Our Bible study group has been studying the Book of Job in the Old Testament. It is a really remarkable book for a number of reasons.
Written, as many commentators believe, in or even before the era of Abraham, it truly can be called one of the very ancient books of wisdom.
It is the story of a God-fearing man [Job] who is trying to come to terms with the terrible circumstances that have suddenly devastated his whole life.
The reader is told there is a cosmic struggle going on between God and ‘the accuser’, Satan, but Job is not told that.
Job is told by his friends that his misfortune must be caused by his secret sins and disobedience, but Job knows it is not that.
Job clings to his integrity and his utter faith in God, but he struggles to find any answer.
Finally, after living for months with complete devastation all around him as well as having an unsympathetic wife, Job hears God speak to him in a remarkable way.
In one sense God gives no answer at all – but in another He tells Job all he [and we] need to know.
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Job was a blameless man who lived close to his God. He acted as the priest for his whole family, offering sacrifices regularly and living in accordance with God’s ways.
He was also extremely rich, so when his family was killed and all his stock and possessions destroyed, he naturally fell into deep grief, but still proclaimed ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
Satan was not convinced by this, so he taunted God to allow him to be struck down with boils that affected his whole body.
His friends couldn’t believe that God would allow anyone fearing Him to be so afflicted, and their only explanation was that Job must have been a wicked man underneath, engaging in secret sins.
Job knew they were wrong, even if he couldn’t explain why God allowed these things to happen.
One of his friends, Elihu, suggested that maybe God did allow man’s pain for reasons of testing or chastening, but he still sided against Job with the other friends.
One of the issues Job struggled with was that, if bad things happen to good people, how come good things happen to evil people? In itself this is a reasonable question which in later years the prophet Jeremiah would express as ‘Why does the way of the wicked prosper?’ [Jer 12:1].
Only God knows the answer to this.
Refuting the Prosperity Gospel
If there is a clear example of the utter heresy of the prosperity doctrine [PD] it is in the Book of Job.
The prosperity doctrine as taught by Brian Houston, Joel Osteen and many others, claims that if you are God-fearing and obey God’s ways of living, then God will reward you in this life by providing you with material success in all kinds of ways from personal happiness to a large bank account.
They use themselves as examples by boasting about their private jets, their big houses and extravagant lifestyles.
The PD preachers today have fallen into exactly the same trap as did Job’s friends, by thinking that material prosperity and godliness were inseparably linked.
Actually, I believe many of the PD preachers only claim to believe this doctrine they are teaching in order to multiply their income because of their own worldly lusts, because in 2 Peter 2:1-3 the author states that ‘in their greed these teachers will exploit you.’
Although Job’s friends may not have had a financial motive for their ideas, I am sure the modern PD preachers do.
We should steer well clear of them and their lies.
God’s Answer to Job
Job spends a lot of time questioning God and asking Him to give him answers to his face.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with our questioning God when evil strikes us, but we should react as Job did, ‘in all this Job did not sin with his lips.’ [Job 2:10].
In the end God does speak to Job out of a mighty thundering storm.
And what is God’s answer? In my own paraphrase God says: ‘Who are you, Job, to question me? I created you and everything around you, I have made an ecosystem that scientists will never get to the end of. I made everything from the gigantic dinosaurs to the tiniest thing visible to the human eye.’
In effect God is dismissing the theory of evolution, thousands of years before it was formulated by an influential atheist, who thought the wonderful physical systems that we live in had all originated by chance.
In other words, mankind, despite his great scientific advances, will never begin to understand the workings of God. Why then should we think we have a right to know what God has in store for us in this life? We can only be certain about our glorious eternal future.
Our Attitude to Suffering People
When we have grieving friends, for whatever reason, I believe we should visit them. At least Job’s friends sat with him seven days before opening their mouths.
Then they ruined everything by blaming Job for his circumstances. Let us never do that, although sometimes people’s own sin and lifestyles will lead them into a lot of trouble.
I think, when we do speak, we should offer sympathy, practical help and prayer, because these things are the only things grieving people will understand.
When we do try to help by speaking I believe we should offer them the love, majesty and goodness of God, reminding Christians that God has already shown us His infinite love by giving us His Son to die for our eternal salvation.