OT SS Lesson #32 -- originally posted at Mormon Matters
After the Satan figure is given permission to afflict Job as a test of his faithfulness, three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to visit him, sitting with him in silence for seven days. On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning a conversation in which each of the four men shares thoughts on Job’s afflictions and adversity in general in profound poetic statements. This is a lengthy dialogue between characters who alter their moods, question their motives, change their minds, and undercut each other with sarcasm and innuendo. Although Job comes closest to doing so, no single character articulates one true or authoritative opinion. Each speaker has his own flaws as well as his own lofty moments of observation or astute theological insight. I believe the Book of Job is a jumping-off point for the reader to deeply explore questions of theodicy and the difficulty of understanding why an all-powerful God allows good people to suffer.
Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to exhibit more blameless behavior. Bildad surmises that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received. A character who is introduced later in the book, Elihu, also assumes that Job must be wicked to be suffering as he is, and he thinks that Job’s excessive talking is an act of rebellion against God. The interaction between Job and his friends shows the folly of trying to understand God’s ways. The reader is privy to the information that Job has been righteous and the adversity comes from a bargain that has been made between God and Satan. The fault of Job and his friends lies in trying to explain the nature of God with only the limited information available to human knowledge, as God himself notes when he roars from the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkness counsel / by words without / knowledge?” (38:2).
In spite of the criticism of his friends, Job believes that there is a “witness” or a “Redeemer” in heaven who will vouch for his innocence (16:19,19:25). After a while, the upbraiding proves too much for Job, and he grows sarcastic, impatient, and afraid. He laments the injustice that God lets wicked people prosper while he and countless other innocent people suffer. He feels that wisdom is hidden from human minds, but he resolves to persist in pursuing wisdom by fearing God and avoiding evil.
- Why DOES a loving and an all-powerful God allow human suffering?
Here is an explanation I heard in Houston, Texas, and I think it has a lot of merit. It’s distinctly LDS, it’s very simple, and it combines several of the common theodicies.
The Good Adversity
The first type of adversity one might experience can be said to be “good.” It is the kind of adversity that exists to strengthen the human soul. It may be a result of living in a fallen world. Just as a corollary to living we knock up against all kinds of adversity, such as natural disasters. I would add that not all people will choose to use this type of suffering as a chance to grow, but that is its purpose, and theoretically it is possible to overcome, and to learn from it.
The Bad Adversity
Another type of adversity that exists in the world comes as a result of bad choices that we make. This goes along with the scripture “Wickedness never was happinesss.” In general, right living leads to peace, prosperity, and happiness, while wickedness, evil, and sin will tend to cause misery and pain. Note that this principle is not the only factor leading to suffering. That is why it may appear that a righteous person is experiencing much more adversity than his/her wicked neighbor.
The Ugly Adversity
Ugly adversity occurs when another person’s free agency conflicts with someone else’s life. God allows us to make our own life choices and rarely interferes. Thus innocent humans may suffer as a result of someone’s poor choices. Latter-day Saints believe passionately that free agency is a vital ingredient for attaining sanctification. Thus ugly adversity must exist, causing unneeded suffering. Why did God organize the world this way? Because without choosing freely we could never develop the qualities necessary for godhood.
Now it’s your turn! How do you explain the problem of evil and adversity in the world? Could an omnipotent God have created free beings that were already morally perfect, thus eliminating the need for adversity? Does the Book of Job illuminate or obscure our understanding of this principle? How do you understand and come to terms with adversity in your life?