Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
November 17, 2019
I learned three important principles about God in my Sunday school, my Lutheran private school, and my seminaries:
1. God all-powerful. Everything is under God’s control, and nothing happens without God’s well.
2. God is just and fair.
3. God punishes the wicked and protects the righteous.
If we apply these three principles on the deadly shooting at the high school in Santa Clarita, California, we conclude the following:1. God as all-powerful did not stop the shooting for a reason we do not know. The shooting was God’s well.
2. God is just and fair. According to God’s wisdom, God sees the shooting as fair and just.
3. God used the shooter to kill the 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy because they offended God. The shooter was nothing but God’s instrument to execute justice. I hope no one would say such a thing to the family and friends of the victims.
If we do not hold God responsible for this tragedy, we might say to the families of the victims the following:
- God has a hidden purpose.
- Suffering itself will turn out to be good for us.
- Suffering is a test.
- Death leads us and our loved ones to a better place.
- You didn't pray hard enough.
- Someone more worthy was praying for the opposite result.
When we experience a small or big crisis, we need a reason to explain it. We need somebody to blame. We need to feel that we are still in charge of our circumstances. Job protests this theology because he perceives himself as a pious man. So he complains that his suffering is an injustice from God. He tries to make sense of his misery.
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is a book written by a distinguished conservative Rabbi, Harold S. Kushner. He wrote his book in reaction to personal tragedy. His son had premature aging, which led to his death. His book is a reflection on the book of Job. He sold millions of copies and was translated into many languages.
In his book, Rabbi Kushner “lets go of the notion that God is all-powerful in favor of the notion that God is good.” That might be hard on us to accept. We believe in God who can do anything. Let me tell you, God does not do anything to contradict God’s nature. For example, the universe’s natural law like disease, hurricane, and earthquake are the consequence of natural law. God does not send cancer or kill people. The natural law that God creates does not want God to always intervene for moral reasons. Job has to learn this lesson. He must learn that his suffering is a consequence of natural law, not a punishment. Bad and good people suffer from natural law. The best example is death. Good and bad people die.
Another critical point is that God creates us with free will. We have the freedom to choose good or bad. If God continually intervenes in our will and makes us choose only good, then we do not have free will and we cease to be humans. We become like animals following our instinct. This is also another lesson Job needed to learn from God.
As human beings, we need to have a reason for everything around us. We need to make sense of pain and suffering. Knowing the purpose will not change the reality of your pain and sorrow. But you have our Lord Jesus Christ, who will comfort you. He can help you step-by-step to help you to continue your life and to make it through.
Kushner points to us the right question “"All we can do is try to rise beyond the question 'why did it happen?' and begin to ask the question 'what do I do now that it has happened?'" [Kushner, page 71]. You have the right to be angry at God. Our Lord Jesus welcomes your honest feelings. But after you complain, ask him to give you the strength and the faith to make it through.
You might not be able to control the forces that make you suffer, “but we can have a lot to say about what the suffering does to us, and what sort of people we become because of it” (Kushner 64). This is another lesson for Job to learn.
Eventually, Job says his famous words
In chapter 42:4-6
4 Hear now, and I will speak;
I will ask, and You will inform me.
5 I had heard You with my ears,
But now I see You with my eyes;
6 Therefore, I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes.
The traditional interpretation understands these verses to mean Job’s repentance. But repent is too strong for The Hebrew word נָחַם (nacham) and leaves a false impression. This is not the typical Hebrew term for “repentance.” In fact, these verses do not indicate repentance at all. The Hebrew word נָחַם (nacham) appears six times in the book of Job and in each time means, “to comfort.” Job in chapter 42:6 is comforted when God finally talks to him directly.
Job takes back his words. He describes himself as dust and ashes, which indicates that Job acknowledges his limitation. Job realizes that he cannot limit God to his inherited theology or put God in a box.
After encountering God, Job understands God differently. His relationship with God is no longer based on his inherited theology but on his personal experience.