February 23, 2014 If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?
The Point: God meets us in our suffering.
The Bible Meets Life: Skeptics, notably John Stuart Mill, have dismissed the biblical view of God with this: “If
God loves us, He must not be all-powerful or else he would stop all suffering” and, “If God is all-powerful and
could stop suffering but doesn’t, He must not be loving.” C.S. Lewis answers that argument, infra. This moves
from a philosophical discussion to a real issue when we are the ones suffering. In all the pain, don’t lose sight of
the fact that the Bible is honest with the issue of suffering, and assures us of God’s sovereignty and presence in the
midst of whatever we are facing.
C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain” states:
The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so
long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word "love", and look on things as if man were the centre of
them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake.
"Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." We were made not primarily
that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become
objects in which the divine love may rest "well pleased".
The Passage: Job 30:26-31; 42:1-6
The Setting: God allowed Satan to test Job through intense suffering. Satan took away Job’s children and
possessions and later attacked his health. Job’s friends presented the view that we suffer because we sin, but Job
maintained his uprightness. When God spoke, He never addressed Job’s suffering but spoke only of His
sovereignty. Job repented of questioning of God’s goodness, and he experienced the gracious deliverance of God.
The Characters: In Job, the timeline of which precedes everything in the Bible except the events of early
Genesis, we find a number of interesting characters. The characters include God (here called Eloah – the Hebrew
singular form of Elohim, meaning simply “God,” translated in the Septuagint as “Kurios” or “Lord.” Eloah or
Elohim are sometimes referred to as the tetragram, “YHWH” (Yahweh.) There are Job and his “loving wife” who
urges him at one point to “curse God and die.” Finally, there are Job’s his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and
Zophar, sometimes referred to sarcastically as “Job’s Comforters.” Senior adults are more acquainted with
suffering than most people. Skeptics will always scoff at our faith during such times. Our ‘why’ questions about
suffering are often never answered. However, we can learn from the Book of Job that even though our questions
often remain unanswered, we can be assured of God’s presence in the midst of whatever we are facing.
The “real question” for today’s session then is, “If God is good, why is there suffering?”
From collected sources. No claim is made to authorship of any materials, except the quotes and commentary on Tennyson,
Galahad and Camelot which I supplied.
26 But when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, darkness came.
27 I am churning within and cannot rest; days of suffering confront me.
28 I walk about blackened, but not by the sun. I stood in the assembly and cried out for help.
29 I have become a brother to jackals and a companion of ostriches.
30 My skin blackens and flakes off, and my bones burn with fever.
31 My lyre is used for mourning and my flute for the sound of weeping.
The author of our lesson tells us,
My father-in-law was one of the godliest men I have ever known. A deacon, Sunday School
teacher, fearless witness of his Christianity, honest businessman, loving husband, and devoted
father, he truly lived his Christianity in every aspect of his life. My mother-in-law, who was
nobody’s fool, once told me that in the early years of their marriage, she had to be careful not to
confuse her husband with God!
One day Pop was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and was given six months to a year to live.
Family and friends were stunned. Many asked, “How could God let such a good and godly man
suffer?” For some, this became a crisis of faith: “If God is good, then how can there be suffering,
especially among the innocent?”
The Book of Job deals with that very question. Through 42 chapters, the book uses events in heaven
and earth; and speeches of Job, his friends, and God to deal with the belief that the righteous are rewarded
by God and do not suffer, while those who do suffer simply experience God’s punishment for crimes
against Him. Though these monologues are quite dramatic and are packed with poignant images and epic
emotions, they can prove challenging for Western readers who have been reared on fast moving science
fiction or detective novels. One might say that the “patience of Job” is required to appreciate the Book of
In the first two chapters, God gave Satan permission to strip Job of his family, his wealth, and finally
his health, all to demonstrate that Job’s faithfulness could endure suffering. It is helpful to remember that
though God allowed Job to suffer, He was not the author of Job’s suffering. In the following chapters, Job
was accused by his three friends of having committed secret and terrible sins against God, for they
believed only the wicked suffer. Job in turn proclaimed his innocence and cried out for God to tell him
why he was made to suffer. Why, he wondered, had God turned on him (30:21)?
Job had just declared that he was the victim of a divine mugging. He said God had jerked him off his
feet by his robes, choked him by his collar, and hurled him into the mud (vv. 18-19). When Job asked for
help, he said God just looked at him and ignored him (v. 20). Job complained he had cared for the needy
in the name of God, but he did not receive the same care from God (v. 25). Job was in a bad way, and he
worried that God was at fault.
Job’s world had been turned upside down. He had hoped for good, but evil came, referring to his
circumstances. Like his friends, Job once believed his good deeds and ethical behavior would bring him
good fortune (29:18-20). Instead, misfortune blindsided him. He had been so conditioned by his culture
(as evidenced by his friends) to believe that good deeds would automatically be rewarded by God, that
Job’s current fortunes left him churning within. His insides, literally his bowels, where the ancients
thought the seat of emotions resided, churned like a pot of water boiling over an open fire.
Like Job, we find it easy to expect good fortune to follow good deeds. However, that idea has more in
common with the Eastern concept of karma than it does with the biblical view of reality. Pain and
suffering are hard enough, but if we feel we are somehow suffering unjustly, like Job, rest will run from us
like a scared jackrabbit.
Job walked about covered from head to toe with painful boils, inflicted upon him by Satan in a last
ditch effort to get him to “curse God and die” (2:9). Apparently, the boils blackened and scabbed over, so
Job scraped them with a broken piece of pottery (v. 8). In this dismal condition, Job stood in the assembly,
probably the group of city elders and judges who met at the gates of most cities to render advice and to
settle legal disputes. Ironically, in better days, Job had doubtless been a highly respected member of that
group. However, when he cried out for help, he found none. Bereaved of his children, at odds with his
wife, and now abandoned by his peers, Job became an outcast, driven to become a brother of scavenger
When we hurt, we crave comfort from others. Sadly, people often do not know what to do or to say to
people in pain, so they often turn their backs on the hurting or the hopeless, making that plight even
worse. My father-in-law’s pastor never came to see him during his struggle with terminal cancer.
Loneliness makes the pain worse.
Though Job’s friends falsely accused Job of secret sins, they did do one thing right. They came to their
friend, they grieved with him, and they sat with him silently for a solid week, saying nothing. There really
is not much to say to a friend in pain beyond, “I’m so sorry. I’m praying for you.” Just being there really
helps. There was a man who had been a member of the men’s Sunday School class my father-in-law had
taught. He was a man of few words, but that did not stop him from coming to see his friend. He regularly
came to see Pop at home, and the two of them would sit for an hour or two and say absolutely nothing to
each other. Talk about love; talk about a ministry of presence; it was beautiful.
Alone in his pain, things went from bad to worse for Job. His boils blackened, scabbed over, flaked off,
and remained raw. And his bones ached. A friend of mine had a debilitating blood disease that attacks the
bones. Physical activity and even stress literally caused his bones to ache to such an extent that he had to
take massive doses of a heavy-duty anti-inflammatory and go to bed to get over it. Job had neither a soft
bed nor drugs!
Sick, rejected by his peers, and blamed by his friends for his sickness, Job sank into depression. Instead
of playing a happy song on his lyre (a kind of stringed guitar) or flute, he played the saddest song he could
find, a tune normally reserved for funerals and weeping families. Job teetered upon the jagged precipice of
In chapter 31, Job continued his final stab at defending his innocence before God and his friends. In
chapters 32 to 37, an angry young man named Elihu stepped forward to wrangle with Job and to defend
God. Then in chapter 38, Yahweh Himself arrived in a whirlwind before Job and his friends. The first-time
reader of this story immediately expects God to set the record straight about Job’s innocence and explain
to this poor man the cosmic reason for his suffering. But God did neither. Instead, He took four chapters to
explain quite clearly to Job that He is God and Job is not!
If ever there were a “Sunday School Lesson,” this is it. Something that sounds very good when it’s
printed in Nashville as written by an approved Good Baptist author and run through a myriad of screeners.
It’s easy enough to say, but when it comes to the end of “living it out,” we must say with Prince Hamlet in
the famous prologue to the Nunnery Scene:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub. . .2
Having so said, may we discover a couple of things we can learn about suffering from Job’s plight.
1. We are reminded that all people experience suffering, even those who seek to honor and serve God.
2. While suffering is a by-product of living in a world corrupted by sin, our suffering is not always the direct
result of our personal sin.
Job wanted to honor the Lord in his life. So why did God allow him to suffer so? In John 9:1-3, we find
Jesus’ Disciples asking the same questions and Jesus giving answer. His answer is the real key to the
interpretation of the message of Job.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse
seruants in the Cittie of London : as also in the two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where. Act III, Scene i.
9 As He [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi,
who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither
that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
We see a couple of things about suffering.
1. God’s power and glory are highlighted against the backdrop of our weakness and suffering.
2. God uses suffering to refine the righteousness of His people and to increase their dependence on Him.
C.S. Lewis said,
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our
pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf
world. . . . Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard
to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, “My
tooth is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken.”3
To make the leap from chapter 30 to chapter 42, in chapters 31–37, we find Job defending his innocence, and
one of Job’s friends defending God. In Chapters 38–41 God stresses to Job that He is God and Job is not. If
we were writing the story, we would likely have God step forward to answer the ‘why’ question. But, our
ways are not His ways. Job didn’t learn why he suffered, but God’s presence had a profound effect on him
May I suggest that the “Sunday School” answer to the “why” and “how” questions of pain and suffering can
all be related to the entrance of sin into the world.
In Genesis 3, we see the first human sin, taking the forbidden fruit.
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat
from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the
woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was
desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with
her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
Thus, sin entered the world. What follows sin? Death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but
the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here, Paul doesn’t say to us whose death, merely
death. Where there is sin, there is death. Where there is death, there is sin . . . but, whose sin? That is the
question that Job keeps asking.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.
Again, I must confess to hubris, for in the preparation hereof, I asked the same question. I was going by my
own knowledge and ability to find the answer to this question that God would not answer for Job. Am I
different. . . Are you? Let’s just see what God says and leave it at that.
1 Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, “Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance?” Surely, I spoke about things I
did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
KEY WORDS: No plan of Yours can be thwarted (v. 2)—When God decides to do something, nothing and
no one can stop Him, for He created everything and everyone.
After four chapters, Yahweh stopped His interrogation of Job, so it was Job’s turn to speak. Face to face
with God’s awesome presence, Job’s determination to demand an explanation from God crumbled. Job
realized God had total control over the world; so as the sole Owner of the world, He could do anything
with the world. That meant He could do anything with Job. Some years ago, a touring performance of the
Broadway musical, Your Arms Are too Short to Box with God, came to the city where I live. Though the
musical was based on the Gospel of Matthew, the title sums up one of the key lessons Job learned. Job
dropped his hands and gave up the fight. Years later, Isaiah added his two cents worth to this very
important lesson: “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker—one clay pot among many. Does the clay
say to the one forming it, ‘What are you making?’ Or does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? How absurd
is the one who says to his father, ‘What are you fathering?’ or to his mother, ‘What are you giving birth
to?’ ” (Isa. 45:9-10).
The fact God is sovereign and can do what He chooses is something to remember at all times, but
especially when things seem to take a turn for the worse. Job could have saved himself a lot of grief if he
had remembered God’s sovereignty when things fell apart. However, though we do well to remember all
of that when the sky falls on our heads, it is not wise to be too quick to tell a fellow sufferer who is
questioning God to “just deal with it, for God can do what He wants.” Head knowledge does not eliminate
heart pain. A much better strategy would be to follow the initial example of Job’s three friends and the
teaching of Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
Throughout his speeches, Job expressed a burning desire to put God on trial, or at least force Him to
testify of Job’s innocence. However, when God appeared in the whirlwind, Job realized he was on trial,
not God. Job essentially summed up God’s case against him: “Who is this who covers up My wisdom with
his ignorant prattle?” To which Job sheepishly replied, “I did not know what I was talking about. I got
carried away, babbling on about things too wonderful for me to know.”
I’ll say!! Over the course of four chapters, God asked His questioner 77 questions that can be summed
up in two questions: “Can you explain or control My creation?” and “Can you change or subdue My
creation?” The answer to God’s questions was a humble “No!”1
When suffering comes crashing down upon us like a giant tramping down from Jack’s beanstalk, it is
natural to get angry. In our anger, like Job, we might scream at the heavens, demanding to know why. We
might even question how a good God could let something like this happen to us or to someone we love.
“Why did You let that car hit my child?” “Why didn’t You cure Mom’s cancer?” “Why couldn’t he get a
kidney transplant?” Such questions are natural, and they are not sinful. God never condemned Job for his
anger or his questions. His friends were required to offer sacrifices for the things they said about God, but
not Job (42:7-9). We must not curse God (2:9), but we can ask questions of God. If, however, our paininduced anger gets the better of us and we do sin against God, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He
is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Questions are natural and not necessarily sinful, but they might go unanswered. God could have told
Job that he had been an object lesson of faithfulness to Satan. He could have explained that Job’s story
would help countless people through the ages deal with suffering that the “patience of Job” would become
a byword for thousands of years. But He did not explain Himself to Job, and He probably won’t explain
Himself to us either. In fact, based upon my study of God’s relationship with Israel and Judah, the only
time we can expect God to explain our suffering is when the suffering was sent our way to get us to stop
some stubborn sin habit we have been enjoying. God sent the prophets to explain to His people what they
were doing wrong so they would repent and God would deliver them. I believe He will do the same for us.
Only a dysfunctional parent disciplines his child and does not explain why (Heb. 12:5-11).
4 You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.”
5 I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You.
6 Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.
Key Words: Repent in dust and ashes (v. 6)—Job realized that compared to the awesome Creator of the
universe, he was nothing but dust and ashes. The ancients recognized sitting in dust and ashes as a sign of
repentance, contrition, or deep sorrow.
Job had heard about Yahweh, but much of what he had heard was wrong—like the idea that bad
things don’t happen to good and innocent people. “But now my eyes have seen You,” he declared in awe.
Job’s great wish was to see God (23:3) and to present his case before God (13:17; 23:4). He wanted to see
God even if he had to come back from the grave to do it (19:26-27). However, when God showed up, none
of that mattered.
Standing in the presence of God in the midst of his misery, Job took back his words, complaints,
and accusations. He repented in dust and ashes, an expression used by Abraham to describe how small he
felt in the presence of Almighty God (Gen. 18:27). Job turned from accusing and questioning God to
trusting Him. Job realized that the created cannot really challenge the Creator; but he can trust the Creator,
whose plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). And what changed Job’s mind? The presence of God.
Here, Job figures out that all he had thought was most important to him no longer mattered after he
encountered God. An encounter with God makes everything else pale into insignificance. Such is illustrated
by the English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson in his epic poem, Sir Galahad. In 1833, Tennyson's close friend
Arthur Hallam died. The death greatly affected Tennyson and he kept away from society as he slowly dealt with the
pain. By mid-summer 1834, he slowly began to come out of it. He visited friends a while then traveled on to see
Hallam’s family. During that time, he began working on the poem, inter alia. The poem was completed in
In Tennyson’s earlier visage of Galahad in the Arthurian legends, he paints Galahad as a bit of a swaggerer,
reminiscent of Galahad’s father, Lancelot in Camelot, Lerner and Lowe’s play based partly on Tennyson’s
poems. At first, Tennyson writes of Galahad:
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten
Because my heart is pure. (lines 1–4)
This is almost as bold as Lancelot’s song in Camelot, C’est Moi.
C'est moi! C'est moi, I'm forced to admit. 'Tis I, I humbly reply.
That mortal who these marvels can do, C'est moi, c'est moi, 'tis I.
I've never lost In battle or game; I'm simply the best by far.
When swords are crossed 'Tis always the same: One blow and au revoir!
C'est moi! C'est moi! So adm'rably fit! A French Prometheus unbound.
And here I stand, with valour untold, Exeption'ly brave, amazingly bold,
To serve at the Table Round!
C'est moi! C'est moi, I blush to disclose. I'm far too noble to lie.
That man in whom These qualities bloom, C'est moi, c'est moi, 'tis I.
I've never strayed From all I believe; I'm blessed with an iron will.
Had I been made The partner of Eve, We'd be in Eden still.
C'est moi! C'est moi! The angels have chose To fight their battles below,
And here I stand, as pure as a pray'r, Incredibly clean, with virtue to spare,
The godliest man I know! C'est moi!
Lancelot gets his “comeuppance,” but, Galahad is blessed to see something that Lancelot never did, a vision
of holiness, represented by the Holy Grail. Upon seeing it, Galahad says:
A maiden knight-to me is given
Such hope, I know not fear;
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven
That often meet me here.
I muse on joy that will not cease,
Pure spaces clothed in living beams,
Pure lilies of eternal peace,
Whose odours haunt my dreams; (lines 61–68)
From then on, he is forever changed. So it is with Job. Job’s encounter with God changed him from accusing
and questioning God to trusting God.
God comes to His children in their suffering. Psalm 17:15 says, “But I will see Your face in
righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with Your presence.” Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you
who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Even when the cancer is terminal
and the day of death looms like a dark gorge, God comes to us, and it is enough. Psalm 23:4 in the King
James Version so picturesquely says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil: for thou art with me.” God came to Job in his suffering, and it was enough. God did not
answer Job’s questions, for there was no need; God was Job’s answer.
Our author goes on,
One day while my wife and I were visiting her parents, I tried to be a pastor to Pop. I asked him how
he felt about the cancer, how he felt about what God was letting happen to him. I will always remember
how he looked at me with heaven already shining in his eyes and said, “Ray, I know that God does not
owe me any favors.” If there was anyone who had ever lived out his faith in God, it was my father-inlaw. We stood for hours beside his casket as people told us countless tales we had never heard of the
ways he had made such a difference in their lives. However, my father-in-law understood that we live
in a world that has been “subjected to futility … [and] corruption” because of our sins (Rom. 8:18-23).
He understood that the Bible teaches that in this broken world, good people often suffer, and somehow,
someway, everyone eventually dies. But even more importantly, Pop had walked faithfully with God
for 70 years, so in the midst of terminal cancer, he continued to walk with God. God met him in his
suffering, and it was enough.
Live It Out
Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish minister, was arrested in 1661 for proclaiming the gospel. He was
charged with treason and sentenced to hang. Before his death, Rutherford wrote many letters to his
parishioners. In one of them he recorded a great discovery he had made about happiness: “For if you
should see a man shut up in a close room, idolizing a set of lamps, and rejoicing in their light, and you
wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throw open the
shutters to let in the light of heaven.”
In our suffering, the Lord may blow out our “lamps” in order to direct us to Himself. Determine to
meet suffering armed with an affirmation of God’s power and love for you by considering one of these
Throw off the pressure of trying to understand the “whys” for suffering. God has not promised to answer
all our questions, but He is with His children in every circumstance.
In the midst of your own suffering or that of a loved one, resist the temptation to despair, and instead,
thank the Lord for His abiding presence.
Connect with a friend to minister to families who are suffering through illness, hospitalization, or the
death of a loved one. Develop a list of needs, and enlist other volunteers to help meet these needs as
long as necessary.
No plan of Yours can be thwarted—The Hebrew word translated plan in 42:2 refers to detailed plans. The
NIV and ESV read, “No purpose of yours can be thwarted.” This was part of Job’s response to God’s final
revelation to Job. It was an affirmation of God’s sovereignty. The King James Version takes the expression
a different way with “no thought can be withholden from thee.” More in line with the newer translations
would be “no thought of thine can be hindered.”
Repent in dust and ashes—Repent in 42:6 is not the usual word for repentance in the Old Testament: shub,
which means “to turn from sin.” The Hebrew word here is naham, which often is used of God in the Old
Testament, where it refers to retracting a declared action. Job apparently repented of his complaining,
bitterness, and accusations about God and His justice—that God had treated him unfairly. The word—and
Job in this passage—does not indicate repentance from sin. That is what Job’s friends had accused him of,
and that is what Job had maintained his blamelessness concerning throughout the discourse. Further, in
verses 7-8 the Lord denied Job’s friends’ assessment of Job’s situation, that is, that Job needed to repent of
his sins. Dust and ashes were signs of deep sorrow or penitence.
SUFFERING: Enduring undesirable pains and experiences. The Bible does not treat suffering
systematically nor philosophically. It relates how people and nations experience suffering in various ways
for a variety of reasons. Clearly an understanding of suffering introduces the problem of evil. Suffering
follows the entrance of evil into the universe. The Bible does not attempt to explain the origin of evil. It
accepts evil and suffering as givens in a fallen and sinful world. The various writers present multiple
perspectives on the causes of suffering and how it can be endured.
Old Testament: The Semitic mind dealt with concrete situations rather than abstract forms. Their
perspective was not to treat the issue of suffering as an intellectual one. The Old Testament writers,
accordingly, sought to identify the causes and purposes of suffering when it happened.
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The Hebrews regarded suffering as punishment for sin against the divine moral order. The wicked would
surely suffer for their evil ways (Psalms 7:15, 16; 37:1-3; 73:12-20; 139:19), even though they might prosper
for a time (Job 21:28-33). Some writers expressed consternation that God stayed His hand of judgment
against the offenders of His will (Jer. 12:1-4; Hab. 1:2-4; Mal. 3:7-15). They often interpreted their own
suffering as a sign of God’s wrath and punishment for sin in their lives. The highly developed sense of
corporate identity in Hebrew thought meant that suffering could come as a result of parents’ sin (1 Kings
21:20, 22, 29; an idea reflected by Jesus’ disciples in John 9:2, the story of the healing of the man born
blind) or the wickedness of the king (2 Kings 21:10, 11).
The suffering of the righteous posed a problem. It was explained variously as a way for God to gain peoples’
attention (Job 33:14; 36:15), to correct sin into obedience (2 Chron. 20:9, 10; Mal. 3:3), to develop or refine
character (Job 23:10; Ps. 66:10). Ultimately, the writers consigned themselves to trust in God’s sometimes
hidden wisdom (Job 42:2, 3; Ps. 135:6).
The prophet gained a vision of a greater purpose in suffering—carrying the sins of others (Isa. 53).
As eschatological hopes matured in late Old Testament and intertestamental times, the righteous looked
forward to the Day of the Lord when they would be vindicated and justice would reign (Dan. 12:1).
New Testament: Into an evil world God sent His only Son. God is Himself touched by the suffering
of Christ on the cross. Christian writers in the New Testament incorporated the trials of Christ into their
existing Old Testament understanding of suffering. The purposefulness and necessity of suffering in the life
of the Son of God (Matt. 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22) aided them in coping with their own.
The early Christians recognized the inevitability of their suffering. As Christ suffered, so would they (John
16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:31-39; 1 Cor. 12:26; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:12, 13). Continuing
His mission, they would incur tribulation (Mark 13:12, 13; Rev. 17:6; 20:14) because the world hates the
disciples as much as it did their Lord (see John 15:18; 1 Cor. 2:8; 1 John 3:11, 12). Suffering for His sake
was counted a privilege (Acts 5:41; 1 Cor. 11:32; 1 Thess. 1:4-8).
New Testament writers realized there were other types of suffering than that incurred as they lived on
Christian mission. These are to be endured patiently rather than rebelliously (1 Thess. 3:3; Jas. 1:2-4)
because God is working His purpose out in His children’s lives (Rom. 8:28-29). Satan would tempt believers
to be defeated in their suffering (2 Cor. 4:8-12; Rev. 2:10). Instead, Christians can grow stronger spiritually
through trials (Rom. 6:4-8; 1 Pet. 4:1; Heb. 12:11) and share Christ’s ultimate triumph (Mark 13:9; John
16:33; 2 Thess. 1:5; Rev. 5:5; 20:9, 14, 15) even now as they experience daily victories (Rom. 8:37; 1 John
2:13-14; 1 Pet. 5:10). Therefore, sufferings give rise to hope (Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 1:3), for no present
suffering compares with the rewards that await the faithful follower of Christ (Rom. 8:17-18).
SUFFER: (1) experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant). (suffer from) be affected by or
subject to (an illness or ailment). become or appear worse in quality. archaic undergo martyrdom or
execution. (2) archaic tolerate. allow (someone) to do something.
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SUFFERING (suf´ẽr-ing): A great variety of Hebrew and Greek expressions, too large to be here
enumerated, have been translated by “suffering” and other forms derived from the same verb. The most
obvious meanings of the word are the following: (1) The commonest meaning perhaps in the English
Versions of the Bible is “to permit,” “to allow,” “to give leave to”: “Moses suffered to write a bill of
divorcement, and to put her away” (Mk 10:4). (2) “To experience,” “to go through,”’ “to endure”: “I have
suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Mt 27:19). A woman “had suffered many things
of many physicians” (Mk 5:26). Other common phrases are “to suffer affliction” (1 Thess 3:4; Heb 11:25,
the Revised Version (British and American) “share ill-treatment”), “to suffer hardship” (2 Tim 2:9), “to
suffer adversity” (Heb 13:3 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “to be illtreated”), “to suffer dishonor” (the King James Version “shame,” Acts 5:41), “to suffer violence,” (Mt
11:12), “to suffer wrong” (Acts 7:24), “to suffer terror” (Ps 88:15), “to suffer shipwreck” (2 Cor 11:25), “to
suffer hunger” (Ps 34:10; Prov 19:15), “to suffer thirst” (Job 24:11). (3) “To put up with,” “to tolerate”: the
King James Version, “For ye suffer fools gladly (the Revised Version (British and American) “ye bear with
the foolish gladly”), seeing ye yourselves are wise” (2 Cor 11:1, 9). (4) “To undergo punishment”: “Think ye
that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they have suffered these things?” (Lk
13:2). (5) “To sustain loss”: “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss” (1 Cor 3:15; also Phil
3:8). (6) “To suffer death.” Here the clearest references are to the suffering or passion of Christ, which
indeed includes the enduring of untold hardships and affliction, all of which culminate in His vicarious death
for man (Mt 16:21; Mk 8:31; 9:12; Lk 9:22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23; 1 Pet 3:18).
Suffering belongs to the discipline of all Christ’s followers (Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 1:7; Gal 3:4; Phil 3:10; 1 Thess
2:2; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 2:12; 3:12; Jas 5:10; 1 Pet 2:20 f; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 13, 16; 5:10). Such suffering is
called a suffering for God or Christ’s sake (Jer 15:15; Acts 9:16; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 1:12). This fellowship in
suffering unites us with the saints of God in all times (Jas 5:10), and is indeed a fellowship with the Lord
Himself (Phil 3:10), who uses this discipline to mold us more and more according to His character.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
REPENTANCE In the Book of Job
By Rick W. Byargeon, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, Ruston, Louisiana.
IN MY LAST YEAR OF COLLEGE, I enrolled in the class, Clinical Pastoral Education. Each week, the
chaplain at a local hospital assigned the students a floor of the hospital to visit, and we then wrote a verbatim
that reflected our conversations with patients. On one of my visits, I encountered a lady struggling with the
question of why she was sick. In our conversation, she said, “I must have done something wrong for this to
be happening to me.” She assumed that some unknown sin was the reason for her suffering. Job’s three
friends assumed the same thing with regard to the suffering of Job.
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In the dialogues of Job 4—27, you discover the theology of Job’s three friends. His friends made the case
that Job suffered because he had sinned. Yet, Job stubbornly maintained his innocence. Intertwined in their
dialogues were three corollary issues. First, Job struggled to understand why he was suffering. Job revealed
the depth of his despair when he called down a curse on the day of his birth and complained of unending
pain (Job 3:11-26).
Second, Satan’s question, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9, ESV), raises the issue whether man can
have a relationship with God with no strings attached. The answer to Satan’s cynical question is “yes.”
Throughout the book, Job expressed his desire for a relationship with God, not the gifts that God might give.
Finally, at the core of the book, is a raging debate regarding the doctrine of retribution—which claims, “If
you sin, you suffer; and if you suffer, it is because you sinned.” While Scripture affirms that sin brings
suffering into our lives, the converse is not true. Not all suffering we experience is because of direct
disobedience to God.
What Job “Needed” to Do
Through the Book of Job is immense, recognizing the assumptions of Job’s three friends is essential to
understanding the book. We will do this by looking at selected texts in the first cycle of speeches in Job 4—
14. Eliphaz, presumably the oldest, always spoke first. In his opening words, he espoused the underlying
assumption of society: “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:8, ESV).
You reap what you sow (see Gal. 6:7). No question this is true, but does that apply to Job’s specific
situation? Later, Eliphaz quoted a proverb, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (5:7, ESV).
Eliphaz likely based his theology on Genesis 3:13-19. If we suffer, it’s our fault.1 Eliphaz followed this
assertion with a call to repent: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause” (v. 8,
ESV). Ironically, Job did “seek” God throughout the book. Job asked for a face-to-face encounter so God
could provide answers to his questions.
The second friend was a bit more blunt. Bildad immediately challenged Job’s words as a “great wind” (8:2,
ESV); see 15:2; 16:3). For Bildad, life contained no messy issues; things were neat and tidy with respect to
suffering. Bildad stated his basic premise: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the
right?” (8:3, ESV). God’s justice works itself out in terms of strict retribution (if you suffer, it is because
you have sinned). Bildad provided a solution for Job—he was to seek God and plead for His mercy (vv. 57). If Job cleaned up his act, then God would restore his life. From Bildad’s perspective, “The favour of
God is a reward for righteousness, not a pardon for penitence. In this respect he is more severe than
The final friend, Zophar, argued that Job was experiencing less than he deserved (11:6). Zophar, like his
counterparts, encouraged Job to repent (vv. 13-19). Proper repentance was to include heart, hands, and
home (vv. 13-14). If Job would simply repent, God would reverse his suffering and instead give him
confidence, amnesia (about the suffering), a renewed life, and security (vv. 15-19).
From the perspective of each friend, Job’s situation was simple. He suffered because he sinned, so if Job
would repent, God would restore him. Yet, Job realized life was not that simple. Job was a godly man,
meticulous in his obedience (see 1:1,5).
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He knew his intense suffering was not the result of some unknown sin. Thus Job wanted to argue his case
with God (13:3,15). Indeed, Job’s desire for a hearing seems to be at the very heart of Job 29—31.3 At the
end of this avowal of innocence, Job signed his legal challenge to God and waited for God’s response
What God Taught Job
God’s answer came in the form of two speeches (38:1—40:2 and 40:6—42:5). In both, Yahweh insisted that
He is no control of the world and life, as well as the agents of chaos (i.e., Behemoth and Leviathan). Notice
how God described Job. First, He described Job as one who “darkens counsel by words without knowledge”
(38:2, ESV). Job did not have all the facts about God or his own life.4 At the same time, readers must hold
this statement in tension with Yahweh affirming that Job has spoken correctly (see 42:7). “Job [had]
complained and agonized out of a sincere heart with an increasing faith, but he [had] not discerned the
judicious counsel of God.”5 Indeed, Job agreed with God’s assessment (42:1-3). Job’s final words were
“Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (v. 6, NASB).
What did Job mean by this final declaration? Unfortunately, virtually every word in this verse is subject to
various interpretations. The two verbs are retract (Hebrew, maas) and repent (nacham). Neither word, in
the present context, suggests a repenting of moral evil.6 Instead, Job seems to be retracting his avowal of
innocence (Job 31). From this point forward, Job would “locate his self-worth in his relationship with
Yahweh, not in his own moral behavior or innocence.”7
Though God never addressed Job’s deepest questions, His presence was enough for Job. The assurance of
divine presence gave Job strength to leave the dust and ashes and get on with life. Job expressed a vibrant
faith that could live without all the answers because God’s presence was enough.
Where is God in Natural Disaster by Janet Chrismar, Billy Graham Evangelist Association
[I have included this article because the author quotes a conversation with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior
Pastor of Moody Church, Chicago. Dr. Lutzer’s full article on the subject can be seen at
Lifecoach4God. < http://verticallivingministries.com/2012/08/31/is-god-responsible-for-naturaldisasters-by-dr-erwin-lutzer/> ]
Where was God when Superstorm Sandy pounded the Eastern Seaboard, killing at least 50 and causing
historic destruction? And where was God in 2011 when the tsunami and earthquake claimed more than
200,000 lives in Japan?
In the wake of such incredible loss and disaster, we struggle to understand how a God who is all-powerful
and all-knowing can also be considered good and loving. Pastor and teacher Erwin Lutzer tackles this tough
subject head-on in his book, Where Was God?
“The question of natural disasters is very important,” said Dr. Lutzer in a phone interview last year. “The
Bible even records stories of natural disasters.” During our discussion, Dr. Lutzer answered a number of
questions that are detailed in his book.
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Q: Can you address something we hear many times, which is “Why would God allow natural
Lutzer: One thing we have to remember is that the world is fallen. The Bible says that when man fell into
sin, all of nature was cursed. In other words, it was impossible for a sinful man to live in a perfect
environment of paradise, so all of nature is cursed.
But having said that, it doesn’t mean that God has a hands-off policy when it comes to natural disasters.
Many people want to protect God from the clear teaching of the Bible, which shows He is involved in
natural disasters. It is not that God causes them, but the very fact that He could prevent them shows that we
need to face squarely the fact that natural disasters happen within God’s providence.
Let me give you a few examples. During the time of the plagues in Egypt, clearly God sent those plagues.
Then you have the time of Noah; the flood obviously was sent by God. It says regarding Jonah, God hurled a
storm into the sea. We must see God in natural disasters. The question, of course, is why does he allow them
and what is there to be learned.
Q: What kinds of lessons can we learn from natural disasters?
Dr. Lutzer: Natural disasters are a megaphone from God and they teach us various lessons. First of all,
natural disasters show us the uncertainty of life. Thousands of people wake up in the morning not knowing
what is going to happen that day, such as the terrible devastation in Haiti and elsewhere. There was a couple
that left California because they were afraid of earthquakes. Then when they came to Missouri, they were
killed in a tornado. We can’t get away from the reality that life is very, very short and it’s possible for us to
When we look at the news and see these disasters, it’s like a preview of the natural disasters that will
someday come upon the earth. When you look at the second coming of Christ, you find many different
natural disasters connected with it.
Q: What can Christians say to neighbors and friends who question whether God can be merciful and
loving and allow disasters to happen?
Dr. Lutzer: One of the greatest challenges we have as Christians is to somehow continue to believe God and
to trust Him in the midst of horrendous devastation. When you see children being separated from their
fathers and mothers, when you see lives being torn and hundreds of people dead, it is very natural to ask the
question, “Where is God?”
What we need to realize is that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have
to point people to the fact that God has intervened in our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the
love of God most clearly.
It was Martin Luther who said, “When you look around and wonder whether God cares, you must always
hurry to the cross and you must see Him there.”
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The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Sometimes we reverse that. The
values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that earthquakes do not increase
death. Everybody is going to die someday. It’s the way they die that causes us so much grief.
When we hear about a natural disaster we should grieve with those who grieve. And we should ask what we
can do to alleviate their suffering.
Finally, I think this is the best illustration. All of Job’s 10 children died in a natural disaster. There was a
wind storm that blew down the house. Job was confronted with the fact that because of a natural disaster,
there are 10 fresh graves on the hilltop. So now what is he going to do?
His wife says to curse God and die. But Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be
the name of the Lord.” Job shows us it is possible to worship God even without explanations, even when we
don’t know all the reasons. Those who worship God under those conditions are especially blessed.
[Here is the text of the full article by Dr. Lutzer.]
After the tsunami in Southeast Asia, a supposed Christian cleric was asked whether God had anything to do
with the disaster. “No,” he replied. “The question as to why it happened demands a geological answer, not a
theological answer.” Is he reading the same Bible I am? Or has he read the Bible and simply chosen not to
Who sent the Flood during the time of Noah? God said, “I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will
destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die” (Genesis 6:17).
God determined the timing, the duration, and the intensity of the rain. And it happened according to His
word. It would have been difficult to convince Noah that God had nothing to do with the weather, that all He
could do was weep when the Flood came.
Who sent the plagues on Egypt? Who caused the sun to stand still so that Joshua could win a battle? Who
first sealed the heavens and then brought rain in response to Elijah’s prayer? Who sent the earthquake when
the sons of Korah rebelled against Moses? This event recorded in the Bible is of special interest:
[Moses] had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The
earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were
standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their
belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel (Numbers
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Can anyone say that God is not the ultimate cause of these disasters? In the story of Jonah, the biblical writer
leaves no doubt as to who caused the storm that forced the sailors to throw the stowaway overboard. “The
LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart”
(Jonah 1:4, italics added). The sailors agonized about unloading their unwanted cargo, but we read that they
“picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once!” (Jonah 1:15).
It appears that the Bible is not as concerned about God’s reputation as some theologians are. It puts God
clearly in charge of the wind, the rain, and the calamities of the earth.
What do all these stories have in common? Notice that God is meticulously involved. Whether an
earthquake, a raging wind, or a rainstorm, the events came and left according to God’s word. In addition,
many of these calamities were acts of judgment by which God expressed how much He hated disobedience.
In Old Testament times, these judgments generally separated godly people from wicked people (this is not
the case today, as we shall see in the next chapter). However, even back then, sometimes the godly were also
victims of these judgments. Job’s children were killed not because they were wicked, but because God
wanted to test their father.
On the other hand, we should also note that in both the Old and New Testaments God sometimes sent a
natural disaster to help His people. During a battle when Saul’s son Jonathan killed a Philistine, we read,
“Then panic struck the whole [enemy] army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and
raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God” (1 Samuel 14:15, NIV, italics added).
And in the New Testament, an earthquake delivered Paul and Silas from prison: “Around midnight Paul and
Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a
massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and
the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16:25-26). Both of these earthquakes had God’s signature on
God uses nature to do His bidding. Directly or indirectly, He can cause an earthquake to happen at five in the
morning. God does as He wills.
Is Our God Really Good?
If God is the ultimate cause of all things and if He does as He wills on this earth—including with nature and
natural disasters—can we put the blame on Him for the evil and suffering that these disasters cause? How
can God be good when He permits (or does) things that seem so destructive and hurtful to human beings?
Surely if we had the power to prevent an earthquake, if we could have stopped the tsunami, we would have
Natural disasters are not “evil” in the usual sense of the word. If a tsunami took place in the middle of the
ocean and did not affect any people, we would not think of it as evil. It’s when humans are affected, and
when death and suffering occur, that such disasters become “evil.”
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In light of what I’ve said, should God be blamed for such destructive disasters that create unfathomable
human suffering? The word blame implies wrongdoing, and I don’t believe such a word should ever be
applied to God. But even asking if God is responsible for natural disasters also might not be best, since the
word responsibility usually implies accountability, and God is accountable to no one: “Our God is in the
heavens, and he does as he wishes” (Psalm 115:3).
Let’s begin by agreeing that God plays by a different set of rules. If you were standing beside a swimming
pool and watched a toddler fall in and did nothing to help, you could be facing a lawsuit for negligence. Yet
God watches children drown—or, for that matter, starve—every day and does not intervene. He sends
drought to countries in Africa, creating scarcity of food; He sends tsunamis, wiping out homes and crops.
We are obligated to keep people alive as long as possible, but if God were held to that standard, no one
would ever die. Death is a part of the Curse: “You were made from dust, and to dust you will return”
(Genesis 3:19). What for us would be criminal is an everyday occurrence for God.
Why the difference? God is the Creator; we are the creatures. Because God is the giver of life, He also has
the right to take life. He has a long-term agenda that is much more complex than keeping people alive as
long as possible. Death and destruction are a part of His plan. “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’
says the LORD. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are
higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’”
The philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote that natural disasters prove that God cannot be both good and allpowerful. If He were, suffering and happiness would be carefully meted out to all people, each person
getting exactly what he or she deserved. Since natural disasters appear to be random, affecting both good
and evil people, God therefore cannot be both good and all-powerful. Mill forgets, however, that we don’t
receive our final rewards and punishments in this life. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that the godly often
endure the most fearful calamities. God always acts from the standpoint of eternity rather than time; His
decisions are made with an infinite perspective. Therefore, it comes down to this: we believe that God has a
good and all-wise purpose for the heartrending tragedies disasters bring.
Speaking of the earthquake in Turkey that took thousands of lives, pastor and author John Piper says, “[God]
has hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp
them at the end of the age” (John Piper, “Whence and Why?” World Magazine, September 4, 1993, 33). God
has a purpose for each individual. For some, His purpose is that their days on earth end when disaster
strikes; for the survivors there are other opportunities to rearrange priorities and focus on what really
matters. The woman who said she lost everything but God during Hurricane Katrina probably spoke for
thousands of people who turned to Him in their utter despair. God does not delight in the suffering of
humanity. He cares about the world and its people: “But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
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God does not delight in the death of the wicked but is pleased when they turn from their wicked ways
(Ezekiel 18:23). We finite beings cannot judge our infinite God. He is not obligated to tell us everything He
is up to. As Paul described it, the clay has no right to tell the potter what to do (Romans 9:19-21). It is not
necessary for us to know God’s purposes before we bow to His authority. And the fact that we trust God
even though He has not revealed the details is exactly the kind of faith that delights His heart. “It is
impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6). In chapter 5 we shall see that this sovereign God
has given us reasons to trust Him. Faith will always be necessary, but our faith has strong supports. We do
not believe clever fables but rather a credible account of God’s will, God’s power, and God’s dealings with
us in the Bible.
Responding to the Hurting with Compassion
The God who created the laws of nature and allows them to “take their course” is the very same God who
commands us to fight against these natural forces. Before the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve the mandate to
rule over nature. After the Fall, the mandate continued even though the ground would yield thorns and
thistles and childbearing would mean struggling with pain. The desire to live would become the fight to live.
We’ve seen it over and over—the relentless compassion of people reaching out to help others who have been
faced with calamity. People offer money, goods, services, and their time and labor to bring aid where it is
most needed. Charitable giving to the American Red Cross for Haiti relief set a record for mobile-generated
donations, raising seven million dollars in twenty-four hours when Red Cross allowed people to send tendollar donations by text messages (Doug Gross, “Digital Fundraising Still Pushing Haiti Relief,” CNN,
January 15, 2010, http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-15/tech/online.donations.haiti_1_earthquake-haiti-haitirelief-twitter-andfacebook?_s=PM:TECH). This is when God’s glory shines through even in the darkest
God uses nature both to bless and challenge us, to feed and instruct us. He wants us to fight against the
devastation of natural disasters, even as we fight against the devil, so that we might become overcomers in
this fallen world. Although nature is under God’s supervision, we are invited to fight disease and plagues.
We can and should strive for better medical care and clean water and food for the starving in Third World
countries. We should be willing to help those who are in distress—even at great personal risk.
Martin Luther, when asked whether Christians should help the sick and dying when the plague came to
Wittenberg, said that each individual would have to answer the question for himself. He believed that the
epidemic was spread by evil spirits, but added, “Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which
we must patiently to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner
John the apostle teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren’” (1 John 3:16).
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In recent years, the news media have carried stories of virulent flu viruses that have infected humans in
epidemic proportions. Some Christians might wonder if they should help those who are sick, risking their
own lives for the sake of others. Disasters such as these make Luther’s comments about Wittenberg plague
relevant. Martin Luther continued:
If it be God’s will that evil come upon us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to
heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him
commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; they will be done. I am
thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in the pestilence in the same way if I were in fire,
water, drought or any other danger” (Ibid, 742).
Yes the plague was “God’s decree,” but we also must do what we can to save the lives of the sick and
minister to the dying, We should thank God when He gives us the opportunity to rescue the wounded when a
disaster strikes. Tragedies give us the opportunity to serve the living and comfort the dying all around us.
Through the tragedies of others, we have the opportunity to leave our comfortable lifestyles and enter the
suffering of the world.
Historically, the church has always responded to tragedies with sacrifice and courage. During the third
century, the writer Tertullian recorded that when plagues deserted their nearest relatives in the plague,
Christians stayed and ministered to the sick.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, churches rose to the occasion to help the victims. Church
members prepared tens of thousands of meals for people left homeless and scattered in shelters. One church
would help another begin the painful process of relocation and reconstruction. Even the secular press had to
admit that governmental red tape did not stop the churches from sacrificially helping in time of need. What
the government and the Red Cross could not do, the people of God did. This is how it should be. This is how
we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
In the days after the 2011 Joplin tornado, one pastor’s wife wrote to a friend, “It [the tornado and its
aftermath] has certainly stretched us. All the things that pastors deal with on a day-today basis—marriages in
crisis, pettiness, misunderstandings, sins of all varieties—do not go away when the storms come. They do
get put on the back burner. They catch fire. Other things that pastors deal with on a day-today basis—
tireless, selfless, tenderhearted servants who are constantly seeking to please God and serve His church—do
not go away either. They catch fire. I am amazed at these people.”
Jesus was touched by the plight that the curse of sin brought to this world. We see Him weep at the tomb of
Lazarus, and we hear His groans. “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a
stone laid across the entrance” (John 11:38). After the stone was removed, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come
out!” (v. 43) and the dead man came to life in the presence of the astonished onlookers. The Jesus who
stayed away for a few extra days so Lazarus would die is the very same Jesus who raised him from the dead.
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Like Jesus, we mourn for the horrendous pain people experience on this planet. Like the weeping prophet
Jeremiah, we find ourselves saying, “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the
Lord. Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children, for in every street they are faint with
hunger” (Lamentations 2:19).
Although modern medicine and technology allow us to stave off death as long as possible, eventually we
will all be overcome by its power. Yet in the end, we sin! Christ has conquered death.
Responding to God in Faith
If there is still some doubt in your mind that ultimately God has control of nature, let me ask you: Have you
ever prayed for beautiful weather for a wedding? Have you ever prayed for rain at a time of drought? Have
you ever asked God to protect you during a severe storm? Many people who claim God has no control over
the weather change their minds when a funnel cloud comes toward them. The moment we call out to Him in
desperate prayer, we are admitting that He is in charge.
It is also vital to understand that if nature is out of God’s hands, then we are also out of God’s hands. We
should be nothing more than victims of nature and thus die apart from His will. Jesus, however, assures His
children that He will take care of us. “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does
not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you
are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). The God who cares for the tiny
sparrows and counts the hairs on our heads is in charge of nature.
The ministers in California were right in thanking God that the earthquake came early in the morning when
there was little traffic on the expressways. They were wrong, however, for saying that God was not in charge
of the tragedy. Of course He was—both biblically and logically.
There is, perhaps, no greater mystery than human suffering, so let us humbly admit that we can’t determine
The eighteenth-century English poet William Cowper put the mysteries of God in perspective:
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, And
rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines, Of never-failing skill. He treasures up His bright designs, And works
His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread, Are big with mercy, and shall
In blessing on your head.
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Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He
hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will
be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain (William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Cowper’s Poems,
ed. Hugh I’Anson Fausset. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1966, 188-189).
“Grieve not because thou understand not life’s mystery,” wrote a wise man. “Behind the veil is
concealed many a delight” (Quoted in Charles Swindoll, The Mystery of God’s Will. Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson, 1999, 115).
The trusting believer knows this is so.
With Harp & Lyre Musical Instruments in the Old Testament
By Becky Lombard, professor of music and fine arts at Truett-McConnell College, Cleveland, Georgia.
PSALM 92 IS “A SONG FOR THE SABBATH DAY,” the day of gathered worship. The Psalmist exhorted
the worshipers to express their thankfulness and praise, and—in verses 1 through 4—to do it musically. The
Israelites understood God both ordained and enabled music. They viewed music as coming from the Lord
and longed for their music to return to Him as the fragrance of the incense.
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to Him; I will rejoice in the Lord. (Ps. 104:33-34, HCSB)
Music was formational in the life, work, and worship of the Israel community. Joshua and those he led used
music to topple the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6). After the parting of the Red Sea, Miriam took up her
tambourine and sang of the Lord’s rescue and strength (Ex. 15). Saul’s life changed at the Hill of God when
he met prophets accompanied by men playing harps, tambourines, flutes, and lyres (1 Sam. 10). Deborah
and Barak sang of God’s victory in battle (Judg. 5).
Psalm 92 encourages the worshipers to take up the harp and lyre in their singing. Old Testament passages
often pair these two instruments, which had wide usage in the ancient Near East. (1 Kings 10:12; 1 Chron.
13:8; Ps. 81:2; 108:2; 150.3).
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Lists of musical instruments appear regularly in the Old Testament narrative. The first appears in Genesis
4:21, which introduces Jubal, “the father of all those who play the harp and flute” (NKJV). Some ensemble
listings are small groups, like Psalm 92—“with a ten-stringed harp and the music of a lyre” (v. 3, HCSB).
Others are quite extensive. David’s appointed orchestra of Levites included harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets,
and ram’s horn (1 Chron. 15:16—16:5).
Old Testament instruments fall into three major categories—strings, percussion, and wind. Though we have
no original instruments through archeological studies, we can look at pottery, drawings, and clay figures
from the biblical era in Israel and surrounding areas.
Harp—The harp’s construction resemble an archer’s bow. Strings stretched across a curved wooden frame
or across two pieces of wood joined at a right angle. Each string sounded a single pitch and was larger than
the strings of the lyre. According to the Talmud harp strings were made with sheep intestines and sounded
louder than those of the lyre.
Lyre—The lyre was the most common stringed instrument of biblical times. Though today we typically
think of David as a harpist, he actually played a lyre. Its wooden construction was typically a sound box
with two upright arms attached. Strings stretched from a crosspiece and spanned the arms to the sound box.
A fingerboard made it possible for strings to play multiple pitches.1 The lyre was always an instrument of
joy. When the occasion for joy ceased, the lyres were put away and remained silent (Ps. 137:2). Prophets
warned that if the people continued in sin, they would be punished and the lyre would no longer be heard
From the general region of the Holy Land, drawings remain that show Semitic people playing the lyre. One
of these drawings shows captives playing the lyre under the eye of the Assyrian guard. In this instance the
players are using their hands to play. Evidence indicates people used their hands when playing instrumental
pieces, but used the plectrum (a pick made of wood or bone) when accompanying voices.2
Bell—Bells were attached to the hem of Aaron’s priestly robe. They signaled his entrance into the holy of
holies (Ex. 28:33-35). The bells of biblical times likely resembled small rattles with a pellet or clapper.
Archaeologists have found many bells or that description, made of bronze, in sites in Israel.
Cymbal—Cymbals first appear in Scripture during the time of David, in the procession which moved the ark
to Jerusalem. They were the only percussion instruments included in the temple instruments that David
specified (1 Chron. 15:16). David appointed Heman, Asaph, and Jeduthun to sound the cymbals, a Levitical
position of much distinction and privilege. Cymbals were probably used to accompany singing with other
instruments, to draw God’s attention to the worshipers, and to signal the beginnings of singing in services of
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Made of bronze, the twin cymbals were shaped like saucers. The centers were pierced for finger rings made
of iron or wire. Questions remain as to whether they were used horizontally or vertically. They were
sounded by striking one against the other or by touching their rims together. Depending on the performance
method, the sound of cymbals ranged from light tinkling to a dull clash.3
Tambourine—The tambourine was probably a small hand-drum. Archeologists think it probably did not
have the “jingles” attached like our modern-day tambourine. In Scripture, women often played this
instrument as they sang and danced with joy. Many clay figures holding the small hand-drum date from
Flute—Scholars have varied opinions about the words that most English Bibles translate as “flute.” Some
use the word “pipe” to describe the flute. Early models were hollow reed pipes with finger holes. With the
larger ensembles of temple music, the “pipe” used was probably a stronger toned reed. These louder
instruments probably consisted of two pipes strung together creating a double-pipe, each fingered by a
different hand. Bronze and clay artifacts from Israel and likely from the Old Testament Era portray
individuals playing these instruments.5
Trumpet—Trumpets of Old Testament times were fashioned of straight tubes of metal with bell-shaped ends.
People used bronze trumpets in secular settings and silver ones for sacred occasions. Unlike our modern day
trumpets, these had no valves. This limited to three or four the number of tones that the instrument could
sound. The sound they emitted was probably not very lovely but, in the minds of the people, it was loud
enough to bring the attention of God in heaven down to man on earth.
Trumpet players generally performed in pairs or larger groups. In 2 Chronicles 5:12-13, when the Levites
brought the ark of the covenant into the temple from the city of David, priests blew 120 trumpets; joining
singers, more trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments. Only the priestly descendants of Aaron could play
trumpets for sacred occasions (Num. 10:8) and in war (2 Chron. 13:12). Players sounded trumpets for
numerous events in Old Testament life; to summon Israelites to the tent of meeting, to signal to Israelites to
break camp, as a remembrance of God’ presence among His people, to sound an alarm in warfare, on
holidays and at the beginning of the new moon, over sacrifices and burnt offerings, when the ark was moved
to Jerusalem, at dedications of the first and second temples, and to join other instruments of praise.6
Shophar—English Bibles often translate the Hebrew term “shophar” as “trumpet” to refer to an instrument
made from the ram’s horn. Some scholars believe the significance of the ram’s horn was rooted in the
importance of the sacrificial ram that God provided Abraham as he obediently began to offer Isaac. It was
the instrument that sounded from Mount Sinai. The shophar was a ritual and warfare trumpet. It was used
to signal and give commands, as well as sound alarm. It was even thought to ward off evil and avert
catastrophe. When the Israelites blasted the shophar and shouted, the wall of Jericho tumbled. It is the only
biblical instrument still in use today in its original form.
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Musical instruments of the Old Testament are many and varied. Our understanding and knowledge of them
is also widely dispersed and varied. Though we have no sound or musical notation from the ear to narrow
our understanding, what we can piece together is an understanding of the character of the sound, they
symbolism of the music as it sounded, and something of the cultural setting in the biblical world. Music,
ordained and enabled by God, truly was performed to honor, defend, and please Him.
This information can bring so much to the table for those of us who are involved in musical worship in the
twenty-first century. We must be concerned that our music arise from our own cultural setting, yet maintain
a biblical character that is always heard as a fragrant offering unto the Lord.
We can know that . . .
It is good to praise Yahweh,
to sing praise to Your name, Most High
to declare Your faithful love in the morning
and Your faithfulness at night,
with a ten-stringed harp
and the music of a lyre.
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