What happens when it seems like God is causing his people to suffer? Job’s story is one that might get us to answer that question. The story of Job is an amazing one and it has caused a lot of people to ponder how they relate to God.
To catch you up, the book of Job describes the character of Job—a man of prominence and wealth—who lives in the Land of Uz. Since Job is so righteous and God is so praising of him, Satan, the main antagonist of the story, questions Job’s integrity. He argues that the only reason that Job is serving God is because Job has been blessed. God was protecting him, and so the Lord and Satan make a wager. Satan can take everything from Job—his children, wealth, and physical health—but his life. The goal was to see if Job would curse God and no longer live a righteous life.
Would we serve God if we didn’t prosper? Would we question our allegiance to him if our piety did not result in wealth? Certainly there are Christians who totally believe this kind of thing. So as a story and as a theory, I think it’s worth considering. It gets more complicated if we think that the moral of the story isn’t about how loyal we are to God and how circumstantial our relationship with him is.
A postmodernist might see behind the moral, and even though she wouldn’t necessarily believe that the story was true, she might question the character of God through it. Others of us, who grew up with the belief that the Bible is a literal history book, might really have a dilemma because the God we serve and believe in is making a deal with the devil to see how much we love him.
Job’s friends and family question God’s decision and they spend much of the book debating about it. Early on in the story his wife asks him: “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
His friends continue to discourage him, except for Elihu, who makes it a point to note that suffering and righteousness are not mutually exclusive. His point revolves around God’s supremacy and his sovereignty. There are reasons, too, for God “allowing” us to suffer according to Elihu: protection from sin, it could be a warning, or we might gain trust and dependence on God.
I appreciate the context that Elihu gives Job about his trouble, but his discourse isn’t the end of the story. Eventually, God gets involved, and starts talking to Job himself. It is an amazing reveal of his power. Some of us might find comfort in it, some of us could be afraid. See what you think.
Sometimes it may seem like we can’t relate to God because God is so much more powerful than us, and he seems distant in the way he is depicted in Job. For me, that’s what makes the incarnation of Jesus so important, because it personalizes that power.
What about when we are not just awe-struck by God’s power, but we feel like he didn’t advocate on our behalf? What about when bad things happen to good people?
First, we have to acknowledge that God is more than our view of him. Our thoughts don’t define God. Even though most postmodernists think that that’s how it works—and most modernists would try to define God by a rule like “if he is all-powerful and all-good then this couldn’t happen.” Our relationship with God is deeper than how we see it or how a rule defines it.
Our circumstances do not necessarily define God. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, or we aren’t important, or our suffering is insignificant. But just like any healthy relationship it might start with us, but it doesn’t end there. We actually have to relate to God. We are having a relationship with Him. It’s funny, because Job is actually relating to God. I would encourage us to try to relate to God instead of just making up our minds about Him. Or instead of even trying to make up our minds about him. Let the process be what it is.
Rather than making up your mind, why not change your mind? Where did the idea come from that God is responsible for everything that happens in the world? Where did we get the idea that he “allows,” even if he doesn’t predestine, everything? These kinds of assumptions are not always what believers thought and even though they have merit, you might to consider them. If your view of God seems to be hurting you more than helping you, perhaps we should consider it more. My favorite way to to consider this is to have a relationship with him by relating to the person of Jesus Christ. I hope we aren’t philosophically considering him before we try to love and follow Jesus. I think that was one of the reasons Jesus came to us—so we could learn to relate to God. Because you could just read Job and lose your faith over it or something. But I think, in Jesus, we see God incarnate. For me, that is just more relatable. Jesus came to fulfill both the laws and prophecies that came before him, and he came to be God with us. Now that he’s moved in us, we reflect his character as a body. So use the community as a way of helping you think about God. Participate in it and see if what you see and experience helps you see a complete picture of God, as opposed to a few chapters in Job.
Even then, you might have to be OK with not knowing. How did we expect to pursue knowing God without some mystery? The story of Job is filled with mystery and God is huge, too. To expect the creature to fully understand the creator is one of the problems with the systematic theology that has been haunting us for 600 years. Theologians actually tried to define God.
Learn something from the mystics and the desert fathers before them. Our life’s goal is to know God. If we think we’ve figured him out by the time we are in our fifties, we’ve done him a disservice. I suppose the older you get, the more you realize that you might not know everything there is to know about the world and God, too.
We are working what to do with God’s power and what to do when that power doesn’t work out the way we think it should. I suppose we should try to work out both things together, but you may want to find out how you are supposed to change. We all have different journeys. Commit sometime this week to praying about how you need to embrace God’s power, or let go of the expectations you had for it. See what happens.