Meaning Creation

Resilience.   It’s a quality we often marvel at in people who face uphill battles with disease or loss or some other challenge—the ability to bounce back, to work through, to weather the storm with faith challenged but intact. Or even increased.

            We might wonder how they do it.

            One thing is for certain: they don’t face their trials and tribulations alone.

            Let’s take a look at the Book of Job, an Old Testament book that comes right before the Book of Psalms.   Job, as the story goes, was a blessed man, faithful and upright. He had a large family, lots of land and livestock and beasts of burden.

One day, in an avalanche of bad news, Job learns that all his livestock, beasts of burden, servants (save the ones who report the news), and all 10 children have been killed.  Job tears his clothes, shaves his head, and goes into mourning. But he doesn’t curse God.

            The added wrinkle in this story comes from knowing that all this devastation is wrought at the hands of ha satan– “the adversary”- with God’s knowledge.

            This may be one reason why the Book of Job continues to resonate with readers—it is an ancient attempt at wrestling with the age-old questions about suffering, why bad things happen to good people. And why God seems to let it happen.

Returning to the text, Job’s response to the first round of assaults on his happiness is not what the adversary expects (he had suggested to God that Job’s faith, when tested, would crumble quicker than graham crackers under a rolling pin).  So the ante is upped. A second round of affliction is sent Job’s way, this time involving a horrendous malady that covers him with sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

            By the time his three friends arrive, their mission being to console him, Job is the epitome of misery. His friends sit in complete silence for 7 days and nights, speechless in the presence of such ghastly suffering.

            If we fast-forward to the end of the book, we see that Job’s life is restored. He has ten more children, his livestock, beasts of burden, and servants are doubled from what he initially had. And he lives for 140 more years.

            How nice and neat, we might think. But what in the world was the purpose for everything that happened in between?

            Maybe we get hung up because we need a purpose. We need a reason. We need to know that, as depicted in Gary Larson’s classic Far Side cartoon, God isn’t sitting at his computer, ready to hit the “Smite” button. We just have to know that everything will make sense… which it doesn’t and won’t. There are no good reasons why 3-year olds die of cancer (it’s definitely not because God needs another angel in heaven!), or a 31-year old, 8-months-pregnant woman and her 9-year old son get swept away in a flood.            

Our fallen condition, genetics, cause and effect, actions and consequences—these are the dry, mechanical reasons, not to mention valid. But often times we’re struggling at a much deeper level– hoping for a more satisfying explanation so we can find peace?

One might argue that there may not be any satisfying answers to why people suffer, and why God doesn’t seem to be anywhere close by. We might label this a mystery, or a failure, or a ruse.

Answers that satisfy may or may not ever come.

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