Suffering brings with it many questions. Why me? Why now? Yet, there are often even more loaded questions that seem to define us, and our relationship with God and others. They are often things like: Is God angry? Is this my fault? Am I being punished? Let’s look further at the story of Job in the Scripture to find these answers.
While there are always consequences for our actions – positive for things that build, and negative for things that destroy relationships, and dreams – that is not punishment, or anger. So let’s look at the three questions that seem to drive us existentially in regards to why suffering is happening.
Is God angry? Many ask that question about what is happening to them when something bad happened in their life. It is as if they believe that God plays with them as a cat plays with a ball of yarn. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Job’s friend Eliphaz basically tells Job that God is angry with him. Yet, we already know that God is not, based on what God has said earlier. This question always comes from a well meaning dragon who seems to embody anger at a primal level in their own life. Eliphaz is wrong because he does not understand what is happening – he is giving bad theological answers to a question that has not been asked.
Is this my fault? Job’s friend Bildad tells him that the loss of his family and fortune are his fault. Yet, again we know that to not be the case. He is giving another platitude answer that we hear because he seems to think that we as humans are always at the helm of every event that happens in our life. We can avoid the stock market crash if we do the correct investing. We can avoid a spouse cheating on us if we did the correct things in our marriage. We can avoid a friend, or family members, death if we do the right thing in our own life. It is some good principle taken much further that the principle will hold true for. We might have more money if we do not spend as much, but that doe not avoid a global catastrophe in the stock market. And while we might drive a person out of a relationship with us by being less than a stellar spouse that does not account for the vast majority of unfaithfulness. Own what can be a result of your actions, but do not let anyone place blame on you for what others did.
Is God punishing me? I just have to laugh at this one. When we see suffering as a punishment we have obviously not understood, or even read, the scriptures, because when God punishes it is overwhelming, immediate, and sometimes deadly. God does not drag out punishment, God may let you live in the consequences of your choices (both good and bad) but that does not mean that those consequences are a punishment. This is true over and over in scripture. God is not some capricious deity that just wants to play games and screams “no more wire hangers.” God does indeed discipline, but that is not punishment. Discipline shapes, forms, and builds. Punishment is retribution.
So give up these bad theologies and engage a God that walks through suffering with you searching the dark hills so that you may have light and hope. This is the promise of He that formed you and the whole world and said “it is very good.”
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