Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? (Job 38:1-11)

Text:  Job 38:1-11

The Book of Job is a very misunderstood piece of literature. Most people recognize the question posed by Job, but not the answer. The question is this: Why do good people suffer? In other words, why does a good and loving and all-powerful God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Job lost all his cattle, donkeys, camels, and sheep. Many of his servants were killed. Most devastatingly, his three daughters and seven sons were all killed at once. Later Job was struck with painful boils from head to toe. He was in constant agony. Why did all that happen to Job? Why should he suffer when many wicked men were far worthier to suffer than he?  Do you hear the injustice? 

We can add our own modern tragedies. Why do our loved ones take ill and suffer and die, when they are not wicked people? Why did hundreds of innocent people die in the tragedy of 9/11?  Why did people die due to the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina?  Many people have tried to pose answers to this question.

For some reason, we believe that it will bring us tremendous comfort if we can only know “why” bad things happen in this life.  Logically, we can rationalize why bad things happen in this life when we make bad decision.  I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a certain cause and effect that happens in this life.  Obviously excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to liver disease.  Continual use of smoking can lead to lung cancer.  Inhaling and being exposed to asbestos brings about health problems.  Eating lead paint chips also brings about problems.  But what about those situations where there is no explainable reason for something bad that happens?  When these bad things occur we inevitably turn our eyes to the heavens and ask, “Why God? Why?” 

In the book of Job, it says that Job was blameless and upright.  In other words, he was obviously blameless because as a sinner he had faith in the promise, the promise of Jesus.  But these words also communicate that Job was at the peak of moral perfection.  He was an honest, compassionate person who treated his servants with care.  He was the type of guy that paid his taxes on time, had a pretty good family and worked for a living.  In the eyes of the world he was a good person.  Therefore, when all the tragedy broke loose, questions of “why” began to come forth.

In response to these sufferings, Job had some well-meaning friends.  These friends came with advice and insights for Job.  They are much like your average friends who come to you in the midst of a struggle and share what they think are comforting insights, but in reality these insights are often very offensive.  For example, listen to Zophar’s comments for Job in chapter 11 from this loose paraphrase: 

"Still, if you set your heart on God and reach out to him, If you scrub your hands of sin and refuse to entertain evil in your home, [then] You'll be able to face the world unashamed and keep a firm grip on life, guiltless and fearless. You'll forget your troubles; they'll be like old, faded photographs. Your world will be washed in sunshine, every shadow dispersed by dayspring. Full of hope, you'll relax, confident again; you'll look around, sit back, and take it easy.  

Zophar essentially believed that God did not punish a righteous man and if he did, then the man who is punished must have sinned. 

My friends, we have plenty of people in this day and age that hold to the same theology of Zophar.    For instance, TV Preacher named Creflo Dollar once said, 
"Words are seeds. Whatever you speak will come back to you in the form of either positive or negative manifestations. It’s easy to become weary and give up when the pressure is on. But if you continue to speak positive, faith-filled words about your situation, then you will see breakthrough."

Joel Osteen has stated the same thing,

"If you'll dare to take your mind off your troubles, get your mind off your own needs and instead, seek to be a blessing to other people, [then] God will do more for you than you could even ask or think.  You have to learn to follow your heart.  You can't let other people pressure you into being something that you're not.  If you want God's favor in your life [then] you must be the person He made you to be, not the person your boss wants you to be, not even the person your parents or your husband wants you to be.  You can't let outside expectations keep you from following your own heart." 

As you can see, these three all have the understanding that suffering and favor are linked to mankind’s sin and obedience.  In other words, they hold to the idea that through faith in Christ this redemption should be present in our life by visible physical and material blessings.  Hardships are therefore deserved because of some particular sin or lack of faith. 

There are really two ways of handling the question of “why bad things happen.”  We either have to pin the problem of suffering on the person, that if they would just be better and do more righteous things and get right with God, then they would no longer suffer.  Or, the other option is to make God unjust and unloving.

So, what is the answer for us today?  Why do bad things happen?  We can obviously answer this by saying, “sin.”  We live in a sinful world that is unpredictable and fallen.  But that still leaves the question of why do bad things happen to this person and not that person?  What do we say to a Father who holds his two year old son dying of cancer?  What do we say to a spouse who is grieving the loss of a loved one who died in a tragic car accident due to a freak accident?  What do we say to the child that loses her mother to breast cancer at a young age?  It seems to me that we want answers?  Why God, Why? 

I cannot give an answer today, because in our text God does not answer this. Instead, when God appeared to Job, He did not explain or justify Himself to Job. On the contrary, the Lord told Job, "I am the Great Creator of all the universe. You are a foolish man. Who are you to question Me?" If anyone else said this, it would be arrogant. But not God. His thoughts are far above all of us. His ways are not our ways. He has all wisdom and knowledge. All things He does are right. My friends we error when we question God’s motives and when we try to answer questions that we simply do not have the ability to answer.  Job's mistake was that he questioned God as if he was on the same level as God.

We are like Job. We try to venture into the mind of God with our questions and our reasoning.  When Job complained to God and questioned God's wisdom, he was speaking from his own experience and his own human wisdom. Job did not say something obviously stupid. What he said was logical. Job spoke from common sense. That is the danger that confronts us all. Although we believe that Scripture has authority as God's Word, we sometimes use our experience and common sense to judge spiritual matters.  We attempt to understand God from our perspective disregarding that our limited perspectives are not capable of understanding God, for He operates at a different level. 

Like Job and his friends, we end up in great failure when we try to answer questions about God that we simply can’t answer.  Why do bad things happen?  We can obviously say, “sin.”  However, when these more complex situations of suffering occur, like natural disasters that seem to strike certain areas for no rhyme or reason, or simply bad things happening in the midst of something that is good, we simply can’t and don’t know how to respond.  Frankly, when we do try to answer these tough questions, we either diminish God’s sovereignty making God into a monster or we spiritually abuse people. 

So what we are assessing here is that we simply cannot answer some of life’s questions because we don’t know.  As a pastor I have had to look into the eyes of people who have lost loved ones and painfully answer, “I am so sorry, but I don’t know.”  If I were to try and answer this question, I would either end up spiritually manipulating individuals or undercutting the character and sovereignty of God.  So, is this my message for you today…that we don’t know?  Is that it? Yes, on this subject I am afraid that it is.  I do not know the mind of God for He has not revealed these answers to me or you in His Word.

But there are things that we do know.  That which we do know we proclaim and we do so with confidence.

What we do know is that mankind has a sinful nature which results in a spiritual nothingness. We can do nothing.  We know that God does everything.  We know that this world was created good but that it has been marred by sin.  We also do know that God was not content to leave His creation dead in sin but made a promise from the beginning of time to pursue His creation, you and me.  He sent His Son, to live, die and be resurrected for our salvation.  We know that in Christ that we are recreated.  We know that the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, because great is the rejoicing of the angels in heaven over each sinner who repents. Great is their joy now over you, because your rebirth in Christ is more glorious than the creation of the whole universe. The same God who set limits on the sea and controls the waves, He has created even more marvelously in you. He who brought forth life in the sea has brought forth life in you. He who knows every drop of water in every ocean, He gave His Son and sent His Spirit so that He could know you eternally. Everything that God created, from the tiniest to the grandest, from the most beautiful to the most powerful, among all the wonders of God's masterwork of the universe, the great treasure that He cherishes above all things is you. He did not send His Son to die for any other part of His Creation. He sent Christ in human flesh to redeem mankind. The pinnacle of God's wisdom is His plan of salvation that culminated in the Cross and the Blood of the Lamb shed for you. The incredible love of the Father for you is a love more limitless than a thousand oceans.

The questions of life, they drive us not to what we don’t know, but what we do know, what has been revealed to us.  We are driven to rejoice like the angels in heaven, for great is the salvation He has given to us. For He has declared it in His Word, which cannot be broken. 

Sources:  I Won’t Answer The Question (Rev. Andrew Eckert) ~ LSB (CPH)