Last Tuesday night (14 October) I had the privilege of leading a wake service for Jordan Lim. He had died after a valiant fight against cancer. He was eighteen. He was the youngest son of my pastor. I didn’t know Jordan well but from all I have heard, here was a brave young man who was generous to a fault. (He also donated his corneas.) Here was a man who deserved to live a long life, blessing many people. And here was a family who didn’t deserve to lose someone they loved so much. But there had been no miraculous intervention.
I don’t know about you but I have mixed feelings whenever I hear or read of testimonies of healing, you know the “I was at death’s door, I should have died but the church/healer prayed in faith and I was miraculously healed” type of testimonies. I am glad the person healed is testifying about God’s goodness and power. But what about all those who prayed but who were not healed? I have many friends in the second category. (I just had lunch with a dear friend who lost his wife to cancer earlier in the year. They were both exemplary disciples.)
So why do bad things happen to good people? The book of Job addresses this question. The book takes pains to tell us that Job was a righteous person.
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1 NIV)
Yet for one so underserving of pain, Job undergoes one horrendous tragedy after another. He doesn’t just lose one son. He loses seven sons and three daughters. As the book unfolds we learn some lessons about life and about how God does things.
1. God is sovereign and nothing happens without His consent.
2. He has His reasons for all that happens though we may not always understand His reasons. (Accepting a bet from the devil???)
3. He may not let you know His reasons. Till the end Job doesn’t get to know why his life fell apart.
4. God sorts things out in the end.
The biggest lesson of the book of Job, however, is that humankind is in no position to pass judgement on the actions of God.
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
(Job 38:1–5 NIV)
As Bruce K. Waltke puts it:
. . . God is freely creative and redemptive, beyond human understanding. His government transcends a simple calculus that rewards good and punishes evil. If God’s actions do not conform to earthlings’ understandings, that does not mean that he is dark and/or disinterested. He rules by containing darkness and wildness within a government that transcends human “wisdom,” not by eliminating it. (Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007], 942.)
From our perspective, it appears that sometimes God fumbles. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Or so it seems. God reminds Job, and us, that we do not have the ability to make any definitive call on God’s actions. Instead He calls us to trust Him. New Testament saints have an advantage here. We have seen the apparent injustice of the Cross turning out to be God’s greatest victory.
Good theology is important and will be guide and comfort for the Lims in the days ahead. But for now, it only goes so far to take away the edge of the pain of seeing one’s child lying in a coffin. I have not been giving homilies to the Lim family from the book of Job. Instead I have tried to obey Paul’s injunction in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV).
I have just wept with them.