“SHALL NOT THE JUDGE OF THE EARTH DO RIGHT?”
That question is first raised in Genesis 18:25. I raised it when I first began to look more closely at the life of Job, one of the leading figures in the Bible. Everything which could go wrong in his life, did. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Catastrophically. As he sat in the ashes amid the rubble, grief-stricken and mute, he must have wondered: “Why?” From our vantage point, the same question is in our minds, even if we never utter it and surely can never answer it satisfactorily. Job’s wife and four of his neighbors came in to “comfort and Counsel” him and made a tragically bad situation even worse.
“Shall not the Judge of the Earth do right?”* I believe you deserve an explanation for my quoting that sentence at the outset of my study of Job. To state it as candidly as I can, there are lots of questions to which I don’t have an answer. And don’t think anyone on the planet at present does. But I’m also not too proud to scratch my head and say the truth: “I really don’t know.” So, when unanswerable questions are asked I think the best way to answer that question is to ask another: “Shall not the Judge of the Earth do right?”*
Yes. Yes He can, and YES He will. The way the question was posed presupposes the best answer. . . perhaps the ONLY answer to some questions, such as the mystery of suffering, which has strained the brains of the brightest, best and most thoughtful to plant their feet on earth.
Earlier in my life I had the opportunity to work with what was then called the North Carolina Society for Autistic Children. In looking back on the brave, but beleaguered parents and professionals, I felt I was in the company of pioneers. I consider that effort to be one of the most worth-while things I’ve ever done. In those days, the parents’ struggle was made even more painful because many in the medical community embraced the theory of a German scientist (Rudolph Betleheim) who said autism was attributable to “refrigerator mothers.” So, in addition to trying to cope with a mysterious condition (which even to this moment hasn’t a known cause or a cure.), they had the additional burden of others thinking “It’s your fault.” That kind of cruel counsel is not kind! To say the very least, Job’s comforters not only did not help him lighten the burden, they increased it.
Somehow, in my mind I hear the words of a song that, when you don’t know what to say, it’s “best to say nothing at all.” Someone else put it another way: “It’s better to remain silent and let folks THINK you’re ignorant, than to speak and remove all doubt!” In the years I spent in ministry, I felt it was really unwise to try to answer unanswerable questions. In the absence of perfect understanding, I felt the best thing and the wisest thing I could do was just try by my presence to reassure a breaking heart that I cared. And, even though I didn’t pretend to answer “why” bad things happen to good people, I could assure them God does, too.
So, it is with an attempt at honest humility and with limited intelligence that I seek to understand some of the problems raised in the book of Job. Why do good people suffer? ** What is the connection between material success and spirituality? Or “being blessed.” Or “cursed.” Is there any connection at all? Since the question “Why?” seems almost never to be answered, a legitimate question for me becomes “HOW?” How can I bear what seems at times to be unbearable burdens? Do I get ‘on top’ of them or allow them to overflow and overwhelm me? What use can I make of the hard lessons that have lain here for centuries?
If the narrative is true (I do believe it is), there was no apparent reason for the calamities that befell this man. He was good, honest, law-abiding, upstanding citizen and a good family man. Job was rich. Big time Rich. I’m not sure how he acquired his wealth, but he had a lot of “stuff.” He also had a bunch of children. Since I’ve never been rich, it’s hard for me to identify with him. Wealth has a different effect on different people. Some view it as the sine qua non. They think it’s an impressive accomplishment or an achievement. In such a case, instead of being a blessing, it sometimes causes someone to become selfish or greedy, or proud, or self-sufficient. When that happens, instead of wealth being a blessing, it actually becomes a curse.
We place a lot of emphasis on wealth. . .Accumulations and achievements. But if all this is taken from us, what’s left? Elsewhere someone asked “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” *** It seems to me the answer to that hypothetical question is simply: “They KEEP ON BEING RIGHTEOUS.”
That’s what Job did. He was put to the test, and passed it! With no assistance and no encouragement from anyone. One conclusion I’ve drawn from the study of his life and example is: “He made it. And he did so without wimping out. I can do it, too!” The story is not placed here just for us to admire a strong, patient, wise, faithful man. The point of it is that I CAN LEARN LESSONS FROM HIM. AND SO CAN YOU.
Job stood firm in His faith, and integrity. There’s a lot of heavy thinking in the book. In the course of events, the mystery as well as the misery of suffering is explored. I won’t solve the mystery, but perhaps we can together shed some light on some issues.
The questions I’m raising, as with Joseph and Moses, are: How did Job get knocked out of commission? (I use that word for lack of a better one.) What relationship exists between material prosperity and whether someone is “spiritual” or “blessed,” or not? What’s your reaction about what we in grim jest call: “Job’s Comforters?” (Include his wife in that group.) Do you see or hear anything in the book which is key to his “comeback?”
His servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student
* This question was raised very early in Biblical history. No one really knows who the author was (Job, Moses perhaps? I take the Scripture as a unit. There are many writers, but really only one AUTHOR, in my opinion. He doesn’t change his position on a subject simply because the time, or the place, or the personalities change. The question asked so early is certainly a legitimate one to ask here. . . and in similar vexing situations. If that question is answered correctly, other things make sense eventually and the “pieces fall into place.” If it is not answered, then perhaps Shakespeare was right when he wrote life is “a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
** There are some excellent studies on the problem of good and evil, the mystery of suffering, etc. One of the most helpful things I ever read along this line was in a book entitled THE STRONG NAME by James Stewart of Edinburgh. It is now out of print, but for an honest examination of the subject you’ll be hard pressed to find one better.
*** Psalm 11:3
TBC ~to be continued