Some emergencies are quick: a moment in time and then the crisis is past. Other emergencies mark major life changes. Some events are turning points, shaping us and changing us forever. Suffering can start with an event or be introduced gradually, but suffering is defined as a state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. A key concept here is the word “state.” This implies a condition that is continuing. Suffering can continue for a lifetime. The Bible deals with suffering extensively, but the best known example of suffering from the Bible is the story of Job.
Job faced the loss of his children, the loss of his possessions and the loss of his health. Any one of these events by itself is a major crisis, but all three at once puts this 9-1-1 event in a category all by itself.
Let's read about some of what Job went through.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you." (Job 1:13-19 ESV)
All this happened to Job at one time. Then came this:
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. (Job 2:7-8 ESV)
Now, Job had some friends. They came to comfort and be with Job.
We are told this about his friends.
“Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:11-13 ESV)
Seeing Job’s great suffering, his friends sat with him on the ground in silence for seven whole days. Finally, after the group had sat in silence Job spoke. He said:
"Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man is conceived.' Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. (Job 3:3-4 ESV)
Cursing the day He was born and venting his pain do not seem like extreme responses considering what happened to Job.
However, Job’s friends did not see it this way and when Job cursed the day he was born, Eliphaz spoke and told Job:
"Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?
"Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it.
A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: 'Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?
(Job 4:7, 12, 15-17 ESV)
Eliphaz implies that if Job was righteous bad things would not have come his way, and he claims to have been visited by a spirit.
Some people will claim to have had special revelations or to have heard from angels or spirits. Such claims are usually made to lend authority to what is being said. Eliphaz makes his claim of having heard from a spirit to add conviction or authority to his words. This actually serves to make his condemnation of Job stronger. And, make no mistake, Eliphaz is condemning Job for his suffering.
The discussion goes on for a couple of chapters and in chapter 8 Job’s friend, Bildad, states bluntly that Job must repent. And furthermore, Job’s children sinned and that was why they died. The responsibility for Job’s suffering is placed squarely on Job’s shoulders by such statements.
When suffering comes, most of us will face the question of our own responsibility for the suffering. This is compounded when suffering comes by accident. Automobile accidents are a major cause of suffering in our world, and when they happen insurance companies and courts assign fault.
Some suffering is caused by deliberate evil actions, and other suffering comes by accident. However suffering comes, we always face the question of responsibility.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day generally taught that all suffering came because of sin. The sufferer therefore always bore some personal responsibility for his suffering. In the course of His ministry, the question of personal responsibility came up to Jesus about a man born blind. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2) The assumption was that someone sinned. Jesus answered:
It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3 ESV)
Jesus says that the suffering in this particular family was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
When Job responded to his friends’ accusations, he included this statement:
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him. (Job 9:11 ESV)
In this statement, the “he passes by me” is the same word that Job’s friend, Eliphaz, used when he claimed to have heard from a spirit. Job is reflecting on Eliphaz’s claim to have been able see a spirit (Job 4:15-16), and says, with some sarcasm, that being mere flesh, Job cannot see spirits.
We often hear statements like “God would not do that,” or some other statement that indicates that we know what God would or would not do. The only reliable source for knowing what God does is His word, the Bible.
The Bible speaks to the unbeliever and says:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:16-19 ESV)
It says nothing of suffering or punishment from God only that judgment is certain if a person does not believe in the only Son of God.
The Bible also speaks to the believer and says:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV)
The Bible teaches that suffering in the lives of believers is for the purpose of our growth and for our good.
We learn from Job that we cannot perceive all the reasons God might have for our suffering, but the assumption that it is because of some personal sin or for punishment is wrong. And, making accusations or even speculating about why is not helpful.
One thing we are instructed on is that as believers, one of the fruits of our suffering is that we can encourage others with the encouragement that we ourselves receive. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV)
This verse tells us that God is the God of all comfort. Assigning fault is not comfort. Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well but offered her eternal life. Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery but offered her forgiveness. Jesus offered forgiveness to the lame man lowered through the roof. He offers forgiveness to all of us if we confess our sins.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)
Hebrews 4:15 tells us He is able to sympathize with our weakness and Isaiah 53 tells us:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 ESV)
Can we put to rest the idea that we are suffering for some wrong we have done? Job’s friends got it wrong.
For the person who has learned to know the Shepherd, there is rather the calm assurance,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4 ESV)