Riddles of Pain

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Clues from the Book of Job.

“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.”

—Job 36:15

“Why me?” Almost everyone asks that question when great suffering strikes. An earthquake in Mexico, a diagnosis of illness—in circumstances large and small we face anguished questions about why God allows pain.

Ironically, suffering Christians often gain help and comfort from the Book of Job. I say “ironically,” because Job actually raises more questions about suffering than it answers. One setting in the book seems perfectly stage managed for an enlightening monologue: God’s personal appearance in chapter 38. But he avoids the question entirely. And all theories about suffering, fine-sounding theories proposed by Job’s friends, are dismissed by God with a scowl.

The Book of Job contains no compact theory of why good people suffer. Nevertheless, this amazing account of very bad things happening to a very good man does give many “over-the-shoulder” insights into the problem of pain. My own study has led me to the principles that follow. They do not answer the problem of pain—even God did not attempt that. But they do shed light on certain misconceptions that are as widespread today as they were in Job’s time.

1. Chapters 1 and 2 make the subtle but important distinction that God did not directly cause Job’s problems. He permitted them, but Satan acted as the causal agent.

2. Nowhere does the Book of Job suggest that God lacks power or goodness. Some people (including Rabbi Kushner in his best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People) claim that a weak God is powerless to prevent human suffering. Others deistically assume that he runs the world at a distance, without personal involvement. But in ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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