Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why suffering?

I’ve been reading the Book of Job, looking for an answer.

This question has been asked by person after person, year after year, struck by fire or flood or disease or war. Why, why, why?

Usually, the question is addressed to God. If humans knew, why would they ask?

And yet we also offer our own answers, and sometimes accept them. Two of the standard answers go like this:

1) It’s our fault. We’ve done something wrong, or our ancestors did something wrong, and we’re being punished by God. This is the view expressed by Job’s friends, who tell him that he’ll suffer no more if he only repents of a wrong he doesn’t know he’s done.

2) It’s God’s fault. Usually for not being there. After all, if there were an all-powerful, good God, he would prevent suffering, right? Those who accept this answer see suffering either as proof of God’s non-existence, or as proof against God’s benevolence. Job’s wife expresses this approach when she tells him to curse God and die, since his suffering is, in her eyes, a demonstration of God’s injustice.

The marvelous thing about the book of Job is that it rejects both these answers. Job is not at fault– he is the perfect and the upright man. Nor is God at fault.

So why does Job suffer? The book that bears his name doesn’t tell us. There is no easy answer. Yet what I know about suffering why I know because of Job and because of Jesus, another sorrowing man who experienced sufferings he never deserved.

Here are some thoughts:

Job’s trials aren’t a way for God to test his faith: God already knows that Job is faithful. But Job’s trials do show Job that his faith is stronger than his suffering, that he can hold fast to his faith that God is good even when life is not.

As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I believe that by suffering the pains of our transgressions, imperfections, infirmities and illnesses Christ became Savior and Redeemer. God sent his only begotten Son to suffer. Why?

I do not know. I will not be truly able to say until I hear an answer from God’s own mouth. But in the meantime I have His scriptures, which say that Christ “will take upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). Which means that Christ’s suffering was also Christ’s education, and what he learned was how to care for us, how best to love us.

And maybe that’s part of why we suffer too. We suffer so that we can be broken out of our own lives, so that we can learn to care for each other, so that with Job we can see God.

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