If God is our only source of life, and if He is responsible for creating each and every person alive, and if He is also responsible for giving life to even the babies who die in the womb or die young or are born with birth defects, why does He do it? Why doesn’t He either fix them or just not give them that “breath of life” we read about earlier? Who would ever know? Just think of how much pain and suffering that could be prevented if He did. So why doesn’t He? Why let things take their “natural” course when it would be so easy for Him to prevent all that misery?
I think we are given hints as to why in the Bible. One is a comment that Jesus makes after some of His disciples return from their first “mission trip” on their own. “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” (Luke 10:17-18 ESV) Rather enigmatic, right? But it gives us a clue – something happened in heaven that involved Satan and it resulted in him “falling” from heaven.
In Revelation it is explained a bit more clearly. “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.'” (Revelation 12:7-10) So Satan rebelled against God and started a war. He lost the battle in heaven and was “thrown down” to the earth. Now he is forced to confine his acts of rebellion here, and as part of that rebellion he works to deceive the world and to accuse the followers of Jesus before God. And make no mistake – this is a REBELLION, it is NOT an invasion. Satan is a created being rebelling against his master, not an independent being invading the territory of an equal.
Because of Satan’s rebellion – God is constrained in what He can do without being accused of playing favorites – of treating some people better than others – of giving some an unfair advantage – of Satan claiming that God is unfairly keeping bad things from happening to His followers and making bad things happen to those who oppose Him. So He must let things take their natural course. He must also let Satan “do his thing” so that there is no question as to who is right and who is wrong when God puts an end to the rebellion. Within the boundaries God has established, Satan is allowed to act as he will so that there is no question as to the justice of God’s final actions when the rebellion and everything resulting from it is ended. That also means that we too are free to act as we will – to do anything we want, including hurting others – as long as we do not attempt to cross the boundaries God has established.
How do we know this? There is an entire book in the Bible that is based on Satan making just this accusation – “God you are playing favorites. You are treating this guy different just to get him to follow you. If you allowed him to suffer like everyone else he would have nothing to do with you.” Now if God allows Satan to prove his point, anything that would result from this sort of an accusation would, from our perspective, have no obvious source. With Satan as its source any pain, or death, or birth defects, or whatever, would have no clear cause, they would just appear “out of the blue” so to speak. A baby would die for no clear reason, the breaks on a car would fail with no broken parts, birth defects would not have a genetic cause, lung cancer in a non-smoker, and the like.
Two things that complicate any discussion of the source of pain in our lives is that at times God takes credit for the actions of others, and sometimes, as we have just seen, the source of our pain is beyond our normal frame of reference, i.e., it is demonic to put it bluntly. I do not think this is as common as some would lead us to believe, but I do think it happens. There is no Biblical evidence to support the belief that there are spirits of colds, or spirits of cancer, or spirits of whatever illness you care to name. However, that does not mean that no illnesses are ever caused by evil spiritual forces.
The story of Job is an example of both of these – of God taking responsibility for things caused by someone else and bad things happening in someone’s life that are caused by forces beyond our comprehension. To set the stage, here is how Job and his family are described; “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.” (Job 1:1-4) Job was obviously extremely wealthy. He would have had more than 70 shepherds, at least 60 camel drovers, and probably 100 or more men to take care of the donkeys. And there would have been one man for every yoke of oxen so that would be another 500 men, plus their wives and those needed to shear the sheep and process the fleeces, and raise all the crops needed to feed all those animals and people. And then there were the leather workers, and cloth makers, and those who made the clothing, and the cooks and bakers, and vintners, and all their assistants. So Job, Inc. could have easily had more than 1000 employees plus dependants. And then there were his ten children and their families and servants and their dependants. Quite an operation! In those days that would have been the equivalent of a good sized town or even a small city without any outside merchants or other tradesmen setting up shop to sell his people things.
The next scene is in Heaven and shows God pointing out how good Job is to Satan. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?'” (Job 1:6-8)
Satan’s response is to accuse God of practicing the principles of the Health and Wealth “gospel” in Job’s life. “Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11) Satan claims that Job only follows God because God is giving him material wealth, He has blessed him with good things and protected him from bad things. This is a very common teaching today – serve God to get – get better health, get a better job, get a bigger house, get, get, get.
So God gave Satan permission to prove his point, “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” (Job 1:12)
So far nothing bad has actually happened, but . . .
“Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.'” (Job 1:13-19}
Now we see bad things happening. In one day Job looses all his livestock, his children and their families, and most of the people working for him. Actually, most of the men working for him leaving him with their wives and children to care for. God said Satan could not touch Job, but hundreds of people have died. We get so focused on Job that we miss what is happening to those around him. Look at all the evil that came into their lives at the same time. In one day close to 1000 men have died leaving their wives and children with no one to provide for them.
But the question is, “Who caused all this evil?” Well, the Sabeans take all his oxen and donkeys and kill all but one of the servants caring for them. Then “fire from heaven” consumes all his sheep and all but one shepherd. And then three Chaldean raiding parties attack and take all his camels and killed all but one of the servants caring for them. And finally a great wind destroys his oldest son’s house while he is hosting a feast with all his siblings killing all of them and their families and all but one of the servants. Strange isn’t, in every event there is one witness left. What are the odds of that happening by accident? Four raiding parties and the Sabeans and the Chaldeans both leave just one witness? A building collapse that leaves only one survivor? A supernatural fire falls from heaven and burns everything in sight but leaves one man unharmed? And all in one day! That doesn’t sound “normal” to me, does it to you? It sounds to me like something, or someone, outside of our normal frame of reference is controlling all these events.
Was God the cause of any of these events? I suppose the argument could be made that as He allowed it He was responsible, but did He CAUSE it? We see humans and natural events and even one apparently supernatural event devastating Job’s life and the lives of those around him, but no where do we see God doing any of it, actually, we are not told who caused any of it, only who, or what, did it. But the fact is none of it happened until God gave Satan permission to harm Job’s things, but not Job himself, however, even that restriction didn’t protect Job’s family or those working for him, it only protected Job himself.
But the story continues, “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?'” (Job 2:1-3a) Once again we see God pointing out how good Job is. And Satan’s response? “Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.'” (Job 2:4-5) Satan says, “OK, so he doesn’t believe in the wealth part of the Health and Wealth “gospel”, but I know he believes in the health part!” And again God gives Satan permission to test his theory. “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.'” (Job 2:6)
Satan complained that the only reason Job served God was due to God’s special treatment. So God allowed Satan to bring evil into Job’s life. However, all we see are bad things happening, we are not told who caused them. When things didn’t turn out the way he thought they would Satan again claimed that Job only served God because God blessed him, but this time limited it to Job’s health, and again God gives Satan permission to test his theory, but this time we are told specifically who caused the evil to happen. In Job 2:7 it says, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” In the first chapter, we see various events in Job’s life, but only see each event not who prompted it. Here we are told exactly who was the cause – Satan.
Now there is an interesting thing in all this. Nowhere does it say that God directly caused any of the events in Job’s life. The Sabeans, Chaldeans, weather, and an apparent “act of God” – the “fire from heaven” caused all the first group of catastrophes, and the physical illness is a direct result of Satan’s afflicting him. From the narrative it is clear that Satan was the instigator of all of the events. However, God makes an interesting claim, “He [Job] still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:3b) God says that Satan incited HIM to destroy Job. God is taking responsibility for the actions of Satan! God says, “Yes, I am ultimately responsible for everything that happens, but because I gave specific permission for these actions I am also responsible for them too, even though I did not perform them.” And we see this played out fully on the Cross when Jesus takes ALL of the responsibility for EVERY evil act ever committed and pays the penalty for them – a penalty none of us can ever pay even for just our own actions.
There is something else interesting here. God even allows us to hold Him responsible for things in our lives even when He is not the cause. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22)
The Hebrew words translated as “did not sin” literally mean “miss the mark” or “wander from the path”. And those translated as “charge God with wrong” literally mean “utter foolishly or impiously [about] God”. So, when Job said that “the Lord has taken away”, even though He did not actually do it, God was OK with that. The Bible says that Job “did not miss the mark, or wander from the path and charge God with wrong or utter foolish or impious things about Him.” So far so good.
And after he got sick, something similar is recorded. “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10)
Here is that “anti-shalom” word again. However, Job is not contrasting it with shalom, but with the generic word for good (things or events), wholesomeness, or prosperity. Job is asking his wife if they should only expect good things and prosperity from God and not also expect “anti-shalom” or discord, illness, and all the things we talked about earlier. (See The Problem of Pain – Part 1.) And again, even though God did not cause his illness, He is OK with what Job said. The record says that again Job “did not miss the mark or wander from the path with his lips” or did not accuse God of wrong doing in what he said.
So even though Job said God “gave him all his success and He also took it away” when he lost all his children, possessions, and workers, and said God brings good and “anti-shalom”, God does not say Job was wrong! God is OK with that. Even though He didn’t actually DO any of it, He did allow it to happen so He is willing to take responsibility for it happening in Job’s life and He is OK with Job saying that He did it even though Satan was actually responsible for causing everything that happened.
But then we start having problems, Jobs friends come along and accuse him of being guilty of sins that he is refusing to acknowledge and repent of. And the reason he is having all these troubles is that God is punishing him for them and they repeatedly urge him to repent of them so God can once again bless him. After all, God only causes bad things to happen to bad people – good people have good things happen to them. Job’s response is to proclaim his innocence – which they claim is just denial of his guilt. Throughout their arguments with Job they maintain their belief in the “good things happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people” teaching – or as it is known today, the health and wealth/prosperity “gospel”. And to some extent Job himself agrees with their beliefs, however, he denies that he is being punished for something he has done wrong – that he is guilty of transgressing God’s law. And in that he is correct, the problem occurs when Job gets frustrated and steps over the line and accuses God of being his accuser and tormentor, of actually doing what Satan does. You can see Job starting to get frustrated and bitter with his friends in chapter 16, and in Job 16:9 & 11-14, Job 19:6-12, Job 27:2, and Job 30:19-23 he steps over the line and accuses God of doing things Satan alone does. And in doing that Job sinned and that is what he repents of when God eventually responds. But in his original statements Job did not sin, and God had no problem accepting Job saying He caused what had happened to him. And strangely, even though Job repents of what he has said, God still tells his friends that what Job said of Him is right and what they said of Him is wrong! God still accepts Job’s giving Him responsibility for what happened even with his going a bit too far in some of the things he said!
I believe that is also what is happening when God says He ‘hardens” someone’s heart. He forces them into a corner where they have to make a decision one way or another and thus reveal their true beliefs, and they therefore become more resolute in those beliefs. Because He forced the issue, God says “I did it”, but in reality all He did was force a decision and the result is that the person who makes the decision becomes more steadfast in their beliefs – or to put it another way, they hardened their hearts.
So what about the “evil spirit from the Lord” that is mentioned in the Old Testament? For example, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14) This is actually the only instance I was able to find where this occurred, but I did find one other case where a spirit from God went out to “be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of his [King Ahab’s] prophets” to entice him into battle and to his death. (see 2 Chronicles 18:18-22) These both seem to me to be similar cases to Job’s where Satan and his angelic followers – who, when God gives them permission, are more than willing to do us all the harm they can – will do as much harm as they can, but God so limits their actions that they can only do the specific things He has allowed.
It is interesting to note that the word translated here as “harmful” (as in “a harmful spirit from the Lord”) is the same word that is used in Isaiah 45:7 in opposition to shalom. So I guess you could say this is an “anti-shalom” spirit.
Another place this same word appears is in this verse in Proverbs; “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4) You can look at this two ways – the most common way is that the wicked are made for the day of destruction, i.e., God made them purely so He could send them to hell, a very Calvinistic view point, OR you can look at this way: God has made the wicked his tools of distress and trouble. He bends and shapes the trouble they cause in other people’s lives to bring those individuals closer to who He wants them to be. He doesn’t cause the trouble, nor does He initiate it, but knowing what trouble the wicked will cause in someone else’s life, He will use it to accomplish His goals for His followers if they will let Him.
So, where do we stand?
Do we live in a basically good world where random bad things occasionally happen, or do we live in a fallen and broken world, a world in rebellion against God where God still causes good things to happen?
Does the sovereignty of God require that He be the immediate cause of everything that happens here on earth, or is He only the ultimate cause?
Does God really cause bad things to happen in our lives or are they actually the results of living in a broken and fallen world?
Do bad things happen just because things don’t work the way they are supposed to?
Do we get sick just because our bodies are no longer perfect and don’t always function the way they should?
Do we experience pain in our lives just because we make bad choices in what we do?
Do we experience pain just because of the actions and choices of others?
Does God ever execute acts of judgment in our lives? In other words, Are the bad things that happen the result of our refusing to do what we know God wants us to do?
Do bad things happen in our lives that are the result of “spiritual warfare”? or God dealing with the accusations of Satan?
How you answer these questions and ones like them will determine how you view pain in your life and it will determine how you respond to pain in your life. Do you take responsibility for how you respond to it or do you seek to blame someone or something else?
Do you believe God is the cause of your pain? If He is, are you really going to go to your tormentor for comfort? If He caused it, can you really trust Him to comfort you and help you through it? You can see this problem played out in Job’s struggle. He believed God caused his problems, and he wanted to turn to God for comfort, but how could he when God was apparently mad at him for some unknown and unknowable reason? And what if, like Job believed, the reason for your pain is that God has decided that you need to suffer for some reason known only to Him?
However, if God only uses the pain caused by others, then you CAN go to Him for comfort. You DO have someone you can ALWAYS turn to for help. Because He is working in your pain to bring you closer to Him, to make you more like His Son, to bring about your transformation into His likeness. He will turn what those in your life intend for evil into something of ultimate good. No it won’t be fun. Yes it will hurt, but in the end, God will turn it into something good. You might not get to see the final results, but they will be good, if you will let Him do it. A young man I know in Africa put it this way, “God makes everything OK. Are you OK? If not, God isn’t finished yet.”
If God is telling you something is wrong in your life, what are you going to do about it? If your lifestyle is in opposition to the clear teaching of the Bible, then all bets are off. If God has been warning you about something in your life and you have been ignoring Him, then yes, you have a problem, but if not, don’t go down that road. Thinking that God is judging you every time something bad happens is not the Biblical way of looking a pain in your life.
However, whatever the pain, unless you are defying God, He is not the cause of your pain. He is actually working to shape your pain, to limit your pain, sometimes to even stop things from causing you pain, and if you will let Him, He can even use your pain for your good and maybe even use how you deal with your pain for the good of someone in your life.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes has this to say about trouble in our lives, “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness. . . There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. . . So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10; 8:14; & 9:1-3 NIV) I think the guy needed some major anti-depressants, but he did make some very accurate observations. good and bad things happen to everyone, it doesn’t matter if they are “good” or “bad” people. And to make matters worse he also makes this observation, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV) And David, in Psalm 51, says he was sinful from his mother’s womb. So David believed that even babies are not truly “innocent” like everyone seems to believe, we are all truly born in sin. So, as far as they are concerned, if only “good” people deserved good things to happen to them, then nothing good would ever happen to anyone because there are no truly good people on this planet!
So why is there pain in our lives? Because we live in a broken and fallen world that no longer works the way God intended it too, things can break and cause us pain. And the people in this world are fallen and broken and don’t live the way God wants them too as well. Because God is a Sovereign and not a dictator, His subjects – everyone on this world – are free to do as they wish, within the boundaries He has set. That means they can and do cause each other pain. Satan and his forces are also free to act as the wish – within the boundaries God has set for them – and they can and do cause us harm as we have seen. We cause ourselves pain by making bad choices in the things we do and how we live. And we also cause ourselves pain by refusing to wait on God to bring things about in His timing. The pain in our lives has many sources, but unless we are defying God, He is not one of them.
So, the bad things that happen in our lives are generally not because of what we deserve, but are due to living on this planet, that is all. It is how we respond to bad things that happen in our lives that is the real issue. Do we turn to God in faith and cry “Daddy, I need Help!” or do we turn from Him as our tormentor and the source of our pain? Do we wait patiently in faith for Him give us a child when He knows it is the right time? Or do we demand a child NOW because we want one NOW and then suffer the pain of being childless when it doesn’t happen?
God says He is working to control the evil in your life and use it to bring about a good ending. Will you let Him work things out as He wants to? or will you demand things to go your way? Will you wait on His timing? or does it have to be your timing? Is He the cause of evil and trials in your life? or is He your source of comfort? Do you really HAVE to have someone or something to blame for your pain? or can you accept that, due to sin, life on this planet is painful and you may never know who did it? The choice is yours, how will you choose?