Their Problems And Ours
EasyEnglish Bible Studies that show that God is sufficient whatever the problem
Job: The Problem Of Suffering
by Raymond Brown, M.A., M.Th., Ph.D.
translated into EasyEnglish by Mary Read
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
Suffering is the hardest problem to understand. It is a puzzle. Think of the *Lord Jesus on the cross. His experience was terrible. He had the most awful:
· Physical suffering;
· Mental pain and despair;
· Spiritual sense of being alone. (Spiritual means anything to do with the things of God.)
Jesus used the same word as millions of other people. He cried out: ‘My God, Why...?’
Job had an awful problem. But first, there is something that we must understand.
Suffering brings many problems. They can be complicated. Suffering is a part of human experience. Life can be full of pain and despair. The Book of Job does not give easy, clear answers. It:
· shows the problem as it really is.
· gives an honest record of the sufferer’s doubts.
· removes some common ideas about suffering. (One of these is that suffering is a punishment for *sin.)
· suggests the right attitude about trouble and pain.
So, the Book of Job has a very important message. It is a great literary work too. Martin Luther (1483-1546 *AD) described it. He said that it was the most excellent Bible book. It was a Bible book of best quality too.
People often speak about suffering in a certain way. They say that they do not deserve it. This kind of suffering often brings awful despair. At these times, Job’s bad experience can help them. It has been like this in each century.
Let us meet this man in despair. Notice some great truths. They appear from his awful experience:
It comes at the beginning of the book. (Read Job 1:6-12.) This could be the most important part of the book’s message.
We hear an interview. There is the all-powerful God. Then there is the one who is always an enemy. Job is going to be a kind of ‘test’. Job pleases God as a servant and friend. God allows Satan (the devil) to test Job. We want to know whether Job will continue to love God. We want to know whether Job will remain loyal to God.
It could have been so different for Job. If only he had known that he was a ‘test’. Then he would have accepted his troubles. But he was not aware of the event in Heaven’s Court.
There is something important here for us to remember. It is this. In our suffering, we do not know all the facts. God hides some of them from us. Things that we cannot know about affect us. There is *eternal importance about some of our experiences. We could accept many troubles with courage if we knew this.
Dr Wheeler Robinson wrote a book. Its name is ‘The Cross of Job’. He reminds us that this part of the action was in heaven. Job and his friends knew nothing about this part. We must try to imagine how they felt. Then we will understand what they say. And we will understand what they think. So, we must try to follow the words and thoughts of each person. We must do this as if our knowledge is the same as theirs.
The events in chapters 1 and 2 can encourage the Christian very much. We can see what is happening to us. But at the same time, things happen that we cannot understand. We do not know everything. Some of life’s events are a great mystery to us. One day we will understand completely. They are all part of God’s great and perfect plan. (Read Romans 8:28.)
Joseph certainly realised this truth. (Read Genesis 50:20.) There were cruel plots against him. People accused him. But this was unjust. They used much physical force against him. Yet God was at work. (Read Acts 2:23. This happened to Jesus too.) God overcame men’s evil plans. He changed awful situations. He brought good things out of bad things for them. It also meant honour for God in the end. It can be the same for us.
The story of Job is very sad. The second lesson we can learn is this:
We can think like this without realising it. We ask: ‘Why should this happen to me?’ *Believers must realise something. It is this. They can have the same troubles as those who are not *believers. They can suffer in the same way too.
We must want to live holy lives. We must have the right reason for this desire too. God calls us to be holy. (Read 1 Peter 1:15, 16.) Only that kind of life is good enough for God.
It is completely wrong to choose a holy life for our own benefit. Perhaps we might choose it so that we can be happy. We could think that it will mean security, success and wealth. These are the wrong reasons to choose a holy life. Sometimes these things will be ours; but not always. A Christian should not link these things with a holy life. This is dangerous. His life might lack them at some time. Then he would doubt God’s goodness.
We must remember something important. If we never had trouble, we would soon be of no use. The hard things of life have a definite purpose. Some darkness is essential for even a tree to grow well.
Job made a natural mistake. We can understand it. We can also learn from it. Job remembered his holy life. Then he doubted God’s goodness (31:5-37). (Read 29:1-25; 30:1, 9-11 too.) We must live a holy life for only one reason. Our reason must be, ‘It is what the *Lord wants.’
Let us learn this further lesson:
There is no full human answer to it. Most of the speeches of Job’s friends show this. They have different opinions. But they are all wrong (Job 42:7-10).
Eliphaz sees secret meanings in things. He talks about his own experiences (4:12-27). Bildad always thinks about the past (8:8-10). Tradition is the most important thing to him. Zophar thinks that he has full authority. He seems to say, ‘I am right; so you must be wrong.’ He is probably the least attractive of the 3 friends. He has his own beliefs. He closes his mind to anything else. So his words to Job are cruel. ‘Job, listen to me’, he says. ‘God is not punishing you as much as he should’ (11:6).
Zophar says many true things. But he lacks pity, love and sympathy. These things are vital for all those who have strong beliefs. Notice the clear truth of statements like 11:7-9 and 20:4-8. If only Zophar had declared them with pity and sympathy. When there is trouble, friends may not give true comfort (6:14-27). We may have pain and despair of mind. Then our only true help is in God.
One thing is very certain:
We sometimes think like this. We might ask: ‘What have I done to deserve this...?’ All Job’s friends thought like this. But they were all wrong. (Read 4:7-9; 8:6; 11:6, 14.) Job knows that he is innocent. No *sin in his life deserves his great suffering. Dr Wheeler Robinson writes about this. He uses picture language to describe Job. His spirit is like a bird in a cage. Its wings are hitting against the bars of the cage. The narrow limits of Job’s trust are like the cage.
The attitude of Job’s friends does not please God. We have seen this already. Sometimes, people have physical suffering because of their *sins. But this is because of the law of ‘cause and effect’. Nothing can change this law. If you plant, then you expect a harvest. But it is wrong to use this law about suffering. Sometimes we fail God. Sometimes we do not obey him. It is still wrong to suggest that God will punish us with physical illness.
Here is another lesson for us:
God may not bring it into our lives. But he can make good use of it. He can make us much better people because of it. We should never think that suffering is a waste. It may sometimes seem to be so. But it is certainly not a waste.
Elihu is better than the other friends about this. (We read about him in Job chapters 32-37.) He suggests a *spiritual value in suffering. It is the value of continuing when things are hard. Elihu has a belief about God. He thinks that God’s actions with men can be a mystery. He also has a belief about the way that God deals with men. God’s methods match his nature (33:29-30). God always deals with his children in a fair way (34:16-20). We only know about a very small part of what happens. God knows everything (34:21-28).
One last thing may help us here. We may have physical pain. There may be mental pain and despair. We may feel lonely in a *spiritual way. (Nobody shares our beliefs. We cannot talk about the things of God.) At these times, we must remember that:
Job cries out for a judge. He knows that God is completely fair. He knows that man’s need is very great.
He wants someone to listen to both sides. He wants someone to judge both God and himself.
The wonderful thing is that we have a Judge like this! Job cried out: ‘There is no judge between us.’ Gregory the Great is a famous man. He lived from 590-604 *AD. He was one of the early popes (leaders) of the Roman Catholic church. He loved the Bible very much. He wrote about Job’s desire. He said that ‘Christ came and fulfilled (answered) this prayer’.
Paul wrote about this many centuries ago. He declared: ‘There is a Judge like this. He is the Man who suffered and who overcame. This Man is Jesus Christ. We are never without a Helper. (Read 1 Timothy 2:5 and 2 Timothy 4:16-17.)
Satan said something that was not true. He said that
Job loved God only because God had made him rich. Why do wealth and
success often make people ignore God?
2. Job was extremely disappointed with his friends’ help when he was suffering (Job 6:14-27). How can we make sure that we are not like Job’s friends?
3. God certainly did not approve the thoughts and ideas of Job’s friends (Job 42:7). Yet his friends seemed so sure that they were right. How can we avoid their mistakes?
A Christian might be in great trouble. That person could say ‘Why
should this happen to me?’ How can you help somebody who is like this?
How can you do it in the best way?
2. Paul used his own experiences of suffering to encourage other people (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 6:3-10; 11:23-33; 12:7-10). What lessons did he teach them?
3. During difficult times Paul said that he knew about Satan’s evil plans (2 Corinthians 2:11). Any believer could have hard experiences. What evil plans do you think that Satan uses with us?
4. How did Peter encourage his readers when they were suffering? (1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:19-25; 4:12-19)?
5. Peter told churches that were suffering something. It was important and it was this. Satan tries very hard to damage believers (1 Peter 5:8-9). Can we do anything to protect ourselves during attacks like these?
6. You might be suffering. And you might need somebody to remind you about some truths from the Bible. Which truths would you like to have?
7. Does it help a believer when they know that Jesus suffered? In what way could it help?
8. Think about other innocent people from the Bible who suffered. (People like Joseph, Jeremiah and Stephen). What helped them more than anything else?
AD ~ these letters are for 2 Latin words; the words are Anno Domine; they mean ‘In the year of our *Lord’; so, AD is any date after the birth of Jesus.
believer ~ a person who knows and accepts the *Lord Jesus Christ; another name for a Christian.
eternal ~ before time began; for all time and after time ends.
Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.
sin ~ not reaching God’s standards; not obeying God’s rules; this word can speak about a state (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23; 5:12-17). It can also be an act; so, the word can be a noun or a verb.
spiritual ~ the part of life that is to do with the things of God.
Linguistic Checker: Sue Hunter
© 1999-2014, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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