Suffering is deeply personal, and so often when things are going well for us there is little evaluation or reflection as to why we are succeeding. However, when a time of suffering comes, there seems to be exhaustive evaluation and reflection. The major question is “WHY?” Why is this happening to me? Why would God allow this to happen? Why do some people seem to escape suffering while others seem to escape success?
Often, the place we turn in the midst of suffering is the book of Job, and that is a good place to turn. Yet, in the book there is a central problem that gets played out as Job talks to his “friends.” You see, suffering is most naturally connected to sin and wickedness, thus suffering is viewed as divine punishment for evil behaviors and attitudes. Eliphaz takes Job to task after he asserts in defense from Zophar, “How can your empty cliches comfort me? All you explanations are lies!”
22:4 Is it because you’re so pious that he accuses you
and brings judgment against you?
5 No, it’s because of your wickedness!
There’s no limit to your sins.
Eliphaz then provides a list of possible wrongs Job might have done or thought. Yet, readers of the book know that Job’s questions about the wicked prospering and his questions of WHY seem to be justified. Whereas, the explanations of the friends rely on the notion of God’s retribution, which is very much in question in the story of Job.
Ultimately, Job receives an audience with God, who does not reveal sins and wickedness in Job’s life, but responds to Job by showing the vast gulf set between God’s wisdom and that of any person…including Job and his friends. God asks WHY…but his questions have no explanations because they are higher, greater, and more complex than human knowledge and experience.
So Job, even though he is confused about the “WHY” of his suffering, he concedes to God and even says it: “Who can teach a lesson to God?” (21:22) Job could not fully understand his deeply personal and awfully terrible experience, but in the midst of it he did two things: First, he did not think God had forgotten him or turned his back on him, and second, Job continually complained and turned to God who Job knew could actually change the situation. It is so easy in the midst of suffering or pain to feel alone, forgotten, and unworthy…but that was not Job’s condition. Job asked WHY…but he asked it of God and to God. The “friends” in the story play the part of annoyances and distractions, they represent the conventional or cultural wisdom of the times and we as readers want them to go away (or at least stop talking).
God does eventually act and restores the life of Job. We should not, however, think that everything is then all right and Job never thought about his suffering again. He lost everything including children and career. While he regains more family, different family, and rebuilds his career; it was not the same people and the same life. Thus, suffering changed Job and unfortunately the text ends before we see the outcome of Job’s suffering in his new life.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.