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Saturday, August 6, 2022

Why Do Righteous People Suffer?

            My Come, Follow Me studies for this week took me to the book of Job in the Old Testament, and the lesson covered selected chapters rather than the entire book. The lesson was introduced with the following paragraph.

It’s natural to wonder why bad things happen to good people – or for that matter, why good things happen to bad people. Why would God, who is just, allow that? Questions like these are explored through the experience of Job, one of those good people to whom bad things happened. Because of Job’s trials, his friends wondered if he was really good after all. Job asserted his own righteousness and wondered if God is really just after all. But despite his suffering and wondering, Job maintained his integrity and faith in Jesus Christ. In the book of Job, faith is questioned and tested but never completely abandoned. That doesn’t mean that all of the questions are answered. But the book of Job teaches that until they are answered, questions and faith can coexist, and regardless of what happens in the meantime, we can say of our Lor, “Yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). 

            The lesson material covered several principles, including the following three: (1) My trust in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can help me remain faithful in all circumstances (Job 1-3; 12-13). (2) Jesus Christ is my Redeemer (Job 19). (3) “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 21-24). This discussion will be about a fourth principle, “God’s perspective is greater than mine (Job 38; 40; 42).

            The first verse in the book of Job says that Job was a man who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed [avoided] evil” (Job 1:1). In a later verse, God used the same phraseology to acknowledge the goodness of Job (Job 1:8). The writer of Job accepts as a matter of fact that Job was good man. This understanding is important to understand the underlying question in the book: why a righteous man suffers. (See Old Testament Student Manual – Kings through Malachi [2003].) 

            Job was a blessed man. He was married and had a large family. He was also rich with much land, animals, servants, and other riches. He and his family were healthy and happy. One day things changed: his children were killed when a house collapsed on them, enemies told his animals and killed his servants. Even with all these problems, Job still had strong faith in God. Then he got boils all over his body and truly suffered. His friends accused him of great sin, but he maintained his righteousness (Job 16:1-5; 19:1-3). Job repeatedly asked God to explain the reason for his suffering (see Job 19:6-7; 23:1-9; 31).

            Job’s suffering continued for a long time before he finally received a response from God. Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed that “when we are unduly impatient with an omniscient God’s timing, we really are suggesting that we know what is best. Strange, isn’t it – we who wear wristwatches seek to counsel Him who oversees cosmic clocks and calendars” (“Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 63). 

            Some scholars are more concerned with whether or not Job was a real person than who he was. Keith H. Meservy noted the following:

Although some scholars have felt that the book is not a true story about a real man, I think the majority of the scholars do. Granted, it is a literary work with a prologue (chs. 1-2) and an epilogue (ch. 42) that were composed in narrative form and a body of the work (3-41) that was composed in Hebrew poetry, but to say that it is a literary composition is not to deny its basis in fact, any more than to say that a book, play, or even a musical based on Joseph Smith’s life is not true because it is an artistic or literary work. Ezekiel and James, for example, regarded him as historical and referred to Job among the great individuals known for their faith and prayer power (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; James 5:11). This is significant. There are other reasons for regarding Job as an historical person but, to me, the most decisive criterion in this regard, is the fact that when Joseph Smith and his people were in great distress, and Joseph Smith went to the Lord and said, “Oh God, where art thou? Where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” The Lord responded to his appeal for help by saying, “my son, peace be to thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high …Thou are not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgressions, as they did Job” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-10, emphasis added). Now, if Job were not real and his suffering, therefore, were merely the figment of some author’s imagination, and Joseph Smith on the other hand was very real, and his suffering and that of his people were not imaginary, then for the Lord to chide him because his circumstances were not as bad as Job’s were, would provide an intolerable comparison, since one cannot compare real with unreal things. On the other hand, since the Lord did make the comparison, it must be a real one. I would, therefore, conclude on this basis alone, that Job was a very real person. The Brethren, also, when they have referred to Job, have regarded him as a real person…. (“Job: ‘Yet Will I Trust in Him,’” pp. 154-55.) (As quoted in the Old Testament Student Manual: Kings through Malachi [2003]. 

            We all face difficult situations, just as did Job and Joseph Smith. The lesson that we should take from their experiences is to maintain our integrity and faith in Jesus Christ. A necessary part of our endurance of difficult conditions is that we endure it well. To me, this means that we endure the suffering, persecution, or difficult times without complaining, without throwing temper tantrums, and without getting upset with God.

We are to exercise our faith in Jesus Christ. We know from life experiences that we exercise our muscles or our brain, we work them. To exercise faith in Jesus Christ, we continue to follow Him, keep His commandments, and the covenants we have made with Him.


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