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The Problem of Pain: Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

approaching tornado

Last night I spoke with a woman who is in deep despair. Years of endless suffering, chronic illness and abandonment by her family have left her completely disillusioned. “God could change all of this,” she said. “Why doesn’t He? I don’t understand…”

If we are completely honest, we might admit there is a circumstance in our lives causing us to ask the same question. It may be a minor frustration…or something that causes us to cry out in total despair like Job:

“My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart” (Job 17:11).

Like Job, we may feel that life is hopeless. We may wonder why we should even continue on. Because Job was in a similar situation, the answer he found to the “why” question is enormously instructive.

Before God restored anything back to him, Job made two key statements:

1. You are sovereign.

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

In other words, Job said, “God, You are in charge. You are in control. This suffering was part of Your plan—Your best—for my life. You can do all things. If this had not been the best for my life, You would have allowed a different plan. No one, not even Satan, has authority over You, Your plan, or the working of the details of Your plan. I trust You.”

Job was at rest, at peace with God’s plan…before God gave anything back to him. “Why?” you might ask? Because he had experienced God like never before.

2. Because of my suffering, I now know You in unparalleled ways.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5, emphasis added).

The word for “seen” in the original language means: to feel, to experience, to learn, to reveal oneself, to ascertain, to make one feel or know, to cause to enjoy; to gain understanding, to be fully aware.

Can you imagine ascertaining the creator of the universe – the God who spoke the world into being? The One of whom is it written,

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses…For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:6-9).

Can you imagine enjoying Him more? Understanding Him and His ways? Being more fully aware of what He is really like?

In The Case for Faith [affiliate link], Peter Kreeft describes this example we have in Job – this mirror image of what God is doing in our own lives through suffering:

Job was wondering who God was, because it looked as if God was a cosmic sadist. At the end of the book of Job…God finally shows up with the answer—and the answer is a question.

He says to Job, ‘Who are you? Are you God? Did you write this script? Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ And Job realizes the answer is no. Then he’s satisfied. Why? Because he sees God! God doesn’t write him a book. He could have written the best book on the problem of evil ever written. Instead, he shows himself to Job.

…Job gets a foretaste of heaven at the end of the book of Job, because he meets God. If it were only words that God gave him, that would mean that God would give a good answer and Job would aks another question the next day and the next day, because Job was a very demanding philosopher. This would go on and on and never end. What could make it end? God’s presence!

God didn’t let Job suffer because he lacked love, but because he did love, in order to bring Job to the point of encountering God face to face, which is humanity’s supreme happiness. Job’s suffering hollowed out a big space in him so that God and joy could fill it.

As we look at human relationships, what we see is that lovers don’t want explanations, but presence. And what God is, essentially, is presence—the doctrine of the Trinity says God is three persons who are present to each other in perfect knowledge and perfect love. That’s why God is infinite joy. And insofar as we can participate in that presence, we too have infinity joy. So that’s what Job has—even on his dung heap, even before he gets any of his worldly goods back—once he sees God face to face.[i]

Job was completely satisfied before God gave anything material or physical back to him. He was satisfied because He had seen God.

The place we find God and “see” Him is in His word, the Bible.

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18).

I believe this is why the psalmist came to treasure God’s word so deeply during affliction.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalm 119:71, 72, 74-75, 92).

Questions: Are you going to God’s word daily? Are you asking Him, “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in Your word?”

[i] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 69-70

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