If you are like me, you have questions when “bad things happen to good people”. Certainly, this was the case for me in the ashes of the fire that destroyed the “holiday house” of our daughter Amelia and her husband Ed on the second day of 2012. The house in Rivermont is no longer.
We had all eaten the required black-eyed peas on the previous day. Amelia and Ed were preparing to leave in a couple of days to go to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta to display their line of Lighthouse Christian Products. About 20 years ago Ed and his brother George fell in love with the Bible. They made a commitment to make and distribute gift products which always contained Scriptures—cups, frames, crosses, plaques, sculptures and books were designed and produced. Seven years ago Amelia left her position as chief gift buyer at Lifeway in Nashville to marry Ed and become a creative force at Lighthouse, thinking up new, helpful products,.
God has blessed their business. Prizes that been given to them for the beauty and the appropriateness of their products. Letters and emails have come praising their work. Things were good. Then tragedy came.
The following Sunday I attended a concert by the Tally Family at Carrollton Baptist Church. One of the songs they sang, My Hope is with the Lord, retold the story of Job. It touched me deeply. Since then I have been reflecting upon the message of Job and its application to the loss in our family. Let me share the lessons that had come to my mind. Not the whole of the truth of Job, but some insights which came to my mind as I processed the scripture and the event.
You will recall that the book begins with Satan accusing Job of serving God so that he might be blessed. God knows that he has blessed Job, but he also knows that Job’s relationship to God is much deeper, richer, and authentic. Apparently, in an effort to show Satan that there is more to Job, and real believers through the ages, than egoistic selfishness he allows Satan to take from Job his “stuff”. (Today’s “prosperity gospel” still hawks the idea that “It pays to serve Jesus.”)
The response of Mrs. Job was to get angry at God and invite God to go the final step and kill him. Of course the Jobs do not know what we know about the conference between God and Satan.
Soon some friends of Job show up. They know the orthodox idea that blessings come as a reward from God, and painful events come as a punishment from God. Consequently, they conclude that Job must have done something very bad since he was being punished so severely. Job and Mrs. Job also knew the orthodox explanation. And centuries later the orthodox view continued to be standard as revealed in several stories from the life of Jesus. (And, unfortunately, it still is.) Certainly, there is truth in the orthodox explanation of pain and suffering, but not always. Some of it is just plan mysterious for us with our limited understanding within space and time. Thus, as is often the case, the traditional understanding of things, while often correct, is not the total understanding.
Job responds (16:5) that if the roles were reverse he would be seeking to comfort, not condemn. Further, he declares that he has an advocate in heaven (16:20) and that one day this advocate/redeemer will come to earth and set things right. We know, of course, that he is referring to Jesus. In his pain Job comes to understand God’s grand design for history—redemption of mankind and of creation.
Job continues as noted in 28:28 with the same conclusion about the meaning of life that Solomon expressed in Eccles. 12: 13-14. Life is about obeying God and keeping his commandments. So, Job can bravely declare that he will serve God, even if God should slay him. Job 13:15.
In time a fourth, younger friend arrives. He is focused on defending God as he knew him. He stresses that God is almighty, wholly other than humankind. True. But without breaking out of the traditional view of life and history, it is not a satisfactory explanation. Job’s condition remains a mystery.
We learn early in our churches that God is Great; that God is Good, that God is Love and that God is Free. Whether or not we understand an event in terms of our worldview is not the criteria of truth. The greatness, goodness, love, and freedom of God are the foundational truths of life. The failure of Job, or his friends, or me, or you to understand the meaning of events in life cannot negate these truths.
In chapter 38 God responds to Job. He speaks of the transcendent power, wisdom, and awareness. He reminds Job of his limited power, wisdom and awareness.
God points out that it is not our place to define justice and to tell God how to do his job.
A climax is reached in 42:1-6. Job repents. Then God responds by asking Job to pray for and make sacrifice for his friends who just did not get it but needed to. And finally, God blessed Job even more than he had done before.
So, while I do not like what happened to the holiday home of Amelia and Ed, nor the next week what happened to Woodrow and Maxine Barton, I trust in the only true God. The God who is great, good, loving and free. The fact that I do not understand these events is not crucial. There is a line from a gospel song which has helped me through such times again and again, “Farther along you’ll understand why”. It may be this will happen during my life time. It may be in eternity, Meanwhile my trust is in God.