These two books, read back-to-back, certainly don’t leave one with much of a carefree attitude. Instead, they raise life’s most perplexing questions.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow pain and suffering? Why isn’t life fair? Not one of us is immune from seeing heartbreaking circumstances nearby. A mother and father lost their four-year-old daughter who had a congenital heart defect. A relatively young wife/mom, a sweet and humble Christian who sings in her church, faces an aggressive cancer. A grandparent, upon whom almost every conceivable hardship has fallen, faces yet more health issues. A food truck owner sustained third-degree and second-degree burns on his arms, hand, side and back from an explosion. Mass shootings and natural disasters ravage communities. How are we to reflect on such devastation?

In the Book of Job, its namesake is a man who “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1:1b, 3b) Job was a father of seven and owned vast property. Satan approached the Lord and the Lord said, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”(Job 1:8) Satan responded that it was no surprise that Job followed the Lord so closely, since he had been blessed incredibly. Satan asked to take it all away and God agreed, but Job was not to be harmed physically.

When Job found out that he has lost his children, his servants, and all his property, he dropped to the ground in worship. “’Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing,” (Job 1:21-22) Even after such an amazing response, God allowed Satan to afflict Job with boils on his skin.

Job had three friends who came to make a case for his suffering. Each gave a unique perspective on his loss and God’s place in the equation, but each was wrong. Their theological assumptions and conclusions were thoroughly mistaken.  In both the Old and New Testament we see a common misperception that there was a clear line where God rewarded here on earth good behavior and handed out punishment for bad behavior. People often believed that a child being born lame or ill was a direct result of the sin of one or both parents. Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth. “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:2-3) The Bible shows a mixture of bad things being a consequence of sin and not being so.

The Book of Job actually is more about God than about Job’s suffering or human suffering. The Lord’s complete love, might and sovereignty are beyond our comprehension. God is perfectly good. We see only a sliver of any circumstance. How possibly could we understand God’s ways? Who are we to decide what is fair?

At the conclusion of the book, “The Lord said to Job: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’”(Job 40:1-2) “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:8) For several chapters God just had described a litany of his wonders and powerful actions. Job probably was shrinking lower and lower with every word.

Theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a littleneck clam… God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself. He doesn’t show why things are as they are. He shows his face.”

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