Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflections on Faith and Suffering in the Book of Job

Of all the books in the Old Testament, I believe the Book of Job is my favorite. It details the struggles of a person to make sense out of suffering—in fact the destruction of everything Job found dear--and his faith in God.

The basic synopsis of the Book can be summed up as follows:

The devil claims that Job is only a faithful follower because he is materially blessed. God permits the devil to afflict Job, first by destroying his property, then his family, then his health. His friends (and with friends like these, who needs enemies?) assume that Job is suffering because he sinned and he needs to repent. Job knows he did not sin, but feels betrayed by how he is treated when he tried to live a holy life. Finally God shows up in the middle of the debate and demonstrates that both Job and his friends are operating from false premises which lead them to false conclusions. God then restores to Job the blessings he lost.

The premises used in the Book of Job run as follows.

Job's detractors, wanting to defend the goodness of God, reasoned:

  • God punishes the guilty
  • You're being punished
  • Therefore, you're guilty

Job's counter argument, wanting to emphasize his innocence, was:

  • God is afflicting me
  • I don't deserve it
  • Therefore God is not treating me as I deserve, and I want to know why

Both of these seem to be irreconcilable. If Job speaks the truth, then his detractor's premises must be false. If his detractors speak the truth then Job's premises must be false. Up to this point, we're left with a dilemma. Either Job is a bad man or God is not just. That's where the opponents of Christianity smirk. "Well, which is it?" they ask.

God's response shows both Job and his detractors have missed the point:

  • You cannot judge what is beyond your ability to understand
  • What I do is beyond your ability to understand
  • Therefore, you cannot judge what I do.

Job's detractors argued under the assumption that they had all the facts in concluding Job was guilty. Job's also argued under the assumption that he had all the facts, that because he did not behave in a way that deserved these acts as a punishment, he should not be experiencing these acts. God's response was to show how both ways of thinking were wrong.

But, this way of thinking is not a product of ancient times. Many people undergo loss and suffering. When they do face this suffering, some ask "Where is God in all of this? Why did He let this happen?" Because they cannot find an answer, some begin to doubt some aspect of God . . . or even whether He exists.

The common lament is, "If God exists/is all powerful/is good, how can He allow X to happen?"

That's probably why a common modern approach to God argues that, to avoid contradiction, we have to admit that God has one of the following weaknesses:

  1. God is not all powerful
  2. God is not all knowing
  3. God is not all good

Some argue this way to try to justify dissent. Others to justify their unbelief. But when one reads Job, it becomes clear that God is All powerful, all knowing and all good. However, WE are not. Therefore, to accuse God of one of those charges reflects the false belief that finite human reason is sufficient and anything outside of what we can understand is unjust.

But when we think this way, we are actually thinking "If I were God, I would stop this!" The problem is, we are not God. We do not have all the knowledge required to truthfully say this way is better than how God handled it! That brings us back to God's response to Job. We can't judge what we don't understand. That's where Faith comes in. If we believe God is all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good, then when some misfortune strikes, we have to trust that God is not acting out of negligence . . . even if we don't understand why He permits some things to happen.

God, being all knowing, all powerful and all good knows all the ramifications of His choosing to act or not to act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

272 Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.”

I think this is important to remember. On Good Friday, the friends and family of Jesus were no doubt thinking, "How could God allow this to happen?" But the fact of the matter is, this happened for us and our salvation even though people present at that moment in time could not realize this.

It is important for all of us to remember this when we suffer a hardship, or lose a loved one. Jesus suffered on the cross and died for us. Suffering is not necessarily a sign of punishment. It is certainly not a sign of God's absence or weakness. When we face suffering and loss, we must remember God is still in control and He does love us. We must not assume we know all there is to know and turn away from God in our pain and grief.

No comments:

Post a Comment