“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” (Job 1:21)
It sure feels that way sometimes. It feels at times like we are simply pawns being moved back and forth in the midst of some eternal chess board, and we have absolutely no control over what happens to us in any way. Events happen with no justification or reasoning. We’re told to trust God, and yet, at times we honestly have to wonder, is God even trust worthy.
We’ve been told our whole lives to act righteously and be rewarded, or to act wrongly and be punished. It’s the concept of retributive justice; that good behavior produces good results and bad behavior produces bad results. We like the world functioning in this manner because it makes everything fair. And above all other things, we’ve been taught to expect things to be fair.
The problem is the world doesn’t operate in this way. The world isn’t fair. Once we leave concrete thinking stage we no longer see the world as black and white. Instead, we understand the world is sometimes gray, and in the gray the concepts of retributive justice don’t always work. We’ve seen the company worker stand up and say, the companies practices are unethical, only to be fired for insubordination. We’ve witnessed the automobile accident caused by the drunk driver when the drunk driver walks away with a few scratches while the other family involved starts planning for a funeral. We’ve witnessed the unrighteous prosper while the righteous suffer, and we know life isn’t always fair.
It’s no wonder people sometimes struggle with God. If God is all-powerful sovereign of the world, why does God allow a world of suffering that isn’t fair?
This is exactly the situation Job finds himself placed within. Job is a righteous man, so righteous that even God takes notice of his blameless life. Yet the accuser challenges that Job’s righteousness is only the result of God’s blessings on his life. Take away the blessings and Job will curse God. In order to settle the bet, God removes the hand of protection from Job’s life and allows the Accuser to destroy Job’s life. He’s so miserable that his wife even encourages him to curse God and die. He’s so miserable that when his friends arrive they don’t even recognize him, and they sit in silence for a week not sure what to do. He’s so miserable that when he finally does speak he doesn’t curse God, but he does curse the day of his birth. “Cursed be the day I was born, cursed be the midwife who helped me be born. It would have been better if I had died at birth; if I had never experienced life, and didn’t exist. Job isn’t necessarily cursing God, but he is wondering why in the world do I have to suffer this way? What type of God allows this to happen?
Job is in a moment that many of us understand. God, how can you allow this to happen? We know God is sovereign. We know God is in control. We sing songs and pray prayers about God’s might and power. So, if God is all-powerful, how can God let the righteous suffer? How can God let innocent children be abused and die? How can God allow good people to endure terrible diseases?
Thankfully, God answers Job, just not with the answer we prefer. Who are you to challenge me, God says? Were you there when I made the foundations of the Earth? Were you there when I placed the stars in the heavens? Are you God? Can you even begin to contemplate my wisdom and understanding? You think of fairness on your small-scale, while I think of fairness with all of the wisdom of the galaxy. You want to question me on justice, but let me question you on wisdom.
God answers and says: suffering happens. It falls on the good and the bad. God gives and God takes away. The question is not is the suffering fair, the question is will you still trust God in the midst of the storm?
It’s not exactly the answer we want. We want God to give reasons. We want suffering to make sense. God’s response leaves more questions than answers. Yet, God’s response is enough for Job. Job comes into contact with the God of the universe and Job finds peace. Job realizes God is in control, and Job trusts God.
Perhaps the answer to suffering is not to try to determine if it is fair or not. Perhaps the answer is to simply trust God.
God is just. But even more so, God is wisdom and truth. I can’t explain suffering. I don’t know why good people get sick and little children die. But after being in places in which I walked through the valley of the shadow of death I can thankfully declare that while I can’t explain God, I do trust God. And that trust is enough to take one more step. That trust is all I need.
Yet will I trust God.