There is a suffering that is sometimes thrust upon the blameless, and we seem to be at a loss for reasons to explain it. It is a rare, repulsive kind of suffering. It rare for the simple reason that, other than infants and severely intellectually impaired persons, it is difficult to find the blameless. It is hideous because we know intuitively and feel intensely that innocents should not suffer.
Children Cannot Be Blamed
We might make this suffering a little less rare if we widen the circle a little and think to lump all children up to a certain age or growth of understanding into this category of “the blameless.” Though enlarging the population of the blameless might work to decrease the rarity of those who suffer, it will not work to decrease the hideousness of it. Even though children can be truly horrible at times, their suffering, especially extreme suffering, remains hideous because we do not consider children to be fully responsible.
This is because we associate blame with something that we must give an answer for, and we know that children can only give simple answers for their transgressions or, for the youngest, no answer at all. This is partly because children do not naturally think in the abstract; they act on impulse and not conscious wicked motives and well thought-out evil schemes, and, for the most part, they are ignorant about the destructive consequences of their wrong doings.
The Blameless Have Integrity
God said that Job, a full-grown responsible man, was blameless. I’ve heard it explained that this meant he was genuine – he had integrity. He did what he thought was right and what he did he believed to be moral, decent, virtuous, and honorable in God’s sight, and so it was.
I think this way of understanding “blameless” is partly right. It is after all one of the connotations of the Hebrew word translated, “blameless.” King David interchanges these two ideas when he says that he will “ponder the way that is blameless” and “walk with integrity of heart.” The Lord himself sets these ideas side by side when he describes Job to Satan as, “a blameless and upright man,” who “still holds fast his integrity.” Proverbs supports this meaning too when it contrasts the idea of “the blameless” with “those of crooked heart.” This way of thinking about blamelessness is partly why I think zealous Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was able to describe himself, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
The Blameless Are Forgiven
Still, no matter how pure our intent, the connection between sin and blame is there. At some point in his life, blameless Paul had sinned. Blameless Job had sinned. We have sinned; even the most innocent of us has a sin nature. God does blame us for our sins, our wrongdoings that deface his image. Even mere humans, who have no idea what it really means to sin, blame us for our sins. They blame us especially for the presumptuous ones and even the unintended ones, because we are responsible for them. We should have known better.
Riddance of blame, specifically God’s blame of us, is why pre-law Job burned sacrifices and why under-the-law Paul offered them to priests. Job and Paul believed themselves blameless because of their pure heartedness, but they also believed themselves blameless because they believed themselves forgiven by God at least their words tell us so. That is surely one reason why Job is so perplexed at his miserable situation and asks, “Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?”
I think we can safely say that, assuming they had faith in God and his promises, which they did declare, pre-law Job and under-the-law Paul fully believed the sins they did commit and did not deny, were atoned for by the sacrificial system of their day. God’s declaration of Job’s blameless showed that Job was right in this. It was less true for Paul. The old sacrificial system he had been counting on had dissolved under his nose, but it would become true for him too.
The Suffering Blameless are Heralds of Grace
The blood of bulls and goats could not ever fully and finally take away the sins of humans, and so pre-law Job and finally out-from-under-the-law Paul both found themselves heralding God’s grace, but their heralding of grace was not with the voice of prosperity the Pentateuch, the proverbs, and the books of the prophets promised to the blameless.
Blameless Job heralded this grace unwittingly when he spoke about his deep longings for a mediator, and for resurrection, and vindication. He heralded grace simply by suffering through unearned horrendous evil that spoke to us of the wrath of God and that spoke to us of the undeserved suffering of the Christ who would come. Paul, on the other hand, once introduced to the ultimate sacrifice and truly made blameless, knowingly and joyfully suffered terrible physical and emotional things to bring this message of grace to the world.
I would suspect that the most personally satisfying outcome of suffering for both these men was the increase of their own joy that came from profoundly seeing and intensely experiencing God. How many true Christians have come to the end of their suffering with a deeper faith or with a more profound understanding of God?
But innocent suffering is not just for the final joy of the sufferer. Suffering infants may never experience this kind of joy. Yet the suffering of these tiny blameless ones, as well as the suffering of blameless full-grown men and women, make it possible for others to see a living example of the suffering Christ, and, in so doing, they make a way for grace. Isn’t that what Paul meant when he described his sufferings as “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”? Isn’t that what he was describing when he said, “We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”?
We See God’s Glory in Blameless Suffering
If this is right, then we can say that Job, unsuspectingly, and Paul knowingly, suffered for nothing less than the glory of God. Of course this glory is seen most radiantly in Christ’s own suffering and sacrifice of himself on the cross. When we look at the cross, we see blameless Jesus absorbing God’s just wrath in our place. At the cross we simultaneously see the upholding of God’s justice and righteousness and the pouring out God’s love and mercy. We see the holy, blameless, merciful God as he his; we see his glory.
Jesus’ suffering made a way for our salvation. His suffering, the most rare and most hideous of all undeserved sufferings, for he alone was ever truly blameless, made the way for us to have a relationship with God. His suffering made a way for us to be reconciled to God. He made a way for us to now and forever escape deserved divine punishment and to be truly fully blameless. That is the grace of God.
Now some might say, “Well what you say is true, but God disciplines and chastises those he loves,” and that is true too. But it is also true that God may not be disciplining or chastening those suffering ones he loves. In fact they may not even be lacking faith. (This is currently the most popular accusation.) In fact, since those who follow Christ are promised suffering in this life, one of those authentic, devoted-to-Jesus sufferers may even be you and, like you, they may be true-hearted, full-of-faith followers and worshippers of God. They may simply be a living witness to God’s grace.
Prosperity is True
I will not leave off the topic of horrific innocent suffering without saying that there is truth to the prosperity preached by the wise men and foretold by the prophets. The truth is that blameless sufferers will be vindicated. Like Jesus, they will be resurrected and acquitted. They will be brought to God and receive the inheritance of all God has promised. Perhaps they, like Job, will realize a taste of that prosperous inheritance in this life. Even better, perhaps in their innocent sufferings, like Job, they will see for themselves the breathtaking beauty of the God they have only heard of. Surely, in the life to come, along with Job and Paul and all believers, they will finally fully enjoy the inexhaustible presence of God where total health and unfathomable wealth reside.
Praying that the blameless who suffer will feel the full effect of God’s beautiful grace in their own lives.
I have been greatly helped in my understanding of the sufferings of Job by Christopher’s Ash’s book, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, R. Kent Hughes, ed., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.
Doctors Examine Infant, Bill Branson, photographer, Public Domain, accessed September 5, 2014 from Wikimedia Commons
All Scripture below is taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.
- “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason,’” Job 2:3.
- “Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?” Job 7:21.
- “For you write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth,” Job 13:26.
- “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;” Job 42:5.
- “I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;” Psalm 101:2.
- “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those of blameless ways are his delight,” Proverbs 11:20.
- “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours,” John 15:20.
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. …,” Ephesians 1:3-4
- “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law blameless.” Philippians 4:3b-6.
- “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” Colossians 1:24.
- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it,” 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
- “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” Hebrews 10:4.
- “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives,” Hebrews 12:6.