Job, Evil and an Argument for Faith
by Graham Veale
When God wishes to increase our suffering he sends theologians. At least, this is one lesson Job learned; his infamous comforters were well informed and had undergone deep, mystical experiences. Yet, all their learning taught them nothing. They lacked the wisdom that life requires; they thought that Job’s suffering was a philosophical conundrum and that his questions were academic. So they gave the simplest answer available to them. God punishes the guilty by making them suffer: therefore, Job’s suffering was evidence of guilt.
This is very neat, very tidy and very rational. After all, Job’s comforters could not monitor all his activity. Surely Job had some secret sin that he had not confessed? The reader has a different perspective. Before the comforters arrive, the reader learns that Job had sacrificed for sin and that God had declared him righteous. There are reasons for Job’s suffering – reasons that we will come to. But when Job howled like a wounded animal before the philosophers, he was not asking for answers.
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He suspected that his life was meaningless and so he wished to be erased. He could no longer sense any goodness or joy in creation, so he desperately desired not to exist. What Job needed was reassurance and vindication. He needed to know that God was great enough to defeat evil and he needed God to defend his honour before an accusing world. Job did not deserve to be left alone, without love, comfort and hope. He had lived for God; did he live in a universe in which faithfulness and goodness counted for nothing?
Ancient questions are often regurgitated as modern thinking. Nihilism is alive and well and oh-so scientific. After all, aren’t we merely the products of atoms and molecules and the shuffle of our genes? Isn’t every human, at heart, a selfish-capitalist seeking to maximise gain and minimise loss? If so, there is no transcendent goodness that can redeem suffering. In the trials of life some people are going to get hurt. Some people will be casually eliminated. Deal with it. At least we have the comfort of knowing that the stars can’t last forever, and that life, that titanic waste of time, will be extinguished with their light.
If the universe is to have substantial meaning there must be something greater than the universe. So God intervenes – he must if anyone is to have hope. Job learns, by direct experience, that God is great enough to defeat evil. Then God declares to his accusers that Job’s suffering was not a punishment. In fact, there were deeper reasons for this tragedy. Job is not told these reasons because he does not need to hear them; vindication and comfort are what he requires. Job’s counsellors are not let in on the reasons because they are not wise enough to understand them; they need to learn humility before they can teach others about God…