Job: Addressing the problem of evil and suffering

Imagine that you live in Metropolis, and that you are on a first name basis with Superman.  You live on the 33rd floor of a high rise.  One night you wake up and to your horror you realize that your building is on fire.  You open the window and are elated when you see Superman, on an adjacent building watching your high rise go up in flames.

“Help me Superman!” you shout.  “My baby is in the next room and I can’t get to the fire escape!  We are trapped!”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot help you,” Superman replies.

You are shocked to realize that this time, for some reason unknown to you, Superman is not helping you in your time of need.

When faced with this scenario most people respond that Superman is one of three things.  Either he 1) isn’t super, or 2) doesn’t care, or 3) is a bad person.  This situation is used by many to describe what is commonly referred to as “the problem of evil”.

The problem of evil is considered by many to be the ultimate test of any theological system. (Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, New York: Schocken Books, 1981, 6.)

Most people make the following 3 assumptions when addressing the problem of suffering and evil in the book of Job:

A.  God is all-powerful and causes everything that happens in the universe.

B.  God is just and fair, and stands for people getting what they deserve- the good are blessed and the wicked are punished.

C.  Job is a good person.

When Job starts to suffer, we cannot make sense of all three propositions.  We can now only affirm any two by denying a third.  Job’s friends choose to deny proposition C – stating that Job has something he needs to repent of to come back into favor with God (see Job 8:2-8, 20).  Job struggles with prop. B – blaming his horrible state on the chance that perhaps God is not always just (Job 10:6-7, Job 42:1-3).  The Lord explains to Job (and us) that both approaches are wrong – see Job chapters 38 and 39.

How is the problem of evil resolved in Job?  The answer is that it is not!  God doesn’t give any direct explanation in the Book of Job.  Instead, He asked Job a series of enlightening questions.  The gist of his queries was, “Do you have enough knowledge to counsel Me on how to run the Universe?  He then gave Job a vision that thoroughly convinced him that God knows what He is doing and that he, Job, is wholly inadequate to the task of second-guessing God (see Job 3839, 42:5) [Richard R. Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God, p. 55]

Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated: Several cautionary notes are necessary- even urgent.  We may be surprised at the turn of events, but God in His omniscience never is.  He sees the beginning from the end because all things are, in a way which we do not understand, present before Him simultaneously in an “eternal now.”  Further, the arithmetic of anguish is something we mortals cannot comprehend.  We cannot do the sums because we do not have all the numbers.  We are locked in the dimension of time and are contained within the tight perspectives of this second estate. (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, p. 37)

I like Elder Maxwell’s quote for several reasons.  The Old Testament is filled with examples where the Lord takes a prophet out of the dimension of time and brings him into the heavenly council, showing him events both past and future as if they are happening in the now.  The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence, or ever “the morning stars sang together” for joy; the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal “now.” (History of the Church, 4:597.)

Because the Lord sees us as we will be, whatever price we pay, whatever suffering we endure will be, in the end, part of the process of our becoming like unto Him.  Part of our discussion we had in many of the classes centered on this idea of God intervening on our behalf.  We discussed times in scripture where there is record of Him preventing harm and times when He allows his servants to suffer.  Just about every class identified Abinadi as one example of a time when the Lord allowed a righteous person to suffer great torment.  The greatest example of all in our discussion is the Savior Jesus Christ.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: “The wounds in [the Lord’s] hands, feet, and side are signs that in mortality painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect, signs that tribulation is not evidence that God does not love us. It is a significant and hopeful fact that it is the wounded Christ who comes to our rescue. He who bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love, the emblems of humility and forgiveness is the Captain of our Soul. That evidence of pain in mortality is undoubtedly intended to give courage to others who are also hurt and wounded by life, perhaps even in the house of their friends” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 259).

From Orson F. Whitney we read the following: “When we want counsel and comfort, we do not go to children, nor to those who know nothing but pleasure and self-gratification. We go to men and women of thought and sympathy, men and women who have suffered themselves and can give us the comfort that we need. Is not this God’s purpose in causing his children to suffer? He wants them to become more like himself. God has suffered far more than man ever did or ever will, and is therefore the great source of sympathy and consolation. . . .There is always a blessing in sorrow and humiliation. They who escape these things are not the fortunate ones. ‘Whom God loveth he chasteneth.’ . . . Flowers shed most of their perfume when they are crushed. Men and women have to suffer just so much in order to bring out the best that is in them” (Elder Orson F. Whitney, “A Lesson from the Book of Job,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1918, 7).

The Problem of Evil & Other Suffering Quotes

  1. More Equality in This Testing
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About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
This entry was posted in Endurance, Happiness, Jesus Christ, Justice, Old Testament, Suffering, Theodicy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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