November 3, 2012

"If you suffer, then you've sinned." The book of Job disagrees.

I'm reading the book of Job and am struck by the importance of understanding the relationship between human sin and suffering. Longman and Dillard, in their "Introduction to the Old Testament", contend that, while there is truth to the premise that "if you sin, then you will suffer", it is hazardous and irresponsible to assert that "if you suffer, then you have sinned" (235). We must be willing to accept the Bible's message that there are consequences for sin (both now and eternally), while also remaining faithful to the canonical testimony (as expressed in Job) that not all suffering is caused by personal sin. 

There are consequences for sin, namely separation from God, others, and creation. There are no easy answers for human suffering, especially when you gaze into the eyes of someone who lost their loved-one.

Job was called a righteous man, and it teaches that not all suffering is caused by personal sin. It also proclaims that only God is wise, and He is both sovereign and good. When God challenges Job for questioning His wisdom and power, Job provides an example to us of the proper response - repentance.  

The book of Job also foreshadows Jesus Christ as "the true innocent sufferer, the only one completely without sin. He voluntarily submits himself to suffering for the benefit of sinful men and women... In Jesus, God enters into human suffering in order to redeem humanity" (Longman, Dillard 236). Christ endured the suffering we deserved, so we can receive the righteousness He deserved. The proper response for us, when we are aware of our sin against God, is repentance, faith, and all-of-life devotion to Jesus. While such faith does not necessitate a suffering free life, it does guarantee that, because of Christ, one day all our tears will be wiped away and everything sad will come untrue.

I believe that for those who repent of sin, wholly trust and follow Christ, that neither death nor life, nor anything else, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. After all, won't the One who is both just, and the justifier, do what is right?

Note: This post has been edited. Main point and content remains unchanged.


  1. Greg, it is consoling to hear that suffering is not the result of personal sin however, I am troubled all over again when I'm told that God is absolutely sovereign in the midst of my suffering (and is thus, if you go back far enough, the cause of my suffering). I would be absolutely distraught by pastoral advice that suggested that God was somehow powerful enough to take away my suffering but has chosen not to. This doesn't seem any less troubling than the response to suffering you set out to refute in this post.

  2. Hey Garret,

    I think both your comments are similar to the ones raised in Job. I think it's an important caveat to say that some suffering is brought on by sin. I think it is wise to discern whether our suffering is due to sin, and if it is we ought to repent, but to say that we suffer because we have sinned is too mechanical of a view of action/consequence or sin/suffering.

    I find solace in the thought that just because we can't fathom an answer to a question doesn't mean there isn't one, that I believe God is sovereign and good and he may have a purpose behind our suffering, and that for Christians, we ought to anticipate suffering in our life. While I understand that those comments can lean towards being trite, I still believe them to be true.

    How we understand God's sovereignty and human suffering is a massive and heart-wrenching issue that has more questions than answers.

    All the best!