Why Do We Suffer?
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I will see God.” – Job 19:25-26
The author of the book of Job does not agree with what was then the standard answer to the question of why people suffer. It was referred to as “the doctrine of retribution” because its explanation for suffering centered on God’s punishment for sin.
The story is about a man named Job, a wealthy man with a big family, and a man who had a reputation as a very righteous person who cherished his relationship with God. In a series of disasters, he loses everything, including his health. As he sits on an ash leap, alone, destitute, and in despair, his three friends come to comfort him. However, when Job laments that he can see no reason for having to suffer like this, his friends respond by trying to convince him that he must have done something to deserve God’s punishment. For them, it was essential to uphold the idea that God is just, and therefore does not allow anyone to suffer who doesn’t deserve it for some reason. To believe otherwise would leave us vulnerable to the notion that the world was subject to chaos: events for which we could find no justification. But Job remains steadfast in his complaint. For him, the chaos was a reality because the doctrine of retribution made no sense in his case.
For Job the cause of his suffering was the loss of everything that made his like meaningful. When we lose the things or people to which we are attached in a bond of love, our hearts are ripped apart and left empty and wounded. What kind of explanation could possibly be helpful at a time like this? It couldn’t replace our losses, and it couldn’t heal our hearts. Moreover, making God the agent or cause of our loss represents a challenge to God’s very being as a God who loves by nature.
In this verse, Job seems to have a flash of insight. He does not come to an understanding of the “why” question. But he does come to see God differently than as he is described by his “friends.” Instead of perceiving God as the cause of his suffering, he rather comes to hope in God as the One who will redeem him from his suffering. This is a life changing transformation – going from “God is my accuser” to “God’s my redeemer.”
This should sound familiar to anyone who knows anything about the ministry of Jesus. When the sick came to him, burdened with guilt, he healed them. Faith was born in their hearts, and Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”
In an imperfect and fallen world, where nothing is permanent by nature, and where loss and change are the rule, suffering cannot be avoided. All attempts to create a pain free life in a world that needs redemption have ended in disappointment. Why this world is fallen is beyond our understanding. However, who God is in the midst of our suffering is clear in Jesus Christ. He is not our accuser. He has stepped into our shoes, and he walks with us through the darkness in order to lead us into the bright light of God’s healing and redemptive love. Suffering is not permanent. Salvation from suffering is.
Gracious God, Jesus Christ is your gift of love and life. Help us to put our trust in him for strength, healing, and eternal life.