The book of Job is an interesting debate about the inner workings of God and how he interacts with his creation. The basic story is set forward in the first two chapters of the book while the rest of the book contains the commentary of the debate. Job, a righteous man, who is so righteous even God and Satan take notice of him, finds himself in the midst of a cosmic battle between good and evil, God and Satan. Although Job never realizes the exact cause of his suffering Job experiences one of the worst days imaginable. In a single day Job loses everything, donkeys, camels, servants, sheep, oxen, even his own children. All is wiped away and Job is left with nothing. As if that alone is not bad enough, a few days later Job experiences sores all over his body and cries out in agony because of the pain. In what seems like a matter of seconds Job goes from being on top of the world to complete suffering. And thus the debate begins to rage – why? Why has Job lost everything? Why has God allowed an innocent man to suffer? Could Job not have been spared because of his righteous conduct?
There are basically three characters who enter the debate, three lenses through which to address the problem. The first answer to the question of why is summed up by Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu) when they argue that Job is suffering because of his own sin. While they argue the point from many different angles and they each take turns addressing Job, their main argument is summed up in one simple phrase, “You are suffering because you have sinned against God and now God is punishing you.” It really was a common argument at the time (and sometimes a common belief today). The basic idea is that God blesses those he loves and curses those he hates. That God honors those who love him and obey him, and punishes those who sin against him. Worked out to the farthest reaches this idea sums up a very twisted interpretation of scripture, a health-wealth gospel, the idea that if you just worship God everything will turn out good in the end. While there are benefits to following God, God never promises peace and serenity, at least not the kind which is predicated on a full bank account and no problems. Instead God promises that he will always be with you and that brings peace (but more on that later). It should also be remembered that this understanding of God and his workings, that the righteous prosper and the wicked perish, is extremely dangerous. Yes, there are places in scripture (especially the covenant blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) where God speaks in this language but to look at someone in their suffering and tell them “it must be because of something you did” is not only shallow logic but extremely damaging to one’s faith. God is so much bigger and deeper than the health and wealth gospel that is popular in some strands of Christianity today. We must not sell God short.
The second major actor in this debate is Job himself. Job hears the arguments of his friends but he does not agree with them. Job believes he is righteous. Job believes he has been faithful to God. Job believes that he has followed God with all of his heart, soul, and mind…and yet Job suffers. And because Job suffers he wonders why. Why would God allow this to happen? Why does God let the innocent suffer? Why does God not protect the righteous? How can God say he loves us, say he cares for us, and sit back and let us endure suffering without ever saying or doing anything? And what type of God, who claims to be all powerful, who claims to have created the world with a spoken word and formed us from the dust, what type of God who has the ability to end suffering allows suffering to continue without any end in sight? It doesn’t seem fair, it doesn’t seem right. And Job won’t back down, he demands an answer from God, why?
What’s interesting is that throughout most of the book God remains silent. He has his small interaction with Satan to begin the story but then he moves back away from center stage and watches the proceedings from a distance. God stands on the outside, observing and allowing the debate to rage on and even though different characters call into question God’s motives, he never speaks…at least for a time. But finally in chapter 38 God begins to speak and once he starts he keeps going for four straight chapters. Job questions God’s justice, God’s way of working in the world and God finally answers. “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall answer me.”(Job 38:2-3) And then God begins one of the most interesting sections of scripture in which he describes to Job all of the different things he does on a daily basis, from feeding the animals to controlling the sun, from delivering offspring to allowing the plants to grow. It is an amazing list, and an amazing reminder of all that God does, the power that he has, and how he holds the entire world together. God speaks with such force, such magnitude that Job is silenced and instead of standing on his feet demanding answers from God he is begging on his knees declaring, “I have uttered things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42) Job is confronted with the Holy Awesomeness of God and he is reminded that he is not God, and he is at peace with that revelation.
There’s only one problem, God never answered the question. Job kept asking, God why do the righteous suffer, why do those who love you and obey you find themselves in pain? It’s an important question, a question that demands an answer, but God doesn’t really answer the question. Instead God says, “Look at how big and powerful I am, don’t question me.” This is not said in an egotistical sort of way, like a parent who simply tells a child, “I’m the parent so shut up and listen.” No, God speaks with force, but in a way that says, “you don’t quite understand what you’re asking Job. It’s bigger than you think.” God tells Job that there are so many things going on in the universe that Job can’t begin to try and understand or comprehend why it all takes place. And still, God never gives Job a reason for his suffering, he simply reminds Job that he is God, and apparently for Job, that is enough.
I’m not sure I like that answer. I want to know why. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God protect his people from tragedy and pain? I want to know what to tell people when I walk into that hospital room and all hope is lost. I want to be able to comfort them with theological answers of why this is happening. I want God to answer the question, I want him to be bold enough to stand up and give a reason for why he works the way he does…and yet, when I find myself reading the last few chapters of Job I always walk way with a new found wonder in the power of God. I walk away with a reminder that God is bigger than I am. I walk away with a recognition that there are so many things that happen on a daily basis that God does to keep the world running that I can’t even begin to comprehend the inner workings of why things take place. I walk away with a sense of awe and wonder of a Holy God, a God who is so much set apart from me that I could never even begin to understand him. And I walk away thinking the questions no longer matter. Oh, I still wonder why the righteous suffer. I still question why Christians suffer pain. It still bothers me that innocent children die and single mothers get taken advantage of and family men are killed by drunk drivers. However, while it still bothers me, I find peace in recognizing that God is bigger than me and I’m glad I don’t have to figure out how to run the world. And I find comfort in knowing that even though bad things happen, God is still God. And maybe that’s one of the subplots of Job. No matter what happens in the world, God is still God. I may not understand it, but it doesn’t change it from being true. And knowing that God is still God, no matter what, is enough to keep me moving forward day after day in faithful obedience to the King.