In the Bible book of Job, his friends share plenty of bad advice about suffering. God is teaching us that we easily offer faulty speculation to people who suffer. Such as, “It’s God’s will,” or, “It’ll be okay.”
Bad advice about suffering can come from asking the wrong questions about suffering, such as, “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Why do the wicked prosper?” (that’s a common question of Job).
I’m going to list what I think are ten bad questions about suffering taken directly from the words of Job or his friends. Take time to think about each, and how it leads to the wrong answers about suffering. Then give thanks for the grace of God, more mysterious and merciful than any suffering imaginable.
- “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” – Job in some of his first words after staying silent for seven days following his traumatic suffering (3:11)
- “Consider now: Who, being innocent, ever perished?” – Eliphaz, asserting that Job did something wrong to make God upset with him (4:7).
- “I will say to God … ‘Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked’” – Job to God, assuming that God is confused and punishing the wrong person (10:2,3).
- “Surely [God] recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?” – Zophar, pointing out to Job that he schemed or did evil to get God’s angry attention (11:11).
- “How many wrongs and sins have I committed?” – Job to God, claiming that in his piety he doesn’t deserve to suffer (13:23).
- “Why do you hide your face and consider me your worse enemy?” – Job to God, frustrated that God’s ways are mysterious. (13:24).
- “Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh?” – Job to his friends, suggesting that both they and God are out to get him. (19:22).
- “Is my complaint directed to man? Why should I not be impatient (with God)?” – Job to his friends, blaming God for his misery (21:4).
- “How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?” – Bildad to Job, stating a question to which Christians know there is only one answer: Jesus (25:4).
- “Does [God] not see my ways?” – Job, concluding that God doesn’t notice his painful plight (31:4).
Even Job walked in and out of confident faith during his trying times. He tended to blame God for being unfair and causing his misfortune. God finally showed up, put an end to the shared ignorance, and told it like it is: God’s sovereign grace doesn’t punish people indiscriminately, nor does it persecute believers for their sins.
Rather, through trying times God can bring believers closer to himself, prepare us for the future, and teach us a thing or two about getting along in this tough world.
PRAYER: Dear God, the suffering of Job is terrible because I, too, have known suffering. And part of the pain is sometimes wondering why I suffer the way I do. When I am hurting and cry out to you, hear me in your mercy, and cheer me with your gracious answers that center in Jesus Christ. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Read the end of the story in Job 42, the final chapter of the book. Job turns the corner not by changing his circumstances, but through repentance, humility and trusting in God’s goodness.