While researching The Case for Faith, author Lee Strobel asked people across the nation, “If you could ask God any question, what would it be?” Their top response: “Why is there suffering in the world?"
I think of this question each time I watch the evening news. And it hits even closer to home—as a husband, father, and now grandfather, I have seen suffering affect my family. We have experienced loss, illness, and death. Life for all of us can be excruciatingly difficult.
How do we as believers reconcile the reality of suffering with our belief in a good and just God?
The book of Job explores this dilemma by chronicling the life and trials of one man. While some have argued that Job was merely a fictional illustration, the Bible points to his existence as an actual person. The prophet Ezekiel mentions Job as an example of righteousness, along with Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:14). In the New Testament Job is named as an example of perseverance and God’s blessing (James 5:11).
Taken individually, Job’s troubles are not unlike those encountered by the average person. What is notable is that Job suffers all of them in one horrific day. Here is a man who did not “deserve” suffering. Scripture tells us Job was “blameless and upright” (1:1).
Although Job feared God and shunned evil, God allows Satan to put Job to the ultimate test. Satan went on the attack, taking away Job’s sons, daughters, servants, animals, and crops. The devastation eventually causes Job to fall on the ground, not in self-pity but in worship (v. 20). Job’s response is famous: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21).
Rather than curse God in response to his suffering, Job holds on to faith in God. He provides us with an example of how to request answers from God while still trusting in Him as the source of our strength. God responds in a way we don’t expect. He does not answer Job directly, but asks him a series of questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (38:4) and “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?” (39:1).
God’s answer underscores our limited understanding of His sovereignty. The book of Job does not offer easy answers to our questions about suffering, but it pushes us to try to understand God more fully.
Job is at peace at the end of this book, not because his family and wealth have been returned, nor because he has received any answers, but because he has “seen” the Almighty God and learned more about who He is and how He cares for us (42:5).