Thought for the Day : Thursday 27 May

Thought for the Day by Clive Barrett (St Michael’s)

Do good people suffer? (Job 4)

Job and his Friends, by Gustave Doré

I love the Book of Job! Job is one of my favourite characters in the Bible. He asks questions, and rebuffs foolish answers. Today’s reading is classic.

Job has come on hard times. That’s because, says his religious friend, Job was a bad person. “Who that was innocent, ever perished?” asks his friend; bad things happen to bad people.

This nonsense is completely biblical, and often expressed by a group of Old Testament writers called Deuteronomists. Take Psalm 37.25: “I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” I have. All the time. Just because an argument is in the Bible – that good people don’t suffer – doesn’t stop it being nonsense. “The Bible teaches …” is a claim to handle with care.

Job argues back, “Can mortals be righteous before God?” We all fall short of God’s standards. Whether good or bad things happen to you is not about whether you are a good or bad person. Wisdom and truth are with Job, not his religious friend.

If you suffer bad things, it is not because you’re a bad person. Think of Jesus suffering on the cross.

It’s so unfair, when good people suffer, but it happens all the time. It’s tempting when you are ill, or when things are going wrong in life, to blame yourself. But you are no worse than anyone else.

(Jesus mentioned people dying when a tower at Siloam collapsed on them, saying they were no more sinful than anyone else. Luke 13.4.)

Likewise, the rich and powerful are no more virtuous or deserving than anyone else.

Let’s resist any false association between wealth and being good, and between pain and being bad. As Job says, we all fall short of the standards of God.

Postscript: Job’s arguments were vindicated, but the Deuteronomists refused to accept defeat; they added a stupid section (Job 42.10-17) at the end of the book making Job suddenly rich and comfortable. If he really were a good person, they thought, then of course he’d live happily ever after, wouldn’t he? (NO!)

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