JOB 19, 20 and 21
Job’s words to his so-called friends are perhaps the most interesting and engaging of all the sections of this amazing book. In the shock of hearing the terrible news about his children’s demise, he declares resolutely that the Lord is sovereign and good, and that His will is absolute (1:20-21; 2:10). After that, he is real with God and his friends, and does complain about his sufferings, mourning not only his children’s lives, but also the loss of the life he once had. The combination of these two thoughts is an extremely healthy position to be in, from the perspective of someone suffering and bereaved.
However, Job’s friends confuse the situation by engaging in a low-grade theological debate about why he was suffering so; their entrenched position was that, since it could not be God’s fault, it must be a punishment for something that Job had done wrong, and if only he repented, he would ‘obviously’ be healed and restored! Such a statement is crass for two reasons: it is very hurtful to take that line when someone is suffering so much in front of you – and it is theologically wrong, as the entire Book of Job goes on to point out.
Job is therefore put in a tricky position of having to defend his theological position but without making himself out to be some kind of super-hero, which is a difficult balance to strike. At times his emotions get the better of him, but you can sympathise with his frustration in the face of their crass counter-arguments. At the same time, Job is at pains to point out that the worst part of this entire nightmare is not that he is ill or bereaved, but that he feels so distant from the Lord. Some of the most profound verses arise out of this hunger for God’s presence once again, as much as for God’s favour upon his life.
Many times in our lives, God places us in situations of danger or pain or even desperation, in the knowledge that we will at last call upon him in our anguish – which is what he desires above all else; God loves our presence and our trust in Him and is prepared for us to go through whatever it takes to obtain these. I sometimes wonder how much simpler my own life might be if only I were not such a slow learner in this respect! How about you?
If you are interested in ‘digging deeper’ into the huge topic of ‘Why does God allow so much suffering’, then I recommend a series of online articles by my son, David, to provoke further theological thinking: https://consideringcarefully.com/why-does-god-allow-so-much-suffering/ . It is a ‘work in progress’, but still merits close attention.