The recent earthquake in Haiti has raised afresh certain questions that lay simmering in the backs of our minds. Even though the response to the disaster worldwide has been tremendous, the questions still seem not to be clearly answered.
What, if anything did the people of this land do to deserve this/
Why such horrible destruction?
Why did some escape, while others were killed or suffered horribly?
Where is God in all this?
It seems that we all have a desire to make some connection between this disaster and the behavior of those on whom it fell. We seek a sort of cause/effect relationship. We try to tie it together with our sense of justice and a just God. But the pieces don’t seem to fit. On our TV screens we are barraged with images of suffering children, of total chaos, of a city flattened, of 2 million people living in makeshift tents or sleeping on streets, without adequate food or water or medical care. It makes no sense!
One religious leader on TV tells us this should have been anticipated, because 200 years ago Haiti’s leaders made a pact with the Devil and brought a curse. Is that why these children suffer? Are the sins of the fathers being visited on the children? Or is this guy just sticking his foot in his mouth?
Of course these thoughts and questions are not new. They have been the topics of literature, philosophy and religion, I suppose, ever since humankind began.
One early writing on these subjects, although certainly not the oldest, is the biblical book of Job, a book dated by scholars anywhere from 2000 BC to 500 BC, though the late date is improbable. Despite the argument of some that the book is a patchwork pasted together over a number of years, its unity of theme argues otherwise. It is a beautifully written piece of literature, with a narrative beginning and conclusion and poetic discourses sandwiched in between. Its specific genre has been argued: is it a book of philosophy, a drama, a lawsuit or what? It has been called a theodicy. Some have even called it a seminar on suffering.
Whenever it was written, Job seems a very modern book. It deals with the questions on suffering and evil mentioned above. It deals with questions of faith. It also contributes to our knowledge of God, of man, and of Satan – the Adversary. There are lessons to be learned on reacting to suffering and how (not) to counsel the suffering and on whether we are justified in questioning God.
But there is another question that is stated over and over by the various characters in the story:
By Eliphaz (4:17):
“Can a man be right before God?”
“Can a man be clear before his Maker?”
By Job (9:2b):
But how can a man be right with God?”
Eliphaz again (15:14):
“What is man that he should be pure?”
“Or one born of woman that he should be right?”
“How can a man be right with God?”
“And how can one be pure who is born of woman?”
It appears that the whole question of suffering is somehow related by the characters in the story to the question of how one can be right with God. Perhaps this is because they, like many of us today, can’t escape the feeling that a person’s suffering calls into question his relationship with God. Or worse, it calls into question the character of God.