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The Story of Job for Today's Humanity

THE STORY OF JOB FOR TODAY’S HUMANITY 

Implications of the Story of Job for Christian Witnessing

INTRODUCTION

I.   Since Christian witnessing consistently faces the issue of suffering in human life directly or indirectly, it becomes necessary to learn about this subject that has been vexing humanity since the dawn of human life.  This has been a vexing but unresolved issue since the dawn of human appearance in the Mesopotamian region.  Ancient Sumerians of this region whose religion thought is said to be the theological foundation for all the major future religions, grappled with this issue – the  ‘human suffering and faith in god’ and wrote their first treatise on this in the poetical form. It was about the story of a righteous man (like Job) who stayed steadfast in faith and love of his god through horrible experience of an unjustified loss, affliction and suffering [‘Man and his God.’ 140 lines; J.B. Prichard, ed., vol. II, 1975. Later came another one, on the same theme, named as the Babylonian Theodicy (ibid.).  Third one with some variation also existed at that time - ‘I will Praise the Lord of Wisdom’ (ibid.).]  These were (about) 2,500 years before Job of the Bible was composed. Yet, Job of Uz was also from the same ancient Sumer, - the land of Noah and Abraham.  Erudite leaders might be acquainted with stories similar to Job in many other religious cultures.

     Today’s humanity continues to suffer; and as it does, it brings God into the picture either making God (or, to many, their ‘personal’ god) responsible for their trouble or as the only One to whom a person should turn for comfort.  So, ‘suffering’ and ‘God’ are inalienably linked in the thought of the life of pleasure or pain.

     When Christians preach Christ that came into the suffering world himself as the ‘suffering man,’ the issue has come to the fore.  It asks, Why God didn’t eliminate suffering, rather sent His Son into suffering world to go through it? Furthermore, it asks, Would faith in Jesus who suffered remove my suffering?  After all, implicitly every religion is pragmatic. It seeks to believe that faith in God removes every unfavorable and painful experience and ushers in favorable returns. Humanity at large believes that God came in many forms and manifestations to help the suffering humanity. Its various religious writings, myths and stories attest to such claim.

     Christian evangelist or a preacher enters into such world of people of diverse gods and faiths. In his preaching, he is literally asking these people to reject their faith and come to Christ - (in their reckoning) into a new religion - Christianity.  They come with the same anticipatory (“my god must provide”) attitude they held in their erstwhile faith. This cannot be obliterated by baptism. At the time when troubles increase, the new believer comes back to the preacher seeking relief from hardship in life that is hitting him in many forms. He asks, “What did Jesus do to me?” “Why did he not prevent this hardship/loss/suffering/disease/tragedy, etc. and protect me?” “Why did this new god, new religion, not help me?”  The preacher tries his best to provide answer in terms of “faith” “strong faith” “prayer on your knees, “fasting prayer” etc.  This would be our usual answers. Then, he offers a good prayer and encourages the believer with some Scriptural references. This is the best one could do to address the issue of suffering. Through all this the question, “Why this new God Jesus Christ couldn’t help me” remains in the mind of some new converts un-erased.

     This is prevalent among the Christens as well; only their expression could be different: “Have strong faith,” “pray more” “do fasting prayer” “send prayer requests to prayer groups” “so and so has powers, send your request to him/her to pray” etc.  These reflect the same issue of anticipatory attitude in the faith in God we believe and worship. It is not wrong to pray seeking God’s help in our life of trouble.  But the point is different in this study.

     In any religious faith, every man and woman perpetually ask God for help in time of trouble or need; and not a single day passes without troubles.  As such, in Christian witnessing the issue of suffering and pain comes, if not at the time of the hearer hearing the message, but certainly when life goes on. Believe it or not, even at the time of him hearing our message, he keeps in mind a hope of this “new god” being useful, a beneficent one.   This means that every preacher of the word of God invariably, and most of the time, faces people that experience hardships. All preachers must be well informed on the subject in order to be truthful about suffering as a reality of life and the faith they preach.  

    The Bible doesn’t address this issue as a subject. We read about hardship in life as an experience of peoples, nations and persons. Some of Israel’s experiences of suffering appear in the Bible with graphic description. Psalms is a great compendium of hymns and prayers on suffering.  Psalms also recount the ‘suffering as God’s punishment’ on the people Israel for some reasons such as disobedience to God’s Law, turning to other gods, making deals with other nations without God’s permission, and so on.  Such punishments were also meted out to some nations that were involved with Israel. These give us to perceive that God is also behind much suffering of humanity.  Not having a direct answer from God, we begin to wonder if God was causing suffering so that people may learn lessons of life.

     There is a subtle twist to this issue as well.  In God promising to bless Israel if the nation obeyed and followed His Law, and to punish with suffering if it disobeyed, the notion exists that if a person or a people left their God (personal god), he would punish by inflicting suffering. Man could take the inference from this as, good faith and good religious practice must necessarily bring favors, keeping pain and suffering away.  Digression from this therefore, means God hitting with suffering. The issue in this is, ‘how much suffering is caused by God, and how much suffering is by other reasons.’   This is the perception of the entire humanity then and now.  Yet, humanity knows that reasons for human suffering are not entirely of God; other reasons also cause suffering. And, those ‘other reasons’ are human actions; they bring suffering on itself.

     The story of Job is the only work in the Bible that sheds some light on this complex issue of human suffering. There are more issues in Job’s story than meet the eye. If we separate and address them, we cover a lot of ground on human life’s experience.

      Some general questions emerge from the study of Job.  These are from the human perspective: Why should there be so much suffering in the world? Why should some righteous and godly people suffer while the ungodly and evil people prosper? Why was a righteous person put to test in the sight of all the people?  Why shouldn’t there be instantaneous justice on the ungodly and the wicked? Why does God stay silent to the entreaties of the suffering (some)? Why did God remain away and silent from such a righteous Job? (- by God’s own admission).  Was Job’s a ‘test’ or ‘punishment;’ if so, how? How can we understand and describe God’s silence on Job? Above all, from God’s point, “What is the purpose of Job’s suffering as God intended?”

      Based on Job’s story, other issues also emerge as questions:  Who is a righteous person? What determines righteousness? How to discern the work of the Devil from the talk of Job’s friends? Is it possible to be in pure faith while suffering as Job did? How far had Satan succeeded in his scheme? Does hardship on a grand scale happen to any of us through a God-Satan deal as it happened to Job’sWhat lessons do we learn from Job’s suffering? What implications have these issues for our life today, in this kind of world we live? What issue does our message or gift of a Bible to the non-believers involve? Have we, as evangelists, considered that these issues are possible in the mind of the non-believers when they are processing the message we gave them? Are we prepared to answer sensibly (with theological sensibility) when they seek our help? [Theological sensibility is theological understanding and explanation.  It is not quoting verse after verse from the Bible to prove ‘our’ point. We are called to answer ‘their’ doubts.]

      All these issues are addressed in the articles and treatises on Job.  Not all issues are treated and answered separately. Some are; yet some are discussed within the body of some pertinent articles.  Theological reasoning - using the Divine Virtue as the measure, scrutinizes the issues; teaches how to understand and verbalize; gives those as tools to use in witnessing ministry among those who are troubled by the issue of suffering in life.

To be continued  

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Last modified on Thursday, 12 July 2012 00:56

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About Path of the Divine Virtue

Some understanding of the term *The Divine Virtue is necessary. The series of articles on Biblical themes, study of the biblical topics (Bible Study), topics on Christian witnessing, theology, understanding the Bible Read More..

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