The Silence of God and the Problem of Suffering

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The Silence of God and the Problem of Suffering

My new book, Job and the Problem of Suffering, will be published soon. The book is based on a series of studies I taught at “The Growing in Grace” class at The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois. Below is an excerpt from the book.

In dealing with suffering, Job’s friends offer insights on how to be present with those who are suffering. Job’s friends “met together to go and console and comfort him” (Job 2:11). They were deeply moved and touched by Job’s suffering: “they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads” (Job 2:12). Their immediate response to Job after their emotional responses was to sit with him in silence. This demonstration of empathy was the most important thing they did in ministering to their suffering friend.

Job’s friends, after seven days and nights of sitting with Job, ended their silence. But, as Anderson writes, the friends, “trying to apply their best insights to help him to spiritual recovery, unintentionally add to his pain. What he needs is compassion, not advice” (Anderson 1992:187). There is much truth in what the friends said. Their speeches reflected the traditional wisdom of their day, but those truths did not cover all that was happening to Job, and the truth they spoke did not apply to their friend. But “Job’s friends cannot perceive the innocence of his heart as God does; they cannot detect the good will of God, nor can Job. They must do their best with what theology they have, as we all must” (Anderson 1992:187).

Job’s friends did not offer Job words of comfort that were intended to help and uplift their suffering friend. They were religious persons, but true religion is faith focused on God’s grace and mercy. What Job’s friends had to offer was not religious comfort, but merely an impersonal philosophy and their philosophy left no room for God’s grace. They failed to meet Job’s needs as he dealt with the tragedies that had devastated his life.

Job needed the sympathy of his friends. His friends offered argument. Job needed understanding. His friends offered religious platitudes. Job desired the encouragement of his friends. His friends offered words of condemnation. In their dialogue with Job, the friends used cold logic to address Job’s deep personal needs.

Job’s words to his friends reveal how much hurt their words had caused him. Job said to his friends, “My close friends detest me. Those I loved have turned against me. . . . Must you also persecute me, like God does? Haven’t you chewed me up enough? Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for the hand of God has struck me” (Job 19:19–22 NLT).

Although Job’s friends’ words caused more pain and more doubt than Job had already experienced, Job’s dialogue with his friends helped Job work through his own doubts and anger. Their words also helped Job move through his grieving process.

In future posts, I will provide a few more excerpts from the book.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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