Summary: Job wanted to know: What is the benefit in being good? Where is God? What should my response to God be?
The most difficult part of being a pastor is regularly walking into situations which are filled with tragedy and brimming with raw emotion. The added pressure for a pastor is that there is a silent expectation in some people’s minds that you are supposed to have some answers — or at least some words of wisdom — and be able to comfort those who are grieving. It is never easy, but I especially remember the first years of ministry when I was green and inexperienced. I was called one evening into the home of a church family because the man had experienced a heart attack. When I arrived, the paramedics were performing CPR and doing all they could, but they finally came out and told the man’s wife that he was gone. She looked at me and wanted an answer. In a shrill voice she demanded: “Why would God do something like this?”
That is just one of countless tragedies in which I have been involved. I have baptized dying infants while they were lying in an incubator. I have buried stillborns and children, and had the funerals of people who committed suicide or were murdered. I assure you there are no words which are adequate for those situations.
During our first assignment in Wintersville, Ohio, Sue and I were expecting our second child: Lisa. Of course, she decided to be born in the middle of night — Saturday night — just hours before I was supposed to preach. She was the third child to be born among four young families in our church. All three had been great blessings and there was much joy among us. The following week the fourth mother went into the hospital. When I checked the records at the main desk I saw that they had a baby boy and had named him Robbie. I went bounding into the room full of enthusiasm, having just gone through the same experience of having a wonderful new little person in our family. As I entered the room, the mother was holding the baby and the father was sitting next to her. I asked how he was doing — expecting an exuberant response from the parents. But the mother looked up at me with enormous sadness in her eyes. “He was born blind — without eyes,” she said as tears streamed down her face. The father was broken and said, “The doctors are not sure how much of his brain actually developed. It doesn’t even show up on the X-rays. And there are several other complications.” I cannot tell you all the emotions that went crashing through me at that moment, but I can tell you that I failed that couple completely as a pastor. All I could think about was how to get out of that room. I wanted to run as far as possible, as fast as possible. I had never experienced anything so tragic. I felt like I should come up with some answers for them and I knew I had none. I felt like I should be able to comfort them in their grief, and I knew I couldn’t.
It is situations like that which send me digging into the book of Job. Job was afflicted with senseless tragedy and, as hard as he tried, he could not understand it. He knew that God was not punishing him, because he had lived an exemplary life. He went out of his way to help the widow and orphan. He fed the poor and was kind to those who were less powerful than he. He worshiped God and loved him. The Bible says, “[Job] was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). His situation did not make sense in light of the popular belief that only people with some great sin in their life suffered like Job. Suffering was seen as a punishment from God. If this was true, then Job knew the sheer magnitude of his suffering was grossly unjust.