WHY TRAGEDY? Based on Job 1:6f
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Elie Wiesel, who survived Hitler's blood bath for the Jews, as devoted his life to telling the world of this tragedy that he feels surpasses hell in its horrors. His books have motivated others to write so that there now exists a holocost literature. There are books, plays, articles, and poems, about history's most unbelievable tragedy, which is the brutal murder of six million Jews. Wiesel did not see the entire million children who were killed, but he saw enough so that he was never the same. He wrote:
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has
turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven
times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget
the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into
wreathes of smoke beneath the silent blue sky."
In another place he wrote that people tend to think that a murderer weakens when facing a child. The child reawakens the killers lost humanity and he can't go through with it. But it didn't happen. "Our Jewish children had no effect upon the killers. Nor upon the world, nor upon God." The result was that Wiesel did not respond like Job, but like Satan expected Job to respond. Wiesel wrote, "Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. How can a Jew say anything religious thereafter?"
Wiesel survived the tragedy but his faith did not. He could not understand how God could allow evil to be so powerful, and so he concluded that God does not care. This is the test that Satan put Job through many centuries earlier. All ten of his children were wiped out in one blow, and all of his wealth was destroyed the same day. Job also endured a holocost. His dream world was shattered by a nightmare, and his ideal family was instantly reduced to no family at all.
There is obviously something wrong in a world where things like this can happen. If tragedy was just an isolated incident here and there, and limited to the bad guys, we could go along with Job's friends, and the problem of suffering would be easily solved. But tragedy does not have any respect of persons. The Jonestown massacre was not a mafia convention, but over 900 mostly innocent people. They were women and children, many of whom were good and godly. The worse airplane crash in American history did not go down with a load of pimps and prostitutes, but with respectable citizens, some of whom were God's children. War, famine, and terrorism are snuffing out the lives of thousands every year, and disease takes a terrible toll, and in all cases the good guys as well as the bad are victims.
If the problem of suffering in this world does not bother you, you are yourself suffering from hardening of the heart, of softening of the brain. Those who study Job's sufferings, and the tragedies of the world are forced to consider the subject called Theodicy. Theodicy is the justification of the ways of God to men. There have been many books written on this area of theology. Joni's second book, A Step Further is a Theodicy, and it is a good one. Many feel that the book of Job itself is a Theodicy. A Theodicy strives to show that as bad as things are, God is good and He is in control, and evil is not winning the battle. A Theodicy is the defense of God in a world where evil often seems to dominate.
The book of Job opens up the window of heaven, and enables us to see the problem of suffering from a broader perspective. Job himself did not see what we can see. He had to go through his tragedy believing that God was the sole cause of it all. Life is so much harder when you have only a partial perspective. Most of the ways we explain suffering are only partial, and none of them fit every situation. A wife comes to consel and you are not long in listening to her story before you could watch her husband hang with a smile on your face. Then he comes in and tells his side, and you wonder why there is nobody taking a collection to hang his picture in the hall of fame for endurance. The point is, when you see life only from one side you have a distorted view. We have a distorted view of most of life, and especially life's tragedies.
The first thing the book of Job does for us is give us an insight into the conflict in heaven that explains some of the tragedy on earth. God gives us a wider perspective so we can avoid the partial perspective of Job's friends. Satan is no equal to God, for God is clearly supreme. He sets the limits to how far Satan can go. Nevertheless, He does give Satan the authority to test Job within those limits. Who then is responsible for the tragedies Job suffered. Is it God for allowing Satan the freedom to test him, or is it Satan, for he is the one who actually carries out the diabolical plot. He motivates the enemies of Job to come and rob him and kill his servants. He produced the tornado and guided it to destroy the home where all Job's children were. Satan masterminded the whole series of tragedies, and so he is clearly responsible. God is only partially off the hook, however, for He gave Satan the permission. That is why we need a Theodicy. We need to explain how God can be good and just in doing this.
The book of Job is teaching us that God is soverign and is the supreme authority so that even Satan can only operate by his permission. But yet there is great evil that results from this permission to do that which God Himself would never do. If God in His soverignty allows others to do what He would never do, we can only conclude that God considers some other values greater than the prevention of all evil. If God can prevent evil by His soverign power, but choses not to prevent it, we are forced to conclude that either God is not good, or that God permits evil for a greater good. Weisel choose to believe the first, and Job choose to believe the second. Job, of course, made the wise choice, but we must still ask why? Why is Job's choice the best, and how can God's allowing tragedy be justified. Theodicy is the name for the answers to that question.
The classical Christian answer is the theodicy of freedom. God could have said to Satan, "Hit the road you cynic. Your pessimisim about Job farce. Don't come back until you have developed the skill of possibility thinking." God could have used His soverignty that way, but instead, He chose to accept the challenge of Satan and allow him to test Job. God gave Satan freedom to do what was evil. Just as He gave man the freedom to do what was evil. If God is willing to let evil exist for the sake of freedom, then freedom has to be one of the greatest values in all the universe. When God made Adam and Eve He also gave them freedom to do evil. He warned them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but He gave them freedom to do so. He could have easily prevented it but did not. We see that evil existed before man.
As we examine freedom we discover that it is really the basic source of all evil, and yet, it is the most treasured value of God and man. The only way we can justify God's allowing Satan to test Job, and Hitler to test the Jews, and all of the other holocosts of history, is to grasp the theodicy of freedom. St. Augustine in the fourth century was the first to put this into systematic form. Ever since then it has been the traditional view of both Catholics and Protestants. Most Christians hardly ever consider it, but the book of Job forces us to do so. Since God created everything that is, and said it is very good, even Satan was made good. God created no natures or creatures that were evil. If God had made Satan evil then God would be solely responsible for the evil in the universe, but God made everything good.
How then could evil ever get started in a good universe where all creatures and all things were good? It came in by way of God's greatest gift to His highest creatures. It was by means of the gift of freedom. God could have prevented evil very simply by withholding the gift of freedom. God had the choice of making a world where no evil could exist, but He did not do it. At least in our world He did not do it. God may have created hundreds of worlds where there is no evil because there is no freedom. There could be worlds where all is beautiful and not one sin because all of the beings that inhabit it are programed to do only what is good.
We live in a different kind of world than that. Those worlds are mere toys compared to our world. For here everything is real. There is life and love and loyalty. But there is also sin and evil and death because of the freedom of will. Those who think God controls all that happens in this world have a misconception of the value of this freedom of the will in God's value system. It means everything to God to have free willed beings to relate to. They are not machines, but real persons who are able to fellowship with Him. Their love and obedience is priceless, because they are freely given, and not the automatic response due to programing. Islam says all is automatic, and God is the cause of all good and evil. Nothing can be changed for all is determined. This is pure fatalism and not the Biblical view of the freedom of choice.
As on earth so it is in heaven; you get what you pay for. The cost of this type of world we live in is enormous. The cost is the risk of evil, for freedom to be real there must be allowance for the choice of evil. There is no way to have freedom and avoid the possibility of evil. Satan was made with the same freedom to chose good or evil. What is evil? Since God is the creator of all, and God is good, evil is any use of freedom which is contrary to God's will, and what He would have His creatures choose. When any free willed being chooses to do what God would not have programed them to do, had He made them robots, that is evil.
These kinds of choices must be possible for there to be true freedom. Where there is no alternative there is no freedom. If you have to vote for the dictator in power, and there is no alternative, you are not in a free country. If you have to do the will of God, and there is no way to do what He does not will, you are not in a free world. What all this means is that evil is a necessity in the kind of world we live in. It is God's will that evil be possible, but it is not His will that it be actual. That is, God wills that you have the freedom to choose evil, but He does not will that you make that choice. God makes evil possible by granting free will, but only free willed beings can make evil actual by their choices. God makes man free to murder, but He does not will that they do so. In fact, He clearly wills that they do not and threatens severe punishment if they do. Who then is responsible for the evil? It is the one making that choice.
This is what theodicy is. It is a justification of the ways of God to men. There is no point in men getting angry with God and accusing him of injustice and indifference because of the great evil in the world. He is not responsible for it since by definition evil is always that which God does not will. Not only does God not will evil, He is the only one who has the power and wisdom to conquer evil, and even use it for good. To forsake God in the holocost, or in any degree of suffering and tragedy, is to totally misunderstand the origin, nature, and destiny of evil. Evil is the by-product of freedom. If you insist that freedom is not worth the cost, maybe God will grant you the choice of being a rock, or some mindless creature of instinct. For those who prefer to be persons, however, there is always the risk of evil and suffering.
In the light of this theodicy we can better understand what is happening when God seems to be cooperating with Satan. God gives him the power to go ahead and put Job to a brutal test. Why would God ever do such a thing, and then have it recorded for all the world to read? Billy Graham gets criticized for having a liberal on his platform, and here is God with Satan on His platform, and God grants him an answer to his request. God is determined to prove to all the intelligent beings in the universe that man is truly free. Satan has charged that Job is a slave and has no real choice between good and evil. God calls Satan's bluff, and says go ahead and test him, for in doing so you will reveal to the whole universe just how free man is. He is no puppet. He can choose good or evil, and Job will prove it.
The fact is, none of the suffering that Satan could throw at Job could penetrate his inner sanctuary of freedom. Evil can march around the gate and bang upon it, but it can never enter and capture the freedom of man's will unless the bolt is lifted from the inside. The same is true for the forces of good, for Jesus stands at the door and knocks, and He will only enter a life when the door is opened from within. Man is truly a free being. He can say yes or no to both God or Satan. Man has the freedom to defy either of them, and he has the freedom to chose the way of either. Neither the power of good or evil can conquer man by sheer force. God knew that, but He had to prove it to Satan. After Satan did his worst to make God look like a monsterous evil enemy, Job still chose to be loyal to God.
The observers around the council table of heaven could only conclude that man is one of us. Job gained universal respect, for he could do good and evil and be able to choose the good and reject the evil. He demonstrated the worthiness of man's place in God's eternal plan. Job became a universal hero. So great is the value of freedom that God says it is worth any price. If is means giving Satan opportunity to do evil; if it means the agony of Job; if it means the torture of Hitler, and all of the diabolical suffering of history, it is worth it. That would be easy for God to say if He just sat in heaven to watch, but God did more than that, He got involved. He did not make man take all the risks of freedom. He said in order to have the best I will share the cost of such freedom. That is why the cross was a part of God's long range plans even before the foundation of the world.
God knew there would be hell to pay to produce a free being like man, and so He committed Himself to be the greatest sufferer of all. He would endure the hell His own justice demanded. The cross is the symbol of God's committment to human freedom. It means everything to God, and the cross is the price God paid for man to be free. A young boy was looking at a picture of the crucifixion, and disturbed by its cruelty he said, "If God had been there, He would not have let them do it." That is the feeling we get as we look at the tragedies that struck Job. But God was there, and God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. The worst was turned into the best because God was there and permitted the worst. So with Job, and so with so much that we suffer in this world.
Evil is powerful in the world because man and spiritual beings like Satan are not programed computers, but are real persons with real choices, and they often choose that which is not God's will. Evil is so great at times that those suffering must wonder if freedom is really worth it. Even when we understand this classical theodicy that makes so much sense, we get a gnawing feeling that maybe the cost is too great, even if God did pay the major share on Calvary.
The book of Job reveals also the way out of this final doubt that God can be justified for the world as it is. God is also free, and better yet He is soverign. This means He can guarantee that His will can be ultimately accomplished, and the history of man will end as the story of Job ends, with victory over evil. P. T. Forsythe said, "To justify God is the best and deepest way to fortify men." This is what theodicy does. It shows us that God is not the cause of evil, but He is the cause of victory over evil. Job is a comedy, for inspite of all the tragedy, it has a happy ending. So life is a comedy. No matter how tragic life becomes because of freedom, God will make sure that evil will be overcome, and all its victories will be temporary.
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Pastor Glen Pease's tripartite articles, Job's Wife, Why and Why tragedy are recommended reading for anyone seeking to understand God's position on the nature of human suffering. Suddenly the world is symbolically represented as Job afflicted and limited in understanding its seemingly unjustified woes. The scholarly article has resonances of solid scriptural insight and could be developed further. Good work!