Pastor's Blog

One book in the Bible, Job, is devoted to the experience of tragedy.  Scholars say it is likely the oldest story in the Bible, an ancient account from one of the non-Israelite cultures in the Middle East, found noteworthy enough to be preserved in the Hebrew collection, perhaps by that great collector of wisdom, King Solomon.

If you remove the otherworldly backstory involving God and Satan, and just look at the life of the man Job, you see a successful, benevolent, and religious community leader who has his life slowly crushed by natural catastrophes and human violence.  His property is savaged and stolen by raiding tribes.  His children are killed in a violent storm.  Finally Job himself contracts an uncomfortable disease that removes him from society.  He sits in the trash heap of broken pottery outside of town, suffering miserably and alone.  His wife tells him to curse God and die.  But Job refuses.  He praises God.

Job’s friends come to comfort and counsel him.  Their conversations, recorded in flowery poetry, form the bulk of the book, and their explanation of his misery is the theological knee-jerk of the human race:  suffering is divine punishment for sin.

The more Job insists that he hasn’t sinned, the more his counselors charge him with guilt and denial, making Job angrier and angrier.  He finally demands (and gets) a court date with the Almighty.  And that’s where the story takes an unexpected twist. 

Instead of a loving, compassionate father taking Job into his lap, wiping away his tears, soothing him, and making everything alright, God comes at Job full-force in a blustery whirlwind and demands that Job provide a detailed explanation of the universe – how it got here, what holds it in place, and how it all works.  Then God asserts His own magnificence as the omniscient Creator of the universe about which Job knows nothing.  Job, quaking and cowering in a corner, apologizes for daring to question God’s wisdom.  Job sued God – and lost.

Though the story ends with the restoration of Job’s happiness, that ending is brief and anticlimactic.  It isn’t proposed as the answer to tragedy.  The solution provided – the acceptance of one’s own smallness and the recognition of one’s limited capacities when compared to an all-powerful and completely wise, morally good God – would have made sense Job’s suffering resulted in his demise.

The answer of the ancients to why we suffer tragedy is that we don’t know – and we don’t need to know.  It is only necessary for us to believe that God is good and all-powerful, no matter what.

Many unbelievers see this as a religious cop-out.  Maybe it is – if all questions have attainable answers.  But what if they don’t (as I have come to believe)?  The naked atheistic answer – “stuff happens, and nothing in your life, much less your suffering, has any meaning” – is not a better explanation of suffering and tragedy.  Even atheists don’t seem to think so.

Job may be an ancient story, but it is hardly a quaint superstition or museum piece.  The answer to the question of suffering and tragedy provided through the experience of these primitive desert people and preserved in Job resonates with people today because it fits the realities of human experience.

You don’t have to know everything to believe in something. 
Perhaps the ancients knew more than we think.

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