SUFFERING IS NOT GOOD-A STUDY IN JOB.
By Pastor Glenn Pease
We have special seats as we watch the drama of Job unfold. God has, by this opening chapter, invited us into the balcony to watch the whole thing from a heavenly perspective. We get to see from the view of God and Satan, and who knows how many millions of celestial spectators. It is a sort of cosmic, SMILE YOUR ON CANDID CAMERA, set up. We are all in on it, but Job has no idea what is going on. We know that all of the dirty tricks of Satan are deliberately designed so we can all see Job's reaction. We also know that when the entertainment is all over Job will be rewarded for being a good sport through it all.
In this analogy Satan is the Allen Funt of the spirit world who goes about constantly trying to dream up new ways to reveal human responses to trying situations. All of this could be great fun if God would just call Satan off on
account of unnecessary roughness. If Satan would have been less violent the whole
drama could be enjoyable. Had he just plotted for all his possessions to be robbed, that would have been an interesting thing to watch. But Satan pulled no punches. He wiped Job out and without mercy saw to it that the vast majority of his servants and all of his children were killed. This spoils the whole show for those who are not sadistic.
Many have felt that God made a bad deal with Satan. Robert Frost has God explaining later to Job: "I was just showing off to the devil." Job responds, "That was very human of you." Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, goes so far as to say that God felt guilty for what He let Satan do to Job. The reason he says God sent His Son into the world to die on the cross was because He felt so guilty about Job. The cross was not only to atone for man's guilt, but for His own. This is certainly as extreme a view as ever uttered, but what it reveals is man questions the justice of God in allowing Satan to treat Job like He did. It just does not set right with man that God would give this much freedom to the forces of evil. He should have put more restricted limits on Satan.
This is man's biggest problem with evil. Why does God in His sovereignty not stop evil from being so powerful. The feeling is, if God is forced to permit evil, He is not all powerful, and if He freely permits it, He is not all good. God is forced, it seems, to give up one or the other of these attributes. Since all of Scripture however reveals God to be both all powerful and all good, man is forced to try to figure out how this can be when God permits evil to be as powerful as it is.
One of the answers to this dilemma is, God can allow evil to be powerful if the end result is greater good. In other words, God is justified in permitting any degree of evil that He, in His sovereign power and wisdom, can turn to good. For example, God allows Satan to buffet Paul with his thorn in the flesh, because that evil of suffering will help Paul escape the greater evil of pride that could ruin his whole ministry. Here is a clear case of God giving Satan freedom to do what He could use for good. This means that the reason God does not destroy Satan and cast him into the lake of fire is because, in a fallen sinful world, the works of Satan can be used for the purpose of God. God allows Satan freedom because it is useful for His own ultimate goals. God is in control, therefore, and evil will not be able to do anything that God cannot overcome, and make count for good in the long run. This being the case, God is off the hook, and He is justified in permitting evil.
This truth is easily perverted into error. Some conclude that evil is not real. If evil is used for good, they reason that evil is really a part of the good. If the good can only come by way of evil, then evil is good. If good can come of evil then evil is not really bad, and, therefore, not genuinely evil. This kind of thinking leads to the Christian Science conclusion that evil is not real at all, but is the result of false thinking. The Bible makes it clear, however, that evil is real, and that it is bad and not good. God can use it for good, but it is evil and destructive, and not His will. The fact that God is superior to evil, and able to counteract it's negative power does not mean that evil is not real and awful. The fact is some evil will persist forever, and that is why hell is a reality. We must avoid the superficial conclusion that all is really good if we only understand everything. Because evil is real, there is much in life that is worthless and meaningless.
Those who think that evil is really good do not realize that by denying the reality of evil they make God responsible for all that we see as evil. The Bible makes it clear that evil is real and God hates it, and is not the author of it. Sometimes Christians feel that God sovereignty means that He controls everything that happens in this universe. If that was the case, then there is no such thing as freedom, and God is totally responsible for all evil. If God controls all that we do, then all of our sin must be His doing, and, therefore, His will. God then is responsible for all sin, for it He controls everything, who else can be held responsible? Since that conclusion is totally at odds with the Biblical revelation, we must go back to God's sovereignty and come up with another view of it that does not make Him the author of sin.
God's sovereignty means that He is the only Person in the universe who can take the risk of creating free willed beings because He is the only Person who has the power and wisdom to make sure that the risk of evil will not outweigh the good. He can end up with a universe of free willed creatures and much good and love that could not otherwise exist. God's sovereignty does not mean He does everything. It means that even though millions of beings do things He does not will, He is able to work in all things for good to those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. God's will is not done on earth daily by millions, but because He is sovereign, His will will eventually be done in spite of all the sin and evil and rebellion.
This is one of the powerful messages of the book of Job. Satan set free to do his worst was not able to destroy Jobs relationship to God, and God's final reward and blessing of Job. Paul in the New Testament said nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The book of Job had already made this truth clear. Life, then, from the Biblical viewpoint is a comedy, and not a tragedy. A comedy is a story that, no matter how tragic the events, ends well. Job is, therefore, a comedy, and all of human life is a comedy, however many tragedies there are to endure.
Now all of this helps us to see suffering in a different light. All of the values and blessings that come out of suffering are real because God in His power and wisdom is able to use evil to bring forth good. The suffering itself is evil. It has its origin in evil powers and wrong choices, and it is evil in itself, for it will not be allowed to be a part of God's eternal kingdom. Evil has no intrinsic goodness at all and so cannot be eternal. The cause of suffering is evil, but the consequences can be good because God can work in everything for good.
God is not the cause of any defect in the body, for the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Just as you would not come into the sanctuary of your church and destroy the pews and the walls or windows, and just as you would not throw garbage all over to make it a place of filth which would be repulsive to God and man, so God does not smash His temple in planes, trains, cars, or bikes, nor does He spread cancer and other diseases through His temple to make the body repulsive. All of the good that come from Christian suffering these things are because God will work in everything (however evil and repulsive) to bring forth good. If men will cooperate with God, there is no evil that cannot be overcome to produce good. But do not conclude that this means the evil or suffering is good, or that God is the author of it for good. Both of these conclusions lead to the false concept that evil is not real, and that God is the author of evil. Anything that leads to these conclusions is not Biblical thinking. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. It is impossible for God to sin, or to tempt anyone else to sin.
There are some Old Testament text that lead to confusion on this, for they seem to be saying that God is the author of evil. Amos 3:6 says, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" The prophet is simply pointing out that God does punish sin by judgment, and that judgment is called evil, because it is from man's point of view the worse thing that can happen. It is an evil to come under the wrath of God, but when God does judge it is in reality not evil but justice. God never judges unjustly or unfairly, and so there is no real evil in His wrath, but the Old Testament often refers to it as evil from the Lord. It is the result of man's evil, and when he reaps what he has sown, it is an evil crop of suffering, but in no way does this mean God is the author of evil. He prefers mercy, but mercy rejected leads to justice, and justice for the sinner is an evil consequence.
Understanding all of this helps us avoid the agony of misconception. So many Christians look at the tragedies of life and Rom. 8:28, and struggle to figure out how everything works together for good. They watch their loved ones die, and suffer months and years of loneliness and heartache, and all the while wonder how they are suppose to see any good in it all. This is a futile struggle and frustration based on the misconception that evil is not real, but that all is good, and that all is of God. You owe it to yourself, and to all the body of Christ to avoid giving anyone this superficial view of life. Evil is real and it hurts, and it is not good, nor can God Himself make evil good, but He will work in all things, even the most evil things, to bring forth good.
But the fact remains, that is the back door to blessing. It is best to come in front door and experience blessing without having to endure the evil. Many a man's drunkenness has lead him to the gutter where he looks up for God's mercy. That is good, but better is the way of man who seeks God's mercy without ever ending in the gutter. Job had great blessings when it was all over, but I wonder if Job would have had his choice, what would he decide? Would he choose to go on with his ideal family and wealth, and social prestige, and right relationship to God, and avoid all he had to suffer, or would he choose to endure the agony he did for the sake of possessing more? We don't know what Job would do, but most people in his shoes would, I am sure, choose the easiest route and avoid the battle.
Since we don't have a choice, however, we need to be ready for the battle. But let's not be naive and think the battle is not real, but only a good we don't yet understand. Evil is real, and life is a battle with real bullets. It is not all a mere play where we all go out to celebrate afterwards. You have seen too many good people suffer too believe that. You have witnessed too many broken homes and hearts to think that way. Jesus would not have wept if all was for the best. All is not for the best. He tried to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem, but he was rejected, and he wept over the folly of the people that would lead them to such great suffering. It was not for the best; it was evil. Suffering is not good, but thank God this which is not good cannot keep us from God's best if we, no matter what, remain loyal to Him. Suffering is not good, but thank God He will work with us, even in that which is not good, to bring forth what is good.