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Why God?

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Theodicy - study of suffering. Where is God in suffering? Week 1: Why do we suffer? Where is God in suffering?

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Introduction

Ever since the fall, humans have wrestled with the existence of evil and suffering. Regardless of if you’ve been a Christian for years and years, if you’re a new Christian, if you’re not a Christian or if you want nothing to do with God this morning, chances are you’ve asked this question a time or two: Why did this evil thing happen? We’ve been there, haven’t we? Why did this happen to this person? Why does cancer exist? Why do seemingly good people suffer so greatly? How can God allow this to happen?
So many are searching for an answer and it’s easy to settle on an unBiblical solution to this problem. Some approach these situations like this: The God of the Bible is said to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. Yet, evil exists. So God must not either, 1) not be powerful enough to defeat evil, 2) not know how to defeat evil, or 3) if He is all-powerful and if He is all-knowing then He finally must not be all good… This problem of evil has existed for years and it continues to baffle people today!
Why does suffering exist? Who is to blame? Where can we turn? The next 2 weeks we’re going to turn to the book of Job in the middle of the Old Testament to provide some answers. These 2 sermons are connected so much that if you miss one you’re going to be up a creek without a paddle. If this is your first Sunday here, we’re so grateful that you’re with us first off but you NEED to be here next week as well to see the full picture of this topic!
The story of Job is one of the most amazing and difficult to understand stories on Scripture. It’s one of the oldest books in Scripture, yet it is one of the hardest to grasp. It is easy to treat Job and some of the other wisdom literature as the “fly-by” section in our Bibles and to skip from the historical books straight to the Gospels. We lose so much whenever we do this, though. Job, as difficult as it might be to truly “get”, teaches us so much about the goodness of our God and the mystery of why God allows things to happen. In difficult moments in my life, the book of Job has been a reminder to trust in the Lord’s providence and goodness. That even though things might not make sense in my moment of suffering or disaster, there is a God Who reigns over creation as King and Who holds me in His hand and calls me His own. Whenever I am reminded of His greatness and goodness, I quickly remember that I have nothing to fear. I quickly remember the best that society can come up with is that bad things happen to good people because of bad luck or because of random accidents… I’m so thankful that the Bible gives us a much better answer and a much stronger hope to hold on to on those difficult nights.
In the middle of the why, in the middle of our suffering, in the middle of our groaning, we can either have confusion or we can have confidence. We can have anxiety or we can have assurance. We can have brokenness or we can have boldness. Whenever your “worst” comes - whenever suffering and disaster comes knocking on your door, will you stand on God’s Word, or will you sink into despair? Our only hope of standing is to know the Who before we get to the Why. Let’s learn from the story of Job how we can trust in our Lord even in times of suffering.
Job 1:1–12 CSB
1 There was a man in the country of Uz named Job. He was a man of complete integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters. 3 His estate included seven thousand sheep and goats, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large number of servants. Job was the greatest man among all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to take turns having banquets at their homes. They would send an invitation to their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 Whenever a round of banqueting was over, Job would send for his children and purify them, rising early in the morning to offer burnt offerings for all of them. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned, having cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice. 6 One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” “From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered him, “and walking around on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Haven’t you placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 “Very well,” the Lord told Satan, “everything he owns is in your power. However, do not lay a hand on Job himself.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

Who is God and Who is Job? (1-12)

Before we can attempt to understand this literal story, we have to understand the background here and see who exactly Job is and, most importantly, who God is.
Have you ever watched the beginning of a Star Wars movie? If you have, you know how the opening credits always begin with the same phrase: A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… This is what we have at the beginning of Job - we have an introduction to a great person. He has complete integrity, he fears God, he turns away from evil. He serves God faithfully and from the outside looking in, he is blessed by God with possessions, family, and wealth. He wasn’t just kind of blessed… He was the greatest man around! Not only did he have good character but he even sought to help his family as he cared for them and their relationship with the Lord as he offered sacrifices on their behalf. This was a good man and if you were an outsider expecting someone to suffer, you wouldn’t expect it to be Job. If we use this linear equation that bad people deserve bad things from God and good people deserve good things from God then after these 5 verses we’d expect God to bless this man because of all that he does. Yet, as this book will unfold before us, we will see that God’s ways don’t always make sense to us and that this truth doesn’t give us an excuse to stop trusting in His ways.
If Job is a faithful father in his family, God is the one who Job is faithful to. This opening section of verses share with us that God is ruling and in control of His creation. He has blessed Job’s work and He has increased his land. He has protected Job and his possessions. To this God and to this servant, Satan comes to do what he always does: oppose God and God’s people. Have you ever read this passage before? Has it ever baffled your mind as to how Satan came before the presence of the Lord?
Satan believes that Job only follows God because God has blessed him and that if God would curse him then Job would turn on God. The question is simply this: Do we worship God for the things God gives us or for Who God is?
Do you and I give thanks to God because of His greatness and character or do we only give thanks to God whenever He blesses our lives the way we’d like Him to? Job is one who serves the Lord and suffering is about to come knocking on his door. Satan has permission from the Lord in these opening verses to inflict catastrophe on his life. The man who has experienced much good from the Lord in terms of blessing is about to have his whole world flipped upside down. How will he respond? How would you respond? Let’s continue reading.
Job 1:13–22 CSB
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and reported, “While the oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing nearby, 15 the Sabeans swooped down and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 16 He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “God’s fire fell from heaven. It burned the sheep and the servants and devoured them, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 17 That messenger was still speaking when yet another came and reported, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, made a raid on the camels, and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 18 He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house. 19 Suddenly a powerful wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on the young people so that they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 20 Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, 21 saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 22 Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

Job’s External Suffering Leads to Internal Shaking (13-22)

Think about the worst day you can imagine or the worst day that you’ve lived through. This is naturally going to lead to some negative emotions and that’s ok because if we can’t grieve together at church where on earth can we grieve? I’m reminded of the story of Horatio Spafford the hymn-writer of It Is Well. Spafford had accumulated some wealth in real estate but lost much of that wealth in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Around this same time his 4 year old son passed away because of scarlet fever. With all of this loss he felt like his family could use a getaway so he sent his wife and kids on a boat bound for England planning to join them after finalizing some business in the city. He received word that the ship they were on had crashed and that everyone on board had passed away. Spafford, like Job, lost his family, much of his possessions, and easily could have lost his joy if it weren’t for his faith in the Lord.
Think of the worst you’ve been through and how it seems like the hits keep on coming one after another. This is Job here. These 4 messengers arrive and they share what has taken place with Job and the hits pile up like a snowball tumbling down the snowy mountainside. First his livestock and servants are killed and stolen. This man is blessed by God - maybe this hurts a little bit but he has other livestock as we saw at the beginning of chapter 1. But then another messenger shows up and shares that fire came down from heaven and burned the sheep and his servants… Usually fire from heaven is in reference to lightning… 7,000 sheep being burned by lightning is nearly impossible for us to comprehend and this is on top of losing his oxen and donkeys. This bad day went from bad to worse but then a 3rd messenger shows up before this 2nd one is done and shares that now his camels have been taken away and more of his servants have been killed. This man woke up in the morning with a large number of servants and 11,000 sheep, goats, camels, oxen, and donkeys and 3 messengers in and he has been informed that it’s all gone! But it’s not over yet… Verse 18 shares that a 4th messenger showed up before the 3rd was even finished and informed Job that now all of his sons and daughters had passed away because the house collapsed.
So often we want to be encouraged whenever we come to church and the Bible shares much in the realm of encouragement and joy and hope as we studied throughout Philippians the last few months! However, there are times in Scripture where we read of awful, stressful, heartbreaking moments that fail to encourage us and instead they challenge us. Sometimes we are tempted to skip over stories of tragedy because after all we all love a happily ever after story… But it’s important to not only address but study these types of Bible stories and see how we can find hope in the midst of tragedy because our lives are not a fairy tale. Our lives are marked by suffering of varying degrees and we have to understand that there is joy to be found even in those dark moments where the bottom drops out from underneath us. This is Job’s worst day… Think about yours. What did you do whenever the bottom dropped out? Did that shake you to your core?
What is fascinating here is that Job doesn’t blame the servants, the weather, the Chaldeans, or any of these people… He says that the Lord gave and blessed him and it is the Lord who has taken away. The Lord is the explanation. The Lord is the One behind these actions. He didn’t charge God with wrong or blame God - He acknowledges that God is doing something here that he cannot see yet. Job knows that God is the owner of all things and that he has the right to take all things and this leads Job to worship the Lord in his moment of loss! What a testimony!
This would shake our world… But for Job it only shook him to the place of worship. I’m not sure about you but I get upset and place blame on others pretty quick if I’m not careful. It’s easy to rejoice and thank the Lord during the season of blessing… But it’s almost just as easy to get upset at the Lord whenever the paycheck doesn’t arrive in time or whenever the situation at work or school doesn’t go our way. Yet, Job models how to deal with external suffering - trust completely in the Lord who is involved in what is taking place. The Lord gives… the Lord takes away. What a statement we must learn to not only accept but rejoice in!
Job 2:1–10 CSB
1 One day the sons of God came again to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” “From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered him, “and walking around on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil. He still retains his integrity, even though you incited me against him, to destroy him for no good reason.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan answered the Lord. “A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6 “Very well,” the Lord told Satan, “he is in your power; only spare his life.” 7 So Satan left the Lord’s presence and infected Job with terrible boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself while he sat among the ashes. 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.

Job’s Internal Suffering Leads to Public Profession (2:1-10)

This scene plays out similar to the first scene in chapter 1 but Satan doubles down and shares that the only reason Job didn’t turn on God was because he himself was off limits but that Job would sing a different tune the moment that suffering impacted him specifically rather than just impacting his possessions or loved ones. Now, Job had just praised the Lord in the middle of losing his family… we would expect things to get better for him, right? After all, our society shares that God helps those who help themselves and that blessing always follows obedience. This is the message screamed by our world and even preached in pulpits around our country. God always blesses His children and never wills for them to suffer. What we see play out here is a completely foreign message to the one taught today. Job praises God and God doesn’t take the suffering away, in fact the suffering is about to get real. Job is covered in boils from head to toe.
Today some people would recommend he go and use some new essential oil that promises to be a remedy to his problem - but Job doesn’t have that luxury… Instead he grabs a broken jar perhaps and uses that sharp piece to scrape away the boils to find a glimpse of relief as they begin the process of reforming underneath the skin. Chiggers are bad enough… Poison Ivy is bad enough… Boils on your whole body that you have to cut off - can you even imagine that type of discomfort and pain? What is happening here? Whenever you trust in the Lord and things don’t pan out the way you expect, what do you do? We see 2 options in verses 9 and 10 and one response is so much more natural than the other. Job’s wife has experienced much loss in this day as she too lost her family and her family lost so many possessions. Her response to her husband is to curse God and die.
I’d like to think that in my worst moment I’d have faith in the Lord and that I wouldn’t think this, much less say it out loud. But if I’m being honest and if we’re all honest this morning, isn’t this our natural response whenever suffering remains in our life? Whenever what we thought was rock bottom turned out to be a small cliff with even more room for us to fall? Whenever the relationship falls apart… Whenever the job fails… Whenever the health report comes back negative… Whenever loss becomes your reality - so often we blame God. In Job’s day whenever someone was experiencing all of these bad things it was usually seen as a sign of God’s disapproval of them… Meaning that the reason that this bad thing was happening to this person was because they had disobeyed God and His laws. Yet, God said that Job was a man of perfect integrity not once but twice. Even though his wife says this, Job’s response is as opposite as you can find. Job has already worshipped and said that the Lord gives and takes away and deserves to be praised… Not he shares this
Job 2:10 CSB
10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.
Job understands and proclaims that God has a plan in the good moments and the difficult times of this life. James shares that while God doesn’t tempt, God does gives us tests and trials that produce endurance and perseverance in our lives. From the outside looking in, it seems chaotic and disheartening to read the first 2 chapters of Job - he lost just about everything! How? Because God volunteered him - that’s not reading anything into the text, that’s literally what the Bible says. Doesn’t that make us a little bit uncomfortable? Why does it make us uncomfortable? What is our fundamental human problem with suffering? We have a problem with suffering because we think that we don’t deserve it. We don’t understand how God can take something like suffering and use it for good or what His perfect purpose is in something as catastrophic as suffering. Go back to the problem of evil: atheists posit that a good God must not allow suffering and evil to exist and because it does exist God must not be good, all-knowing, or all-powerful… What if there were another solution? What if God, in His infinite wisdom, has a purpose in our suffering? What if suffering isn’t for our bad but for our ultimate good? In Philippians, Paul’s suffering in prison wasn’t bad… It was purposeful and he rejoiced at God’s plan. Stephen in Acts 7 preached a long sermon and was stoned at the end and suffered… Yet it was purposeful and he rejoiced at God’s plan as he prayed that God would forgive those people throwing stones at his head. Jesus preached the Gospel and suffered on the cross… Yet the cross was purposeful and He submitted to the Father’s plan even though it meant His death.
1 Peter 4:19 CSB
19 So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.
“Those who suffer according to God’s will” - not those who suffer randomly or that God’s will is for us to never suffer… But those who suffer according to God’s will should trust in God and do what is good!
I don’t know about you but this is hard to take and we desperately want a simple straightforward answer in our moment of suffering. We want to know the why! We may not want to think that God is using this suffering and we definitely don’t want to think that God allowed this suffering to happen… Yet, these are Scriptural truths that should provide us with confidence, not confusion. In our suffering, God is at work! God works and changes us. He reorients our hearts in such a way that we can glorify Him in the middle of suffering and He can provide us with something that we wouldn’t have had otherwise! See, some today might say that Job wouldn’t have suffered if he just had more faith in God… The Bill Johnson’s of the world might argue that but the Bible tells us that Job’s faith is what put him in the crossfires of suffering in the first place. We have to come to the understanding that temporary suffering isn’t a bad thing. By temporary I mean our life. Job praised the Lord in the middle of suffering when he didn’t have the why. Paul did the same. What’s stopping us from suffering well?
See, in our suffering we want so desperately to list off the good things that we’ve done and often to make the argument that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people like us. The Biblical reality though is that that’s only happened once and that was on the cross where Jesus volunteered to humble Himself as Philippians 2:5-11 tells us and take our place on the cross. See the better question is this: Why do good things happen to bad people? Whenever you live your life where every breath is a blessing, what can this world to do you? Whenever you understand that because of your sin, you deserve eternal separation from God in hell, God’s patience in prolonging that from happening is a blessing. Every breath, regardless of the pain, is a blessing. Every tear that falls is a blessing. Every heartbreak is a blessing.
This doesn’t mean that suffering doesn’t exist! Suffering is real and we all face it… But as we study the life of Job and others we can go through it with a different mindset! Suffering doesn’t have to ruin our day or our life! We can better understand why suffering exists and we can use our suffering for a higher purpose even if we don’t get through it like we’d like to.
So why does suffering exist?
At the fundamental level, suffering exists because of sin. In the Garden there was a consequence for sin and that consequence was being kicked out of Eden and into the outside world. Out of God’s presence and outside of God’s presence there is suffering and there is death. This is true throughout Scripture that we are sinners and we deserve to suffer accordingly. However, this isn’t the only truth concerning suffering because if it was then there would be no hope in suffering.
We see in Old and New Testaments that suffering often exists to do draw us closer to God and His perfect plan for our lives. God’s plan for Paul was to suffer in prison and to suffer with a physical thorn in his flesh that God refused to remove. We know that God has the power to remove suffering - yet, there are numerous times where He refuses to do so. Why? Because He is at work in the suffering to bring about something better. Often suffering teaches you so much more about God’s goodness and grace than seasons of satisfaction do. Suffering forces you to rely on God’s power rather than your own. Suffering makes us more like Jesus Christ and this is ultimately God’s plan for His people!
Suffering exists to show us how meaningless life is without the Lord. Without the Lord, there is no hope in suffering. We’re cosmic accidents. Suffering forces us to accept the reality that we aren’t the master of our own fates and that there must be something or someone who is the ruler and master. Without suffering, we might think that we’re in control and that we don’t need any help or saving. You don’t have to convince someone struggling with cancer that they need help! The healthy don’t often visit a doctor, the sick do!
Suffering has a purpose, even when we can’t fully see or understand what it is.

Conclusion

While we don’t know all of the answers, we do know that God had a purpose and a perfect plan. He loves us and suffering is not necessarily a sign of His disapproval with us. Suffering doesn’t get the last word in the life of a Christian because of what Jesus has done for you on the cross in your place as He bore your sin and shame!
Approach your suffering like this: If Job had to live with boils on his skin the rest of his life, he was content with that - sure, he tried to get some relief - because he knew that he had all eternity to live without them. If I have to live with T1D the rest of my life, it’s ok because I have all eternity to live without it! If you have to live with anxiety or loss or suffering or a burden the rest of your life because God doesn’t bring the healing that He has the power to bring we must assume that He has a purpose in doing so and we must rest assuredly knowing that one day every thing that brings us suffering will cease to exist. We have all eternity to worship our Savior in our glorified bodies and what a day that will be when suffering will be no more! Until then we rest in the already but not yet. We rest in the mystery of God’s plan as we trust in Him above all else.
Where are you at today? In your suffering, do you trust in the Lord and His plan? That’s so easy to say but it’s so hard to do. Ask yourself this though: Is Jesus worth it? In your pit, do you believe that Jesus is with you? In your pit, is Jesus enough? HE IS!
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