Going Out Not Knowing

Reflections on life’s uncertainty and wonder

Why Do Good?

The ethics of Job and the limits of faith.

When our oldest granddaughter, four, came down the stairs on Christmas morning and saw the gifts under the tree, she exclaimed, “We really must have been good!” I love the ethical clarity of childhood. Good is rewarded and naughtiness is, well, not rewarded. The black and whiteness of life seems self-evident.

It reminds me of the Old Testament story of Job. Job is a wealthy man with a large family who is a righteous man, an example to all. Satan, one of God’s minions, challenges God, suggesting that if Job didn’t have it so good, he wouldn’t be such a faithful servant. God, amazingly enough, takes the bait and soon Job is in ruin, his family is dead, his wealth is gone, and he is left sitting in his own ashes.

Along come his friends, each of whom suggests that Job has done something wrong, that he must have been naughty, or else God would never have visited this horror upon him, would never have authored his suffering. The old doing-good-yields-blessings/doing-bad-yields-curses argument. The backbone of Old Testament ethics.

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Much to his credit, Job never wavers in his stance: I have been faithful; I have been a righteous man; I have done nothing wrong.

And so it goes.

Finally, Job questions God directly about why catastrophe has befallen Job; why bad things happen to good people; why God has destroyed him. God responds with shock and awe, proclaiming his greatness as Creator of Everything, You Tiny Nothing!

The interesting point to me is that Job never backs down. He never says, “Gee, I must have forgotten my prayers or overlooked a sacrifice or ignored my neighbor. I guess I must have done something wrong to deserve this.” He stands his ground, maintains his integrity and insists that he has been a good and faithful servant. Of note, while God is dazzling Job with his Greatness, God never challenges Job’s point. God never says, “For My sake, of course you did something wrong!”

Job is restored in the end. But that probably didn’t help him much when it came to the loss of all his children. It probably didn’t take away the sting of being unprotected in the world despite his faith in God.

We are left with an interesting form of ethics. We are here to make good decisions, to do the right thing, to advance justice, to lift up those who have fallen, to walk a mile in others’ shoes. But doing so does not protect us; it does not assure that bad things won’t happen to us. When I was a minister, I often heard people say, “Why has God done this to me; I have done nothing wrong; I have lived a good life.” We grow up with the wrong equation in mind: doing good=God’s blessing and protection. The true equation is: doing good=doing good. Faith may give us the courage to do good, but faith is not an insurance policy, it is not a guarantee of anything.

You can learn more about Seaburn's novels and other writing by clicking on "more..." under his picture above.

 

 

David B. Seaburn, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., is a writer, marriage and family therapist,
psychologist, and minister who has written four novels and two
professional books.

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