“Why God?” – the Problem of Pain and the Answer of Job
When we look at the world around us and see the pain and suffering we go through it’s difficult not to ask the question … ‘What is God playing at here!?’
You are not alone in your questions
The Bible is a very real book full of those kinds of questions. Books like Job and Ecclesiastes help us to wrestle deeply with these kinds of issues: Where does evil come from? … Why did God allow the devil to tempt Eve? … Why is the world so broken and full of pain and suffering?
The Scriptures invite open honest and painful questioning. So if you fit this category … you’re not alone.
However, don’t be disappointed when the Bible doesn’t give you easy, twitter sized answers. Not for nothing is the problem known as the ‘mystery of evil’. Take Job for example…. if anyone in the world had a right to a straightforward answer it was Job! He seems to be an innocent bystander in a cosmic bet between God and the Devil (see Job 1 & 2 for details). If you read God’s answer to Job (from chapter 38 onwards) you will see that God doesn’t actually tell Job why he put him through such a hard time. What God does do is remind Job, that He God, not Job knows what is happening in the universe.
The book of Job is already hinting at one of the more mysterious answers in the Bible … that God acting on our behalf to bring us safely through sin, evil, suffering and even death, ultimately receives more glory in the end. And at the same time it also shows us our deepest need of him. Pain in a sense allows God to reveal more of himself to his creation. In that revealing we find that we can trust him more. We can trust the God who made it all and who knows how it all works with our pain and confusion.
Another important point in Job is that evil and everything that goes along with it is ultimately under God’s control. Notice that God puts clear boundaries on what Satan is allowed to do with Job (chapter 1v12 & 2v6). Evil and its minions (murder, sickness etc) are under the control of God. They cannot go beyond what God allows.
God the ruler and controller of creation
Part of God’s answer to Job is to take him on a tour de force of creation. Basically God reminds Job that, He God, is … well … God! To be more specific, God is the creator, ruler, and controller of everything, from the huge burning balls of gas that make up the stars of the universe, down to the unique intricate beauty of the tiniest snowflakes. Here’s a taste …
Job 38 …
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
Job 39 …
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendour,
and clothe yourself in honour and majesty.
Clearly God is incomprehensibly wiser, incredibly more powerful, completely more … well just … more … than we can possibly ever imagine. There are things happening out there which we can’t really explain, let alone have the ability to control.
Evolution is no help
Now if there is no God and the universe is nothing but a random product of time + stuff + chance then this kind of answer is really no help at all. Knowing that the universe is bigger and more complex than we can comprehend means absolutely nothing to the pain we are going through. Indeed, it makes it worse because our pain is ultimately meaningless.
Which means that we then are meaningless … there is no goal, no purpose, no meaning to anything at all. It just is. Our insignificant speck of a lifespan means absolutely nothing. If all we really are is cosmic star dust, and after a horribly short amount of time we end up as cosmic star dust again, how can this make any sense out of our pain in any way? A universe with no God is simply just a big cruel cosmic joke.
It is actually so reassuring to know that there is a God and that he is in control and that there is a purpose behind it all. Pain without purpose leads to madness. Pain with purpose makes all the difference. Yes, it is still painful but there is a wise and loving God behind it all calling us to trust him and to live our lives in the knowledge that this is not all there is.
The call of God to trust him in the pain
God doesn’t offer Job any easy, quick fix type of answers. He simply reveals to Job that he is God and that he has it all under control. God’s answer to Job doesn’t help Job to understand why bad things happen (at least not directly) as much as it is a call to trust in a God who has everything under his control. Knowing that God is completely and totally in control means we can begin to actively trust him even if the pain doesn’t go away and even if we can’t resolve the question why.
The God of the Bible is the creator of the universe. When he first made it, it was full of goodness blessing and life (see Genesis 1 & 2 for details). Clearly something has gone horribly wrong and people, like Job, can experience horrible suffering and pain. The story of the Bible is the story of how God is fixing the world through his son Jesus Christ. It’s called the Gospel. And it’s all about how God is bringing goodness blessing and life back into the world. We who are alive today are currently living in the middle of that ‘fixer upper’ period. The fixing has begun although we’re not quite there yet.
God calls us to trust that he will deliver us into his new world that is completely healed of all pain and suffering as well as the things that cause pain and suffering … sin…evil … disease … and death. In the midst of my suffering I don’t need to know all the answers myself rather I can trust in a God who does know all the answers.