Feast of Sts. Mark, Aristarchos, and Zenon, Apostles of the 70
HOW MANY of us, at one point or another, have tried to comfort either ourselves or someone else by saying that God hasn’t caused this suffering (whatever it may be), but He has allowed it? Try playing that out with Job:
Who’s the one who started the conversation in that heavenly council?
Who’s the one who brought up Job?
And when Satan threw it in God’s face that He’s blessed Job so, telling God to stretch out His hand, who’s the one who then offers all that Job has into Satan’s hand?
Satan becomes the very hand and arm of God. He goes where the Lord sends him, and no further. So you could call this God allowing him, I guess—but when he’s commissioned by the Lord Himself, it’s a distinction without a difference. And worse yet, consider the harm such a whitewashing of God does for how we think of Him! “If God has nothing to do with suffering, what’s He involved with?” And why is He so distant from me?
Admittedly, as readers we’re given to know what’s going on in the Divine Council; Job isn’t. Neither is Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, or Elihu. No one knows why Job is suffering as he is except for those given access to the council—that is, the sons of God (the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven), including Satan, strange as it is, along with us the readers.
That’s the point.
Apart from the Lord’s Word, revealed in His Heavenly Council, there’s no knowledge of why the innocent suffer and the guilty seem to be care free (cf. Ps. 73, esp. vv. 16-17). And what this tells us is that suffering, sorrow, and sickness aren’t the means by which we’re to know how God thinks of us. We can’t make sense of any of it by looking either within us, or at the rest of creation, or the workings of this world. Job is our example here: God thought so highly of Job that He offered him to Satan, to stretch out his hand against him. Who would’ve thought that God’s love would be masked in such sorrow?
This story makes much more sense when seen through the cross. Is there any other place where love and sorrow flow mingled down so clearly? Indeed, the only place we’re given to look to see how God actually thinks of us is the cross. And it’s only from the cross that we can begin to make sense of suffering, even our own.
But again, looking at the cross apart from what the Lord has said of that cross, what will we see other than another dead man? No, even the cross only makes sense when the Heavenly Council is revealed, that is, when the prophets and the apostles—and those ordained into that Office—are given to preach the cross, as the self-donation of God for man.
In this way it’s easy to see Job as a type of Christ. He is the righteous and innocent one who suffers. And it’s his prayers and sacrifices that cover the sins of his children and his friends. His vindication comes only once his mouth is stopped—indeed, it’s at that point Job himself is closest to death.
When we look at Job, we see God’s love masked in suffering. We see faith clinging to the promise of what God has said, and not the circumstances of this life.
And for us? What are we to make of our suffering, sorrow, sickness, and strife? First and foremost, we’re to quit trying to determine what God thinks of us by them. God hasn’t chosen to reveal who He is, or what He thinks of us, in the good or the evil that we encounter on a daily basis. The Scriptures repeatedly guard against this. Job is the example (along with the blind man in John’s Gospel) for not judging the man on account of his suffering. And Psalm 73 is the opposite example, along with the rich man in the parable with Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), as proof that those who seem to have no struggles in this life, may, nevertheless, be set for destruction.
We call this sort of theology “Theologia Crucis,” the Theology of the Cross. Gerhard Forde nicely lays it out in his, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, wherein he says:
The cross is in the first instance God’s attack on human sin…Therefore the theology of the cross is an offensive theology. The offense consists in the fact that unlike other theologies it attacks what we usually consider the best in our religion…“The cross alone is our theology [CRUX sola est nostra theologia],” Luther could say…The cross is the doing of God to us…That means that a theology of the cross is inevitably quite polemical. It constantly seeks to uncover and expose the ways in which sinners hide their perfidy behind pious facades…The goal here is to become a theologian of the cross, not merely to talk or write about it.
Forde writes this as a reflection on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputations of 1518, wherein, among a series of theses, Luther says,
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil…But God can be found only in suffering and the cross (LW 31:53).
The purpose of this theologia crucis is, above all, to comfort the troubled conscience, to bring peace to the despairing soul.
When we face suffering of various kinds, like Job, the theology of the cross allows us to cry out against God. Just as Job’s very name means enemy, so we’re given to see ourselves, in our suffering, as enemies of God; and perhaps more profoundly so, to see God as our enemy. While such talk may earn the charge of blasphemy from the more pietistic among us, Luther boldly says, “There are none nearer to God in this life than these haters and blasphemers of [God], nor any sons more pleasing to Him and beloved by Him!” (Luther, Operationes in Psalmos, WA 5.170.25.). That is,
Like Job, the ‘blasphemer’ at least does God the honor of acknowledging God as God…The sufferer is finally provoked enough, perhaps ultimately in death, to send complaint to the right address. Perhaps we can imagine God saying, ‘Ah, at last! I got you to talk to me! You spoke the truth about me in spite of yourself!’…In pious restraint the theologian of glory will refrain from such ‘blasphemy’ and flatter God by absolving Him from all blame. But such pious speech simply robs God of the right to be God (Forde, 91, fn.21).
Fr. Geoffrey R. Boyle is Pastor of Grace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Wichita, KS. He's the father of five and currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, studying Old Testament Biblical Theology.
*Excerpt from Fr. Geoffrey's presentation at The Hall of Men on September 22, 2016.
**The full lecture will be available in audio form for Eighth Day Members early next week.