by Donald A.G. Burling
My family has suffered a couple of mishaps recently. My daughter Ruth inadvertently stepped off a kerb, fell and broke a bone in her right shoulder. Then my daughter-in-law Lucy, doing nothing more dangerous than getting up from a sofa, managed to twist her ankle and suffered severe bruising and tissue damage. Meanwhile I am still getting over the falls I had a few months back, and the spell in hospital which put me off my legs for a few weeks. I have also recently had another fall in the street, though I did not hurt myself much. Altogether we are hindered from a lot of what we would like to be doing.
The book of Job is puzzling to many Christians. It describes an exceptionally virtuous man who suffered the loss of his property, his family and his health in a very short time. Not that I would compare the kind of things we suffer with that; yet there are times when each of us is tempted to ask “Why has this happened to me?” Four friends come to comfort Job, and for twenty-nine chapters three of them reason with him, arguing that his suffering must be the result of some sin on his part. In the end Job is provoked into saying things that he ought not to, suggesting that God is unjust.
What none of them know is that God has boasted to Satan about Job’s virtue, and the devil has asked for permission to test him. So in a sense he is being punished not for his sin but for his goodness.
At last, in Chapter 32, their young friend Elihu enters the conversation. He gently corrects Job, and draws attention to the greatness of God. Finally God Himself speaks, causing Job to feel how small he is, and how presumptuous has been his talk. In this way he is changed from a ‘perfect upright man’ into a repentant sinner.
We cannot say that human suffering is never a punishment from God – scripture indicates the contrary (see 1 Corinthians 11 v 27-32). But we should not be quick to assume that it is so in any particular case. Good people are somewhat a problem to God – it is difficult to be righteous without becoming self-righteous. God may use troublesome things to check our pride.
So I cannot say what is the purpose, if any, of the troubles we are having. But I am confident that God will make sure that justice is done in the end, as we find happened in the case of Job.