When you read the story of Job in the Bible, you get inside information on what is happening in the story. But we do not get that type of clarity in our own lives. We do not question the circumstances when life is full of success, material blessings, and good health. But we search for understanding when life is hard and filled with suffering and tragedy. Like Job, we want to understand the cosmic math that explains the most difficult parts of our lives.
Job loses everything, his children, health, and wealth. His friends come to visit and begin to try to understand why Job’s life has suddenly been so full of tragedy. The friend’s line of thinking captures a common human viewpoint. Job must have done something terrible to deserve what happened to him. As humans go, we generally believe that people who live good lives deserve mostly good in return. So when people, from the outside, look to be living good lives and suffer tragedy, our first instinct is to try to find some reason.
Job’s friends conclude that Job must have done something terrible. When Job explained he had been righteous before, during, and after the tragic events, his friends would not believe him. People still try to rationalize terrible events in the same way. Natural disasters are explained as God’s judgment of people not living good lives. No matter how far we have advanced in our knowledge, we still suspect that the universe is guided by a cosmic equation where people get what they deserve.
In the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples walked past a man who was born blind. The disciples asked the cosmic equation question, who sinned that this man was born blind? Was it his parents or the unborn man? Jesus’ answer does not satisfy the equation. Jesus explains that no one sinned, but this man was born blind so that God could be glorified. This a great answer when you are about to perform a miracle and restore sight to a blind man. But not such a great answer when tragedy and suffering do not have such an immediate resolution. But it does signal that creating a cosmic equation that helps tragedy feel justified is not helpful. Reflecting on what it means for God to be good is helpful.
The Bible teaches us God is good. Humans have a conditional understanding of “good.” For example, rain is good when the correct amount is in the right place. Rain is terrible when it is too much and causes flooding and destruction to things we have built. But the Bible goes beyond the conditional understanding to a concrete explanation of what it means for God to be good.
Goodness is one of God’s characteristics. In the same way that you can describe someone by the color of their hair or eyes, you can define God as good. His goodness is a part of who He is and cannot be removed from any understanding of God. If you take it away, you can describe a god but not THE God of the Bible. This is great news because God’s goodness is not conditional. God has grace, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust. I am so thankful that God does not give me what I deserve.
Job eventually gets to the point that he requests an audience with God to state his innocence. And as the story goes, God shows up. And God begins to ask questions of Job. “Do you direct every lightning bolt? Did you set the dimensions of the galaxy, the solar system, or the planets?” God asked. And Job put both hands over his mouth because, in the face of his lack of understanding, he no longer wanted to speak.
Intriguingly, God never actually lets Job in on the why. He never said, “by the way, this was a cosmic test, and Job, you passed with flying colors!” And Job never felt the need to ask. It was enough that God spoke, and the immense difference between God’s and Job’s minds was clearly demonstrated. There may be a cosmic equation, but humans try to understand simple addition while God calculates differential equations.
Having limited understanding means that we have to trust and have faith. Trust that God is good because He says He is. Because millions of believers have put their trust in the very same idea. Because in your life, you have seen and tasted the goodness of God. You may not know how or be able to imagine what God will do, but you have faith that it will be right and good. You stake your hope in the goodness of God, and because He knows infinitely more, you trust in God’s goodness.