Job – a lesson in suffering for our time
Last weekend, I had an interesting experience visiting a soup kitchen I am involved with, which provides meals for the homeless and other disadvantaged persons. I got into a conversation with a homeless couple, who asked me how I spent my retirement. When I mentioned I write books, such as “Prophets of the Bible” (see here), we got into a discussion about faith in God and some of the things that stopped people having faith, such as the fact that innocent people suffer. I pointed out that God was not indifferent to human suffering and one example of this is Jesus (who is both God and an innocent man) suffered and died on a cross to save us from our sins. This at least (I hope) got my homeless friends thinking.
It also got me thinking again about a subject that has exercised humanity for time immemorial and has stumbled many – why do the innocent suffer? a subject I considered briefly from page 345 of the afore-mentioned book. At this point, I could give examples of all sorts of suffering that is experienced by human kind, many of which readers are aware of and none of us are immune, but I won’t. Neither will I rate different types of suffering in order of severity – it is neither my field of expertise nor my right to do so. The wisest original thing I can say is the things people suffer, as much as anything, affect what they think, say, do etc. and it is well to make allowances when formulating a response. Even wiser, is to turn to the Bible, including suffering being something to expect and positively producing character and making us more empathetic toward others, such as the memes above and the texts below.
One obvious book of the Bible to turn to when considering the problem of suffering is that of Job, which provides a human angle that we can identify with today, even though it is reckoned Job was around as long ago as the time of Abraham (i.e. 2000 BC). More pertinently, it gives a perspective of what is going on that is often missed when people discuss why suffering exists – that of God. Someone reminded me earlier today on why the content in Job is worth considering, even if a lot of it seems deep and philosophical, and as it turns out in the end – flawed. The 22 minute worth watching video I refer to is titled: “The Shocking Lesson In The Book of Job That Many People Overlook”. The following meme illustrates at a very high level how Job started off doing well by both human and divine standards and then his own world came crashing down before him, leaving him barely alive, with everything gone (including his ten children), a barely sympathetic wife and “friends” whose attempts to comfort him were anything but, before God intervenes at the end, restoring two fold what Job had lost.
According to Wikipedia: “The Book of Job addresses the problem of theodicy, meaning why God permits evil in the world … Job is a wealthy and God-fearing man with a comfortable life and a large family; God, having asked Satan for his opinion of Job’s piety, decides to take away Job’s wealth, family and material comforts, following Satan’s accusation that if Job were rendered penniless and without his family, he would turn away from God.” The baulk of the book of Job is taken up with Job and his three “comforters”, and a fourth “friend” who came in later on speaking his two penneth worth, pontificating over the problem of suffering (especially for people like Job that purported to be good), before God comes in at the end and without necessarily giving them all the right answers, after putting Job and his friends straight, restores to Job double what he has lost. An exposition of the Book of Job is outside the scope of this article, but I will share two pieces of Job wisdom.
Many years ago, as a youngish preacher, about to set out on a preaching tour, I was offered two bits of sage advice that I would like to pass on to those who follow me, intent on preaching the gospel. Firstly, to put aside personal hang ups about this or that issue or pet subject, but rather to focus on warning and encouraging listeners. Secondly, not to ignore the subject of suffering, even though all too often there is no pat answer for those who have or are experiencing suffering. After all, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, was written to prepare its readers for suffering. Part of my watching on the wall is seeing Revelation play out before my own eyes and, besides my warnings about an evil cabal trying and seemingly succeeding to enslave humanity, there are my daily briefings from the Barnabas Fund of people suffering for their faith in many countries in the world, as well as what I see going on around me. My next text shows, while suffering is inevitable, given the growing tide of evil that is all to evident, the rewards for those who endure and overcome are far greater, and we can always trust God. My final text is an entree into the amazing response of God from chapter 38 on.