by J. Budziszewski
Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can’t sleep, by day I can’t rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?
If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.
Some people think that you don’t. You’re sick, you’re dying, you’ve been deserted, you’ve lost a child, you’re innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. “Don’t question God’s ways; He might hear you.” In my cry of anguish, don’t I want Him to hear me? “It’s probably for your own good.” If I’m to be tormented for my own good, don’t I get a say in the matter? “I’m sure there’s a good reason.” No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is “Where is God?”
Even worse are the people who say, “You’re being unfair to God. It isn’t His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn’t. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow.” No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I’m suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn’t. I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I’m not interested in a God who is “not responsible.”
Some Comforters, Some Religion
Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!
There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.
Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job”s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him. Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all. Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to “curse God and die!”(Job 2:9) Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.
A Torrent of Grief
Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.
This is too much for Job’s friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up. He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.
To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen. One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.
Answer in a Whirlwind
In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn’t pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.
There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn’t because God answers Job’s questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”(Job 42:3).
The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job’s friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn’t Job God’s accuser? Weren”t his friends God’s defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends, God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, “as my servant Job has”! (Job 42:7-8)
What truth could Job have spoken? Didn’t he just admit that he hadn’t known what he was talking about?
Not All Suffering Is Our Fault
Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn’t deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too. Dreadful things happen, things we don’t deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely “explain away” the pain.
In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us “answers” that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God? He is a better answer than the “answers” would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.
You may object, “What good is it for God to visit me? He’s not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer,” but these words are meaningless. God can’t suffer with me. He only watches.”
But there is more. The story of Job is not God’s last word. Nor is it His last deed.
Let’s face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.
One writer describes the problem as a “deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.” What we want to do, we don’t. What we don’t want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us. We may long to be “blameless” like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can’t stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.
Can’t Repair Ourselves
Not only are we broken, but we can’t repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy. What they can’t do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.
Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick. Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.
Did someone say God doesn’t suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us.
Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness — our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.
There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it was for us (Matthew 27:46). All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28).
This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.
Did you read the catch? “If we trust Him.” Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?
Though He had 77 questions for Job, for you He has only one. Will you come?
Copyright 2002 J. Budziszewski. Used by permission. All rights reserved.