Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. — 1 Peter 4:19
“Why do people suffer bad things that they don’t deserve?” It was the inquirer rather than the question that was surprising: a seven-year-old boy.
The answer to this child’s question is provided in the book of Job.1 In Job’s experience, he questioned why an infinitely wise, good, and powerful God would allow a basically good man to suffer terrible calamities on Earth while letting other humans, who behave far worse, escape such calamities. Such inequity confuses child and adult alike, especially if one assumes that total “fairness” is supposed to be achieved during this earthly lifetime.2 But how do you explain Job—its theology of human suffering, and how God tests human character in time for His eternal purposes—to a second grader?
Start by explaining the importance of how temporal needs are followed by timely care, in our own lives, using a “nature sermon”—the same approach God Himself used while He was replying to Job’s agonizing questions. God pointed to how He takes care of earthly creatures through His providential timing. Lion and raven babies hunger first, then they eat.3 Wild goats and deer have designed timeframes for gestation, then birth occurs.3,4 Hawks and eagles fly with purposeful timing, synching their flights to thermal air currents and season-timed migrations.3
Sequential timing is vital for the important things in this life, even the basics of being born, metabolizing food, and daily movements. Timing contextualizes all of the temporal adversities in human life, too. But eventually, all temporal afflictions end.5
God was testing Job’s moral character. We know this now because we have the entire book and know the entire ordeal, including the happy ending.6 But if God had told Job about the test in advance, including how God was proving that Satan was an impudent liar, it would have ruined the legitimacy of Job’s own trial of faith.2,6 What Job learned through his agonizing ordeal was synched to sequenced timing—God’s timing—so that Job’s sufferings ultimately ended and counted for good.6
God delayed some answers, but He did not ignore Job. He provided Job with proof of His wisdom and goodness and power in a sermon about nature (Job 38–41). He gave adequate information to Job, emphasizing that He was Maker and Master of His own creation, orchestrating and operating its synchronized moving parts (including humans and animals) so that, as Paul would later say, “all things work together for good.”6
Amazing! God has ordained seasons and migrations, fitted deer and goats for pregnancies, and provides food to animals to satisfy their hunger.3,4 God’s timing is important in our own daily challenges, whether we are seven or 77, reminding us like Job that even amidst life’s many confusions and agonies we can trust His all-wise and providential care. God knows what He is doing!
- Johnson, J. 2011. Human Suffering: Why This Isn’t the “Best of All Possible Worlds.” Acts & Facts. 40 (11): 8-10.
- Job 1:6–2:10; 42:10. See also Johnson, J. 2014. The Truth Test. Acts & Facts. 43 (1): 22.
- Job 38:39-40 (lions); 38:41 (ravens); 39:1 (mountain goats); 39:1-4 (deer); 39:26 (hawks); 39:27-30 (eagles). The movements of hawks and eagles in Holy Land habitats are rich studies in themselves. See also Cansdale, G. S. 1976. All the Animals of the Bible Lands. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- For example, wild goat mothers of various Capra species, common in the ancient Near East, take about five months to carry their babies to birth so God’s designed development has adequate time to occur. However, deer mothers such as Cervus elaphus and Cervus dama, both common in the ancient Near East, typically carry their young for about seven months—during which time God’s bioengineering was preparing their fawns for life on the outside. Hayssen, V., A. van Tienhoven, and A. van Tienhoven. 1993. Asdell’s Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 437 (goats), 401 (deer).
- James 5:10-11.
- Troubles are guaranteed in this life (Job 5:7; 1 Corinthians 10:13), but God promises a happy ending that makes eternal sense out of temporal confusion to those who love Him and are called for His purpose (Romans 8:28).
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.