This week, our congregation begins a multi-week study of Job. The reading for July 17 will be Job 1: 1-22, which lays out the plot of the story: Job is prosperous, and Satan has a proposal for God, to see how much heartache Job can take. The rest of the story may be familiar to us: Job suffers many trials and tribulations, while God and Satan look on. Job's friends and families get a voice. What will happen?
Before we get too far into the story, let's talk about some basics. We will get into spiritual trouble if we take this story literally. Remember that Lutherans believe in the truth of the Bible, while acknowledging that it may not be a literal truth or a historic truth. What is the truth of this story?
Many of us may have felt as if God--or Satan--plays a game of chance with our lives. I've heard more than one parishioner tell another that if we just pray enough, God will solve the thorny issues which plague us. We've been told, by well meaning people, that God will never send us more than we can stand--but that's theologically problematic. If I'm a weaker person, will I avoid suffering? No.
We may feel as if supernatural beings have taken bets on our faithfulness and sent us affliction, but do we really believe in that sort of universe? That kind of universe scares me far more than one built on free will and humans living with the consequence of their choices--although that one scares me far more.
The book of Job addresses the issue of human suffering, but does it really set out to explain the cause of human suffering? Perhaps it tells us about the human response to human suffering.
Most of us will suffer when we've done nothing to deserve that suffering--the book of Job explores that all-too-human situation. But the story doesn't tell us that we suffer because God has whims and God sends us suffering to see how we'll react--that's not the God that we have come to know through the person of Jesus. That's not the God we see throughout most of the Bible.