Why do good people suffer? Is it a punishment? Or, is there something terribly wrong with this idea?
An ancient text called The Book of Job has a worthwhile take on your suffering. It's message is modern, brilliant and on the money.
Job's story may help you a lot.
Suffering is not Necessarily Punishment: “You get what you deserve” is a universal belief that stands the test of time. Many hold that those who suffer trauma, trials and tribulation are being punished for some wrongdoing. It's a basic equation - and a powerful teaching:
Guilt = Suffering
But, does God have a position on this?
The story of a good man named Job challenges the guilt/suffering paradigm by illustrating that even the most righteous suffer. If suffering is a punishment of sorts, then why should the righteous, who by definition are without (much) sin, be afflicted with trauma?
In short, it asks two important questions:
The Book of Job: When we’re first introduced to Job, we see a good man who’s blessed with prosperity. It seems that Job has it all – he’s wealthy, wise and has a great family.
A Good Person is Hurt: The author of The Book of Job opens with a literary device. He presumes a relationship of sorts between God and Satan.
This dialogue sets up the drama of sufferning undeserved. This is our experience of trauma; and the subject of this important book.
So, Satan wants (God) to test Job’s faith, because according to Satan, Job’s piety can be attributed only to the fact that Job's been blessed with prosperity. According to Satan, Job's a good servant of God because his faith has never been tested.
Ergo, Satan challenges God.
Satan doubts that Job’s piety will endure if Job loses everything. Eventually, God grants Satan permission to test Job’s righteousness.
And so, Job experiences a series of tragic hardships. Job is now a man who suffers terribly at the capriciousness of life. He loses his wife, beloved children and fortune. He’s also afflicted with painful skin ailments. Proving Satan wrong, Job refuses to forsake his belief in God, and never once curses God.
Trite Answers to the Greatest of Questions: Job is then visited by his “friends” who attempt to "console" him with worn theological explanations for his suffering. To my ears, they sound pretty harsh. Among other things, they tell Job:
(If Job were alive today, his "friends" might say; small sins are really big sins for a righteous man, or that Job needs to suffer in order to be cleansed for the next world. Also, harsh arguments.)
But, Job rejects them all, not knowing what he could have possibly done to warrant such incredible suffering. He's in desperate despair. But, Job's also determined - maintaining a belief in his innocence and the justice of his complaints. He demands answers from God Himself.
Job wants to know why bad things happen to good people. He knows it’s not right, and will not accept the saccharine answers of his friends. In fact, Job finds his friends oppressive, if not offensive.
The modern reader identifies with Job. His friends stand for many of the arguments found in contemporary religion. They just don’t hold water in the face of real suffering.
Sadly, little has changed.
God's Response - What It Teaches Us: Job calls upon God - and The Almighty in fact responds!
God comes down from the heavens and rebukes Job's friends and dismisses the underlying sentiment of their consolations. God explains to Job that to us mere mortals sometimes there are no words - no rationalizations - that can make sense of the unhappiness we endure.
God finds such easy answers abhorrent.
God’s response serves as a message that Job (like every other human being) cannot begin to understand the mystery of life and death. We are simply not permitted to understand the way the world (God) works. In this lifetime none of us will never know why terrible things happen to people.
Yet, something of importance has happened. God respects Job.
God actually comes down and responds to a mortal man. Job counts in God’s eyes; and that’s a lot. Job realizes that even if we don’t understand God’s motivations for what happens, we are not alone.
Trauma happnes and we have to accept it. Explanations may make us feel better, but they mislead. Ultimately, Job, like all of us, must endure suffering not knowing why...or if the question even counts.
Once Job accepts this, he somehow manages to live with his trauma without becoming its victim.
A Fairytale Ending: The Book of Job starts with a literary device by inventing a dialogue between Satan and God. It then ends with another literary device, rewarding Job with health, a new wife, children, twice as much wealth. Between these two fairytale like bookends, we just witnessed a great drama about the meaning of suffering. It is a giant piece of literature and a spiritual masterpiece.
So, what’s the moral of the story?
God himself may not come down out of the heavens to respond to you. But, you can bet that you’re not the first and not the last to deal with the kind of trauma you’ve had to endure. Get good treatment. And, make the best life you can.
In my book, Job's worth reading because he stayed honest with himself.
It’s a good policy. And, it makes for the best therapy.