The question that we always seem to ask ourselves is, “why?”
“Why did this tragedy happen?”
”Why is there such evil in the world?”
“Why is there so much suffering?”
”Why did this happen to such a good person?”
”Why would God do this?”
”Why would God do this… to me?”
As humans we’ve been asking this for thousands of years. We know this, because archaeologists and historians have dug up ancient documents inscribed in clay tablets and on sheets of papyrus which contain stories which seek to ask and answer these questions.
Tad DeLay—the philosopher and theologian who was with us this summer—has a fascinating point in his book “The Cynic and the Fool.” He says that prior to Jewish Monotheism (the belief in one God), the answers to these questions were different, and less strained. In Pagan Polytheism bad things happened because the gods were warring with each other, and you happened to get caught in the crossfire. Or, a god got jealous, and decided to punish you.
The pagan gods were fickle and naughty, and you never knew what might happen.
But, when Jewish Monotheism came around, there was just one God—who was supposed to be good and righteous. So… when something bad happened… the questions started rising to the surface: Did God allow this to happen? Was God not powerful enough to stop this thing? Is God punishing us? Or, does God not care about our suffering.
The Book of Job, which we’ll be reading for the next four weeks, is the ultimate book in the Hebrew Bible which asks the question: why?
We can tell from textual criticism (the science of looking at ancient texts) that the Book of Job was written in several different eras. There appears to be a very old story that was then revisited and added to. The bulk of what we know as the Book of Job today was composed during the Babylonian Captivity—when the Israelites had their homeland destroyed, Temple leveled, and were taken off to Babylon to serve as slaves.
In the wake of such suffering, can you guess what kind of questions they were asking themselves?
After Job loses everything, he is visited by several friends who try and comfort him at first, but who then want to figure out why this terrible thing has happened to Job. They come up with several of the same answers that we tend to come up with—answers that never seem to hold up to scrutiny.
In the end—Well… I’m not going to give the WHOLE thing away here!—the answer might surprise you.