I’ve always found the story of Job to be one of the most interesting and confusing stories in the Bible. Because the whole story frames perfectly, the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, and it doesn’t answer it. In my experience, this is the question that has caused more hurt and anger from both Christians and Non-Christians than any other issue; a question that is not only intellectually and emotionally challenging, but it has also resulted in huge groups of people abandoning their religion. I have at least 4 different books on my bookshelf right now that are specifically addressing the problem of suffering.
So Job perfectly sums up this problem by presenting a dedicated, holy man as the victim of supernatural suffering. The whole book, they all debate why it is happening, and Job repeatedly asks God how He could do this. At the end, God finally speaks up. This is His chance to, once and for all, clear all of this up and explain why suffering is okay. Yet He doesn’t give His defense? Why?
A few summers ago, I preached a sermon on suffering and God’s silence.
Side note: God begins his huge smackdown on Job with the phrase:
Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Speaking of words without knowledge, God only knows why my pastor let a 21 year old undergrad student try to take on the problem of evil in a sermon. Don’t worry though, I’m 23 now, so make sure and take notes because I’m much older and wiser now. Hopefully we can learn together as we reflect on the story of Job.
Anyway, back to that sermon I gave about suffering. I talked about a few of the ways we try to make sense out of suffering, and at one point I just said that I have no idea. I have no answer to the problem. I think this is quite possibly the most challenging question for humanity, religious or not: the problem of why is there such profound evil in the world?
So the next week, someone came up to me and said that they had brought their nephew to church last week (he hasn’t been to church in years) and my sermon started a really long, and productive conversation about faith. Funny enough though, it wasn't any of my points or anything that spurred the conversation. It was simply that I said that I don’t know. He had never heard that phrase from the pulpit.
That story has always stuck with me because it reveals how the church has failed that man. I mean, we are hear to celebrate communion, which people have been studying for 2 thousand years and nobody really knows what’s happening at that table; praising God who made everything and became human so that He could die for His creation, which nobody truly knows why He had to die or what exactly happened on the cross; and we’re studying a text about a man who suffered more profoundly than I can imagine. Yet, God’s response is to describe how incomprehensible He is. That’s what we’re doing at church, and nobody had ever admitted that they didn’t know something?