Life, as it happens to us, can come to us mercilessly. It feels unfair that one seems to be going well and the other must suffer from miserable and sad circumstances. Why there is suffering in this world and why is suffering happens to us? That is perhaps the most unanswered question ever. It is perhaps the most tolerable to think that there are sometimes mistakes in the creation and bad luck in fate. It can go well and it can go wrong. Another way to endure it is something like an Insjallah’s attitude, “if God wants it,” the divine destiny that cannot be denied.
In the Bible, there’s a fascinating story in the book of Job. It reads like an ancient piece of Shakespearean drama with rich dialogues, dealing with the exact question: why is there suffering? Everything circles around the story of a very rich man who loses everything. Let me summarize the story.
Summary of the book of Job
Once upon a time, there was a rich man named Job. He is described as a righteous man.
One day there is a heavenly gathering where the sons of God gather. Satan comes too and argues with God because it feels too easy for Job following God so faithfully. If everything goes well, then there is no reason to doubt God, to distrust and to leave your faith. If only you should see if the misery comes over him, he will be different.
God hears Satan and gives him permission to hit the godly Job hard. And Satan hits Job so hard that he curses his birthday and longs for the moment when he will be dead.
But he remains faithful to God. “And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
The friends of Job
His friends come to encourage him, but, well, forget soon their intention. They start thinking: there must be a reason for his misery! And they start looking for the cause of the terrible suffering that has happened to Job. Because that’s how God works, they think. He rewards the righteous and punishes sinners. If your misery happens, look for the real reason and come to repentance so that the Lord Almighty can show mercy. And so they go on as if the suffering of their friend is not bad enough.
Job time and again defends that he has done nothing wrong, no matter how hard the friends press on it. The speeches of the friends, filling many chapters in the book of Job, sound perfect, spiritual, religious, like a sermon sketch that you preach without hesitation. If you read it too quickly you will have the impression it all sounds pretty reasonable and religious when they try to explain suffering. Long chapters in Job’s book are filled with dialogues from friends who cannot accept that suffering happens without any reason in the behavior of Job.
Big frustration in the suffering
Long chapters in Job’s book are filled with dialogues from friends who cannot accept that suffering happens without any reason in the behavior of Job. Job, almost tired of all those arguments, keep on defending himself. He does not want to sit down beside God, because “Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me,” Job answered (Job 9:20). Job himself also wants to know why the suffering happens to him, but it is not fair his friends just can say that Job’s sins are the reason for it and for which he should repent. And so it goes on and on and on. “How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood,” he sighs feeling frustrated as he has to scratch himself with shards because his whole body hurts so much.
And meanwhile, Job becomes more and more bitter in his words about God.
God starts talking
But then it is enough. In a mighty storm, the Almighty himself appears on stage, stopping all the discussions and reasoning the vast majority of the book of Job occupies. He ignores Job’s friends in all their reasoning. He enters into a conversation with Job and guides Job into the great and the small of creation. From the foundations of the earth to the universe. From the grasshopper to the huge monsters.
And always the question of God to Job is “Where were you when …“, “Do you know about …“, “Who has …“.
It is a bombastic demonstration of the Almighty that has completely turned the theater upside down and silenced not only Job but also his friends. “That is why I recall my words and bow, as I am sitting here in the dust and dirt.” A new chapter has been written in his experience of God. It was no longer about God, but he has now seen God himself. Job must pray for his friends so that God will be merciful.
Here he finds peace. In being silenced. Being still in his misery.
Everything seems to be restored in a short epilogue in the book of Job. The book is complete. Job receives new wealth and status and status. God has been good to him.
So, what was the point of the suffering of Job?
It’s quite a story, isn’t it? It is striking that God does not blame Job anywhere in what He has to say and no, Job has done nothing wrong. There was simply no reason for Job’s misery.
Yes, but Satan, I hear you think. Yes, true. But this is theater, this is an ancient spectacle. The viewer, the audience in the theater may get a glimpse into heaven in which Satan has challenged God, but the main character in the story has never been given that insight. There is no reason for the misery Job will ever know, no sin that causes it and that eventually should be resolved or forgiven or something like that.
Job finally finds peace in his misery. That is not only when everything has been straightened again, not only when healing has arrived and his wealth is restored.
By the way, if the Lord God is furious with someone, then it is with Job’s talkative friends who had conclusive theories and theologies who could explain everything about how the Supreme worked!
Peace in suffering
This whole story will make you think again when you start having conclusions! It feels as if this old book, the book of Job is seen as the oldest story in the Bible, has a lot to say about us now. Often there is discomfort around the theme of suffering, sickness, and misfortune. Faith in God does not mean that there must be a reason for suffering. Nor is the message of faith that there is always a solution. The message of faith is certainly not a theater of healing.
In the early church, Job is also seen as a type of the suffering Christ who had to learn patience, silently enduring his suffering. Followers of Christ will also be followers of the suffering Christ, cross-bearers.
Wait in patience for the Lord God. Do not wait until you understand, but until you find peace. Until you hear the voice of God.
In the end, the book of Job is also a book of hope. Everything will be fine. Not as a reward, not because Job did well and passed an exam, but because God straightens everything out. The reasons for suffering are not made clear. Probably because they are not there.