Suffering and God’s Presence


Why do bad things happen to good people?

The story of Job is one of the Bible’s oldest stories. Scholars believe he lived back during the time of the patriarchs. Although we are uncertain about an exact dating of this account.

Since man’s beginning we have all struggled with the idea of suffering. You see a glimpse of this in Genesis 4:13 where, after Cain killed his brother, he claims his punishment is “too great to bear.”

Fortunately, the Bible is not silent when it comes to suffering. The book of Job wrestles with the idea of suffering. Here are some biblical principles we can see as we look into this story.

God is in control, even over our suffering (Job 1:6-12, 20-22)

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?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 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. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 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.

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 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.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. 

When we’re in the middle of suffering, the one thing we want most is relief. We just want the pain to end. So we call out to God and plead, or bargain, with Him to  intervene as if His back were turned from us. But we must remember that our pain does not negate God’s authority. He is not absent; He is right there with us and fully in control.

QUES: Scholars have debated over the nature of verses 6-12. Some hold them to be a literary device, others see them as literal. No matter your view, we see God’s sovereignty displayed within these verses. How?

  1. Satan cannot act without God’s permission.
  2. Satan’s action is limited by God’s command.

Take another look at verses 9-11. Satan’s question cuts to the heart of genuine faith. To ask it in a personal way, Do we worship God because of His character or because of His blessings? Am I satisfied with meaningless stuff or a merciful Savior?

Consider this question from John Piper. “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and
all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no
human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with
heaven, if Christ were not there? ”*

Let’s look at Job’s response in verses 20-22.

  1. Notice that Job’s suffering was sincere.
  2. Notice that Job worshipped in the midst of suffering.

QUES: How do we see Job acknowledge God’s control over all things in these verses?

For a great song about the topic at hand, Click here.

When you suffer, God hasn’t abandoned you. He is well aware of the brokenness of the world, the pain that our sinful choices bring, and how the enemy seeks to wound us. But in all of it, God is still in control.

God is present in our suffering, even if it may not feel that way (Job 9:14-16, 32-35)

14  How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? 15  Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. 16  If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.

32  For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. 33  There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. 34  Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me. 35  Then I would speak without fear of him, for I am not so in myself. 

These verses are found within a response to an accusation from one of his friends who argues that Job and his children had obviously sinned (8:4) otherwise none of this suffering would have ever occurred for Job. For Bildad, the law was, God punished sinners, but blessed the godly. This is a dangerous oversimplification of our understanding of suffering.

Jesus’ disciples had a similar struggle in John 9:1-3:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Suffering is not necessarily the direct result of personal sin. “If there never had been sin, there never would have been suffering. All suffering is owing to sin. And part of the meaning of the physical horrors of suffering is to reveal the moral horrors of sin. But that is not what Jesus is saying here. Nor is he not denying it. What he is saying here is: specific suffering is often — I would say most of the time — not owing to specific sin.”**

One of the greatest problems with suffering is that we cannot always identify God’s presence in the midst of darkness. This is why biblical faith supersedes experiential faith. One is based off of scripture, the other, emotions.

Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”

God is not a distant deity who only sits on His heavenly throne with no interaction, but instead, He is a personal God who created people in His image to be personal relationship with Him.

THEO: God is Immanent. Meaning, God is personable and relatable to those made in His image, while remaining completely distinct and unique from all of His creation.

God uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him (Job 42:1-6)

42 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 uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” 

The big question is not the cause of suffering, but it’s purpose. This question cannot always be easily answered, but a few biblical truths can be deduced from our suffering.

1) Suffering brings glory to God (John 9:3).

2) Suffering draws us closer to God, building our faith and trust in God and helping us become mature believers (see above; James 1:2-3).

At the end of the book of Job, God asks Job repeatedly questions centered upon His power and sovereignty. These questions are extremely forth write and, to be quite honest, harsh. God does not beat around the bush when He answers Job. Most of the book of Job deals with the thought that perhaps a mistake had been made concerning Job’s lot. God’s questions are meant to correct that misunderstanding.

Perhaps more than our need for relief, we need a better understanding of God Himself in the midst of suffering. God is in control. He doesn’t make mistakes. He need Him more than we need a remedy.

Life Principle: Suffering will either strengthen or severe one’s faith.

QUES: How have times of suffering strengthened your faith in God?

Our response to suffering should be to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in humility, knowing our suffering identifies us with Christ.

3) God’s comfort in our suffering gives us a powerful testimony to encourage others in their suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-7).


*John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself

**John Piper,