Suffering., The Book of Job., Theology

OUCH!

Read any commentary on Job and there is lots of discussion about whether Job is historical or pictorial.

Actually I think this misses the point, the story of Job is at times our story, an is the story of those all around us.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Or why do good things happen to bad people?

Most of us have asked that question, or at least felt it, the psalms are full of this ‘God, why do you permit this?’ –God, why don’t you smite evil people? Asking if God is really a God of love, why do we see unloving actions getting the upper hand

Is God really a God of power, when bad things happen?

Is God really a God of justice when bad people appear to get away with?

When I take a funeral I often tell the story of the footprints poem;

“At the end of his life a man walking on the beach looked back, and he saw his life flash before him, and he saw his footprints, and there next to him where the foot prints of Christ. Then he noticed at the hardest and darkest times there was only one set of footprints and this worried the man, he turned to Jesus and said “Lord, why when I needed you the most, did you leave me on my own…” Jesus replied, ‘my son, I would never leave you or forsake you, those times when you see only one set of footprints that is when I carried you”…

I believe this is true, and ties in with the promises of God from scripture, “I will never leave you or abandon you”, Jesus said “I will be with you always”, “Can a mother abandon her baby at her breast, even though she may, I will not abandon you… see I have engraved your name in the palm of my hands”… yet despite being true, it doesn’t always feel true in the midst of a tough situation.

Jennifer Rees Larcombe wrote a best seller called “where have you gone God?” Philip Yancey wrote another book which asked “where is God when it hurts?” the fact that these two books flew off the shelves prove that this is a live issue for many of us at some stage in our Christian life.

So, here we have Job, probably the first book to be written (and also featuring a monster that sounds like it could be a dinosaur, ask Sam about this!) asking and wrestling with the biggest question of the universe, which isn’t is God real, (the Bible doesn’t even bother to put up an argument for his existence) but rather if God is good (which he is), if he loves us (which he does) and if he is a God of justice (which he is) and if he is powerful (which he is) how come suffering exists…

Actually I’m not sure if Job every actually fully answers these questions, it is too profounder book to pass us off with trite answers or simplistic platitudes…

Yet I think it does give us a really uncomfortable challenge about our pastoral care, sometimes our badly judged words that are meant to bring comfort don’t bring healing but cause hurt…  No wonder the epistle of James and the book of proverbs talk so much about being wise with our words.

It is interesting how false teaching such as Karma is still prevalent in our culture where the victim is blamed for their suffering; karma an grace cannot sit together as it is like mixing oil and water together.

Yet even though we can’t understand suffering fully we do learn that God is not absent from us, that God is powerful –Job shows clearly that the devil is not God’s equal, but significantly less powerful than God, and is answerable to God and is limited by him. Our end picture of God is vast and powerful, and our attempts to put him in a box fail.

A God I can understand, probably won’t be God.

The big picture of Job is someone who lost everything, and yet it is fully restored to him (although that can never make up for the pain of the initial loss and suffering)… Yet something God understands a picture of the resurrected and glorified Christ shows us with the marks on his hands remaining.

The remarkable truth of Christianity is a God who understands suffering from personal experience, as Graham Kendrick once wrote “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”, which Job doesn’t cover (because it hadn’t happened then) but Job  is a book we have to take to the cross to fully understand it.

As we read Job in the shadow of the cross we see a God who loves and never leaves, a God where justice and mercy kiss, a God who is powerful and beyond our understanding and yet draws close to us as Christ, the suffering servant and glorified King.

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