The Problem of Suffering

by Mike Willis

In the past few months, I have been faced with meeting and knowing more people than normal who have had more than their share of suffering. I know of at least two women much like Dorcas of Acts 9 who have met an untimely and premature death. One child in the congregation with which I am working is suffering with cystic fibrosis (an incurable lung disease) and my sister recently adopted an infant who later was found to be hopelessly blind. Another faithful member of the congregation here is presently going through a siege of heart trouble. The list could be lengthened by preachers with more experience than myself, but this is sufficient to pose the problem of why must the righteous suffer so much on this earth? This is the same question as found in

The Story of Job

To quickly relate some of the main points of the problem of Job, let me give Job, spiritual condition. The book opens with this description of Job: “. . . that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and turned away from evil” (1: 1). Verse 5 of that first chapter stated that Job even offered burnt-offerings for the sins that his children might have committed. This was not done on sporadic occasions, since that same verse emphasized “Thus did Job continually.”

In spite of all the righteousness that Job had done, notice all the sufferings he endured:

1. He lost all his material possessions (1:13-17).

2. He lost his sons and daughters (1:819).

3. His body was afflicted with boils from head to foot (2:7).

4. His wife rebelled against God (2:9).

5. His suffering was so great that he wished that he had never been born (3: 11).

Yet at this point, on two occasions the scripture said that Job sinned not with his mouth (1:22; 2:10).

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, came to comfort him, they failed to even recognize him because he was so disfigured by his affliction (2:12). They sat 7 days and said nothing because they could think of no words of comfort (2:13). From then forward in the book, Job spoke and then was answered by his friends in turn as together they grappled with the problem of suffering.

Sin and Suffering

As each of Job’s friends spoke they accused Job of severe sins as the cause of his great suffering. Zophar reached the peak of accusation when in 11:6 he told Job, “Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.”

In answer Job pointed out that suffering must not be connected with sin in a causal relationship as evidenced by the fact that the wicked prosper and are of good health (12:6; 21:7-16). Jesus verified that sin and suffering were not related when on one occasion his disciples asked “Who sinned and caused a man to be blind?” Jesus then replied that neither the man nor his parents sinned (John 9:1-3).

When Job could not understand the cause and problem of his suffering, he became very despondent and made some rash statements which later had to be corrected. On one occasion he charged God with not caring about the righteous (9:22-24) and wished that he might have an opportunity to complain face to face with God (9:33-10:8).

Later, Job reached the conclusion that there was no hope for the righteous when he compared the suffering of man with the tree which was cut (14:7-12). He saw that the tree had hope of budding again after being cut down but Job thought that man was without hope.

Time after time Job was faced with the same old problem-why was he suffering? Who caused it? Was there any hope? Why try to serve God if both the wicked and the righteous suffer the same?

Before coming to the conclusion reached in the book of Job, let me bring in two other similar situations to that of Job.

Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk opened with the problem of why Jehovah had not punished the wicked of Judah. Habakkuk was perplexed because “Justice doth never go forth” Q: 2-4). When Jehovah told the prophet that he was going to punish the wicked of Judah by raising up the Chaldean nation to destroy them (1: 5, 6), the problem was only magnified.

Anyone could see that, despite the fact that Judah was guilty of sin, they were still much more -righteous than was the Chaldean nation. So the inspired man wrote this complaint in 1: 13:

“Thou that art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that canst not look on perverseness wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he.”

The Psalm of Asaph

The 73rd Psalm likewise had the same problem presented when Asaph was faced with the prosperity of the wicked (v. 3). This man became so disgusted that he wrote the following words when he saw that the wicked prospered just as well as the righteous:

“Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart, And washed my hands in innocency; For all the day long have I been plagued, And chastened every morning” (v. 13, 14).

The Conclusions of the Writers

Asaph accepted the problem better when in v. 16, 17 he discovered:

“When I thought how I might know this, it was too painful for me;

Until I went into the sanctuary of God, And considered their (the wicked’s — MW) latter end. ”

Habakkuk reached much the same conclusion by prophetically stating that the “just shall live by faith” (2:4).

Job, after much pondering, was revived when in 19:25-27 he said,

“But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God; Whom I, even I, shall see on my side, And mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.”

In summation, our three writers all reached the same conclusion in regard to the problem of suffering — that the righteous shall be rewarded and the wicked punished, though at the present the reverse might be true.

Application

The problem still exists today since Jesus said in Matt. 5:45 that it would “rain on the just and unjust.” While in this world, God makes no distinction physically between the righteous and the wicked in regard to 8uffering and blessing. But the Christian has more comfort while facing these problems than does the wicked person, as shown by Paul as follows:

“And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered: and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 2628).

From this we learn the following:

1. That the Spirit helps us with our infirmities.

2. That all things work together for good even sufferings. .

In other passages we learn that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked in the day of judgment (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

Thus, we face and accept our sufferings with faith in God while as brothers and sisters we do our best to aid and comfort one another (I Cor. 12:26; 1 Thess. 4:18).

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 1, pp. 6-8
November 4, 1971