On 28 January 2013, two young boys were cycling along Tampines Avenue 9 when they were hit by a cement mixer truck. Both boys died on the spot. Their parents were left wondering why did such a tragic event happen to their family, and why God would allow such to happen. When we read of such incidents, and when we see similar things happening to our own family and loved ones, we may also begin to wonder why God would allow innocent children to suffer. However, such incidents are not unheard of in the Bible. In 1 Kings 14:1-18, we read of a little boy who got sick and died. Why did God allow this to happen?
The One Who Sinned
This little boy who got sick was Abijah, the son of Jeroboam, the first king over Northern Israel during the days of the Divided Kingdom. Previously, Ahijah the prophet had come to Jeroboam and prophesied to him that God would make him king over 10 tribes of Israel (1 Kings 11:29-31). Jeroboam was given a great opportunity by God! However, for Jeroboam’s kingdom to stand, there was a condition that Jeroboam needed to fulfil: he must be obedient to God (1 Kings 11:38). However, Jeroboam sinned by instituting calf worship and leading Israel to idolatry (1 Kings 14:7-9). Jeroboam would now suffer the consequences of his sin: his lineage would be cut off (v.10); his family would die dishonourable deaths (v.11); his son Abijah would die (v.12).
We learn from this episode that sin is one reason for suffering. When we sin, we suffer the consequences of our actions (Proverbs 5:22). For example: when we commit adultery, we may contract HIV; when we tell lies, we lose our credibility and others will not trust us. Furthermore, God may introduce suffering into our lives to discipline us for our sins, just as a father disciplines his children for their misbehaviour (Hebrews 12:7-13). Therefore, when we suffer, it is a good time to re-examine our lives, because perhaps there is sin in our lives that we need to repent of.
The One Who Searched
Jeroboam instructed his wife to look for the prophet Ahijah to find out what would happen to their sick child Abijah. He instructs her to disguise herself, so that it is not known that she was the wife of Jeroboam. Was Jeroboam feeling guilty and ashamed about his sins? However, God revealed to the prophet Ahijah who exactly she was, and furthermore, laid open all the sins of Jeroboam, and what would befall the child.
We can understand why Jeroboam and his wife wanted to find out what would happen to their son. When we or our loved ones suffer, we want to find out answers as well. Sometimes, we may never know the reasons for our suffering. However, Jeroboam went to the right source for the answers: God. God knew what would happen to the sick boy. In times of suffering, we need to look to God, because all things are under His control (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6-7).
God did not just know the outcome of the boy; He knew even all the sins and wrong-doings of Jeroboam. God knows all things; nothing is hidden from Him (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Therefore, when we are disobedient to God, we cannot pretend that everything is okay, because it is not! The same God who blesses us in good times can take away His blessings from us (Romans 11:22). We are reminded that when we receive blessings from God, we must be thankful, we must be grateful, and we must be faithful to Him.
The One Who Suffered
The boy Abijah eventually died from his sickness. He was but a child, and was not judged to have done anything wrong. In fact, of all the family of Jeroboam, this boy was the only one in whom God found something good (1 Kings 14:13). Yet, he was allowed to suffer and die. However, it is pointed out that he was still better off that the rest of Jeroboam’s family, because at least he would have a proper burial, and all Israel would mourn for him. None else in Jeroboam’s house would have such honourable deaths.
We learn from this episode that the innocent do suffer. Although personal sin is a major reason for our suffering, it is not necessarily always the case. Often, we suffer because of the wrong-doings of others e.g. Abel (Genesis 4:3-8); Stephen (Acts 7:54-58). God has already warned that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). The godly will suffer because the world will push back against us (John 15:18-19). But then, many times, we simply cannot figure out why we suffer. Nevertheless, suffering could be a test of our faith, to make us stronger and build up our character (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:7).
Ultimately, those who suffer for innocent and righteous causes will receive an ultimately greater reward at the end. The beggar Lazarus, who suffered all his life, was after death carried by the angels into Paradise (Luke 16:20-22). Jesus promises a crown of life for all those who endure suffering (James 1:12). Brethren, if we suffer, I hope we do not suffer for the wrong reasons, as Jeroboam did. But rather, let us suffer for the cause of Christ, for then we can “rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).