I know about a business tycoon who had many companies. There was no limit to his investments in the share market. He was very famous for all his philanthropic activities. His philanthropic foundation was involved in charity to the needy. He became pauper over night because of recession. It hit his investments very hard. Sadly, he also lost his children in a terrorist attack when they were vacationing. To add to this all he gets shocking fax from his doctor saying he is diagnosed with cancer. It is beyond our imagination to even think about the misery he would have gone through. Yes this would be the story of modern day Job. It is a familiar story to almost all of us. We cannot refute the fact that suffering is an earthly reality yet as humans we all would like to escape suffering. It is always a struggle to come in terms with reality called suffering. It is quite common. Every one of us whether young or old, married or unmarried, rich or poor, studying or working has gone through the experience of suffering in one way or other. You know what I am speaking about.
In Tamil Nadu there is a place called Thanjore, during a wedding fire broke out and may people died. Bride is one among those who survived but she lost all her family members. At same time she also lost the bridegroom and his family. She was left all alone in this world. It was an unbearable tragedy for her. She was in the verge of getting mad. So people questioned why this happens to good people. This question is asked in the past, it is asked in the present and it will be asked in the future until the Lord’s returns.
This is probably one of the oldest question asked i.e. why do good people suffer. Time and again this question was asked by every culture and civilizations? If we want to personalize this question we may ask why God is allowing suffering in my life? Why me God? We may question where God is when I am going through suffering? Is there a means to avoid suffering? We may ask is there a purpose in my suffering? If there is a purpose what it is? Is it Christian to suffer? What is Christian about suffering? What attitude should I have towards suffering? Or how should I respond to suffering? Is it alright to question God in times of suffering? Some of us eventually doubt God’s presence, power, love, justice, care, wisdom during our suffering.
At the same time the very experience of suffering is not same for everyone. It differs from person to person. In that sense every suffering experience is unique whether experienced personal or in a corporate manner. The mother suffering because of her child’s cancer is totally different from the very child suffering cancer. The Christians who are suffering in Kandamal in Orissa is different from the Christians who are suffering in Pakistan. Suffering is a very personal experience.
Similarly suffering may take many forms. Some suffer due to medical reasons, some psychological reasons, some emotional reasons, some economical reasons, some physical reasons, some theological reasons. Some people suffer for reasons we cannot not figure out.
However let us try to explore the prologue of Job to answer the questions “why do righteous suffer?” To have the focus let us consider only the prologue of Job, this is from chapter 1:1 to 2:8. The story of Job is a classic example of human suffering. If we look into the prologue of the book of Job it is written in a prose narrative form. Prologue is divided into five scenes like a drama. If we imagine this prologue of Job enacted on stage as a drama it can easily fit the stage. Each scene is clearly demarcated from each other with the narrator’s use of words like “In the land of Uz…” (1:1) in scene one and repeated use of the words “One day…” in scene two, three, four (1:6, 13, 2:1). The last scene starts with “So Satan went out form…” (2:7). By this the narrator tries to build up the overall plot which is the “suffering of Job” in a progressive manner. The suffering of Job is presented in a progressive way first by presenting Job’s character, his wealth, and his children along with their usual activities, which he will be loosing in the later part of the prologue along with his health to an unnamed sickness. To add to this the narrator skilfully uses the scene shifts between two realms namely heaven and earth to keep Job unaware of the reason for his undeserved suffering. In fact Job’s suffering is directly related to the discussion between God and Satan in the heavenly realms which the Characters in the book of Job are kept from knowing.
Consequently as involved readers we will ask why did God allow suffering in Job’s life? If we pay attention it is to do with the particular question God asked to Satan and Satan’s reply to God. However, Satan’s reply to God in a form of a question put the integrity and the ability of God to Judge Character at stake. It also put Job’s integrity into question. Therefore, God accepts Satan challenge not out of doubt but out of confidence on Job’s integrity. Through this suffering integrity of God and ability of God to Judge character is established. Also this proved Job’s integrity and thereby proved Satan to be wrong and humiliated him.
In recent years due to advent of new theologies we hear pain and suffering is not God’s will in a believer’s life. We hear people say suffering is caused by sin, Satan and insufficient faith in God. This could be true but it is only a partial picture of what we read in the Bible. Yes in a broader sense it is the result of humanity’s fall. At the same time it is not logical and biblical to say all the suffering in ones life is only because of personal sin. There are various other reasons for suffering. Some suffer because of natural cause e.g. natural disasters. Some suffer because of man made causes e.g. terrorism, war etc. Some suffer because of wrong choice they make. Some suffer because they love, some suffer because they want to be loved, some suffer because of rejection, some suffer because of losing their loved one, some suffer because of disease, some suffer because of bad habit, some suffer because of the injustice, some suffer because of loosing job, some suffer because of insufficient income, some suffer because of being born into a dysfunctional family, some suffer because of studies we don’t want to study, some suffer because of being married to someone they don’t love, some suffer because of peer pressure, some suffer because of disobedient children, some suffer because of unhealthy parenting, some suffer because of sudden disability caused. Sometimes suffering could be God’s chastisement. Some suffer just because of belonging to Christ (Persecution). Some suffer for the sake of others. Some suffer because of Satan’s temptation and other suffers because they resist it. Despite all this at time the cause of suffering remains mysterious. It is a mystery for which only God knows the answer.
Bible never promises us a suffering free life. Though God wants to bless us that do not exclude the possibility of God allowing suffering in a believer’s life. Suffering according to prologue of Job happens for a higher purpose. Job suffered despite being described by God as, “There is no-one on earth like him: he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” In fact it is the primary reason that Job to be isolated for the test. Dose that mean Job suffered because of his sins? If we think so we to have go against what God had said about Job in the prologue (1:8) Through the suffering of Job he was proved to be what God confidently said about him to Satan. In the end Job came out of his suffering as a man of integrity, who did not curse or accuse God for his condition (1:22; 2:10). It serves as a good model for how to respond to suffering. Ultimately there is meaning for good people suffering when God permits. We can understand this only if we are children of God.
Especially, Christian suffering has meaning in it, in a Journal called Evangelical Review of Theology under one article it says, “ Suffering is instructive and has retrospective, present and prospective purposes: it teaches us lessons from our past experiences: it is a sign that we are God’s faithful children (Heb 12:5-6).” It helps us to mature in our journey of faith. It helps us to sympathize with those who suffer. “Thus suffering is not always detrimental but may be beneficial – to oneself, to one’s neighbour, and to the cause of the kingdom of God.”
Most often we find people mention that suffering comes before blessing. Some say suffering is part of the blessing i.e. there is no blessings without suffering. However for a child of the living God suffering is a blessing in disguise. Definitely suffering is for a higher purpose and beneficial because we don’t suffer without hope. As children of the living God we all suffer for a purpose and we suffer with a hope. We see Job’s hope that his redeemer lives and in the flesh he will see God (Job 19: 25, 26). We also see Paul suffering with a hope for a future hope (Rom 8: 17, 18) he says “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Paul is not undermining our present sufferings rather he is giving the fruit our sufferings will bring forth. He goes on to say in (Rom 8: 37-39) “that we are more that conquers in Christ and neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yes no suffering can separate us from the love of Christ. It is because Paul knows very well in (Rom 8:28) “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In other words suffering in our lives is meant to bring us more closely to God our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the time to cling on to God with all the strength and might we have. It is the process in which we mature as believers in Christ. It is process in which God’s will is fulfilled.
In (Rom 8: 31, 32) we read Paul write “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Can we trust God with suffering? Yes we can trust God with suffering because He is our loving Father who gave His own Son to be a ransom to save us. Not only that we can be sure that God understands our suffering, our pain, our sorrow, our hurts, our sickness, more that we ourselves can understand because we have a saviour who descended and suffered for us and along with us. God took part in our suffering in the person of Christ Jesus. God identified with our suffering through the death and resurrection of Christ. He suffered unjustly on the cross for our sake. God brought forth salvation to humanity through the suffering Christ Jesus. We have a “suffering God” who knows exactly what you are going through. You may not be in a position to share what you are going through right now in your life. You may be suffering all alone in your life. But let us understand that we have a suffering God with us who exactly understand what we are going through. He is making something beautiful out of it for a higher purpose. The good news is suffering is not eternal. There is an end to it. If we endure the suffering the end will be glorious as said by Paul. God has promised us that he will not test us beyond our capacity and he will never tempt us by evil. Moreover, as the faithful Disciples of Christ Jesus we are called carry our cross. Our suffering might be our cross because it is the mark of a disciple of Christ (Matthew 16:24). There is meaning in it. There is purpose in it. He has also given us an invitation saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Yes God is whispering to us in our suffering but only to those who have attentive ears. Therefore for a Christian suffering is beneficial, it is for a higher purpose. Ultimately Sufferings in our lives is a blessing when God permits it.
Bro. Karthick Jeyabalan