Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Lesson 4, Part 8


Time and Chance

The Bible refers to another aspect of human suffering, called time and chance in Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Many good and bad things occur to people regardless of whether they are good or evil. As Jesus explained, God lets it rain on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

What was Jesus Christ’s perspective on a tragic accident in Jerusalem?

“. . . Those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).

Jesus acknowledged the principle King Solomon had written about some 1,000 years earlier: “I returned and saw under the sun that—the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Jesus noted that the incident at Siloam was not some sort of divine punishment directed at the victims because of their sins. Although other factors such as improper construction and maintenance procedures might have been a part of the picture, it was strictly time and chance as far as the dead victims at Siloam were concerned. Because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they died.

But Christ urged those who escaped this calamity to repent of their sin and, by implication, to begin living in harmony with God’s plan and purpose. Such tragedies should be powerful reminders to take action now to set our spiritual house in order. Why put off our salvation? Why procrastinate when it comes to repentance? Why not act now? That is the emphasis of Jesus Christ’s comments.

What lesson did Jesus draw from the deaths of others in another tragic incident?

“There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish’ ” (Luke 13:1-3).

In this incident the Roman authorities apparently slaughtered several Galileans who had come to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem. Jesus made the point that these men suffered horrible deaths, not because they were exceptionally bad, but because they were caught up in larger events. In a violent situation innocent people are sometimes injured and killed. It could happen to anyone—unless God were supernaturally protecting the person at such a time.

We should heed the advice of James: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’ ” (James 4:13-15).

In God’s plan and purpose, He will resurrect all victims of fatal accidents and other tragedies. Those who die in such situations are not eternally lost to God or their loved ones. Jesus Christ Himself promised a future resurrection when “all who are in the graves will hear His voice(John 5:28-29). Our free booklet God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind fully explains this resurrection with all the essential scriptural details.

Still, we humans must deal with suffering and even death in the here and now. See “Steps in Dealing With Grief,” the final chapter in our free booklet What Happens After Death? 

What fundamental biblical principle can give us a proper perspective when inexplicable suffering occurs?

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children . . .” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

God simply does not reveal a reason for everything that happens to us. Therefore, no human being can provide an accurate answer for every unfortunate circumstance. God may not reveal certain things this side of His coming Kingdom.

But, whatever our circumstances, we are always accountable for obeying our Creator and staying in harmony with His plan and purpose. We must leave the rest to God, patiently relying on Him in faith that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Cemetery Photo

Jesus Christ Himself promised a future resurrection when “all who are in the graves will hear His voice.”

As covered in earlier lessons of this study course, the reason for our existence is clear. But that doesn’t mean we understand everything about how God will accomplish His plan for us. We await full knowledge and understanding that will come at the time of the resurrection. Any teaching that aligns itself against our calling and the true biblical knowledge supporting it is ultimately false. We need to be careful not to allow inexplicable suffering to make us bitter and lose our faith in God.

Possibly you or your loved ones have suffered cruelly and unjustly at the hands of others. Such seems to happen to most of us at times. Allowing ourselves to become bitter so that we begin seeking revenge is not a proper Christian response. “ ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God will put things right in His own way and time.

Always remember that we have only partial knowledge. Full understanding will not come until later. Understanding this principle, the apostle Paul tells us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Learning From the Suffering of Job

The suffering of a man named Job explains much about why character is more important in God's eyes than the discomfort and pain we experience in this life.

Job was an exceptionally righteous man. He carefully avoided acts of transgression against God’s laws. He behaved blamelessly. But, like all of us, he had weaknesses (Mark 14:38). He was not perfect.

God decided to test Job’s character to see how his commitment to Him would bear up under adversity. The account of Job is in Scripture to help righteous people, when they go through discouraging and traumatic experiences, to learn to trust God patiently while awaiting the resolution of their problems.

Job Job

God boasted of Job’s righteous behavior to Satan. (Job 1:8). Satan responded, “. . . Stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and [Job] will surely curse You to Your face!” (Job 1:9-11). Later events proved Satan wrong. Job’s character was not that weak.

God granted Satan permission to strip Job of his possessions and his family and to afflict him with excruciating boils (Job 1:12-19). Job at first accepted his plight, saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Later “Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, [and] each one came . . . [to] mourn with him, and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). After a week of lamenting with him, they began to discuss his calamities and suffering. Job listed his complaints, showing the inequities of life. Later God agreed with him. Not everything in this life is fair and equitable.

Job’s three friends, however, were certain that God was punishing Job for some secret sin, something Job could hide from everyone but God. Job vehemently denied that such was the case, and he was right. God later verified this also.

However, during his ordeal of loss and suffering, Job gradually came to resent God. This often happens to people in the midst of inexplicable calamity.

Many chapters relate the faulty reasoning and accusations of Job’s three friends and Job’s denials. Finally, one of Job’s younger friends, Elihu, spoke up. He recognized that Job’s perspective was flawed and distorted. Job had convinced himself that his afflictions served no purpose. He decided that God was simply not treating him fairly.

Elihu realized that Job was so obsessed with his innocence (Job 33:8-9) that he was finding fault with God rather than looking for lessons to learn from his trials. To Job’s complaints Elihu replied: “Do you think this is right? Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’?” (Job 35:2).

Instead of seeing his adversity as opportunity for patience and for letting God mold him, Job had grown in his resentment toward his Creator. He closed his mind to the possibility that he could learn something valuable from his suffering.

Job’s principal objection was that God was unresponsive to him, that He was not properly acknowledging his righteousness.

God challenged Job, suggesting that he try to tame a sea creature, a great beast that was “made without fear” (Job 41:33-34): “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line which you lower? Can you put a reed through his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook? Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak softly to you?” (Job 41:1-10).

In the end Job saw that the basis of his problem was his lack of understanding and excessive confidence in his own righteousness. Then his view of God’s fairness changed. He saw that His critical attitude toward God was wrong: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . . I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6).

Job’s experience is recorded in great detail so we can learn the folly of holding too high an opinion of ourselves. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Proverbs 16:18-19).

Job’s experiences can explain why righteous people may go through discouraging and traumatic times and be tempted to resent God for not obviously and quickly intervening on their behalf. Like Job, we can fail to understand that God sees far more than we see.

No matter how severe a trial is, we should never assume God isn’t listening or doesn’t care. He sees lessons we need to learn that are beyond our present understanding. We need always to remember some excellent advice from King David: “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Psalms 27:14). We should learn from Job’s experience to maintain patient respect and trust in God even in the midst of our sufferings (James 5:10-11).


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