Friday, November 26, 2004

Why Does God Let Good People Suffer?

Many years ago, I stumbled upon a book written by Harold Kushner entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I read it cover to cover in one sitting, then coincidentally found a friend at my front door who was in serious emotional distress. Thanks to Harold Kushner's book, I knew what to say to my friend, . . . and what not to say.

At the heart of Kushner's book is a theodicy based on the Book of Job. Truth be told, I was not particularly impressed by Kushner's theodicy, but this did not detract from the value of his theodicy as a basis for dealing with people experiencing psychic pain. To wit, when people ask, "Why me?" they are not asking for a theological exegesis of the Book of Job; they are crying out for help and comfort.

Comforting people in pain is a tricky business. Feelings of guilt and shame are universal among people who have suffered a tragic loss, and almost anything you say to comfort someone at such times will be construed as an accusation or a moral judgment. Truth be told, it is human nature to blame the victim, so you have to censor even seemingly innocent thoughts when consoling a victim and guard against making pointless accusations and moral judgments.

Consoling victims is all well and good, but once you help a victim find closure through whatever means are available, you are left with the existential angst about why God lets good people suffer. To remedy this angst, I turn (once again) to the Book of Job. On this note, whenever I encounter a self-described Christian, I ask them if they have read the Book of Job, and then I ask them for an explanation as to why an all powerful and benevolent God would allow Satan to persecute someone who was as virtuous and blameless as Job was.

It is rare that I get a thoughtful or considered response to the question of why God allowed Satan to persecute Job, but on occasion I do. On this note, the most intellectually satisfying theodicy that I have encountered to date is found on a Web site published by one Rob Sheldon, The Book of Job: A multiperspectival approach to the problem of evil, the suffering of the righteous, and the justice of God. A theodicy.

Why does God let good people suffer? The short answer is that Satan moves God for permission to persecute the righteous, and God grants Satan that permission to prove that the righteous love God whether or not God rewards them. To wit, Satan throws down the gauntlet, and God picks it up. As I said, this is the short answer. For a more meaningful answer, one must dig much, much deeper.

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