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How could a good God allow so much suffering?
Pastor Ben Sadler
by Pastor Ben Sadler
May 6, 2024

The problem of evil and suffering is the most challenging indictment against the Christian faith. The question is straightforward: How could a good God allow so much unjust suffering? Whatever philosophical answer we come up with will likely fall flat, especially for the person in pain. So instead of giving us a simplistic answer to a profound question, the Holy Spirit inspired an author to write a story, the story of Job.

The book of Job is different than other books in the Bible. It is laid out more like a Shakespearean play than a news report. The opening scene describes an upright and just man who lives a pure life in every way imaginable. Yet even before we turn the page, Job’s life gets turned upside down. He gets word that all his livestock have been stolen or killed, which takes him from being the wealthiest man in the land to being destitute. But before he can process his loss, a messenger tells him that all his grown children have died in a tragic accident. In the days to come, even his own body betrays him, covering him in festering sores.

At this point in the story, the narrative is begging us to ask: How could a good God allow so much unjust suffering to such a righteous man?

Next, three of Job’s “friends” walk on the stage, one at a time. Each one tries to answer that question in their own way. One says, “There must be some sin you haven’t confessed.” Another says, “God’s giving you what you deserve.” And another says, “You must be hiding something.” They are all trying to answer the question, but their simplistic frameworks don’t hold up in Job’s case.

By the end of the story, God rolls onto center stage in the presence of a billowing storm. Job finally gets his moment. He wants God to answer the question: How could a good God allow so much unjust suffering in my life? But the Lord God gives him no explanation. Instead, he asks Job: “Where were you when I created the world? Can you understand how the baby goats get their meals? Do you know what is lurking at the bottom of the sea?” (See Job 38 and 39.) In other words . . . “Job, you have too limited a perspective. I know what I’m doing. Your pain does have a purpose. Your faith is being challenged, and through this trial, it will be strengthened.”

Job’s response to the Lord’s answer goes something like this: “Now that I see you and hear from you, I realize I can trust you. So I repent in dust and ashes.”

Like most narratives, this story is supposed to hit us on an emotional level. Instead of giving us an airtight argument for suffering, it gives a feeling of hope in the power and perspective of God. When suffering leads us to zero in on our moment, this story expands our vision to believe in God’s wider view. Such a story might not satisfy our minds, but it might just move our hearts not to give up hope.

The story of Job is long and complicated. (It is 46 pages in my Bible, and most are complex poetry.) It presents no simple answers to suffering, because suffering isn’t simple. However, if we can absorb this narrative into our souls, we might be able to respond to our sorrow with the faith that Job had. From our limited perspective, we might not know why God allowed us to suffer, but we can learn to believe in the One who has a purpose for our pain.