When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person
Nobody suffered more; nobody deserved it less
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8)
How could it happen? All at once the world came crushing down on a single innocent man, a man named Job. It was the ultimate in unfairness.
First, raiders stole his belongings and slaughtered his servants. Then fire from the sky burned up his sheep, and a mighty wind destroyed his house and killed his sons and daughters. Finally, Job came down with a horrible, painful disease. What did I do to deserve such suffering?, he wailed.
A Cosmic Contest
The book of Job reads like a detective story in which the readers know far more than the central characters. The very first chapter answers Job’s main question: he had done nothing to deserve such suffering. We, the readers, know that, but nobody tells Job and his friends.
Unknown to him, Job was involved in a cosmic test, a contest proposed in heaven but staged on earth. In this extreme test of faith, the best man on earth suffered the worst calamities. Satan had claimed that people like Job love God only because of the good things he provides. Remove those good things, Satan challenged, and Job’s faith would melt away along with his riches and health.
God’s reputation was on the line. Would Job continue to trust him, even while his life was falling apart? This is the crucial question of the book: Would Job turn against God?
Job’s wife mocked him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9). His friends were even crueler: they argued that Job was being punished, that he fully deserved the tragedies crashing into his life. For his part, Job struggled to do what seemed impossible: to keep on believing in a loving, fair God even though all the evidence pointed against such a God.
Job on Trial
It helps to think of this book as a courtroom drama, full of long, eloquent speeches. For most of the book, Job sits in the defendant’s chair listening to his friends’ harangues. He knows no airtight refutations; what they say about suffering as punishment seems to make sense. Yet he also knows, deep in his soul, that they are wrong. He does not deserve the treatment he is getting. There has to be some other explanation.
Like all grieving persons, Job went through emotional cycles. He whined, exploded, cajoled, and collapsed into self-pity. He agreed with his friends, then shifted positions and contradicted himself. And occasionally he came up with a statement of of brilliant hope.
Mainly, Job asked for one thing: an appearance by the one Person who could explain his miserable fate. He wanted to meet God himself, face to face. Eventually Job got his wish; God did show up in person. And when God finally spoke, no one — not Job, nor any of his friends — was prepared for what he had to say.
When We Feel Like Job
Sooner or later we all find ourselves in a position somewhat like Job’s. Our world seems to crumble. Nothing makes sense any more. God seems distant and silent.
At such moments of great crisis, each one of us is put on trial. In a sense we become actors in a contest like the one Job went through. This book records every step in that process with unflinching honesty. Job’s life stands as an example to every person who must go through great suffering.