This week I’ve been reading the book of Job. This is my second time reading the book in its entirety, and I’ll be honest; the first time I read it, I didn’t like it. I thought all Job did was whine and complain about his problems. He questioned why all this calamity had befallen him when he was guilty of no wrong doing, he demanded to have an audience with God so that he could prove his innocence, he even wished for death so that all his suffering would end, and I just wanted him to shut up. I even wrote in my prayer journal that I didn’t want to be a complaining saint like Job. In the end, I didn’t really understand what the point of all of it was, what the book was really trying to tell me about God, about myself, about how to live this life when things go bad.
So in my quest to read the Bible cover to cover in a year, I read Job for a second time. In this second reading, I focused more on the speeches of Job’s friends and his responses to them, and to my amazement, I received a totally different understanding from the Holy Spirit, and He brought this title to my attention:
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
“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.” (Job 1:1-2; NIV)
With all the craziness that is happening in our world today, I hear this question a lot, spoken by unbelievers, Christians whose faith is being tested, and just folks who want to get a better understanding: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Whenever there’s a mass shooting, or natural disaster, or some other great tragedy that results in extensive loss of life, there’s always at least one person who asks the question, “How could God let this happen?” It’s an interesting question, and in some cases a frightening one, for those who don’t know how to respond to it, but I want to attempt to answer it, and I want to answer it by first looking at Job.
Job’s friends have a very fundamental understanding of morality, or right and wrong. If you do good, then you are rewarded, but if you do evil, then you are punished. Simple, easy, basic. But that’s not what happens with Job, and we get our explanation why in the first chapter. Job was a very wealthy man; he owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and countless servants. What’s amazing about this verse of scripture is that when the angels and Satan come to present themselves to God, God say to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8). God knew that Job was a true and devoted servant of the Lord. He did what was right, and he loved and revered God. Could God say the same about us? Could He be so confident in our love and devotion toward Him, that he would invite the enemy to test us, knowing that whatever hurt, harm, or danger comes our way, we would never cease in praising and worshiping Him?
Well, Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), had a different idea.
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “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. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything his has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)
Satan proposes a question: Is man’s love for God truly sincere, our does he only “love” God and do good for personal gain. What would happen if he were to lose everything?
So God allows Satan to take everything Job has. And that’s what happens to us sometimes. We get to a point in our walk when our faith in God is tested. Maybe it’s in an overbearing supervisor who is making life at work miserable. Maybe we’ve had a lot of deaths in our families this year. Maybe we were victims of a horrible attack, or we’ve been stricken with disease and need healing. Maybe we lost our homes, our means of transportation. Or maybe we’re struggling to deal with a mean and nasty person in a proper, “Christian” way.
All of these are ways your faith can be tested. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Sometimes, in order for us to grow, our faith must be tested. If God is going to use us for His will, He has to know that we are committed, and if the slightest sign of trouble turns us away from Him, what good are we?
Remember that God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and when He saw that Abraham was willing to do it, he stopped him and said, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:17-18). Because Abraham obeyed God, he was given a ram to sacrifice in place of his son, and through Isaac and his descendants, we are given Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. If Abraham did not truly fear (a better word for this is revere, which means to show great respect for) God, trust in His word, and do what He said, who knows where we would be today.
So Job was tested. One by one a messenger came to tell him of these freak disasters that result in him losing everything. His sheep were consumed in a fire, his camels, oxen and donkeys were raided, his servants were murdered, his oldest son’s house collapsed under a mighty wind during a feast and all his children were killed. To all of this, Job responded, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21; NKJV). Can we with confidence say we would do the same? That when things got tough we would fall prostrate to the ground and pray harder, worship louder?
Then there is the question: Why do good things happen to bad people? All throughout Job, his friends accuse him of obvious wrongdoing because of his circumstances, and they proclaim that if he’d only repent, things would get better. But Job adamantly defends himself and professes his innocence, and he even goes so far as to question the common assumptions about morality by suggesting that the wrong doer has it good while he who is blameless goes on suffering. “The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure—those God has in his hand” (Job 12:6). In a later chapter he says, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7). Maybe you feel this way sometimes—that the bad guy always wins; that no matter what you do, the enemy always has the upper hand; that God lets the wicked get away with everything.
We have this crazy idea that God sits up in heaven watching our every move with a lightning bolt in His hand, ready to zap us the moment we do wrong. Even Job thought this when he said, “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me along even for an instant? . . . Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:17-20). If God was that kind of God, zapping everyone at the first sign of sin, what hope would we have of ever being saved? But we know that God is a merciful, loving, forgiving God, and He is slow to anger. Jesus said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), so instead of whining and complaining and hating on what your enemies have, love them and be blameless and perfect, as God in heaven, so that you won’t be at fault when the time of judgment comes.
“Let both [wheat and weeds] grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
Don’t think that God has forgotten about those who consistently do wrong—“For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath” (Job 21:30, NKJV). Ephesians 5:5 tells us that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will ever inherit the kingdom of God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ shows us where the “prosperous” wrongdoers will end up; “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22-23). Even scarier, all who do wrong will have to face the white throne judgement, the one place no one wants to be, where they will be judged according to what they have done, and anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be tossed into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:11-15). So I think it’s safe to say that God’s got it covered, we just need to worry about ourselves and make sure that we continue to do what is right in His sight.
There is so much to know about God that we can’t even fathom. Our human minds are too small to begin to understand even a smidgen of who God is and why He does or allows certain things to happen in our lives. In the later chapters of Job, when God finally speaks, He says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (Job 38:4). Who are we to question God’s motives, this God who sees all, knows all, is in control of all, and is all-powerful? Instead, we should humble ourselves before Him, as Job did, and for that he was rewarded double what he had.
In closing I want to reiterate that sometimes God allows certain things to happen, and it doesn’t always make sense to us. If you ever find yourself in a trial or storm that you don’t understand because you’ve always tried to be good and perfect in God’s sight, I charge you to always keep in your remembrance Romans 8:28.
“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for ever doubting the plans you have for our lives. You said in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” So we put our lives in your hands, Lord, knowing that promotion comes not from the east nor the west nor the south, but promotions come from God. We praise you, and we thank you for always providing us with a way to withstand the pressures of the enemy. And we know that every trial and storm we go through is working to perfect and strengthen us in your sight, so that you can continue to do your will through us. So we welcome every testing of our faith, Lord, with joy and gladness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Originally published June 4, 2017