Life: If God is good, why is there suffering?

• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 23 focuses on Job 30:26-31; 42:1-6.

The “why” questions can be the hardest to answer: “My grandmother is lingering in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Why is God letting her suffer so long?” “My wife was diagnosed with cancer, and she was gone six weeks later. We were looking forward to our best years together. Why did God take her now?” “The 16-year-old girl down the block is pregnant. I’ve been struggling with infertility for a decade. When is God going to answer my prayers?” “There is so much evil and suffering in the world. If God is real, why doesn’t he do something about it?”

Suffering seems to conflict with what we know about God. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, why does he allow so much pain? Pain and suffering can cause us to question God’s goodness. The questions are real, and the search for answers can be agonizing. What the Bible reveals is that when we ask “why,” God often answers “Who?” God answers our pain with his presence.

Journey of questioning

Job had his own journey of questioning in the midst of suffering. In a blink, everything Job held dear was taken from him—his family, his wealth and even his health (Job 1:15-19; 2:7-8). He wasn’t prepared for his experience of suffering. Few of us are. Job’s situation was made even worse because of what he believed about God. In Job’s mindset, when you lived rightly before God, you experienced blessing. Living unjustly produced suffering. Though his friends insisted Job must have done something wrong, Job knew he was innocent. He had done nothing to deserve such suffering. The conflict led him to doubt God’s character. It was God who was unjust, not him. Job demanded God give an account of himself (Job 10:1-7; 19:6, 31:35).

When God appeared, it wasn’t to answer why but to reveal himself. In four chapters of divine speeches, God reveals himself as Creator. The Lord is the one who laid the foundations of the earth and set the limits of the seas. He is the one who has seen both the gates of deep darkness and knows the way to the dwelling of light. God sends forth lightning, tames the wild ox, gives the horse its might and binds Leviathan. In the Hebrew mindset, creation was both an establishing of order and a defeating of chaos.

Boundaries on chaos

The sea, the darkness and the deep were all images of chaos. As Creator, God does not eliminate chaos and suffering, but he does place boundaries upon them and limit their scope. In his speeches, God doesn’t deny suffering and evil exist. Nor does he explain it. Instead, he reveals himself as Sovereign Creator who extends his power throughout the earth. He is present in the darkness. He is present in the wilderness. And he is present with us in our pain.

God’s answer was enough for Job. He realized he had spoken of God “without knowledge” and no purpose of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Job never got an explanation why God had allowed him to experience so much suffering. But in the midst of his suffering, Job saw God. He recognized God had neither turned against him nor abandoned him. There were things in the great purposes of God Job never would comprehend (Job 42:3). But Job also realized God was at work in the midst of his pain. Job was not alone. God was with him. It was enough.

We don't get all the answers

Like Job, we don’t always get the answers to our questions. Suffering hurts. It makes us doubt ourselves. It makes us doubt God. And sometimes the fear and doubt suffering produces makes us shy away from God. We blame him for our pain and let our anger stop us from seeking him. Refusing to seek God is the worst mistake we can make in the midst of suffering. God neither is threatened by our anger nor surprised by our doubt. It is when we go to him with all the raw honesty of our turbulent emotions that we find healing. Job may have spoken of God without knowledge, but it was after his questioning that God appeared.

God seldom explains our pain, but he is present with us in the midst of it. If we will press through the fear and doubt to seek God, we can find his strength sustaining us in the midst of our suffering. We may not get the answers, but we see God’s face. God’s presence in our pain can be all the answer we need. He is with us.

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