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The Question of Suffering


The Question of Suffering

Eric Muhr

by Eric Muhr

I’ve been thinking about the Bible. I’ve been thinking about the book of Job.

Because the story of Job is the oldest book in the portable library we call the Bible, I’ve wondered if maybe this story might be THE story. I’ve wondered about whether the other books could be commentary – a working through and a working out of the themes introduced in this first story, the story of Job: a story of suffering.

Unexpected. Undeserved. Unexplained.

Why is there suffering? The book of Job takes up quite a bit of space discussing the problem. Each of the friends introduces an idea as to the source of suffering and how we should respond. Job argues. The friends argue back. But it seems that suffering is not the moral – only the motivator. Without suffering, Job – a stand-in for humanity – might have no reason to consider his existence.

If the oldest book of the Bible gives us a frame for reading and understanding the rest of scripture, then suffering is the problem.

What, then, is humanity’s purpose? Job’s call for vindication implies that we have a need to know God, to see God, to speak to God. When God shows up to speak with Job, God doesn’t answer Job’s questions. But in the end, Job seems satisfied. The book implies that it is God’s presence that is important.

If the oldest book of the Bible gives us a frame for reading and understanding the rest of scripture, then humanity’s central need is MEANING – something we find through an experience of the presence of God.

And then, this: “Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

I was taught to read the Bible in order to find answers to questions. Who am I? Why am I here? How ought I to live? But the Bible isn’t a collection of answers. It’s not a map or a constitution, a list, a handbook, or an instruction manual. The Bible is a set of questions. Job asks why, and God responds:

Who told you that you were naked?
Why are you angry?
Where is your brother?
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?
But what about you? Who do you say I am?
Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?
Friends, haven’t you any fish?

I’ve been thinking about Job, and I’ve been thinking about questions, especially the question of suffering. And I’m realizing that as much as I always thought suffering was a question for God. It might be God’s question for me. It might be God’s question for us.