On suffering, Job, and the goodness of God, Part 1
Last week I wrote on the objection to God’s existence based on the reality of pain and suffering and included two excellent videos which answer the objection well. You can watch those here. Today and tomorrow I am resubmitting my thoughts from five years ago on what the book of Job can teach us about suffering. I hope they ring true for you; feel free to let me know if they don’t.
As one who has never had to endure great suffering like the loss of a child or seeing my home destroyed by a hurricane or tornado, I know I need to tread lightly when addressing the problem of pain and suffering and the goodness of God. Perhaps my perspective and conclusions will carry no weight with those who have. Yet I believe God’s Word provides insights that are available to all, and are maybe best seen objectively, instead of from within the throes of anguish or anger.
God. Is. Awesome. I think that’s where we need to start in trying to reconcile pain and suffering with a good and all-powerful God. These days “awesome” is used to describe anything from your date last night to the latest gum flavor. But the word “awe” refers to “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” Fun and fruity flavor do not fit. Only God’s greatness rightly evokes awe.
But though he is so indescribably greater than we humans, he desires an intimate, loving relationship with us. He loves us and wants to be loved in return, for who he is, not for what he can do for us. That’s what we want in our human relationships, isn’t it?
Okay. So God is awesome and wants us to love him. What does this have to do with suffering? Stay with me.
The book of Job is probably in the Bible for the sole purpose of addressing this very issue. In it, God is seen questioning Satan and calling attention to Job’s righteousness. Satan fires back that Job’s submissive obedience is offered as his part in a transaction, so to speak, that obtains for him blessings from God. He charges that if you take away all that God had given him, and it was substantial, Job would curse God to his face. So God gives Satan permission to do just that, and then later to afflict him with painful sores all over his body.
Why would God do this if he loved Job? Job didn’t deserve punishment; God himself affirmed this. Job struggles with this apparent injustice throughout the book, though his friends adamantly maintain that he must be a great sinner since God’s justice blesses the godly and punishes only the wicked. Job consistently rejects his friends’ accusations, and though he never curses God, he goes from “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” to “Let the Almighty answer me!” as he questions God’s love and compassion.
God does finally answer Job, but not the way Job was hoping for. He turns the tables and questions Job. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding,” he says. And then he continues his cross-examination of this one he created and does love, by reminding Job of his great power and sovereignty and asking him if he is able to stand toe-to-toe with the Almighty. God never explains why he allowed Satan to destroy Job’s family, his possessions, and his health. He simply revealed himself to Job in such a way that Job was humbled and repentant in light of God’s glory and total authority. And then he blessed Job again, giving him “twice as much as he had before.”
It seems that God found it worth putting Job through a period of intense, undeserved suffering to prove to Satan, Job, and us that he is worthy of our love and devotion totally apart from his blessings and gifts. And what would make him so? Would he be worthy of our love if he was scheming and sadistic? If he was capricious and cruel? No. It would still behoove us to obey him because he has total control, but we could not be expected to truly love him. He is worthy of our love because he is good, compassionate, patient, forgiving, generous and so much more, including loving. The Bible says that “God IS love.”
Someone may argue, from Scripture even, that “by their fruits you shall know them.” What does it matter what God says about himself if his actions seem to show otherwise? That would certainly be a valid argument if God’s works consistently supported the notion of an evil, sadistic tyrant. But instead they consistently give evidence of all the good characteristics commonly assigned to God, some of which I noted above. It is the occasional and uncharacteristic “evil,” so perceived, that causes such confusion, consternation, and complaint.
Please check back for Part 2 tomorrow.
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