By profession I am a Critical Care Registered Nurse; which means that I help people, who, because of illness or injury are unable to sustain life without help. Everyone who is in the intensive care unit is there, because either they want to get well or someone else wants them to get well. I see a great deal of human suffering in this profession, many people do get better but many others do not. Why does one person who does things that seem foolish with regards to health; like excessive drinking and smoking live well into their 80’s, while another person who does not do these things has a massive heart attack at half that age and either dies or suffers with heart failure for several years before sub-coming to the disease?
The books of Job and Ecclesiastes deal with this question on a personal level, but neither gives the full answer as to why there is human suffering. These two books acknowledge that evil and human suffering both exist. These two books also acknowledge the attributes of God’s divine power; that God is sovereign and omniscient. These two books also acknowledge the attributes of God’s goodness; that God is benevolent and just. In the face of human suffering people have a tendency to doubt God. John M. Frame said, “We simply feel a discrepancy between our experience and what we believe God to be.”1 The thought process is this; if God is all powerful and God is all good then he would not allow evil to exist.2 This is because human logic puts God into a box, we forget that God is incomprehensible.
The book of Job gives an answer for Job's suffering, but Job himself is not given an answer. We the readers get to look in on a scene in heaven that Job is not privy too. We know that Job is suffering, because God’s policies for running the world are on trial. The acquisition by Satan is that Job is righteous, because God is good to him. Job suffers to demonstrate the righteousness of God. Job is never given the reason for his suffering, but comes to understand that God is incomprehensible.
Then Job answered the Lord and said,
"I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
'Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.'
"I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes."
The preacher/teacher in Ecclesiastes says that all is vanity, that the wise and the fool alike die.4 The preacher/teacher in Ecclesiastes concludes that retribution theology is wrong, God gives good things to both the evil and good alike, because he is benevolent, therefore we should enjoy the good things that God gives us.5 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. We should fear God and keep his commandments this is true worship.”6 The conclusion that the preacher/teacher makes in the book of Ecclesiastes is that God is benevolent to both the evil and the good, but you need to fear God and keep his commandments because when all is said done God is judge. This brings to mind the name of God given to Moses on Mount Saini.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."7
In conclusion neither Job nor Ecclesiastes gives the answer for human suffering, both point to the fact that human suffering does exist. Therefore, when talking with someone who is suffering we should not deny that evil exists nor pretend that we have all the answers. What we do know is that God is sovereign and good, but let us never forget that God is incomprehensible. Therefore, let us not put him in a box. So when others are suffering acknowledge their suffering. W with them in their suffering, hold their hand and pray with them. Let them know that you do not have all the answers, but also let them know that God is good and God is Sovereign even in the face of their suffering and loss.
1 John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God an Introduction (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1994), 150.
2 Cf. Ibid., 150.
3 Job 42:1-6 (NASB).
4 Cf. Ecclesiastes 2:12-17.
5 Cf. Ecclesiastes 5:18 & 9:9.
6 Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NASB).