We come next to Ehrman’s chapter, “Does Suffering Make Sense?” In it he divides the book of Job into two separate answers and concludes, no surprise, that neither of them succeeds in answering our many questions.
Ehrman even argues that the book of Job has two separate authors, but that’s just an assertion largely based on the fact that Job begins and ends with prose and the rest is poetry.1 But, whether Job had one author (as I believe), or two, doesn’t change whether the answers add two more Biblical answers to why we suffer, which is what Ehrman’s book is about.
So let’s look at each answer individually. Today’s post will address Ehrman’s first answer, which he entitles, “The Folktale: The Suffering of Job as a Test of Faith” (164). This post is longer than most because the ideas are extremely important but complex.
The book of Job begins by telling us that Job is wealthy, successful, renowned, has a happy family, and fears God. But next we are told about a dialog in Heaven where the angels and Satan present themselves before the Lord. But then God asks if Satan2 has noticed Job: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8). But Satan replied, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:9-11). In other words, Satan proclaims that the only reason that Job serves God is that God has given Job everything that Job desired. Satan then says that if God takes away what Job desires, that Job will curse God to His face.
Ehrman says, “The overarching view of suffering in this folktale is clear: sometimes suffering comes to the innocent in order to see whether their pious devotion to God is genuine and disinterested” (167). So far, so good. But then Ehrman says: “God did this to him in order to win a bet with Satan…. Anyone else who destroyed all your property, physically mauled you, and murdered your children—simply on a whim or a bet—would be liable to the most severe punishment that justice could mete out. But God is evidently above justice and can do whatever he pleases if he wants to prove a point” (168). Ehrman concludes his discussion by saying, “As satisfying as the book of Job has been to people over the ages, I have to say I find it supremely dissatisfying. If God tortures, maims, and murders people just to see how they will react—to see if they will not blame him, when in fact he is to blame—then this does not seem to me to be a God worthy of worship. Worthy of fear, yes. Of praise, no” (172).
Before I answer Ehrman’s ire, I need to point out that what I’m about to say isn’t how I would proceed with someone who has just suffered a major loss. The Scripture tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and that should be our first response. But, after that, after some time has passed, there is much to say as to what God’s doing in the universe.
First, let’s remember that since the fall of Adam the mortality rate remains at 100% and God didn’t promise us a long life here. As I’ve said before, barring the Lord’s return, only one thing will prevent you from watching everyone you know die from murder, accident, or disease and that will be your own death from murder, accident, or disease.
Second, although it is true that God allowed Satan to cause Job’s suffering, God himself didn’t torture, maim, or murder. This goes back to the whole free will issue that I’ve previously discussed: God is either going to allow hateful creatures to harm others or He is not. It is true that he could stop creatures from ever harming each other but He would certainly be limiting, if not annihilating, their freedom. (How many are hurt by adultery? Consider how changed our world would be if God made adultery impossible.)
Third, consider the context. From what we can see in Scripture, Satan thought he deserved more than he was getting and so Satan rebelled against God and tried to take it for himself. Satan was able to get other angels to join his rebellion and so “there was war in heaven” (Rev.12:7). Ponder the significance of “there was war in heaven.” What’s God to do about that? How does God respond to the rebellion of these free beings? Well, God created this relatively puny race of humans, who now live amidst difficulty and death, and as these puny creatures honor the Creator they justify the judgment of Satan and the likeminded. Apparently, then, Satan’s modus operandi is to accuse puny yet God honoring humans of not measuring up—that’s why he’s called “the accuser.” Come to think of it, many non-Christians love to accuse Christians too—it makes them feel that their own judgment is unjustified.
And that brings us to Job. Satan argued that Job wouldn’t honor God if God weren’t making his life easy. After all, if Satan was able to prove that Job wouldn’t honor God if God thwarted Job’s desires, then Satan could argue to heavenly beings that God demands too much; that God is unfair. If that were the case, then Satan could argue that God had unfairly judged Satan. But as God’s servants, like Job, continue to honor God through disease and death; they then justify God’s judgment of Satan and others who rebel against God. That is why Christians who remain faithful to the end will not only judge the world but judge angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3). I’ve previously posted on this.
Fourth, perhaps the most important fact about this life is that there is infinitely more than this life. Those who don’t understand eternal life will never understand why God allows evil any more than a child who doesn’t understand simple addition could understand calculus. But if our life here is just the beginning of life forever, then eternity will dwarf our suffering to insignificance.
2 Cor. 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
- Look, I’ve written a little poetry and a lot of prose and I’ll bet if someone looked at them side by side they would suspect two different authors. Ehrman also claims “that the names for the divine being are different in the prose (where the name Yahweh is used) and the poetry (where the divinity is named El, Eloah, and Shaddai)” (164). But “Yahweh” is used in the poetry section: 12:9, 38:1, 40:1, 3, 6, and so on. [↩]
- Ehrman opines that “the Satan is not the fallen angel who has been booted from heaven…. He is not an adversary to God” (165). That’s bizarre! Perhaps at that time Satan hadn’t been “booted,” but to say he’s not an adversary? Do you, dear reader, not see in this passage that Satan is defiant, scoffing at God, and accusing Job? Is this not the same “Satan” who in Rev. 12:10 is called “the accuser”? Certainly that is the way evangelicals understand the passage and I’d be surprised indeed if when Ehrman considered himself an evangelical that he understood the passage as he does now. [↩]