Wonder Why? The Problem of Pain Part 3 – Rogue Waves: Unexplainable Pain – Job 42:1-3


Part 3 of a 4-part series looking for answers to the question, if God is both good and all-powerful, how can he allow us to suffer?

Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.”
(Job 42:1-3)

We have been investigating the problem of pain and suffering. The main objection many people have to Jesus boils down to this question: “If God is both good and all-powerful, how can He allow us to suffer?” The false assumption is that pain proves that God is either too weak to do anything about it, or too cruel to care. 

But as we discussed in the first message in the series, pain is not always bad. Pain usually serves a purpose, either to diagnose, treat, or prevent future suffering. The example we used was the pain of a flame. Fire is neither good nor evil, but if we stand too close, we will get burned. That pain teaches us not to stand to close. Sometimes God, as any loving parent will do, allows us to experience the consequences of our actions so that we might learn and grow. We also talked about the pain of a surgeon’s knife. To save our lives, a surgeon must cut healthy flesh to remove a deadly appendix. Sometimes pain is a necessary element of the healing process.

While it doesn’t completely answer the question, “If God is both good and all powerful, how can He allow us to suffer,” recognizing that pain is often pregnant with purpose does open the door to at least consider that pain can indeed be useful, and a God who allows pain might still be good.

In the second message, we looked at the causes of our pain – specifically, the 90% of pain that can be explained by free will. We talked about how the gift of free will, which enables us to experience the highest gift of love, also, by definition, gives us the freedom to harm one another, to hate. We looked at how we are wounded by our own choices and the choices of others, and even the choices of people from ages past. We all carry these wounds with us, and if we leave them unresolved, we will continue to pass them on to others. There is much healing that needs to be done, in each one of us, if we are to stop the cycle of suffering in our lives and the lives of those we touch.

In today’s message, I want to examine the remaining 10% of pain – pain that cannot be so easily explained by free will. This type of pain is like a rogue wave that seemingly comes out of nowhere and holds tremendous power to swamp our boats. 

In the great drama of the book of Job, perhaps the oldest story in the Bible, our hero, the righteous and God-fearing man Job experiences a tremendous, seemingly random, rogue-wave of suffering. Out of nowhere, it seems to Job, his children are all killed in a natural disaster, all his herds and wealth are stolen forever, and even his own health is taken from him. One day all was well with him, the next day he is brought to complete ruin. What Job does not know, however, is that the rogue wave of his suffering was not random, but that there was a spiritual battle taking place of which Job knew nothing. Throughout the book of Job, his friends try to pin the suffering on Job’s choices, assuming that if Job suffers, it must be his fault for some secret sin. But Job insists that, while he is not perfect, he didn’t do anything to deserve such horrible suffering. Finally, after long, drawn out arguing about who is to blame for Job’s suffering, God speaks to Job, not gently, but with a stern rebuke. God does not ever reveal to Job the cause of His suffering, but insists that Job knows nothing of the affairs of heaven, that God has a plan, and we don’t have, and never will have the slightest clue about the designs God has for creation.

That is when Job ceases his complaint against God, covers his mouth and says in verse 3, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Only then, after Job acknowledges that God’s ways are above our ways, that God’s plans are far beyond our ability to comprehend, only then does God restore to Job what was lost. He has more children, rebuilds his fortunes, and regains his health. 

Some suffering simply cannot be easily explained as the result of human free will. And that is the pain I want to address today – the rogue waves. The 10% that we cannot trace.

So let’s look at the three remaining untraceable sources of pain. If you are following in your bulletin, you will see a heading, “Untraceable Sources of Pain.” 

Untraceable Sources of Pain

Wounded by original sin

The first blank in your outline is “wounded by original sin”. 

I know we talked about this briefly in the last message, that we can trace some of our current pain back generations – even centuries.  But how far back can we go in time? Can we imagine that at least some of our suffering goes back all the way to the dawn of man? If we find ourselves born onto and walking on a trail winding through a dark wood, we can see some of the trail in darkness behind us, but surely not all of it. How far back does the trail of human suffering go? Well, of course, we can never know. It is untraceable. But we can reasonably assume that the trail does have a starting point, somewhere way back there, beyond our ability to investigate. It stands to reason that at some point, one of our ancestors made a deliberate choice to get on that trail and enter the dark woods, and now we are bearing the consequences of that long-ago decision.

I am speaking of what we call original sin, which is the Biblical teaching that when the first man and woman sinned, all of creation fell. They chose the dark path of rebellion against God, and there was no going back. This speaks to the truth that you and I living today bear wounds caused by others from deep in the shadows of time immemorial. I am speaking of pain like cancer, genetic disorders, and other seemingly mysterious kinds of suffering. Who is to say whether some of the diseases we experience today were not the result of some choice made so far in the past that we cannot possibly trace it? We know that contaminants in water can cause genetic mutations and diseases that extend their morbid hand far into the future. While we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all of our untraceable wounds are the result of some ancient, unknowable sin, we can reasonably say that at least some of the choices of our primitive ancestors shaped who we are and what we live with today. 

The idea of original sin is that there was one initial ripple that begat every rogue wave thereafter. It isn’t pleasant to think about, but it makes sense.

In Romans 5:12 Paul makes this same argument, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

Even if you are a stalwart critic of the scripture and have difficulty believing the account of Adam and Eve is accurate and precise, you must at least agree that it is true in this regard – it reveals the truth that choices from our earliest history ripple down through time and affect us even today.

Now, let’s move on to the more challenging levels.

Wounded by nature

The second blank in your outline is “wounded by nature”. 

Jon Foreman, the singer and songwriter from the Christian music group Switchfoot, penned these haunting lines in his song Vice Verses: 

Where is God in the city life?
Where is God in the city light?
Where is God in the earthquake?
Where is God in the genocide?

Where are you in my broken heart?
Everything seems to fall apart
Everything feels rusted over
Tell me that you're there

I know that there's a meaning to it all
A little resurrection every time I fall
You got your babies, I got my hearses
Every blessing comes with a set of curses

I know Jon Foreman is a man of great faith in God. But even he questions where God is in natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. 

Of all the suffering that we cannot blame on free will, natural disasters are the second hardest to come to grips with. We have all seen the suffering firsthand now that we have arrived at an age where everyone is carrying a video camera in their pocket and footage can be shared with the world in an instant. And most of the suffering we’ve seen from natural disasters we’d rather forget. But there are some things we simply cannot unsee.

While there may be some grain of truth in an attempt to place some responsibility on the human error of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is not particularly useful to say such callous things as, “Why would anyone choose to live on a fault line in an active seismic zone?”  

So how do we reconcile the belief that God is both good and all-powerful in the face of a natural disaster? The temptation creeps in with these events to think that God is either too weak to stop them, or the more unthinkable alternative, that He is powerful enough, but just doesn’t care.

And while we can never prove with airtight certainty that God can at the same time be compassionate and allow natural disasters, neither can we write off the possibility altogether. 

But to get to a place where we can possibly entertain the idea that God can be both compassionate, and at the same time allow nature to take her course, we have to extend our imagination and try to step back to see things, just a little, if possible, from God’s perspective.

We have begun to learn about the function of tectonic plates in the earth’s crust, for example. Without the constant heaving and upheaval – the slipping and subduction of tectonic plates – we know that our world would be very different today. It is no exaggeration to say that without the forces of fire and brimstone at work deep underneath the earth (and sometimes breaking through the earth in violent ways) our world would be dead – an icy ghost planet adrift in space. The same is true for weather patterns that also bring us ferocious storms – without tides and oceanic currents, we would have no wind, no rain, and no seasons – and the earth would be dead.

I know that what I am saying brings very little comfort to those who are suffering from a natural disaster. It would be like saying that getting a speeding ticket is good because it has a greater benefit for all of society. Nobody enjoys a speeding ticket! But if we can step back and see that there is a bigger story underway – the long story of creation and providence that is far greater than our daily troubles – we can, perhaps, concede that even in the earthquake God is still good. 

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…

“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’” (Psalm 46.1-3,8-10)

Wounded by God

The third blank in your bulletin is “wounded by God” and this is the most difficult kind of pain to explain.

In one sense, this is the kitchen sink, where we might be tempted to place the blame for every remaining kind of pain we cannot explain by free will, by original sin, or by natural disasters. It is easy to make God the scapegoat for things we do not understand.

And yet, it cannot be denied that, according to the Scriptures, sometimes God does indeed not only allow, but even causes suffering.

If we can muster the courage to acknowledge this possibility – that God may be putting us to some sort of test as he did with Job – then the question shifts from “Why am I suffering?” to “What now? What possible good can this suffering serve? Can my suffering bring glory to God by fulfilling His purposes in some way?”

We’ve already talked about the fact that pain always has the potential of serving a purpose: either to diagnose a problem and show us that something is wrong, or to treat a defect in our character or behavior through discipline, or to prevent us from the very real threat that we may cause worse pain in the future. 

These all stand to reason, and God, in His infinite wisdom, has every right to use pain to shout at us and get our attention to either diagnose, treat or prevent problems.

But there is one other purpose that we touched on in the first message in this series. I’ll warn you up front: it is the purpose that is perhaps the least satisfying to us, but most important in a cosmic sense. And that purpose is to bring God glory by fulfilling His plans.

In John chapter 9:3, in the account of the healing of the man blind from birth, when Jesus was asked who sinned that the man was born blind, he replied: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Did you catch that? “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus didn’t say this happened to diagnose and call out some sin in the man’s life. Jesus didn’t say this happened to treat a problem and teach him a lesson. Neither did Jesus say this happened to prevent him from doing some other great harm to himself or others in the future. No, none of those answers was given by Jesus to his disciples. Instead, he said that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”   

In other words, some of our suffering exists to advance the unknowable purposes of God. 

For the flea a bath is a horrifying apocalypse, while for the dog it is an incredible relief.

And while I know this may not be a very satisfying answer to our question, “What is the purpose of my suffering?” We cannot forget, as we often do, that God’s ways are not our ways. And that God’s ways are much higher than our ways. And that His purposes and plans are much more elegant than our purposes and plans. And this truth must ring out from our suffering: even in this present suffering of mine, God can be glorified. I know it. I trust it. I may not understand it, but I understand that God will not waste this wound, that this pain has the potential to give birth to God’s glory in new and profound ways through my life. 

Who knows but that God may allow cancer in your life so that you can minister His truth and love to a nurse who has no time for God? Who knows but that a head on collision in front of a church on Sunday morning might bring you back to faith in God and begin the healing restoration of your family? Who knows but that your brother’s cystic fibrosis might usher you into the godless halls of congress to meet face to face with the most powerful people in the world, United States Senators and Representatives, and put your unwavering faith in God on display?

The truth is, like Job, we may never know the purpose of our pain. But, like Job, may we all have the courage to proclaim, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” (Job 13:15) 

Why Doesn’t God Intervene?

As we draw the message to close this morning, I want to quickly address some loose ends. Sometimes when I am preparing a message, I stumble across an idea that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else. It isn’t enough to make a whole message, but it is still worth putting out there. 

So I’d like to point out some assumptions – two false and one true – assumptions we make as we consider why God doesn’t intervene in our suffering. These are in your outline if you want to jot them down.

False Assumption #1: God Doesn’t Ever Intervene

It is easy to look at the suffering around us in the world and think that God never seems to do anything about it. But that is a false assumption. How would you or I have any clue as to whether God is intervening and preventing all kinds of suffering right all around us, every minute? Anyone who has driven on the freeway can tell you that it’s some sort of miracle that there aren’t hundreds more fatalities every morning! It isn’t really fair to ask why God NEVER intervenes in suffering. A better question might be “Why doesn’t God ALWAYS intervene?”

False Assumption #2: God Is Unable to Intervene

An omnipotent God must be able to intervene. I touched on this earlier, but it bears repeating. Just because God DOES NOT intervene, it does not logically follow that he CANNOT intervene. I bring this up because I believe many people serve a God that is too small. The fact that God chooses not to intervene in some suffering should not be an obstacle to our faith that God is all-powerful. 

True Assumption: At Times, For Good Reasons, God Is Unwilling to Intervene

Unwilling to intervene does not mean he does not care, or is not compassionate. God’s refusal to always intervene in our suffering does not make Him cruel or heartless; we can rest assured there is a long-range reason, rooted in love, that our short-range minds cannot fathom. 

We must never forget that God has a hard job. We could never do His job, but He must. At the same time, we must trust that God never enjoys seeing His children suffer. Even though we may never see the reasons why, at times, and for good reasons, God reserves the right to remain unwilling to intervene.

I’m going to invite the worship team to take the sage and lead us in a time of prayer. As they do, I want to invite you to think of any unresolved suffering or wounds you might be carrying. Take a moment to reflect on that… And with no one looking around, I want to invite you to lift your hand if you’d like me to be praying for you this week as you process that suffering… No one looking around please. … Thank you… Thank you. You may put your hands down. I may not know what you are going through, but I will be with you in prayer and as your friend. 

In the coming week we are going to begin the topic of restoration and healing, which is where the rubber really meets the road. It doesn’t do much good to rationally dwell on the sources of pain like some kind of intellectual chew toy. We ultimately need to bring our pain to God, to cast our cares on him, to lay our burdens down at his feet, and ask Him to be glorified so that the works of God might be displayed in US.

Let us pray …

Father, we bring our wounds before you once again this morning. Whether we are wounded by our own choices, the choices of others, forces of nature, or even you, Lord God, we bring those hurts to the only hands we know we can trust.  We bring them to you now and in silence place our wounds in your hands. Take a few moments to set those wounds before Him.

Lord, for a moment, we set our objections aside. We rest our prosecution. We rest our defense. We cease our complaint today, and like Job, confess that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Would you begin the healing process today for those who have not begun the journey? Help us to walk alongside our brothers and sisters, encouraging them to find their hope and peace and healing in you. We take a moment to pray for these…

And for those who bear in our bodies and minds old, old wounds that seem to keep coming to the surface, would you awaken us to the fact that you are not done with us yet. Though the road is long, and the journey far, you are with us every step of the way. We take a moment to pray for those who have a long journey of healing ahead…

Finally, Father, we are thankful that in the your house, the wounded among us make the best healers.

Bless us with strength for the journey, and still our anxious souls.  

[Song: Be Still My Soul]   

The core issue with suffering that seems to come from God is trust. We must be able to step back, trust the God is still all powerful and still all-loving toward us, and say along with Job: 

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.”


Go in the works and the wonder of God.

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