Faith and Suffering
“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.”
Job 1:1 NLT
“One day the members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.” Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.” Satan replied to the Lord, “Skin for skin! A man will give up everything he has to save his life. But reach out and take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!” “All right, do with him as you please,” the Lord said to Satan. “But spare his life.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.”
Job 2:1-10 NLT
We are about to enter into discussing one of the most difficult and theologically sophisticated books of the Old Testament: the book of Job.
When we first read the book of Job we may ask:
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” We read on with hope to find the answer to this burning question.
After all, this book written around 3,000 years ago must have some level of meaning and wisdom to be included with all the other books that made their way into the Bible. There must be an answer in here somewhere.
Perhaps the more important question is not “why” bad things happen, but how we respond “when” they happen! I believe that is really what the passage we read today is all about. When calamity strikes and we lose our possessions our health or or livelihood, How do we react?
In chapter 1 Job loses all his possessions and his family. His response is to say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” In Chapter 2 he loses his health and suffers from a painful disease. His own wife tells him to just curse God and die. But his reply is “Shall we accept the good from God and not trouble?”
Job shows us a response of the faithful to suffering that seems foreign to those of us living in the 21st century. We require a reason, something or someone to blame. We are quick to search for a reason to sue our neighbor or convict another for something that has happened to us.
So what about Job? Could it be that his story is included in our book of wisdom to acknowledge that God is the one in charge? Maybe this story is to remind us that all we should do is trust HIM.
When bad things happen to good people what do we naturally do? How do we instinctively respond when the innocent suffer? What do we think when natural disasters injure and kill? For some reason we naturally lash out at each attempt to assess blame. We butt heads and the result is a state of conflict.
Upon researching this struggle I’ve found surprisingly few long-term studies on the relationship between conflict and natural disasters. It seems sensible to conclude that conflicts worsen the impact of natural disasters by weakening the state, community and individual capacity to respond. We quickly turn to arms instead of aid. Conflict instead of compassion.
When we turn to conflict we are only magnifying the problem. Looking to blame others or our systems of government and control.
There are incidents all around the globe where natural disasters occur in places where conflict has disrupted the lives of people, for example, the Philippines, Iraq, Somalia, Kenya, Colombia, and Haiti. When a natural disaster is linked with the society’s response capacity, state and social structures which are weakened by conflicts are less likely to be able to respond to the effects of a natural hazard. My point is when a natural disaster does occur it would not be so devastating if we were to remove the controversy and conflict.
The same can be said about all the conflict surrounding COVID-19 prevention and its impact, with people vehemently disagreeing about whether masks should or should not be worn, quarantines required, or occupancy limits established and enforced. Arguments about vaccines, masks and quarantines are continuing to divide us and pin neighbor against neighbor.
Across our country and around the world, anti-vaccine and anti-mask demonstrations are taking scary and violent turns, and educators, medical professionals and public figures have been stunned at the level at which they have been vilified for even stating their opinion. In many cases this is costing individuals to lose their jobs and is financially crippling institutions, including our healthcare system making it impossible for those who are properly trained within these systems to help those who need it most.
Where is all this conflict and turmoil leading us to? Certainly not to a level of tolerance, acceptance and realization that we are experiencing a global pandemic of proportions we have never seen before in our own lifetime.
So, let’s now turn back to Job. In God’s own words a “blameless man, full of integrity” A healthy upright and prosperous individual who had everything money could buy until one day, disaster, death and destruction occurred.
For some of us that day may come, or perhaps it has already come. We should listen and learn from the acceptance through faith Job had throughout his suffering.
Acceptance however can be difficult. The Wisdom Job teaches us is to let go of the blame, the conflict and the burning desire to look at others as the reason for our loss.
The truth is, bad things can happen to good people. Tragedy can strike anyone at any time. Instead of maliciously blaming others in determining “why” bad things happen, we should instinctively respond “when” they happen with peace, love and compassion for our neighbors. We may not always know the “why” yet we do know “what” to do.
We are to look to God, and trust in His wisdom and power. He, after all, is the one who created this world, and only He understands it completely.
As difficult as it is to read and comprehend, we need this ancient book to speak to us today. Job, in the great lament tradition of ancient Israel, wrestles profoundly and honestly with God and we are still wrestling today. Job holds on to God with fierce faith, but he does not let God off the hook for the inexplicable suffering that so often shadows this world.
The next three weeks’ will give us an opportunity to delve into Job’s response to suffering, to all he holds dear by praising the One who gave him those gifts. Stripped of all that gave his life meaning, Job clings to the God who gave him life in the first place.
As we explore this book further we learn these statements are not Job’s last word, and that what follows them — Job’s long and anguished lament — is also faithful. Praise and lament are two sides of the same coin. In both praise and lament, we cling to God, even when we don’t understand God. In both praise and lament, we believe that our lives are inextricably bound up with God’s life. In both praise and lament, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not.
Lament will be the focus of next week’s reading. For this week, perhaps this is enough to introduce you to Job and the book that tells his story, knowing that we are all-too-familiar with the painful experience of loss and suffering. Perhaps it is enough to sit with Job on the ash heap for a while, mourning for what is lost and waiting for what will be.