As I undertake yet another journey reading the Bible, I realize that, as I wade through some crushingly boring parts, what keeps me going is looking forward to other parts of the Bible. The Book of Ester. The story of David. The Book of Isaiah. And the Book of Job.
I was talking to a young woman this week who told me she had given a talk at her church about why there is suffering. I know when I was sixteen I struggled with the Why question but would never have had this young woman’s courage to do so openly. Further, she had the maturity to realize that there was no easy answer.
The Book of Job didn’t get talked about much during my youth. Since then it has generated many books as well as plays and movies. It represents the Bible’s attempt to face the Why question head on. On a bet with Satan, God allows him to besiege Job, a very good, very successful man. Satan argues that Job’s faith in God wouldn’t hold up to real suffering.
Job never abandons his faith but, in the midst of his suffering, has the courage to be angry with God, demanding an answer to the Why question. In fact, Job demands that God show up and explain Himself. God shows up!
I have read several very good books on the Why question as well as on the Book of Job. No one has a simple answer. Some argue that there is no answer. The Book of Job challenges the easy answers as provided by Job’s friends. You didn’t pray hard enough or you must have sinned or you’re being arrogant talking to God like that. And in fact God never really answers Job’s demand for an explanation but instead puts Job in his place by portraying the breadth and depth of God’s works. It is a deeply poetic response that impacts Job and silences him.
What is important to note is that God does not punish Job for being angry put instead restores him to his state in life although we have to assume that Job grieved the loss of his family and was otherwise a different person, perhaps having a deeper sense of the fact that things can change in an instant. Frankly, I would love for there to have been a “Five Years Later” afterword about Job. All that we know is that he lived “a long good life.”
I find great comfort in the Book of Job, being a man who struggles with anger toward God. In fact, as Harold Kushner suggests in his wonderful book “The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person”, what comforted Job was that God showed up, that in his anger Job had a genuine deep encounter with God. And, in fact and ironically, when I have allowed my anger toward God, I somehow feel His/Her presence more strongly.
I am not a theologian. But I am a man who grew up in a family that lost children. I am a man who on a regular basis through my work encounters people struggling with the Why of terrible tragedy. As such, I am a man who needs a God with whom I can argue. The Book of Job encourages me that I can find such a God and that my anger, shared honestly, can deepen that relationship.
I’ll leave you with this wonderful scene from the film “Tender Mercies” in which Robert Duvall struggles with the death of his daughter. He too has no answers.
The life of Viktor Frankl could be considered Jobe-like. He lost both of his parents, his sibling, his wife and unborn child in the concentration camps in Germany. He himself spent several years in the camps suffering from starvation, freezing temperatures and Typhoid fever. He wrote that thoughts of his wife helped him endure the life in the concentration camps with the ever-present threat of the “chimney”. He wrote that he saddest day of his life was when he finally returned to his home only to find that the one who should open the door was not there and never would be again. He wrote that faith is like a fire and suffering is like storms. He said that a big storm with big winds would put out a small fire, but it will only make a large fire (such as a wildfire) even larger. He also said that the meaning of his life was to help others find theirs. And he did it so beautifully.
Richard, I have asked myself why I survived so many close calls with death and injury In Vietnam. So many of my friends were killed and injured there and I did not have a scratch. Eight months into my tour, the Red Cross contacts me that my older brother was in a coma.. The surgeons lost him and revived him on the table. He remained in a coma for 18 months until he died. My family is the reason. God needed me here for a reason. 🙏🏽🙏🏽