Monday, August 31, 2009

Is God Really Good?

As I said when I started this blog, I hope to address some of the common objections to Christianity. Today I will be talking about the Book of Job and about the problem of evil. I don't claim to have an answer to this age-old dilemma. I'm simply going to present what the bible has to say about the matter.

"Is God Really Good?" is the central question raised by the book of Job. This book presents us with a situation that seems completely unreasonable. From the beginning of the story we know that Job is an upright and blameless man, entirely devoted to God. As the story progresses Job faces a series of incredibly harsh trials. First he losses all that he has, including his servants and children, and then he is afflicted with a terrible disease. For those who believe in God's goodness, the story is completely outrageous and it forces us to face our doubts.

In the story we see how Job's friends respond to Job's suffering. When Job complains that his situation is miserable and that God is being unfair, they respond by telling Job that it must be his fault. They believe that God is just, and they know that Job is suffering terribly, therefore they conclude that Job must have committed some secret sin that warrants the punishment he is receiving. Their understanding of God does not allow for someone who is as righteous as Job is to suffer as horribly as Job has.

Job's friends are very reasonable people with a very reasonable kind of faith. The problem is that when they are confronted with an unreasonable situation, they behave very unreasonably.

I'd like to compare Job's response to his suffering, with the response of Job's friends to Job's suffering. Job's friends say that God is righteous, so they accuse Job. Job maintains that he is righteous, so he accuses God. I think Job's response is the better of the two. Job's response offends God, but the response of Job's friends offends both God and Job.

There is one character who speaks in the Book of Job whom God does not rebuke in the end and that is the character of Elihu. Elihu rebukes Job for making accusations against God and he reminds Job of God's glory, power and righteousness. He doesn't claim that God's punishment of Job is just, but he does say that God is just.

I don't think that Elihu's response is perfect. I certainly wouldn't use it as a model for grief counseling, but I think he does show us a better way to respond.

When we see suffering in the world, there is a temptation to provide an explanation. When we give in to this temptation we become caught on the horns of a dilemma: either these people who are suffering are evil, or God is evil. We become caught in this trap because we are trying to provide a reasonable explanation to an unreasonable situation.

This is why I think that the book of Job is helpful. By presenting us with an unreasonable situation, the book of Job forces us to confront our doubts about God's goodness. And in the end, the only way we can believe in anything is by confronting, and answering, our doubts. Reading Job's story gives us an opportunity to be open about our doubts and see if God will answer them.

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