Almighty God asks: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!”– Job 38
Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ at KCPC,
Recently, I had an excellent question asked to me about suffering and our sins.
The question was concerning someone from another congregation in our community who has been suffering great sickness for some time and was told by another well-meaning Christian (not from our congregation!!) that they were suffering because of some specific sin, and that they needed to find out what sin they had committed and repent. The “friend” of this sufferer told the dear sick person that she must obviously be in some grievous sin, to be so sick for so long. She told her that all sickness and disease is a direct result of our sin.
We should understand that this kind of thinking is very unbiblical, fraught with dangerous consequences for those who hold to this aberrant theology, and promotes self-righteousness in those who believe it (not to mention the despair in dear sufferers it is administered unto). We should avoid thinking this way, and offer other answers for our friends and family members who suffer, answers that are rooted in Biblical truth.
Here was my answer to the question.
First of all, I am so sorry that your friend was carelessly told this unbiblical view from another person. I’m afraid that I have heard that kind of false teaching “on the street” in this area, and I can only say that our Lord Jesus and the larger teaching of Scripture denies this to be the truth. This kind of teaching that sickness is a direct result of a particular sin is similar to the so-called “friends” of Job who thought that Job was experiencing the calamity and sickness of his life because of some particular sin he had committed.
Clearly, in the Book of Job, God rebukes Job’s “friends” for this false theology.
The Book of Job opens up with a “behind-the-scenes” look at our loving, merciful and Sovereign God who brings calamity because He is going to use it to train his child and make him more godly and ultimately Christ-like (see the closing chapters of Job in how God teaches Job about the fact that everything he went through was for God’s glory and Job’s good, chapters 38-42, particularly the closing chapters of Job 42).
Rarely does someone suffer in this life as Job did, and yet the purpose of the Book of Job is to reveal God as great and good, and to teach that God allows suffering to grow his people in godliness. But the suffering, illness, and/or affliction is not in direct result of a person’s sin, because the Book of Job says Job was righteous in God’s sight, and although a sinner saved by grace, he “never did sin against God” in questioning God, etc.
For teaching like your friend heard about her sickness being a direct result of a sin she had committed, God would respond, and has responded (Job 38:1) with these words:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” ; and read this at the end of Job:
ESV Job 42:1-7: Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job was able to know God better through his illness and suffering–but he went through his affliction not because of some particular sin he had committed. The purpose of the Book of Job is to teach that sickness, suffering and/or affliction is NOT directly caused by specific sins, but so that God’s children might know Him better through suffering; so that they can understand a bit better things too “wonderful for them”, and to be able to see and know God’s goodness with eyes that only a sufferer in Christ has (see the false teaching of those who would teach otherwise in Job 8:4; 24:19; 33:27; 35:3, 6– God rebukes this thinking as in Job chapters 38-42 mentioned above)!
You could say that those who counsel with words without knowledge are those who ultimately counsel others with words without Christ!
We must understand that God’s Spirit always leads His people to God for help, outside of oneself to find hope. God’s Spirit leads suffering people out of themselves so that they would behold a glorious Christ (Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”).
If a Spirit-filled person is ministering to you as you suffer, you will know that the person is from God and is being biblical in their advice to you because they will point you away from your sin, your suffering, and from what you deserve by nature outwardly toward God so that you find His mercy in Jesus. Only our sinful flesh and the accusing devil himself would lead a suffering child of God back into themselves for answers (see the work of the Spirit of God in John 14-16).
For those who point a person away from God to oneself, there is this message from God: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!”.
Notice also more clarity on this kind of thinking about sin and suffering from John 9:1-5 where our Lord and Savior heals a man born blind.
Notice how the misunderstanding in the time of the disciples (like Job’s “friends”) was to think that if one was suffering then that must mean that they have done something particularly sinful. We should remember that the default mode of sinful human nature is works-righteousness, so you would expect the thinking at this self-righteous level to be: “If I do bad, I suffer; If I do good, I enjoy my life, etc.” But this is unbiblical as our Lord points out to his generation and ours today:
John 9:1-5: As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
In John 9:1-5, when the disciples get a glimpse of the blind beggar and see him for the first time they ask Jesus the age-old faulty theological question of whether this man or his parent’s sinning was the cause of his blindness. Jesus answers (as God answers Job’s “friends” in Job 38-42) that his blindness was so that the works of God might be manifest in his life and God would be glorified (John 9:1-5).
In other words, Jesus says that the reason why the man is blind is so that others might see God’s glory in his being made to see. Concerning the theology question asked by the apostles, it is assumed by them that a particular sin is the ultimate reason for any physical sicknesses, but we cannot say that just because someone suffers a physical ailment it must be due to a particular sin. Jesus says that it is so that God may be glorified.
We should understand that there is always a general connection or relationship between the fall of man and our physical and spiritual ailments and/or sicknesses, but only God knows the specific connection between a particular sin and sin’s effects in our lives. It is true that had we not sinned in Adam, had there been no fall of man, then there would be no sin and sickness at all in the world (and that is the hope of the New Creation, Revelation 21:3-7).
However, we should never try to understand a cause and effect kind of relationship to our particular sins and sicknesses. We are all far more sinful that we can imagine anyway. None of us get what we truly deserve. In Christ, we get grace and mercy, even though we suffer. Suffering is a result in a general way because of our sin- -the fall of mankind. But why God allows some to suffer in certain ways and other in other ways is beyond us.
All we can say for sure is that God uses it to make His children humble and holy like Jesus; God calls us to it so that He will be glorified and we will grow in Christ-likeness.
We should be careful of trying to figure out God’s reasons in allowing certain manifestations of physical illnesses in the life of men and women. We simply do not know. We know that God is Sovereign and that God is good and he allows these physical manifestations in certain lives for his own good purposes (Deut. 29:29).
When someone tries to say that a person’s sickness is a direct result of a particular sin, they reveal that they have a low or impartial view of sin and human nature; they are deceived. Often these kind of folks think that they have made more progress in their walk with God than they truly have. Those who are blinded by self-righteousness think that if they do good for God, then He will do good to them and they will not suffer, but this is Pharisaical thinking. They think if they are sick it is specifically because they have sinned or been unrighteous before God. Again, this reveals a works-righteousness mentality.
We should understand that we do good for God as believers in Christ because we are commanded to do it, and in Christ we are privileged to do it, but this does not mean that we will not suffer. Often those who are making the most progress in the Christian life are the folks whom God chooses to suffer greatly for Him! (See the cross and the Son of God!).
Again the words of God to the so-called “friends” of Job are appropriate here: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!” And those who counsel with words without knowledge are those who ultimately counsel others with words without Christ!
Jesus is wise in his response in John 9 to his disciples’ faulty theology: Rather than allowing the disciples to pursue the mysteries of God’s dealings with man and his sin, he graciously explains to them that in this particular case, with this particular man, his blindness was for the glory of God to be revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus.
This was to shed light for those who have eyes to see, so that they might reach out in their spiritual blindness for salvation in Christ and be healed! The question should not have been a “why” question as much as a “who” question.
When we suffer, and when we suffer with brothers and sisters who are suffering, we do not want to go down the path of asking and/or seeking to answer the “WHYs” (that is, the ‘WHY questions’) so much as to minister and point to the WHO in our words of counsel.
We ask these questions: WHO has suffered for you– – before you? WHO has died for you? WHO will never leave you nor forsake you? WHO will uphold you by His righteous right hand?
JESUS. Jesus is the WHO. The WHY is not wise counsel, and is often very crippling and cruel to others when they are suffering. Why? Because you have just taken their eyes off their only hope (WHO) and placed their eyes on themselves (WHY).
When we suffer, all of us can find enough sinful junk within our hearts to damn our souls to hell and plenty of good reasons why we should be suffering- -but this is not the way of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God leads us out of ourselves especially during suffering to find comfort and grace in our Savior (WHO).
Let the Spirit of God lead you as you suffer and help those who suffer to Christ, not to focus them on their particular sins. Let us all daily repent of our sins, and live our lives faithfully before God, but let us never seek to find a particular cause and effect relationship in our sins and the sins of others.
In John 9 (and in the Book of Job), we should be reminded that the real questions in life for the Christian are **NOT** the WHY QUESTIONS such as “Why is this person blind?” Or, “Why does God allow this calamity and physical illness to befall this person?” Or, “Why does God allow me to suffer?”
But rather (if we’re going to ask a WHY question), “Why are we not all born physically blind and handicapped with physical illnesses because of sin?” (cf. Luke 13). But again, the answer to our suffering is in the glorious and comforting WHO question: “Who is my only hope and comfort in both life and death, but the Lord Jesus Christ?!”
The important point made by the Lord Jesus in this passage in John 9 is that although we are not all born physically blind (the Pharisees in the passage who are angry at Jesus could see clearly God’s world around them), we are all born spiritually blind and with an inherent inability to see the things of God in the world or in Christ apart from the power and light of the Holy Spirit reaching deep into our dark hearts and saying with authority as God did in the creation:
“Let there be light…and their was light” (Romans 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).
Without the work of the Holy Spirit illuminating God’s Word and leading us to Jesus Christ we cannot see anything in our lives as we should. The Spirit takes us to Christ in our suffering so that God would be glorified in us!
Anyone who has the audacity to tell another poor soul who is suffering that God wants them to repent of a particular sin and they will be made better, is a person who thinks too highly of themselves. This is someone who is more afflicted and suffering before God in their blindness than they realize. They are dangerously leading the sufferer away from their only comfort in Jesus Christ, and thus they become the “blind leading the blind”!
I will pray that God would make this clear to your friend and comfort her in her time of suffering. I would encourage her to know God’s hand is good and powerful and this is her privilege to suffer with and in Christ Jesus, as the Apostle Paul says:
ESV Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…
All of God’s greatest servants suffered in order to be made like Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection, and through suffering and death to self, they became more like Christ (Hebrews 11). Suffering with Christ is God’s wise and mysterious way of making us privileged to be His dear and beloved children (Hebrews 12:5ff), and causes us to grow in holiness or Christ-likeness. According to Hebrews 12:5-12, the ones who actually should be concerned about their sins against God, **are those who DO NOT SUFFER** they may very well be illegitimate children as Hebrews 12 teaches. But that is for God to decide.
Let us love and serve Him no matter what our Master calls us to do for Him. Let us serve Him and worship Him by His grace!
And let us bring godly counsel that is full of the Holy Spirit and full of JESUS CHRIST to our suffering brothers and sisters, so that they might find God’s mercy, grace and comfort in both life and death.
In Christ’s love,