Day 115-- Undeserved Suffering—"Goodness and Depravity” Job 1:1 – 5:27
April 25, 2021, 5:55 AM

Blog 115 Undeserved Suffering—"Goodness and Depravity” Job 1:1 – 5:27

This is the most common question I hear after a tragedy, a loss, especially after the death of someone beloved: Why? Or more like WHY??? That’s what our heart wants to know, what our soul wrestles with.  Why did this happen? Why her? Why now? Valid, heartfelt questions and we have all asked them. Even when we’ve been polite to God and accepted a difficult circumstance, even when we know that God does not cause our suffering, a normal human part of us wants to know “Why?” Sometimes we know the answer because it’s clear: “She died because the cancer spread too fast and we couldn’t do anything about it.” Or “We know his car went off the road, but we don’t know why.”

The book of Job (his name means ‘persecuted’) is not going to help you with the “Why?” of grief, suffering and loss, unless you are not looking for a universal answer to that question. Perhaps Job will be consoling and help you realize that suffering is an equal opportunity experience, that the rich can suffer just as much as the poor, and neither deserves to suffer. We simply do. Suffering is part of what it means to be human, and to be alive, because we will all experience some type of loss that cuts us deep into our hearts.

So Job. We have left the territory of the historical book. Job is part of Wisdom Literature in the Bible So it’s important to know that there was no real Job. Wisdom Literature wrestles with the big questions and concepts of life—love, loss, aging—and explores what those mean as part of a relationship with God. The Psalms are a great example of this type of literature, although not all the psalms are considered Wisdom Literature, but they often cry out to God with the impossible questions: why is my pillow drenched with my tears of sadness? How do you regard humans as being just lower than the angels? How long have you loved me, God? Why did you create me?

In Job, we are reading the story of a man who experiences completely undeserved suffering. We may scour the verses to find a reason for the suffering, as those around Job did, but we won’t find an answer. Instead there is a cosmic sort of story where God and Satan have a dialogue about Job and his ability to remain connected to God despite his circumstances. God bets that Job will remain connected, but Satan’s desire is to see Job fail at this experiment. And yes, you should cringe as I write the word experiment because the idea of God and Satan having a sort of competition with a man’s life and soul is horrible. This is a ‘trope’ or a literary way of setting up the story, a frame for the events. This dialogue isn’t literal, it’s not recorded from an actual event, but it is important to help us understand how to perceive God and Satan, and there is wisdom for us to gain from this as well.

The story at the beginning when a series of four messengers arrive to tell Job about his catastrophic losses is overwhelming. Everything Job owns and loves is gone in a matter of moments, it seems. And then Satan begins to do even more by afflicting Job with illness and skin diseases that cause him extraordinary personal suffering. The scene where job is sitting in the midst of ashes scraping his sores with a shard of pottery (Job 2:8) is awful to read. and awful to picture in my mind.

Job’s response to his losses is amazing to me, and I have heard these words, and felt these words before in my own life: Why was I ever born? I would rather be dead right now. I am not referring to serious, clinical depression or to thoughts of suicide—that is a more serious condition, and if you genuinely feel suicidal, please seek help, reach out, call a family member or friend or local hot line, or me!!  I am referring to the experience you may have had at points of greatest pain in your life, physically or emotionally, where you may have thought that the suffering was so great that it would have been better if you had never existed to feel this pain.

Then Job’s ‘faithful’ friends arrive to diagnose his problems. Aren’t friends wonderful when this occurs? When they have all the answers and none of the suffering? (I am being sarcastic, of course.) The same can happen with family, as we read with his wife shortly after Job has been afflicted: “Curse God, and die” (Job 2: 9). In other words—put yourself out of this misery by blaming God, let him smite you for blaming him, and the whole thing will be over!!

Here are some difficulties that you will face as you read Job, beyond the usual challenges of wrestling out the blessing that we do with every book—the perspectives in Job are very important. For example, chapter 5 is titled “Job is Corrected by God” but the speaking voice is still his friend Eliphaz. His friend is telling Job how he, Eliphaz, thinks God will deal with Job ultimately, and it is NOT helpful to Job. Basically Eliphaz says that it will all work out in the end, that God is responsible for this time of suffering because he is punishing Job, and Job must deserve it, but as long as Job goes along with the ‘discipline’ (5:17), everything will be fine.

So you will want to use another bible to help you, or write the name of the person speaking at the subject heading or underline between two different voices in order to keep the story clear in your mind. I am doing the same thing, or it will become too confusing. So you really have to pay attention as you read Job in order to read the story correctly.

But I will also tell you that the book of Job is one of my favorite books of the bible. Reading about suffering is important to me so that I don’t feel alone as I suffer, even if there aren’t answers to suffering. And when God speaks—well, those who know me will have heard of my love for some of the final passages in the book that I continue to read, and re-read and re-read.

So begin this challenging book and take your time, if you are able to do so. This book is rich with imagery, and should raise questions for us. I am already looking forward to our bible studies this week and next week as we meet and spend time with Job.

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML

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