He was blameless, a saint without the scourge of sin, a righteous man of the highest moral standing. But in one day his livestock breached the pin and his cadre of cowboys laid down their lassos. His castle crumbled and his family was buried in the rubble beneath. His skin potted with itching infection and he scraped himself in a pile of ashes.
His property, his home, his family and his health. All gone. It’s the story of Job, the Bible’s response to the question of theodicy. Or, why, contrary to the goodness of God, does suffering happen?
Job 1:1, 2:1-10 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Pain, often, draws us closer to God.
Suffering is a swift and lasting teaching.
No one needs God when they’re happy.
Broken heartedness leads to compassion.
Family and friends gathered in a small Nebraska town for a wedding. The 26-year-old husband to be, just leaving his bachelor’s party, was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The next day, at almost the same hour he was to be married, those same invited guests gathered for his funeral. Instead of cake in the fellowship hall, it was a committal in the cemetery. After the last shovel of dirt, the fiancé needed to talk with the minister. She said, “If one more person tells me it is God’s will, I’m going to scream.” (Harold Kushner)
Why does suffering happen?
For thousands of years thinkers from Augustine to Sigmund Freud, Origen to Mark Twain, and Irenaeus to C.S. Lewis have tried to respond. Protest Theodicy: If God is all-powerful, then God needs to be held accountable for what’s wrong with the world. Person Making Theodicy: Humans need to mature, and only the experience of evil teaches us how to grow in grace. Process Theodicy: God has restricted God’s power to give us freewill, so tragedy stops only if we intervene. And on it goes, another theodicy with another untenable theological position.
In response to the loss of his beloved son, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the famous book, “When Bad things happen to Good People.” He goes on to say, when someone is in agony, we either recite some trite platitude or we avoid them altogether because we don’t know what to say. Instead, he encourages, show up at the bedside or the graveside and say, “I’m so sorry.” Then offer a hand to hold and an ear to listen because no one needs another explanation, only the consolation of your presence.
Ultimately, there’s no sense to be made out of suffering and rationalizations don’t get the cows to come home or raise our loved ones from the dead. The question, then, isn’t why, but rather who? Who is going to be there? After 37 chapters of lament, Job isn’t given an answer, only an appearance. “God’s doesn’t reveal his grand design,” says Buechner, “he reveals himself.” The One who is present when the wounds are still festering. The One who is present when the pain isolates you into oblivion. The One who is present when you are crucified on someone else’s cross.
A few thousand years after Job, a man who was blameless, a saint without the scourge of sin, of the highest moral standard was born in Bethlehem. They called him Emmanuel, “God with us.”