It bothers us that good things happen to bad people because bad things entered into the world through man’s failing to live up to God’s morality and because we are looking forward to a time when God will come in perfect timing and set things right. The meaning of our struggles is to point us towards a relationship with God and help us to live more fully for God once we have. We should strive to live a good life because that is what God has called us to do and because we believe that doing so will result in eternal blessing. The questions that the person has who doesn’t have a belief in God are answered for the person that does have God inside their box. But, for these people, one of which I am, a theological and moral dilemma arises.
If God is all powerful and all loving, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people? This is the question that I, as a Christian, receive more than any other from both those who believe in God and those who don’t. Often at the heart of it is a more personal question for the individual asking. The book of Job is brilliantly written. On just the surface it is a wonderful story filled with drama, suspense, and depth of topic. But deeper, it is a book that uses all sorts of literary devices and styles. The author uses proverbs, narrative, riddles, hymns, laments, curses, and even lyrical nature poems. He is renowned throughout history for his ability to seamlessly weave together different types of rhetoric: hyperbole, metaphor, sarcasm, and more. It truly is a beautiful book. But, there is one problem. The book doesn’t fit very well into my box and probably not yours as it explores the question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people. So much so that when I first read it, I read it totally wrong. The book, as we will see, it about a man named Job. He lived a long time ago near the time frame of the first recorded history. He lived somewhere outside of Israel, but believed in the God of the Bible. In fact he passionately loved the God of the Bible and worked hard to live for Him. Job was a rich man who had everything going for him until one day, as we will read about in a few minutes, everything in his life was turned upside down for the worse. The majority of the book consists of an argument between Job and some of his friends about why these bad things were happening to him – a man who had seemingly lived a good life. When I first read the book I had no background information on it. I didn’t know how it was going to end or what the point was. So, I read it with a completely clean slate. And, as I was reading I was totally agreeing with Job’s friends. The things they were saying fit into my box, my belief system. And then, I got to the end and found out that both they and Job were wrong, but they were more wrong. That is how far outside of my box it was. I was rooting for the wrong guys.
In fact, this is kind of the point of the book – to make people think outside of their boxes. You see the Jewish tradition taught that God rewarded those who righteously served Him and punished those who didn’t. Fair enough, that is inside our boxes. The Christian tradition seemingly teaches this same thing, although much of this belief points towards this truths application after our lives. When Job lived, people of the Jewish faith believed this. But, they took it another step. They said, “If God rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous, then those that have good lives must be righteous and those who have bad lives must be unrighteous.” This makes good sense and fits inside our boxes very nicely. I mean in mathematics this is an accurate formula. If a = b and b = c then a = c. So, Job and his friends were living under this assumption. God’s answer to the problem of why He allows bad things to happen to good people doesn’t fit inside their boxes.
Job 1:1 1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4 His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. 6 One day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. 13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you! ” 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
The question we want to ask is “Why?” Why is Satan talking to God or in God’s presence? Or the more serious “whys” Why does God allow Satan, the devil, to do this to a great man? Why does God bring Job up to Satan in the first place? The beliefs in our boxes cry out for an answer to why what we read about in this chapter takes place. But, here, in this first chapter, the Bible isn’t only concerned with why. Instead, it is only concerned with “how.” That is, how Job suffers. Everything is ripped from Job. All of his possessions and almost all of his family, and the Bible is concerned with how Job responded.
First, he mourned the losses. Tearing his clothes and shaving his head were common mournful responses to tragedy. Many, for some reason, want those who experience tragedy to jump to healing and recovery. Even when we talk to those who are in the midst of hurt we seem to push this. “It is going to be ok,” we say. We comfort, “In the long run this will work out for the better.” But, Job, at the loss of possessions and more importantly family, is crushed and outwardly shows it. This is normal, let us never be above mourning.
Second, Job recognizes that everything he had was a gift from God. So often, we look at the bad things that happen and blame God while forgetting that the good things that happen are often a blessing from God. We look at the loss of things – job, health, loved one, etc – and say, “God how could you take that from me?” But, so often we forget that God is the one who has given us those things in the first place. I believe that Job’s focus on the good things of life being a blessing of God allow him to remain faithful to God throughout his life, no matter what he faced.
Finally, Job continued to worship God and live for God. Job knew that a terrible change in his life didn’t change the truth of God being God and so he, continued to praise and live for Him. I think our culture would do better to recognize that God deserves our lives no matter what happens to us. Truth be told, even if God was mean, He would still deserve our lives by the very fact that He is God. He is the ultimate being and the one who created us. But, I have good news that Job didn’t know about. God proved that He isn’t mean by sending His son Jesus to die for the sins of the world. God wanted to have a relationship with us so much that He paid the ultimate price to offer that gift. And so, all the more we should be people who live for God no matter the circumstances.