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Lessons In Suffering: The Book Of Job
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The Problem of Righteous Suffering & Satanic Evil
The Old Testament shows a progression of thought regarding the problem of evil and undeserved suffering, from psalms in which the psalmist claims the righteous are protected by God from every kind of evil to the account of Joseph's sufferings in GENESIS, the Book of JOB, and the Book of JEREMIAH, where individuals are seen to wrestle with the problem of evil for those who believe in God.
The Mystery of Suffering & The Search for Meaning
Suffering affects all human beings, but it is a particular problem for those, like Job, who believe in a loving creator God and seek to live a godly life. It is part of the problem of evil (see units on THE PROBLEM OF EVIL and THE ORIGINS OF EVIL). Although it sometimes seems that satan/evil is in control, in a mystery we don't understand it is all ultimately under God's sovereign control. In the first two chapters of Job, and in the Book of Zechariah Chapter 3, we see that satan has to ask God's permission to afflict God's children. (cf Jesus' comment in LUKE 22:31-32: "Satan has asked to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed that your faith will not fail.")
Suffering is a mystery we will never understand this side of heaven. In spite of this, human beings have an innate desire to find meaning in it. The Book of Job is one of the earliest books in the Bible and is part of a literary culture in the Near Middle East of people trying to come to terms with the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Two Groups In Suffering: The Sufferer & The Spectators
The SUFFERER is trying to come to terms with the reality of (a) evil/ suffering and (b) his/her own mortality - involving issues of grief at loss.
The sufferer needs to understand that grief is a normal part of a healthy approach to life and death, and involves working through the stages of grieving one's own mortality outlined by researchers like Elisabeth Kuhbler-Ross - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
The SPECTATORS around him/her are confronted with the sense of powerlessness and helplessness/ isolation of the human condition as well as by questions about their own mortality. The sufferer's family/friends have to deal with the practical challenges of supporting the sufferer through his/her pain/loss and refraining from imposing their own grief on the sufferer by trying to make sense of what is essentially a mystery. As The Book of Job demonstrates, this is more difficult than it sounds.