God and Human Suffering
Unlike every other book of the Bible, the book of Job is completely removed from the context of the land and people of Israel. From Genesis, with the promise to Abram that the Lord will “make of thee a great nation” (Gen. 12:2), to Revelation, which describes “the holy city,” Jerusalem (Rev. 22:19), in some way, directly or indirectly, the context of Israel and its covenant relationship with God helps shape each book.
In Job there is nothing of that, not even the seminal event in ancient Israelite history, the Exodus. The most immediate reason is that Moses wrote Job in Midian, along with Genesis (see also The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1140); the Exodus had not happened yet, which explains why it’s not mentioned.
But perhaps there’s another even more important reason. One of the key themes of Job, human suffering, is universal. It’s not limited to any one people or time. Jew or Gentile, we all know something of Job’s woes, of the pain of existence in a fallen world. However unique his pain, Job represents us all in our sufferings.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 22.
What a powerful few sentences. Enough of the reality and existence of God is revealed through “what has been made” (NASB), that is, through the created world, that people will be “without excuse” (NASB) for their unbelief. Paul is saying that from the Creation alone, humans can learn enough about the existence and nature of God that they can justly be condemned on the day of judgment.
No question, the natural world does reveal much to us about the existence of God. Modern science, too, has revealed to us details about the marvels of Creation that our ancestors, even just 300 years ago, much less 3,000 years ago, could not even have begun to imagine. There’s an interesting irony here, as well: the more complexity science finds in life, the less likely become the means science claims for its origin—that of accident and chance. A smartphone, for instance, which looks designed, acts designed, reveals design both inside and out, and works only through design is, of course, designed. But a human being, who looks designed, acts designed, reveals design both inside and out, and works only through design is, we are assured, a product of pure chance alone. Sadly, many people are deceived into believing such claims.
Here, too, we are told that the reality of God is seen in the created world. Though, especially in its fallen state, nature doesn’t reveal the full character of God, it certainly reveals His creative power, and aspects of His goodness, as well.
There are many good and powerful arguments in favor of God’s existence. Besides the testimony of the created world, there’s also what’s called the cosmological argument. Basically, it’s the idea that nothing came from itself and that nothing created itself. Instead, whatever was created was created by something else before it, and whatever created that had to be created by something else before it. And this goes on and on until we stop at something uncreated, something that had always existed, something that never was not in existence. And who else would that be but the God depicted in Scripture?
Col. 1:16, 17
These texts teach what is really the most logical explanation for the Creation—an eternally existing God. Some thinkers, utterly opposed to the idea of God, have come up with an alternative suggestion. Instead of an all-powerful and eternal God creating the universe, we are told that “nothing” created it. Even such a famous scientist as Stephen Hawking, who now occupies the chair that Isaac Newton once held, argues that “nothing” created the universe.
“Because there is a law like gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”—Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Random House, 2010), p. 180.
Though Hawking surely has plenty of deep and complicated math to describe his idea, one has to wonder: here we are, a good 400 years since the beginning of the scientific revolution, and one of the world’s best scientists is arguing that the universe and all that’s in it came from nothing? Error is error, even when spoken by a great scientist.
Despite the hype of those who don’t believe in God, those who believe in God have many good reasons for their belief. However, there’s been one perennial problem that many have used through the ages to justify their disbelief, and that is the problem of human suffering and evil. How can God be all-good, all-loving, and all-powerful, and evil exist? This has been and remains a stumbling block to many.
And also, if we are honest, what believer in God, what person who has tasted and experienced the reality of God and His love, hasn’t struggled at times with that question?
How interesting, then, that Ellen G. White also taught what Jewish tradition teaches: that Moses wrote Job in Midian. “The long years amid desert solitudes were not lost. Not only was Moses gaining a preparation for the great work before him, but during this time, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the book of Genesis and also the book of Job, which would be read with the deepest interest by the people of God until the close of time.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1140.
What this tells us is that of the first two books of the Bible ever penned, one of them, Job, deals with the universal issue of human pain and suffering. That is, God knew that this would be a big question for humans, and thus, right from the start, in the Word, He had Moses pen the story of Job. God let us know, early on, that we are not left alone in our pain and suffering but that He is there, He knows all about it, and we can have the hope that He will make it right in the end.
However understandable the argument from evil against the existence of God, in light of the Scriptures it makes no sense. Though the Bible teaches the reality of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, it also teaches the reality of evil, of human suffering and woe. Evil is not an excuse to disbelieve in God. In fact, a cursory reading of the book of Job shows that even amid his utter despondency, Job never questioned the existence of God. The question instead, and a valid one, is, Why are these things happening to him?
As stated in yesterday’s study, the issue of God’s existence never came up in the book of Job. Instead, the question was, Why was Job going through these trials? And, considering all that happened to him, it certainly was a fair question, especially because he believed in God. If, for example, someone was an atheist and trials were to come, the answer about why could be relatively simple and straightforward to him or her. We live in a meaningless and purposeless world that cares nothing about us. Thus, amid the harsh and cold and uncaring natural forces around us, we sometimes are the victims of trials that serve no purpose. How could they? If life itself serves no purpose, then the trials that accompany that life must be just as meaningless.
While many might find this answer unsatisfying and hopeless, it certainly makes sense given the premise, which is that there is no God. On the other hand, for someone like Job, the dilemma is different.
Yes, the question that Job is wrestling with is the same one that most believers in God have wrestled with and still do wrestle with: If God exists, a good and loving God, why do humans suffer the things that they do? Why do even “good” people, such as Job, go through calamities and trials that so often seem to produce nothing of value? Again, if the universe were godless, the answer would be that this is simply what it means to live in a purely materialistic cosmos in which human beings are merely the accidental by-products of atoms and molecules.
Job knew better than that. We do, too; hence, the dilemma.
Quoting Psalm 51:4, Paul talks about how the Lord Himself will “be justified in your words and will prevail when you are judged” (Rom. 3:4, NET). The idea being presented is a motif that appears in various places in the Scriptures. It’s called theodicy, and it is the question of understanding the goodness of God in the face of evil. It’s the age-old question that we have been looking at all week. In fact, the whole great controversy itself is really a theodicy. Before humans, before angels, before the whole universe, the goodness of God will be revealed despite the evil that unfolds in the world.
“Every question of truth and error in the long-standing controversy has now been made plain. The results of rebellion, the fruits of setting aside the divine statutes, have been laid open to the view of all created intelligences. The working out of Satan’s rule in contrast with the government of God has been presented to the whole universe. Satan’s own works have condemned him. God’s wisdom, His justice, and His goodness stand fully vindicated. It is seen that all His dealings in the great controversy have been conducted with respect to the eternal good of His people and the good of all the worlds that He has created.” —Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 670, 671.
However hard it might be for us now to understand, immersed as we are in a world of sin and suffering (and if it’s hard for us, imagine what Job must have thought), when it is all over we will be able to see the goodness and justice and love and fairness of God in all His dealings with humanity, with Satan, and with sin. This doesn’t mean that everything that happens in the world is good; clearly it’s not. It means only that God is dealing with it in the best way possible, and then when this terrible experience with sin is over, we will be able to shout: “ ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!’ ” (Rev. 15:3, NKJV).
Further Thought: Christian writer and apologist C. S. Lewis wrote a book talking about the death of his wife and his struggle to come to terms with that death. In it he wrote, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”—A Grief Observed (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), pp. 6, 7. This, too, is the question that Job himself struggled with. As we saw, he never doubted God’s existence; what he struggled with was the question of the character of God. Job had faithfully served the Lord. Job had been a “good” man. Therefore he knew that he did not deserve the things that were happening to him. Thus, he was asking the question that so many people who believe in God ask amid tragedies: What is God really like? And is this not what the great controversy is really about? The question is not about God’s existence but about His character. And though so much is involved in resolving the great controversy, there’s no question that the death of Jesus on the cross, where the Son of God had “given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2, NKJV), more than anything else revealed to the cosmos the true character of our Creator. The Cross shows us that God is a God in whom we can all trust.