Friday, December 2, 2011

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4)

Job (in the Book of Job) is a righteous person, and God acknowledges his faith. Job lives a good life with blessings of children, wealth, and so forth, until one day he loses everything including his children. His body is soaked with skin disease. Satan bets against God, saying that if the blessings of Job are taken away from him, he will betray God. But God does not agree with Satan and goes on to bet with him. 

So the test begins. Virtually, Job loses everything, all his children suddenly being killed one after another. Even his wife asks him to die after cursing the God he trusts. He is in total despair. His friends ask him to repent his sins so that God will restore him. But Job does not agree to that conventional wisdom or theology that bad fortune is the result of sin.

Even though he is not perfect, Job does not deserve such a horrendous suffering and the loss of everything. He wants to confront such a cruel or unjust God. He laments even his birth being born with the flesh. The most difficult part of his suffering is he does not receive a right response from God. Long time of dialogues with his friends and the time of suffering persist. Yet there are no satisfactory answers.

Finally, God makes answer to Job out of the storm-wind. Job wants to hear answer regarding his questions, for example: Why do good people suffer? Is God just? Instead, God basically says, "Shut up" (this is my summary). God reminds Job of his mortality and limitations in that he cannot comprehend God. God's counter-question is just too cruel to Job in a way: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4).

The idea here is that "Job, you are unable to know why you suffer. You are mortal. Stay where you are. I will be with you when you go through a long deep dark tunnel." Perhaps Job realizes his futile attempt to know all about his suffering or pain.

So he never knows the reason why he suffers. Suffering is the dark side of creation. It just happens without causality, as the wind blows from nowhere. Pain and suffering blow from nowhere. If this is a reality, the more important task is how to live with it. That is what the book of Job is about. Job endured through all of this time, searching for a deep truth in vain.

A paradoxical truth is, however, that Job maintains his faith in God even though he does not hear a good answer that expects. What is the basis of his faith then? In my view, his faith has to do with acknowledging human mortality and God's sovereignty. He maintains faith not because he received something good (like blessings or changes in his current life) from God but because God is the owner of his life and God is bigger than his thought.

Even though we don't understand why we suffer, we cannot give up our lives because we are so limited to know everything about us and God. That is where faith begins. Ultimately, we are not owners of our lives. So we cannot give up. Still we have to trust in God because we are his creation and there is no other way than trusting in God. Giving up is not a good option. That is who we are and how we live. That is what faith can do. But still the hard questions remain to be answered: What is the meaning of life in that difficult situation? Why do we suffer? That is a mystery that we never can answer.

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