Suffering And Sin

Some books of the Bible are easier to read and to understand than others.

Finding the point of a passage from Philippians, for instance, is not too difficult.

But what about all the craziness of Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation? Those aren’t so simple. Those are way more complicated, scaring off even the most impassioned students of God’s Word.

Another difficult book of the Bible is the book of Job. It’s a complicated book that falls under the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of the Bible. It’s a book that I want us to explore together throughout the summer. Not every blog will be about this book, but it will remain the dominant topic. So, grab your Bible or pull up your Bible app, and let’s check it out together.

As I said, Job falls under the banner of wisdom literature. But what kind?

The rest of the wisdom literature have their own niches. Psalms is essentially an old hymnal. Proverbs is a collection of sayings about wisdom and folly, and the importance of pursuing the former. Ecclesiastes is about the wisdom to know that all of life is meaningless outside of God. Song of Solomon is about the wisdom of marriage, or our relationship with God, or maybe both?

Job is different though. Job is poetry bookended by narrative. We are told a story about Job (chapters 1-2) that leads to dozens of chapters of Job speaking with four of his friends, who are quite foolish (but we’ll see that later). Then God comes in and says the last word, humbling Job and hopefully us in the process. We then get a final chapter where we see the culmination of the story.

The Wrong Way To Read Job

There’s a couple ways to read Job incorrectly.

  1. We have the proclivity to unintentionally strip verses out of their context, trying to jam them into the puzzle that is our theological beliefs about God and man. This happens quite regularly with wisdom literature. Here’s where this is especially dangerous when it comes to the book of Job. Whenever any character other than God is speaking about the nature of God, you could have some falsehoods. There are innumerable times in Scripture when a character makes a false statement about the nature of God and the world (Pharaoh, the wicked prophets, the servant from the parable of the talents). So, as we sift through the dozens of chapters of dialogue in the book of Job, we should be careful not to take what Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, and Zophar say about God at any moment as necessarily true about God. Make sense?
  2. The other way to read Job incorrectly is to make Job the hero of this story. Yes, there are aspects of Job’s character and faith that are worthy of emulation. But ultimately this story is not a fable that teaches us some moral lesson as we try and make our lives more like Job’s. Instead, it has something much deeper and richer to teach us, and you’ll see that below.

The Right Way To Read Job

I personally have found that reading through entire books of the Bible (this doesn’t have to take place in one sitting) to be the most beneficial to me. I would attest that this best equips us to observe and grasp the book of the Bible we are wanting to glean from. So, to best read Job, you should do just that. Just as I’ve been methodically walking through Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire, we should methodically work through the book of Job.

Secondly, don’t go to the book of Job looking for black and white answers about the world we live in and what it means to be human. If you’re looking for a clear-cut answer to why suffering happens, you’ll be left wanting. There’s a whole lot of tension, gray area, and paradox in what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The book of Job will take us deeper into that tension, rather than alleviate it.

The Theme of Job

As a matter of fact, the purpose of the book of Job is to highlight the incorrect black and white understanding of sin and suffering that so many people then and now hold to.

You will see that all of Job’s friends believe that Job’s suffering is a result of some hidden sin that is just below the surface. They attest again and again and again that Job is going through such powerful suffering and pain because of his unrighteousness and sin.

We still fall into this. Christian Karma is alive and well. We can claim faith in Christ and belief in the God of the Bible and yet still fall into the “do good, get good; do bad, get bad” mentality. This is so antithetical to Christian doctrine. The book of Job will show us that suffering happens in a Genesis 3 world. Suffering can have purposes for us, and sometimes it may just not. There have been tremendously painful moments in the life of my family that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to them. It’s in that space that the book of Job can remind us that God is faithful, even when our sufferings don’t fit into our black and white, systematic beliefs about life.

Craig G. Bartholomew wrote a book on Job called When You Want To Yell At God. That name is so good.

Have you been there?

I have.

In fact, I’ve not only wanted to yell at God, I have.

Many times.

In his book, Bartholomew teaches that suffering is not always the result of wrong behavior, and right behavior does not always guarantee blessing – but God is always faithful.

I encourage you to read the book of Job. Again, not for trite answers to share in moments of grief, but rather for powerful proclamations from the Word about the faithful God we serve in the midst of our own abject sufferings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

God Is Not A Psychopath

God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything. abraham-and-isaac-1

In his book Paradoxology, Krish Kandiah argues that this is one of several apparent paradoxes that we see in the Christian faith. This paradox is most notably seen in the story in Genesis where Abraham is led by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yet this paradox shows itself not only through other stories in Scripture, but through innumerable stories of missions and martyrdom that I have heard in everyday life.

In the past year, I have wrestled with this in a major way. In prayer, journaling, Christian community, and the like I have fought this ‘paradox’ with everything in me. I’ll be honest, the wrestling matches with God over this haven’t been easy or pleasant. Now I’ll be clear right from the get go that I personally have had an extremely blessed and privileged life, but my wrestling was dark all the same.

My biggest hold up in this aspect of the Christian faith is the fact that God directs all circumstances in my life to be for His glory. I’ll be real transparent here. This made me mad. This seemed vastly unfair to me. How could God be allowed to do anything He wanted to me, and all I was allowed to do was put on a smile and say it was for His glory? When He took away my granddad, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When a member of my family went wayward, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When my health got rocky, I was separated from all the guys I had deep friendships with from OBU, and I didn’t get to be with Jamie, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? If suffering, disease, or death came into my life, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? I again know that I’ve been blessed, but this was the battle.

It didn’t seem fair. I had seen in Scripture that it’s super clear that God doesn’t need anything from me.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. – Acts 17:24-25

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. – Psalm 50:9-12

God owns all, He made all. He gives me everything and is not served by human hands. So why would God ask so much from so many of His followers? If He needs nothing, why does He ask for everything? Why would He ask Abraham to give up the very thing that the promises of God were contingent upon, his own son? Why does he ask so many of His followers to give their lives for Him in missionary service, to endure trials of many kinds for the sake of His glory?

God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything.

Why? Why? Why?

These aspects of the Christian faith that seem like paradoxes tend to keep us at bay, as we shove these things out of our minds because they seem too difficult to rationalize, too complicated to come to grips with. My eyes are slightly beginning to open (in part because of the work of theologians like Krish Kandiah) to the fact that as we press into these ‘paradoxes’, the beauty of the gospel shines forth and we are led to praise the God who is in the center of the tension.

So I press forward. The verse at the center of this paradox for me is John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Yes, God asks for everything from His followers.

However, this must be understood in light of the gospel truth that God gave everything for His followers.

God sent His one and only son to live the perfect life I could not live, to die the death I deserved, and to rise from the grave three days later to set me free from the power of sin, hell, and death.

You may have heard this gospel message for the first time in reading this blog, or you may have heard it a million times.

Either way, it is the answer to this ‘paradox’. God is trustworthy, in that we know that He is doing all for not only His glory, but our good as well.

Psychopaths and surgeons have something in common – both can inflict considerable pain with a knife, both can cause scarring, loss of limbs and terrible disfigurement. But whereas we would fight off an attack by the psychopath, we would willingly put ourselves under the surgeon’s knife because we trust their expertise and their motives. We recognize that in order to save a life, sometimes pain and loss have to be endured. – Krish Kandiah

To use this analogy, God is not a psychopath. We know that when He goes to work on our lives, it is for our good. The pain caused by His work is for our good. We may not have the privilege of seeing in the moment why the pain is happening, but we can cling to the fact that He is loving and good to us. The Scriptures tell us so.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

We know that we don’t see the whole picture. We also know that God is worthy of trust.

When He asks us for everything, we need to remember that He has given everything for us.

I would like to conclude with another lengthy paragraph from Kandiah’s book:

If God did not withhold even the life of his own Son from us, there can be no doubting the generosity or benevolence of God. The cross of Christ is the place where God dealt with our sin and gave himself up for us. If God loves us this much, we know that anything he does to us or asks us to do for him is not to be taken in isolation, but understood in the context of love. It is through the times of loss and trauma and sacrifice that we can learn most about trust and faith, God’s heartbeat and God’s resurrection power. 

When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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