Today, we continue our reflections on the book of Job.
What the book of Job does NOT do for us:
1. It does not answer the question as to 'why' there is suffering in the world today. Theodicy (the search for the origin and nature of suffering and evil) remains an unsolved mystery. Suffering is not merely a theological or philosophical problem, it is a human problem that no one is immune to, though some people suffer more than others. Yes, God does intend our good (Romans 8:28) but that doesn't mean that we will always figure out how our experiences benefit us (Ecclesiastes 6:12) and our "good" cannot be always defined by our comfort or our success.
C.S. Lewis once said, "Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." True, suffering and pain can serve to draw our attention to God, to rely on him and perhaps to engage in self-evaluation. However, we should be cautious to suggest that suffering is always to be viewed as God's instrument for accomplishing any of those goals. We cannot know or assume that there are reasons for our suffering though God does have purposes, though we may never know them fully.
2. It does not validate the long-held ‘retribution principle’ which states that the righteous will always prosper and the wicked will always suffer. In Israelite theology, this principle was integral to the belief in God's justice. Since God is just, they believed that he would always uphold this principle. This also led to the belief that if a person prospered, they must be righteous (i.e. favored by God) and those who suffer must be wicked (i.e. experiencing the judgment of God). However, the retribution principle is too simplistic. Yes, it serves as the basis for general trends in human experience (as presented in the biblical books of Deuteronomy, Psalms and Proverbs) but there are no guarantees and there are always exceptions (Job being a prime example). A person’s sinfulness cannot be inferred when one is suffering nor can a person’s goodness be inferred when one is prospering.
Jesus confronted the retribution principle on two specific occasions. A man born blind was seen by the disciples as caused by sin (John 9:1-3). Jesus shifted their focus from causes (actions in the past) to purpose (God's ongoing plan), offering an expanded theology. As in the book of Job, no explanation for the suffering was given, possible or necessary. More important is the need to trust God's wisdom and to seek out his purpose.
In Luke 13:1-5, the issue concerns whether those who have died in recent tragedies should be considered to have deserved their death. Again, Jesus turns the attention away from the cause and even states that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between sin and punishment. As an alternative, Jesus tells his audience to view the incident as a warning. Once again, as in John 9, he refuses to engage the question of cause and concentrates instead on purpose.
3. Job is not a perfect model of how to respond to suffering. Yes, he never cursed God and he persevered through his trials (James 5:11). He also had a more accurate understanding of God than his friends but he did not have a totally clear perspective on his situation nor a full understanding of the nature of God and his ways, any more than we do today.
4. Although God is the central subject of this book (not Job, his friends or the Challenger), it does not fully explain how God is involved in his world. We have to continually maintain the tension of believing that God is not distant (as in deism) nor does he micromanage everything that occurs in our daily lives. There really is no language adequate enough to describe God’s involvement or lack of involvement and simplistic generalisations can lead to flawed theology. John Walton uses the example of gravity: it was created by God from the beginning through his wisdom but each expression of gravity is not necessarily 'caused' by God though it does not operate without him. In the same way, God’s activity is beyond our comprehension and powers of explanation.