Job and the Problem of Innocent Suffering of African Children
It’s not uncommon among Christians at some point of their spiritual journey to have heard certain people asking tough questions about suffering. And people who believe in a God that is loving in nature, all-wise, and all-powerful, have themselves struggled about how could a God whose very nature is love, and one that has unlimited power (i.e. can do what he pleases), allow evil to wreak havoc among his creation. Indeed, had it not for the fact that Judeao-Christian faith is more reasonable than atheism, the enigma of suffering could have caused many among the people of faith to fall into non-belief at worse or agnosticism at best. The plain assertion of the Bible is that suffering has its origin in sin. All the seeming overwhelming questions which bombard and attempt to strip the reasonableness of biblical faith fall under the category of finite questions, that in all actuality has no complete understanding and has no capacity whatsoever to comprehend what is ultimate that it tries to explore. Because man is in a fallen state (and to fully grasp this actual state of man is almost impossible to reach), and for that reason alone, to arrive at the point of grasping all the answers to ultimate questions without the help of Divine revelation is simply an impossibility.
Thus, to embark on a study that has as its focus an endeavor to explain or to make sense out of the ironies of life, or to show the compatibility of belief in God with the reality of evil in the world, require a revelation from God, or else, all these attempts to understand are failures at the very outset. The following pages stand on the premise that the entire Bible contains the unveiling of God about the true state of affairs in this world and in life generally. Without the Bible, man is left alone conjecturing on things which are naturally beyond his reach – beyond his intellect to comprehend (because intellect is affected by the fall that it is incapacitated to the degree that it cannot understand the ultimate without the enabling of God). The book of Job contains deep insights into suffering, more particularly, the suffering of the innocent. It is a story of a righteous man who in spite of his integrity got struck nevertheless with a series of blows in his life, so disastrous that at the end he was left alone and at the verge of losing his sanity, with only two options left – whether to cling still to his faith in a good and powerful God or abandon that faith and curse God who after all could not help him. Job is an excellent book for people whose hope in God is in constant pressure of being challenged by questions of evil which seems to be indiscriminate of its victims, and in some parts of the world most of the casualties are innocent children. In the pages that will follow, the author argues from the perspective of what transpired in the life of Job as it is narrated in the Bible.
However, all the deliberations do not guarantee nor promise a satisfying answer to all kinds of inquirers. Job is a book of faith, and therefore, helpful only to those who want to see a transcendent remedy to an already problematic existence called life. The life of faith is rational and is based on divinely revealed truths. People look for and accept those answers which they deem reasonable and hence palatable to the mind and therefore, whether it is realized or not, everyone acts on faith (i.e. belief on certain explanations). It’s only a matter of which answer, argument, or explanation, is reckoned to be intellectually better, and consequently embraced. And so, suffering, as it is manifested in the lives of innocent children in Africa will be assessed based on what has been divinely revealed through the story of Job. The same question will be asked and answered accordingly: “Why do the innocent suffer?”
I. Origin Of Suffering
Suffering is one of the symptoms of this life’s abnormality. If not for the revelation found in the Bible, there would be no other option but to accept the state of affairs in life as it is. This means that since suffering has been a part of the history of humanity, it has to be accepted as part and parcel of a normal life. However, looking at it in a biblical perspective, although suffering is part of the human existence in this world, the fact of the matter is: it has not always been a part of life. It came into the picture only after the fall of the first couple – Adam and Eve. The Bible is clear about this, as stated in Romans 5:12 and in many other passages found in the Holy Writ. This biblical truth is important, foundational, and essential in dealing with many questions regarding suffering – and in particular, as philanthropists and charitable organizations endeavor to alleviate suffering on the children of Africa. Presently, the bleak outlook being presented pertaining to African children today are presented in two potentially devastating outcomes which might happen as results of the already destructive current crisis.
The first one is the prospect (according to researchers) of death by the millions. An organization which aims to help the suffering children of Africa has estimated that by the year 2025, an estimated number of people as enormous as 85 million may die because HIV/AIDS crisis (Blake, 2006). Second is, the inevitable outcome which will take place as the direct result of the first – children being orphaned because of the projected genocidal death toll at 2025. The same organization calculated that on that same year, 55 million children might have been orphans already. Nations and governments and charitable organizations have been mobilized ever since to help these human disasters and all of the possible ramifications. Although, evil as it manifests in many forms in life has been here already for centuries, and perhaps, as early as recorded histories could recall, the current crisis of AIDS in African continent is the most recent form of lashing. It has to be noted, lest the focus gets sidetracked to different issues which are at best symptoms of the real disease, that all of the troubles that have been pestering the existence of man on this planet are just necessary effects of sin and rebellion against God.
It is to be noted though that it is never the intention of this paper to aggravate the sufferings of African people by putting the blame on them or by making them feel worse than what they are now. As was stated early on, at the heart of this thesis is the objective to help by elucidating on the true predicament of man’s existence by pointing out that which is biblical, or the biblical diagnosis on things. It really helps and better prepares the sick person to face his/her true condition by first properly diagnosing the illness. It doesn’t help if the mind continues to be in a state of uncertainty and fear because it is sure of something which could be fatal. Also, it will not help keeping the real problem under the sheets, all along hoping that it will just leave by itself, because it will not. And so, the Bible is crucially significant in addressing the issue of evil and suffering.
1.) Death Came As A Result Of Sin. Nothing threatens the prospect of a good life than the possibility of an imminent death. A positive vista of life – happy family, burgeoning business, and flourishing career – is easily clouded by fear when suddenly something final as death comes into the scene. Death is seen as the ultimate because it can put a period on the otherwise happy and full of promise subsistence. One theologian explained the statement of Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12 in a way that points to sin as the real culprit why there are pain, sickness, and weakness in man’s physical body. He said, in effect that, had it not been for Adam’s sin there would be no sickness in the world in the first place. Remember that death is the maturity of weakness and sickness in the body. All illnesses lead to eventual death. What the Bible is telling us about sickness, weakness, and any form of suffering endured in the body – whether mental or physical suffering – result inevitably to physical death. And the reality of death in this life was occasioned by the original sin of the first couple, Adam and Eve. Succeeding, generations after the first couple of humans, inherited sin as well as its product – death (Duffield and Van Cleave, 1987). It is also important to note that sin not only occasioned death, but it is its necessary outcome. The unanimous observation of many students of the Bible based on the narrative accounts as well as how it is described in certain passages of biblical books is that death is spiritual as also it is physical. The first time it hits humans, the first and immediate effect was spiritual in that it did not resulted in the first couple’s physical death. This spiritual death is actually more devastating than physical death because it altered everything within the human frame that it has set into motion a strong pull towards wrong directions.
First, it separated man from God. It is the reason why man cannot respond to the things of God. As a dead body has no capacity for any responses to its surrounding whatsoever because it is dead, so is a man who is physically alive but is spiritually dead. A person who is spiritually dead does not and cannot respond to God and the things of God. As one preacher said when told by a cynic among his audience that he doesn’t feel the burden of sin in his life like what the preacher was trying to convey in his message. To that, the preacher wisely answered, “As a dead couldn’t feel a ton of garbage when placed on that body, so is the burden of sin to a spiritually dead person.” That’s why when Apostle Paul elaborated to the Romans the depravity of man, he zoomed in to the fact that at present, because humanity has chosen to abandon God – and the proof of it has affected all aspects of the human existence – God also had to leave humanity alone in its decision to leave the reality of God out of its thoughts and actions. The whole scenario is sobering especially when the Biblical perspective on this is considered.
It’s very easy and normal to leave God out of the picture, and it’s actually what people want essentially as it is looked at at face value. Man has effectively abandoned God and has erased any traces of Him from the very start – from the birth of a baby in a home where belief in God is optional at best, and as that baby developed into childhood, and as that child was reared in school (if opportunities for schooling was ever available, primary to college education), and eventually released to live life independently as an adult in a society whose culture ever since was godless. And the cycle goes on and on like a permanent process. Now, again, as pointed out early in this paper, all of these not so promising state of affairs can be tracked down back to Eden where life turned into a sudden shift (McArthur, 2008). Where there is spiritual death, the prospect of life is anything but imperfect and flawed everywhere. The original order of things has been altered, and it’s not human species alone that has been terribly affected by the Fall; the whole creation has been “groaning” ever since (Rom.8:22).
2.) Man’s Separation From God Precipitated Suffering. The first manifestations of humanity’s misery were quickly evident right after Adam and Eve violated God’s word to them. They, right then and there, realized their nakedness which before was not a cause of shame for them. What previously for them was just normal, and did not pose a problem, now they have trouble keeping it the way it was. They must cover their nakedness, and they must hide and keep themselves at a distance – where they feel somehow hidden – from God (Gen.3:7-9). The fact that society disregards the reality of God in its system highlights the reality of spiritual separation. The cause for many of the troubles that history has witnessed since time immemorial was man’s broken relationship with its Creator. It has been the reason from the start, and it still is until now. God spoke through Prophet Isaiah, that it was man’s sin which has actually separated man from God (Isa.59:2). Left alone, man naturally would not choose God, much less, His righteous ways as revealed by Him in the Bible. Contrary to what have been suggested by many considered pundits of humanities, and sadly, by many church denominations through what has been now known as the “seeker-sensitive” approach in church’s services, man is not naturally inclined to seek God and the things of the Spirit of God. And so, under this cursed condition, it is not supposed to surprise anybody who have searched and found in the Holy Scriptures that the world is in its current troubled state. There’s actually spiritual anarchy where every one is a rule unto himself. Every one does what he/she deems good in his/her perception of things. if it feels good, then probably, it is good. This is how man is running his life, and it translates into the overall landscape of society. Man sets the trend. What had been considered “wicked” of the past generation, if it is now palatable to the senses, and hence, has been slowly swallowed and embraced as “acceptable” by the media and the general public, it becomes legal and normatively harmless. Therefore, in Paul’s words, God in turn has abandoned man in his choice of abandoning the knowledge of his Creator. This is, to a large degree, the reason for many troubles and sufferings that nations and people have been seeing. If the Bible is true – and it is this paper’s contention that it is the true truth – then the unrestrained freedom and lifestyles which seem to describe the earth’s populace for a long period of time now, is actually a judgment of God. A preacher once answered those who cast all the blame on God in the wake of 911 tragedy in these words: “We have done all we could, and effectively, we got God out of our schools and government institutions, and now we are asking where He is in all of these?”
What do all these arguments have to do with the suffering of innocent children in Africa? Well, a lot. If only charitable agencies will continue to focus on dispensing these biblical truths to the people of Africa and never relent, their efforts will have achieved a lasting impact on this continent, and it will have secured the future of African children whom they are endeavoring to help. The presupposition of Job’s lessons on innocent suffering was that suffering has been here as early as sin has wreaked its havoc on man and the entire universe. And suffering respects no person – whether innocent like children or not.
1.) Blake Sr., Charles E. 2006. In Summit On Africa. Date Accessed: October 27, 2008. http://www.saveafricaschildren.org/pages/faith_solutions
2.) Duffield, Guy & Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. 1987. Foundations Of Pentecostal Theology. LIFE Bible College 1100 Covina Boulevard, San Dimas, California 91773.
3.) McArthur, John. 2008. Abandoned By God. Date Accessed: October 27, 2008. http://www.gty.org/Resources/Transcripts/45-14
4.) The Holy Bible, New King James Version. 1982. Thomas Nelson, Inc.