If you have a copy of the Old Testament, I'd like you to turn with me to the book of Job. The book of Job - you have Esther, Job and then the book of Psalms - and Job chapter 1 we're turning to.
I'm going to take time to read the whole chapter, starting at verse 1: "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
"And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them: And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee. While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee. While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee. While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee. Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly".
Our Father, we pray that You would help us this morning, for we seek not to hear the voice of men but the voice of God. For we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
Her name was Patricia. She was 35 years of age. I called her my aunt, but she wasn't really my aunt, she was just a friend of my mother. She was a girl who was extremely intelligent, a girl who - it seemed - had everything going for her. She had been through full-time education, she had attended University, she had become qualified to teach other young people. But at 35 years of age she was diagnosed as having cancer. She went through all the medication that you go through, she tried everything and it seemed that it had relapsed for while, but it came back. At 35 years of age she passed into the presence of her Lord.
Stephen is his name. Twenty-one years of age. I went to school with him, he had everything going for him - a brilliant mind. He dropped out of University, he could take it, but he just didn't want the bother. He went into business and seem to be being quite successful - but on a road quite near where I lived, his car careered off the road into a ditch and he passed into the presence of his Lord.
I'm sure you have people in your family, whether young or old, and at some point in their life something has taken hold of them - and you can remember it so vividly - an illness or a sickness, or simply an accident. And suddenly life, when it's so vibrant, when it seems to be at its peak, whether it is through death or through illness, that life seems to be snuffed out. It could be life, it could be simply circumstances - you look around you and the homes of the people you see, they're so degraded. The marriages that you see, perhaps, around you have been broken. The poverty in your area, or even in this town of Portadown, some of it is atrocious. And as we look at these things we can often - so often - be so confused, and we can look heavenward, we can say to God: 'God, what is this all about?'.
Archibald McLeish was a playwrighter. He took pen and paper at one stage and he wrote a play, a contemporary play of the story of Job that we read together this morning. But in this play he has the character of Satan, and the character of Satan says these words: 'If God is God, He is not good'. In other words, he looked at all the things that were happening around him, and he portrayed Satan saying: 'Well, if God is really God, if God is really in control of everything that is happening, He cannot be good'. He went on to say: 'If God is good, He is not God. Because if He was good He wouldn't let these things happen. If He was God He would have control of these things, and He would stop these things'. The playwright commented further, he said: 'Millions and millions of mankind are burned, are crushed, are broken, are [murdered], are slaughtered - and for what? What is it all for? For thinking? For walking round the world in the wrong skin? For walking round the world with the wrong shaped nose, eyelids? For sleeping in the wrong city?'.
Today in our age of technology everything is seen as something that must be understood. Everything must be seen as something that we, as men and women, can control. Even our children at school, they are taught in school now to ask questions, rather than to learn facts. Everything that confronts us, we are to ask a question about it - and life, as it seems, is portrayed for us in terms of questions that need answering, problems that need to be solved.
In the book of Job that we read together this morning there are plenty of questions that are given to us, but it seems as you read right through the whole book, there is not much in the way of an answer. The biggest problem that is presented in this book is simply this: 'Why, God? Why do the innocent suffer? Why, God, does bad things happen to good people?'. Now, an easy answer that I could give to this this morning, and you could all go home, is: sin. It's because of sin that bad things happen to people. But if I was to give that answer this morning, that would be a wrong answer, because that is the answer that Job's so-called friends gave him when they were counselling him. They said to him: 'Listen Job, you might think you're righteous but there's something in your life that's offending God, and that's why God is punishing you in this way'.
Well, if we're not willing to accept that explanation - which I'm not willing to accept - the question is not so much: 'Why do bad things happen to good people?', but the question is: 'Why, God, why at all do these things happen?'. In Job, the book of Job, the need of an answer shows the deepest question, one of the deepest questions, that man has ever asked and it's this: 'What is the point of serving God? Does it pay well? Does it give good dividends?'. The question I want to ask this morning - ask of you all, and ask of myself - as we look into Job chapter 1 is: What does it take? What kind of person does it take? What kind of faith does it take, that a person can keep their faith in a loving God, in a just God, in a sovereign God, when everything around them in the world and in their personal life is falling apart?
What is God holding from us? What is God not telling us that will make sense out of life, or even make its lack of sense a little more bearable? What is God not telling us? Well, this book of Job - it pushes past pat solutions that we are used to hearing, it pushes past one-liners, quips that we are used to hearing - and so often we are guilty of giving to those who are suffering and are unconverted. It moves past all those synthetic explanations of evil. How many times have you been told: 'You'll get through OK. Don't worry about it, you'll get through - remember that where there's bad, well, there's always worse'? How many times have you been told that? How many times have you heard the proverb: 'I wept because I had no shoes, until I saw a man with no feet'? Somebody out there, they're always worse than you are - but that's OK until you look down at the feet of the person telling you that proverb, and they're standing in a pair of boots! You think to yourself: 'Hold on, he's telling be that there's somebody out there worse, yet he's better than me - why can't I be like him? Why can't I have his health? Why can't I have his status? Why can't I have his wealth?'.
So often when we're instructed to look over elsewhere at somebody who's worse than us, what happens is - and I know it happens with me - is my head doesn't look to them, my head looks to the person that is better off than I am. Now, yes, positive thinking may have helped Job when he lost his livestock, when he lost his cattle, when he lost his camels, when he lost his agriculture. Positive thinking might have helped when all that happened - but surely it would have been mockery to say to Job: 'Well, look on the bright side', when he lost his children, when he lost his home, and later in the book we see that he actually lost his physical health and his friends!
On the other side of the coin, it would have been wrong simply to take the fatalistic attitude and say to him: 'Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles. That's life! It's tough, you just have to get over these things!'. Some comfort that would have been to a man who was standing there, at one moment in his life he seemed to have absolutely everything that this life could give, and now he has nothing! So in this book I want to see, and I want you to see this morning, that we are face-to-face with a godly, good man who is suffering - and his suffering is intolerable! It seems that his suffering is unending and, as it were, the Holy Spirit catches us up into his pain, into his anguish and into his misery to see the seeming injustice of it all. We hear his poignant plea to God: 'Lord, what on earth is happening? Lord, what from hell is happening? Where is this coming from? Why God, why is this happening to me?' - and we feel, as it were, his sense of abandonment by his own family. We feel, as it were, his pain as his wife turns to him and says: 'Curse God and get it all over with and die!'. We feel his pain as his friends seem to counsel him, and tell him: 'It's all your fault, you've brought it on yourself'. We see his anguish as the God in whom he had faith, he feels that that God has forsaken him.
The frustration is, as we read this little book, as we look into it, as we picture the story here, the biggest frustration of it all is this: that there is nothing we can say, or nothing we can do to ease his pain, or even explain the existence of it! We are powerless as we look into it, we are faced with the failure of ministry - yes! Christian ministry! We are faced with the failure and the inadequacy of some preaching, the inadequacy of some synthetic advice that we give off like a shotgun at times. But to Job God seems callous, God seems unfair, God seems distant - and we are forced, as Christians, as we read this book, to rethink our theology, to remove our prejudices, to look at the whole meaning of what pastoral care and pastoral ministry really means. Even when we re-evaluate all of that, and even when we look at his despair here, and we rethink our theology, and we rethink our ministry - there's still one question that remains, the question of all time: 'Why do the innocent suffer? Why, oh God, did You allow this in my life? Why, God, did you let my child die? Why have I contracted cancer? Why have I this disease? Why is my heart and my home broken?'. The common denominator of all of these questions seems to be one, and it's this: 'Where is God in all of this?'.
So, where was God in Job's life? If you look at chapter 1 and verse 1, we see that God at the very start was right there in Job's life. In verses 1 to 5 we see Job's piety in his prosperity. If you look at verse one it says that Job was perfect, he was upright, he was a man that feared God and eschewed evil. This man was pious, he was a godly holy man, he was morally perfect and upright - now that doesn't mean that the man had no sin, but what it does mean is that this man was blameless. You couldn't have pointed the finger at Job and said: 'Look what he's doing', or you couldn't have told stories about Job and said: 'I remember the time when Job did that'. Because in the eyes of men, although his heart was still sinful like us all, in the eyes of men he was blameless and he lived a holy life - he did what God required and he was obedient to God.
His godliness, verse 1 says, has a positive and a negative aspect to it. First, positively it says he feared God. If you go into the Old Testament, and you go to Proverbs chapter 1 and verse 7, you see that the Old Testament writer there says that the fear of God is the secret to holiness. He says: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction'. So positively, this man Job feared God, he lived his whole life out to please God, as far as he knew it he wasn't putting a foot wrong, he wasn't making a wrong tick with his pen, he did every single thing right it seemed. But negatively it says that, not only did he fear God but he eschewed evil, or he shunned evil, or he turned away from evil. Again this man's life was in keeping with the perfect Old Testament ideal saint. What does Psalm 1 [verse] 1 say? 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful' - all Job was was an epitome of this! Positively he feared God, he worshipped God, he followed God in his life. Negatively he left sin, he shunned sin, he pushed it as far away from his life as he could, he was a pious godly fearing man.
If you look at his family in verses 2 to 5, it seems that everything he had was ideal. He had an ideal size of a family for a man of his riches and his land. He had seven sons and three daughters. It seemed that there was perfect harmony in that family. They went to one another's houses for tea and they shared everything with one another. Job, it seems, was a good father. Job was a man who knew that his children weren't perfect, but he even offered sacrifices on behalf of his children - he was the ideal man!
We see his possessions. The passage says that this man, in terms of his possessions, was the greatest and wealthiest man in the whole of the country - and, even though he was the wealthiest man, it says that his riches didn't corrupt him. In fact in chapter 31 and [verses] 15 to 22 you can read that he even gave his money and his riches out to help the poor. Job was so close to God, that God was able to trust him with such riches, such blessings, such privileges.
But it appears that Job's children weren't as great. It appears that Job's children were more prone to the deceitful nature of wealth and the material possessions which their father had. Yet Job was such a great father that he wasn't fooled by their sinfulness, he knew that they were worldly, but he also couldn't keep his children - he knew - from the world. He knew that, no matter what he did or what he said, he couldn't stop them from going into the world - so what he did was he prayed for them. He knew that if he tried to stop them going into the world all he would do was create a spirit of rebellion against his faith. So Job rather got on his knees and, it says, prayed for their souls continually. Parents we can take a lesson out of that, can't we? We can say all we like to our children, and our children love us, and our children respect [us] and may behave at home in a way that you think is pleasing - but the reality is you will never, ever know what they are doing when they're away. The reality is [that] when the door is closed is you don't know what they're getting up to, so it's better to be like Job and to be on your knees for your children rather than nagging at them.
Look at Job. A more caring, godly, ideal man you couldn't think of. Let's look at the heavenly perspective of Job's problems, which are from verse 6 to 12. Look at verse 6, there's a total change of scene. It's almost as if the picture frame has changed and it's gone up like a telescope to heaven, and it says: 'Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them'. There's a change of scene, it seems that we've been taken into the court of heaven and the sons of God were brought before God, and Satan is there. Now the word in this passage is 'the Satan' - the Satan, because Satan means 'accuser'. It appears here that Satan was often before God, he came before God to give an account to God, and his job was to draw attention, and fret out, and pull out the evil of all mankind. He was like a secret police man, like the KGB, probing for defections and reporting findings of evil in God's saints. Sure that's what Revelation 12 and verse 10 says, that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. So we must beware, because Satan is there, Satan is watching for every move that we make, and he is before God pointing those things out. 1 Peter chapter 5 and verse 8 says, 'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour'.
As you look at this passage you can praise God this morning, do you know why? Because God controls Satan. Have you got that? God controls Satan! There is nothing that can go out of control in this world, there is nothing that can happen in this world that is outside the control and the will of God because God controlled him, He had a rein upon him. Now God, as we see from this passage, initiates the drama of the book by drawing Satan's attention to Job's unique character. He says: 'Look at this man Job, have you seen him? Have you seen how holy he is?' - and Satan with satanic cynicism takes up the gauntlet, and he says: 'I'll see how holy he is'. In verse 9 he says these words that you have in your bulletin: 'Doth Job fear God for nought?'. Satan says to him, 'Job has a good reason to obey God! Obeying God pays well! Take away the dividends, God, take away the blessings of Job's obedience, and Job will turn to cursing You!'. He says: 'Just cross him once and You'll see Job's true nature' - and what Satan was basically saying to God is this, 'You have put a hedge of riches, and wealth, and blessing, and success around Job - is it any wonder that he's so holy? Take it away and You'll see what he's really like'.
I want you to notice something this morning - Satan knew something about religion that even some of us don't know. Because some people are in religion, some people are in Christianity for what they can out of it, is that not true? They're in it for the perks, they're in it for the blessings, and somehow in this age that we live we have developed a supermarket mentality in the church of Jesus Christ. We have become commercial Christians, we have Christian gypsies who flit about from one church to another because of the atmosphere, because of the music, because of the facilities, because of its popularities or its organisations. And I really wonder today that if God were the only attraction in our churches would there be anybody in them?
Satan's argument was so clever because he said to God, he reminded God of all the false professions, all of the failures, the line of them who had fallen away back into sin, who when the going got tough they went going out the door of Christianity - and he insinuates to them that Job's godliness was artificial. Now was Satan right about Job? Is Job only in it for what he can get out of it? Are people only religious because of what they can get out of it? Is your faith in God dependant only on the good that you think you'll get? Or is God so great that He can be loved for Himself, not just for His giving? Can God be held on to by a man when there is no benefits and perks attached to Him? Can I ask you this morning: if you were like Job, think of this, and everything you had - family and friends, status, your job, your money, your health - everything you had was taken away would you be satisfied with God? Would God be enough?
In our lives and our experiences is God an end in Himself? Is our faith rooted and grounded in a personal walk, and a personal fellowship, and a personal communion with the living God - or is it commercial Christianity? Job's faith in God proved to be real and Satan was proved to be wrong, because in verse 20 to 22 we see Job's piety in his problems. No! Job didn't curse God! He took it from the hand of God, no matter what it was - even though it was bad, even though in his eyes it was evil, it was something that was destroying his happiness - he took it simply because it was from the hand of God. And he fell - think of this! - he had been raped of all the wealth that he had, and because it was from the hand of God, because God allowed it, he fell at His feet and he worshipped God. I don't know about you but that astounds me! Even in all of this his first reaction was to see the hand of God in it and fall and worship - what would our first reaction be? Would it be to curse God? What would it be? Would it be to question God? But what did Job do? He sought God!
You might say to me: 'Hold on a minute David, you're not answering the question. You started out with the question 'Why? Why do all these things happen? Why did God allow such bad things to happen to such a good man?''. Well, this is the whole point of the book, and I want you to grasp this this morning: Job wasn't meant to know why! Have you got that? Job wasn't meant to know why! All of the book hangs on this fact, that if Job had known why, there would have been all these things happening to him, Job would never have had a place for faith in his life - that man Job could never have come forth as gold purified in the fire. It was like, for Job, being in a maze. He couldn't where he was going, but God was up in the mountain looking down on the maze, He could see exactly where he was going - but He wanted him to learn faith, He wanted him to see his way through faith and not by sight.
Now listen this morning: we are to understand from Job, that there are some things which God cannot reveal to us in the present - because by revealing them He would thwart His purposes for good in our life. Enough is revealed by God in the scriptures to make faith intelligent, and enough is reserved in the scriptures to give faith scope for development. Why do the innocent and godly suffer? A final solution hasn't been given in the Bible, a final solution hasn't been given in the word of God, but there has been an interim solution, a temporary solution given which may bring peace to our hearts, until the full and final solution is given in a day that is yet to come. What is it? It's this: suffering fulfils a divine purpose for our good, until we shall see face to face, and until we shall be known even as we are known. The message this morning to your heart from the Lord is this: that there is blessing through suffering! Why? Why is there blessing through suffering? Because through suffering you can come face to face in a real encounter with God Almighty! Self can be slain, and God can be found.
This little book is just an illustration of Romans 8:28 where it says: 'And we know that all things work together for good'. It doesn't say all things are good, it says: 'All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose'. In Hebrews 12:11: 'Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby'. It's not nice to taste it. It's not nice to experience it, no-one said it would be, but God knows what the purpose of it is and it's for your good.
What are your problems this morning? What are your trials? What are your persecutions? What are your private sorrows that break your heart when no-one else sees, and they seem to surpass all patience and quench all hope in your life? Well listen to me this morning, and listen to God: all of them are under the guidance of the infinite wisdom of God, and He is operating them for your good!
Robert Burns, Robbie Burns in his 'Epistle to Davy' said these words, listen and I'll finish with this:
'Though losses and crosses
Be lessons right severe,
There's wit there,
You'll get there,
You'll find nay other way'.
Where Is God When Things Go Wrong?, by John Blanchard
We live in what has been called 'a world with ragged edges'. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, famine and other natural disasters kill millions of people and injure countless others, sometimes wiping out huge numbers within a few hours.
Every day, accidents claim an untold number of victims. Planes crash, trains are derailed, road vehicles collide, ships are lost at sea, buildings collapse, bridges give way, trees fall, machinery malfunctions. To make matters worse, disease cuts relentless swathes through humankind, causing immeasurable weakness, pain and fear, while 'man's inhumanity to man' brings a terrible toll of suffering.
Yet the Bible claims that God is in sole and sovereign control of everything that happens in the entire universe, that He 'works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will' and that He is 'compassionate and gracious' and 'abounding in love'. Is there any way in which all of this can hold together? The answer may surprise you...
Available to buy from evangelicalpress.org, but also available here by kind permission as a free PDF download, so that you can know the answer to this often asked question! [Note: This download is for personal use only and should not be printed or copied. The book can be ordered singly or in bulk from Evangelical Press]
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "When Bad Things Happen To Good People" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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