Getting Over “Easy Math” on Suffering

The sufferings of Job are well-known. His story, unfolded in the 18th book of the Old Testament, is one of loss and despair, devastation and redemption. It sheds great light on the issue of suffering and the character of God.

When Job first starts to suffer, he is approached by three of his friends, as they each offer their perspective on his trials. The first friend to speak was a man named Eliphaz. Over the course of the narrative, he offers a number of different proposals in an effort to answer the “Why?” question concerning Job’s suffering. Although he comes at the issue from different angles,[1] his underlying thesis is always the same: Job has sinned against God in some way and his suffering is God’s punishment on him.

As Eliphaz states in Job 4:8-9:

As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

This perspective on suffering is not uncommon, and has been adopted by many believers. I call it “easy math.” God’s judgment + my sin = my suffering. While we can obviously deal with suffering in consequences that result from personal sin, to assume that all suffering is punishment for sin is not wholly biblical.

Walt Kaiser, in his book Ecclesiastes: Total Life talks about 5 different biblical explanations for suffering.[2]

1) Our suffering can be educational.[3]

  • Suffering is an opportunity to learn about ourselves and to learn from God.

2) Some suffering is doxological.

  • “Doxa” means “glory,” and as we see in John 9:1-3, Jesus teaches that some suffering serves to bring glory to God in a unique way by his divine providence.

3) Suffering can be probationary.

  • This is clearly seen in the book of Habakkuk, where the prophet is crying out to God for justice, only to hear back from God that His retribution will come in His timing.

4) Some suffering is revelational.

  • Think of the example of Hosea. From his choice of a wife to the resulting hardships he faced, God used Hosea to bring His word to His people.

5) Suffering can also be sacrificial.

  • There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, none more poignant than the testimony in Isaiah 42ff concerning the “suffering servant.” Of course, these prophecies are eventually fulfilled in Jesus.

A few books I have found to be particularly helpful on the subject of suffering:

[1] Eliphaz begins his monologues in chapters 4, 15, and 22, respectively.

[2] These 5 explanations are found on page 95.

[3] Job 34:32, 35:11, 36:10, 15, 22.

About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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2 Responses to Getting Over “Easy Math” on Suffering

  1. Mendi Yoshikawa says:

    My family I are were just talking about this. I grew up being taught that if multiple things were going wrong in my life (car breaking down while being laid off, etc), the only explanation for it was that God was punishing me. It’s been nice learning from your past sermons that this way of thinking isn’t completely Biblical. Thanks for compiling the list of books–It will be nice having a list of some good, trusted resources if I or someone I know is going through a particularly hard time.

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