Where Were You?
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38)
The story of Job predates the Hebrew Scriptures and is probably part of an ancient folk-tale concerning undeserved suffering. Such suffering is an issue with which we all struggle from time to time. Some things just don’t make sense. And when faced with what we perceive as injustice, we cast about looking for someone or something to hold accountable. God is often first on our list for blaming. It seems that is human nature. And the God in the Book of Job does seem culpable. After all, Job’s suffering is the result of a wager between God and Satan. When, very near the end of the story, Job finally expresses his frustration and challenges God, the response is swift and withering. “Where were you???”
But the story of Job is also a cautionary tale about the wisdom of challenging God. For it is true that God is God and we are not. We cannot know the mind of God. Aside from specific actions of cause and effect, we do not know why we suffer. Nor can we assume that God causes or endorses our suffering simply because God does not immediately alleviate it.
So how do we approach God in the midst of suffering and injustice? With humility. As Job hears in chapters 38-41, we have no innate right to call God into question. God is the Creator and Maker of all. But that is not meant to leave us lost in the mystery of suffering in silence. While it is not wise to challenge the Divine, it is a good and proper thing to ask for understanding and knowledge. Most of all, we are to pray for an awareness of the presence of God. Those who are in an intentional and reverent relationship with God know their place in the created order — that of a beloved creature. We are neither the center of universe, nor are we outside the scope of God’s providence. Knowing this can lead us to a place of true humility in which we seek to understand our own suffering, to do our best to alleviate the suffering of others, and to rest in God’s presence no matter what is going on.