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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Why Is Life So Full of Suffering?

Robert Barron - Why Is Life So Full of Suffering?

Robert Barron - Why Is Life So Full of Suffering?
TOPICS: Sufferings, Job

Peace be with you. Friends, I'm always delighted when the Church gives us the opportunity to reflect on the book of Job. The book of Job is one of the profoundest, most difficult, challenging books in the entire Bible. I might encourage you to read it, I mean, of course, but probably with a good commentary, because Job is a bit like approaching T.S. Eliot or some very complicated poet. The central theme of Job, trust me when I tell you, has been massively on the minds of people ever since the book was written, and it's very clearly on the minds especially of a lot of our young people today, namely, the problem of how do you reconcile God's existence in love with the terrible suffering that we see in the world, especially the suffering of the innocent? There's no better Old Testament wrestling with that problem than the book of Job. Which is why I think anyone interested in apologetics or trying to explain the faith could really benefit from a serious consideration of this book.

Now, I know you know the basic story well. Job is presented as this entirely righteous man, good man, upright man that walks with the Lord, and he enjoys the blessings of his moral excellence and so on. He has family and he has wealth and he has position in society, all these good things. And then there's kind of a conversation between God and Satan, and Satan says, "Well, sure. Job is your friend because you've given him every blessing. But if I took away all these blessings, he'd curse you".

So God sort of accepts the challenge, and he allows Satan to strip Job of all these benefits. And so in one terrible fell swoop, Job loses everything. He loses his family, his loved ones. He loses all of his possessions. He loses his health. Everything's stripped away. But Job does not curse God. But he falls, understandably, into a kind of a depression, and three friends come to visit Job. And beautiful thing, anyone involved in pastoral ministry, this is a good lesson, they sit for seven days in silence. And that's a beautiful gesture. When someone's in great pain, words probably aren't the best remedy. They sit with him in silence. Then, unfortunately, they begin to speak.

And so again, pastoral ministers, take note what not to say to someone who's suffering. Their speeches are variations on the theme of, "Well, Job, you must have done something to bring all this evil upon yourself. I know you look like you're righteous, but you must've done something wrong because God is punishing you". And they go on and on for several chapters. Job finally, in disgust, after protesting his innocence consistently, he dismisses the three interlocutors, and in one of the most dramatic moments in the whole Bible, he calls God into the dock. And here he speaks for anyone who's endured great suffering. And that's to varying degrees all of us, every one of us, especially those who know they haven't done some terrible thing to merit the suffering, and yet it's been visited upon them.

And so Job, as it were, speaks for all of us in calling God into the dock, challenging God: Why? Why would you allow this? Why would you do this? You know, in my years of pastoral ministry, you face this issue all the time. Because people will come often to religious leaders when they're suffering, when they're in pain, and Job is the one who speaks for all of us. Well, I'll tell you, if you want to read the central, key passages, it begins chapter 38 of Job, covering 38, 39, 40, and 41, four chapters of a lengthy speech of God, by far the longest speech of God anywhere in the Bible. Which is interesting, isn't it? That when God speaks the clearest and the longest in the Bible, it's on this particular issue.

Listen now how Job 38 begins: "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind". Don't pass over "the whirlwind". Think of a desert storm, sand storm, which obscures vision. Think sand getting in his mouth and into his eyes, and he can't see, can't articulate himself. See, God's ways will always be confounding to us, and that shouldn't surprise us. God, who's the Creator of all things, the infinite God whose mind covers all of space and time and what lies beyond space and time, of course God speaks to us out of the whirlwind. What does he say? "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, and I will question you, and you will declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements, surely you know"!

Well, there's the commencement of this marvelous speech. And what God does now, he takes Job on this elaborate tour of his cosmos, asking him all the time, "Well, where were you when I did these things? You surely understand my ways". Listen now to a little more of the speech: "Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked into the recesses of the depths? Have the gates of death been revealed to you... Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?... Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or seen the storehouses of the hail... Do you give the horse its might? Do you clothe its neck with mane?... Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars... Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high"? You get the idea. And now the reading for today is a little excerpt from this section of the speech.

Listen: "Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb... When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, here shall your proud waves be stilled"! What do you know, Job, about the sea and its movements and its activity? Something I love about this speech: it's almost thoroughly about the nonhuman world. It's about the animals and fish in the sea and about the cosmic realities, not about human affairs. Reminding us what? God's providence, yes, indeed, has to do with all of human affairs. But as Thomas Aquinas said, God's providence extends to particulars. That means to everything in the world, everything that we can see is under the providence of God. Here's a famous section, too, which I love.

We're not exactly sure whom the author is referring to here, what animals. They're guessing alligator, and then perhaps a whale. But listen. God says to Job: "Look at Behemoth", probably like an alligator or crocodile, "which I made just as I made you... Its strength is in its loins, its power in the muscles of its belly. It makes its tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are knit together. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron". How God admires this marvelous creature that he's made, "just as I made you, Job. My creative providence has to do with everything that you can see in the fullness of the cosmos, everything in space and time". He draws attention to Leviathan, probably a whale, and again, sings its praises.

"Do you know, Job, all about these animals? These mighty, beautiful, powerful creatures? You probably never even think about them. But they, too, are under my providence". Now, what's the point here, everybody? The point is that we don't have in this speech an answer to Job, meaning, "Hey, look Job, here's why you're suffering. Let me lay it out to you". Rather, we have a placing of Job's suffering within an infinitely greater context, the context of a providence that, as I say, stretches across all of space and time, but let's press it, stretches beyond space and time to a world that we cannot even see. God is concerned with every bit of it. Does your suffering, Job, make sense in a way that only God can see, within the context of this infinitely complex providence?

Think about something. Let's maybe take it away from the most extreme examples of suffering, because that's where we usually go in this. But think of something like this. "Oh, there's that job that I wanted with all my heart. I was competing with other people for this job, and that’s the one I knew I could do. That’s the job I wanted. And I did not get it. And I was devastated. I was heartbroken. How could God have allowed this? I was prepared for it. It made perfect sense. Everyone thought I was great for that job. And I didn't get it". Suffering, yes, indeed. "But then I found, because I didn't get that job, I got another job that I never even dreamed of, which turned out to be so much better, which opened up doors that I never imagined possible, that brought me to life in a way that I couldn't have ever accomplished on the other path".

Why did God allow that suffering? Well, within the rich complexity of his providence, he saw something else. And this happened pastorally many times, when people say, "Ugh, that is the lady I wanted to marry. I just had my heart set on this lady, and she broke off the engagement. And I'm devastated. It's the worst suffering of my life. And I'm sure of it. But because that relationship didn't work out, I met that lady whom I married and became the mother of my children and brought me a joy and a happiness that I couldn't have imagined".

Does God, who sees the entirety of the universe, visible and invisible, sometimes allow suffering to bring about a good that we cannot immediately see? You know this image, I've always liked this, I play a little chess, and playing chess on one board is complicated enough, right? All the moves you can make, and if I do this and he does that, and I'll lose this piece if I do this. But there's also a form of chess that's played on boards that are stacked one upon the other, and a move on this board actually affects boards at other levels. You're playing kind of a three-dimensional chess. Imagine ten million times ten million chess boards stacked one upon the other. All of space and all of time. All that God is concerned with, even what goes beyond space and time.

One move here is affecting play on this board, but also affecting play on all the other boards. Why does God allow suffering? Sometimes, when you're playing chess, you seed a piece because you know in the grand scheme of things it's going to lead to victory. Now the ten million times ten million chess boards, one upon the other. "Where were you, Job"? See, we tend, understandably, when we're in pain, to narrow our focus on what we're going through, and all we see is that. How could God allow this? The book of Job invites us now into this infinitely complex setting for all that happens to us, and therefore invites us, where? Finally, into the place of trust. Look, I don't know. I don't know why God is allowing a particular pain. Maybe someday I'll see it. Maybe I won't see it until I get to heaven. But in the meantime, I trust. In the meantime, I have confidence that the God who's the Lord of heaven and earth knows what he's about. And God bless you.
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