Job’s ten children got precisely what they deserved when they died in that house during one of their regular feasts.
Suffering with Job
Reviewing our answers to the dilemma of pain
By Lael Caesar
Job’s ten children got precisely what they deserved when they died in that house during one of their regular feasts. 1
The cosmic perspective the book of Job affords provides powerful proof of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. 2
How do these statements relate to each other? Before you decide, here’s Stan’s story:
Stan was a singular soul. He only drank hot water and despised dogs as unclean (Rev. 22:15). When my father and I were involved in a road accident, and dad had to spend a month in hospital, receiving grafts in his skull and left hand, Stan announced that it was because of our sins. Escaping unharmed must have meant that I was more righteous than my poor father. For according to Stan, in life, your suffering is pay for your sins. As Job’s friend Eliphaz put it: “Who ever perished being innocent?” (Job 4:7).3 Hurricane Katrina’s 1,836 dead were destroyed for their wickedness, and the storm was God’s punishment on America or specifically the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.4 And Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria brought Ebola hemorrhagic fever upon themselves in 2014 because of their moral turpitude. Eliphaz continues: “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it” (verse 8). Life has consequences. You sow trouble, you reap its harvest. In fact, you reap the whirlwind if you sow the wind (Hosea 8:7). The wages of your personal sin is the accident that damaged your skull, while your son escaped without injury, proving his integrity. Over against Stan and Job’s rich, famous, and healthy friends, sinners sin then fall and bruise their shin.
Some Questions for Stan
Stan’s convictions and Eliphaz’ theology provoke questions about mothers’ efforts to feed their babies, and caregivers’ relief interventions around the world. If I pay or am paid for my sins by my sufferings in life, then why should mothers intervene to relieve the suffering of babies crying for hunger? And why should rescue workers race to the site of disaster to drag victims from the ruins of an earthquake’s destruction? Why strive so dramatically to resuscitate the comatose and dying?
We strain our logical, moral, and intellectual muscle under the burden of a theology we seem unable to surrender. Bildad still speaks for us: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right? If your sons sinned against Him, then He delivered them into the power of their transgression” (Job 8:3, 4). But how many sins did Job’s sons have to commit so that elimination would match “the power of their transgression”? And did the youngest accumulate his guilt more rapidly so that he could fairly perish in the same moment as the eldest? Besides, who suffers most when 10 children are all struck down in a single blow—the snuffed out children, or their distraught parents? And if the horrors of chapter 1 are but a chastisement for Job, what theology do the friends have for Mrs. Job?
Stan and Heretical Truths
Zophar’s message of assurance to his friend Job takes the friends’ theology to the next level: “God forgets a part of your iniquity” is his announcement (Job 11:6). A kernel of truth makes deception much stronger. And Zophar’s genius is speaking confusion with a kernel of truth: God does not deal with sinners according to their sins (Ps. 103:10).
Popular predestination theologies sending people to hell before they are born partake of Zophar’s genius, for they are based on the sovereignty of God. And as Romans 9 may be quoted to prove, God is unquestionably sovereign. The faith that destines the lost to hell’s ever-flaming rage in eternal separation from God partakes of Zophar’s genius. For the lost will indeed suffer eternal separation from God. The wild greed that guarantees prosperity for our giving shares Zophar’s genius, for it draws on Jesus’ own promise: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” (Luke 6:38).
Stan’s misunderstanding is the lie that we can measure sin and decide with what consequences humans can pay for theirs. Sure, life does have consequences. And sin does have its stated wages (Rom. 6:23), inclusive of every fallen leaf, faded flower, contaminated water level, and degraded ozone layer; and yes, “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15, KJV). But the answers we seek from Jesus show just how confused we really are: Who sinned? Is it the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 passengers, that they should all be shot down? Is it their brokenhearted survivors? Is it the violated souls on the ground in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, who will never recover from the shock and horror of corpses crashing down into their bedrooms from the sky above? Who sinned (see John 9:1, 2)?
Bible believers know that all earth’s discord and confusion trace back to Adam’s sin in Eden (Rom. 5:12). But the answers Jesus provides to our questions expose the darkness of our presumptions: “Do you suppose that these [Dutch passengers5] were greater sinners than all other [airline passengers], because they suffered this fate” (Luke 13:2; see verses 1-5)? Or that your rare disease is because of your own or your father’s intemperance?
God’s help with our law and order, removing and setting up kings (Dan. 2:21; 4:17; Rom. 13:1), does not mean that our life therefore corresponds to His ideals. Sometimes He lets the lowliest rule (Dan. 4:17). And whoever they may be—militarily, legally, economically, politically—they all fall under Jeremiah’s judgment: they themselves are not capable of directing their own steps (Jer. 10:23), do not know the deceitfulness of their own hearts (Jer. 17:9), and cannot bring a clean thing out of an unclean (Job 14:4). Thus God’s character is not to be determined by our meteorological, electoral, or athletic events, or someone’s recovery from cancer. Distrust for God is the very ground of the rebellion that brought our universe all its experiences of pain and suffering. And it is totally unwarranted: “Every manifestation of creative power is an expression of infinite love. The sovereignty of God involves fullness of blessing to all created beings.”6 And none of those beings paid anything to be born and taste God’s love. What love!
"Our role is on God’s side, the side of sustaining, preserving, and restoring life."
Stan’s Folly, Ours, and Satan’s
As Stan’s misunderstanding is the lie that weighs sins out as heavier or lighter, so Stan’s folly—and ours—is faith in a measurable equivalency between our sin and our suffering, an unacknowledged, poor relation of salvation by works. Our belief in equations derives from our creation in the image of a God of order. But sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). And its havoc has destroyed all equilibrium in God’s now cursed earth. Faithfully healthful living does not guarantee anyone protection from the next intoxicated driver, or the next runaway virus. And when hurting, brokenhearted people cry out to God, “Why me?” the only answer He can offer is His Son on a cross. For though sin has violated all God’s order, God, before its advent here, and before His creation of this world, had secured the means—the only means—of restoring equilibrium. By the sacrifice of His sinless Son who gave us all our life, God would pay the price of sin’s disruption and restore His blighted earth to the perfection in which it was first created (1 Peter 1:18-20 Rev. 13:5). And the cross of Christ, where Jesus—unfathomably—becomes sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), is the only true indicator we have ever received of the proper relationship between sin and suffering. The death of Jesus Christ our Lord alone can account for the full cost of sin (Rom. 6:23). His incomprehensible sacrifice, His cross, “shall be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity.”7 It is, moreover, the unique indicator of God’s love for each of us: “In the light of the cross alone can the true value of the human soul be estimated.”8
Satan’s folly is his faith in slander. For generations he painted God to other angels as the mean spirited, vengeful one—the author of the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, the Israelite conquest, and the lake of fire. Humans believed him too. But for unfallen angels, the Incarnation and its crucifixion climax forever silenced his slander. They saw that he, not God, was the brute: “Nothing could so effectually have uprooted Satan from the affections of the heavenly angels and the whole loyal universe as did his cruel warfare upon the world’s Redeemer.”9 What angels have seen continues to dawn upon us humans. Satan is life’s monstrous agent of cruelty. God is love. Satan inflicts punishment. God takes ours lashes so that we might have His wholeness (Isa. 53:5).10
Stan and Job’s friends might insist that suffering is God’s way—expelling our first parents from their garden home, destroying cities, nations ((including His own Israel)), even the whole world, and set to do it again.11 But this is simply to acknowledge God’s genius in turning the devil’s own weapons against him (see John 9:2, 3). The Son did learn through suffering (Heb. 5:8), and God still chastens those He loves (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6). But pain is not one of education’s essential tools. Through eternity we shall be learning, but we shall experience neither death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any pain whatsoever. Suffering was not always a tool, and evolution has never been God’s way. And though zealots for deity engender suffering to this day in witch hunts, beheadings, and stake burnings, God is not its initiator, and He will dispense with it as soon as He can.
Again, parental discipline, motivated by love, and yielding “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11), is different from criminal brutality. Our Father’s chastening is not to be confused with the enemy’s torture.12 Indeed, some of His teaching even preserves us through the disasters of others that warn us to repent (Luke 13:1-5).
Finally, much of the suffering through which God’s children learn is the direct assault of the devil, their enemy and God’s. Lions’ dens, fiery furnaces, and the trials listed in Hebrews 11 are the work of a desperate enemy. But his hatred is nothing to God’s love. And love is winning, love will win, and love has won.
Meanwhile, human beings, considering our own sinfulness (Gal. 6:1), must eschew judgmental prophesying on tragedy as divine punishment. Our role is on God’s side, the side of sustaining, preserving, and restoring life (John 10:10). Satan is God’s enemy, and Jesus is the object of his unquenchable jealousy. Slandering Father and Son are strategies in his propaganda war, the only war he can fight with God, given that God is indestructible.
God’s victory in the great controversy is not by windy rhetoric that matches the slanderer’s own, but by awesome self-revelation that gives the lie to all the accuser’s slander: He “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). His mercy is not Zophar’s mercy. He does not forget “part of your iniquity.” He forgets it all by taking all your punishment. He bears the pain of the lash until the penalty is fully paid and the cost fully extracted, and there is nothing left to pay. And in exchange He gives you His innocence. The enemy can’t stand it, so he buffets you and you learn through the pain that the grace of God who took your sin away is greater than the brutality of your enemy who cannot stand to see you rejoicing in what he lost.
You no longer seek salvation in his substitutes of penance and purgatory, penitential pilgrimages and purchased masses that promise salve to a million misguided souls. For those practices are only Zophar’s genius writ large. You need no man called clergy to tell you that you are absolved when God’s own exalted Son, Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), freely grants you repentance and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).
The chaos of the devil’s world around does not cease or turn to order when you find peace in Jesus. The peace is a miracle, a gift from Jesus Himself, who gives “not as the world gives.” “In the world you have tribulation,” but He has overcome the world (John 14:27; 16:33). And overcome our thinking, too. Now, regardless how much havoc the devil may wreak around and even upon us, we understand that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He has called, we have answered; He has given us eternal life, and we know that safe in His hand no one and nothing can ever pluck us out (John 10:28, 29).
Meanwhile, we pray and live for the coming of His kingdom of glory, when sin and Satan will be no more, where death will be swallowed up in victory (Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54), and there will be no more “mourning, or crying, or pain; [because] the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Come Lord Jesus!
1 John C. Holbert, Preaching Job (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999), p. 40. Holbert is paraphrasing—not affirming—Bildad’s sentiments.
2 Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . , 2nd ed. (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2005), p. 116.
3 Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright ? 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
4 www.chron.com/news/hurricanes/article/Some-say-natural-catastrophe-was-divine-judgment-1938772.php. Reasons Alan Cooperman has heard and mentions in his Washington Post article, September 4, 2005, include New Orleans’ sin “of shedding innocent blood through abortion,” God’s displeasure with the “American Empire,” and homosexual celebrations on the city’s Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.
5 Two-thirds of the 298 passengers on the ill-fated MH17 flight were from the Netherlands (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28808832).
6 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 33.
7 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 273.
9 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 501.
10 “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. . . . He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed’?” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898], p. 25).
11 See Gen. 3:22-24; 6-8; 18, 19; 2 Chron. 36:15-21; Mal. 4:1-3; Rev. 20:9-15.
12 “The archfiend clothes with his own attributes the Creator and Benefactor of mankind. Cruelty is satanic. God is love” (E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 534).
Lael Caesar, an associate editor of Adventist World, lives to spread the word of love, the good news of that soon-coming kingdom.