My daughter is in a “why” phase. Lately, our conversations go like this:
“Why is my sandbox so wet?”
“Because you left it out in the rain.”
“Why did it rain?”
“Because that is how God feeds the thirsty plants.”
“He’s a bad Jesus to make it rain in my sandbox!”
Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? When the hurt is raining down on us, it’s hard to see why God lets it happen. The biblical character of Job wrestles with this question: Why, God? God allows Job to be stripped of everything – his land, his earthly possessions, his health, his family. He is even alienated from his friends. Although they mean well, the counsel they offer in this time of suffering implies that Job must have done something to deserve this suffering. Both God and Job know that Job is God’s faithful servant. And yet he suffers.
When suffering knocks at our door, we turn to God. As people of faith, we rally the troops in prayer. Sometimes, we get out miracles. God meets us in our humility and transforms our experience into something transcendent. He gives us a gift that we cannot account for or explain.
Job is not about the miracles. Job is the story of when we do everything right, and it all still goes wrong. It is about what happens when we turn to God, and God is silent. Job is about the abandonment we feel knowing that God heard our prayers, and still let darkness fall.
Why do I still expect God to be fair? When the worst comes, I imagine that God will be swayed by my goodness. If I just pray hard enough, if enough people pray for me, then God will know that I am good and suffering will pass over me like an angel of death, recognizing me as God’s own.
But no. We cannot pray our way out of suffering. Miracles are the exception, not the rule. But why, God? Anguish is loud and faith is a whisper. We pray. We cry. We scream at God. This cannot be. And nothing.
Job is an upright man, as anguished by God’s silence as he is by the loss he has endured. “I cry to you and you do not answer me. I stand, and you merely look at me,” (30:20). He doesn’t suppress the torment he feels at what seems so great an injustice. He is honest in his prayer. He’s in good company; Jesus offers a similar prayer from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt. 27:46).
I cry to you and you do not answer me. I stand, and you merely look at me.”Job 30:20
Why, God? We ask. This is too wrong. This cannot be the plan. Where is the justice in this?
Our God chooses mercy over justice. And luckily for us.
Luckily for us, not just in our sin and our unworthiness. Imagine the world we would design, if left to our own devices. We would design a world in which the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished, a world with perfectly balanced scales. There would be no shades of gray. In a world of mere justice, justice without mercy, compassion dies. And with it, our humanity.
Suffering visits us all alike. We share in a common vulnerability, and in it, solidarity is born. The suffering we experience gives us the lens of empathy. In times of struggle, we reach out to one another for comfort and strength, and we offer it in return.
In a world of mere justice, this exchange would be unthinkable. Those who suffer reap what they have sown. Any attempt to alleviate suffering would violate the standard of mere justice.
In a world of mere justice, virtue cannot grow. There is no possibility of sacrifice for another if all good is repaid in equal measure. There can be no selflessness. Any action that might appear to be good would be no more than another brick in the idol to oneself. A world of mere justice has no vocabulary for love.
Knowing this cannot take away our pain or shield us from suffering. If it were up to us, we would have our world of mere justice. We are not strong enough to choose otherwise. God grants us access to something that is beyond us: mercy, and with it, the possibility for redemption.
We may never be able to let go of our pain, but we have the choice to invite God into the midst of it. We can welcome in our God who makes all things new. We can refuse to let suffering have the final word. We can offer God our broken hearts and allow him to redeem these wounds, to bring his greatness out of them. There is no night so dark that dawn does not follow. There is no darkness so great that God cannot bring resurrection out of it.