Suffering – More About a “Who” than a “Why”

The question – Why”?” The question mark is turned like a fishhook and is pulled up into the human heart when we talk about suffering. So I speak tenderly here. All creation has been sabotaged; it longs (we long) for restoration. That’s what resurrection is a foretaste of – the renewal of all things, the reversal of the Fall.

Evil and suffering is somewhat of a mystery though; we humans can see only one side of the tapestry – our side. The closest we get to a direct treatment of it in the Bible is the Old Testament book of Job.

Simply put, we have to trust God – that He knows what He’s doing in allowing suffering. That’s where Job eventually landed.

I’m going to explain what happened when Job got an opportunity to ask God about suffering. It plays out like this. Job loses everything – family, property, servants, crops, livestock and even his own health. Job is surrounded by his friends who try to figure out why God has allowed this to happen to him. It was so bad that when his friends came to see him sitting in an ash heap, they couldn’t speak a word for seven days.

Virtually all of the things said by Job’s friends reduce down to this basic argument: Job, you must have sinned. And throughout the book, Job maintains his innocence and we question, “Why would God allow this to such a godly man?”

If He is all powerful, then He must not be good. Because He had the power to stop it, but didn’t. Or, maybe God is good, but not all powerful.

Like theological kryptonite, these questions render us powerless to answer; we along with Job’s friends are rendered powerless in the face pain. Job seems trapped in a cosmic battle between God and Satan, where God stacks the odds against himself, yet still believes his servant will be loyal to Him. Satan suggests that you take away all of Jobs blessings and his faith and loyalty to God will crumble.

As the plot unfolds, we keep watching for cracks in Jobs integrity. The best man on earth is suffering the worst calamites, and yet Job continues to believe somehow that God still loves him, though all evidence points against it.

Job goes through a cycle of speeches, loses his temper with God and accuses Him of injustice (I would too!), but later repents of it. Finally in desperation Job reduces his demands to one request: he asks for a personal explanation from God himself (13:3; 31:35). He wants God to explain to him the gross injustice of life and pain. He wanted to sue God (Job 10).

Job’s friends get angry at him: “Who are you to demand a private audience with God?” God stunned everybody by showing up. He gives this five chapter speech (38-42) where instead of being cross-examined by Job, God is the one cross-examining Job, asking him about 70 unanswereable questions (Storms, Pleasures Evermore, 260).

For over 30 chapters, Job cried out “God put yourself in my place for a while!” God finally replied: “No Job, you put yourself in my place.”

In the last five chapters, God begins to ask questions of Job – scientific questions. “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightening flash (37:15)?” “Where were you when I laid the earths foundations (38:4, see verse 21 for sarcasm)?” “Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high (39:27)?”

Instead of Job questioning God, it was God who questioned. Who put the stars in place Job? Who created the world with its resources? Who created the gigantic whales and elephants, and tiny spiders and ants? Who created you? Who watches over you in such a way that not a hair can fall from your head without his knowing about it? Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? 39:1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?” And on and on God questions.

God’s message, expressed in gorgeous poetry, can be summarized something like this: Job, until you know a little more about running the physical universe, don’t tell me how to run the moral universe (with help from Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read). The implication is this: “Job, how do you expect to understand the complexities of My dealings with mankind when you can’t even understand the simplicity of My dealings with nature?”

One is tempted to think, “What does all of this have to do with suffering?” Job didn’t have answers for God. The implication is that if God is this completely in control of seemingly insignificant aspects of nature – aspects about which Job knows almost nothing – He can surely be trusted to care for humans. Job ends up in total silence.

Job finally says in 42:5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

Frederich Buechner suggests that what Job was really after was not God’s answer, but God’s presence (Secrets, 167). That’s what Job needed and what we need above all else – not so much an explanation for our pain, but even more the revelation that even in the midst of suffering, we are not alone. It’s not so much answers that we need as it is the One who is the answer to all our quandaries. We want answers, but God says, “I am the Answer.” In the words of C. S. Lewis, Job speaks: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.”

All of us will wrestle at some point with the absence of God. Usually that time is characterized by some kind of pain. In those times, we realize that we are not running the world after all. We get very clear that we are not God. And God gets very clear: “I am here. You are not alone.”

You have to trust what the Bible tells you about God, even when He doesn’t answer your questions or make the story come out like you wanted it too. He who has the “Who” of life settled, can tolerate almost any “Why?”

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1 Comment

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One response to “Suffering – More About a “Who” than a “Why”

  1. This answers the question of someone who wants to believe in the goodness of God, but needs a justification for not thinking about the evidence.

    “Where were you when I laid the earths foundations?” See, the question is if God was there. This isn’t me saying in anger “God, you aren’t good!” but me saying in sincerity “The problem of evil is evidence that the Christian God doesn’t exist.”

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