The Struggle to Understand
I believe there is a reason God leaves us in the dark when it comes to many of the things we struggle to understand.
Every time we read Job in our daily readings, I am struck by how interesting this story is. Four men dominate the first thirty-odd chapters. They debate and argue about theological questions and just don’t understand why Job is suffering so much. They have their theories and opinions, of course, but we realize that they haven’t figured it out the more we read.
Then Elihu comes along, and we’re left wondering – is what he says good or bad? Does he speak on behalf of God, or is he just as ignorant as Job’s three so-called friends? Finally, God comes on the scene, but we’re still struggling to understand.
What Job went through is the topic of much theological philosophizing throughout history. Why do people suffer? Why do some people suffer more than others? Or, as Job wonders halfway through the book, why do some people, even though they seem to be utterly alien to God’s purpose, not seem to suffer much at all? This, along with other philosophical questions, will keep us debating with one another until Christ returns.
Have you ever wondered why the Bible is written in this way? God allowed a book to be written about a conversation between four men struggling to figure things out and without coming up with any definitive answers. Why didn’t God just lay it all out for us? Why isn’t there a book of the Bible called “Why does suffering exist?” with a clear explanation from the omniscient God of heaven?
Instead, God leaves these things for us to ponder and wonder about. Sometimes, because people can’t figure them out, they become disillusioned and conclude that a benevolent God would never allow something like suffering, so he can’t exist.
Other parts of the Bible leave us with similar quandaries. What about the Israelites being told to kill everyone in the city, including men, women, children, and animals? Why didn’t God include a disclaimer like, “The reason why I commanded this is because x, y, z”? Instead, he leaves us to try to figure out how any of that squares with things like “thou shalt not kill.”
Why didn’t God just lay it all out for us?
The Bible is full of questions like this and fuzzy-edged principles, ambiguities, unanswered questions, and things that seem to contradict each other. If you were writing a bible, wouldn’t you want to present a neat package with squared-off edges, clearly defined boundaries, and all nicely tied together?
Why does God do things this way? Why did he leave Job and his three friends to struggle through and not be able to answer their questions? Why didn’t he stop them in chapter 3 and say, “Look, it’s like this…”?
One of these philosophical questions arises from Job 23. Job is looking for answers. He wants God to vindicate him, but he can’t find him. He says,
Wherever Job looks, he can’t see God because God is invisible.
How many of us have ever asked the question, why doesn’t God make himself obvious to us all? Instead, we can’t prove that God existed, at least not from a scientific point of view. According to the Bible, God is outside space and time – in other words, he created science.
Therefore no amount of observation, which is at the heart of science, could ever detect God. It’s fundamentally impossible. But even though we might acknowledge this, surely the eternal creator could override physics and make it abundantly evident that he exists. That would quash atheism in one fell swoop. And even though we might still wonder about things like suffering, we would know for sure there is an answer because any doubts about God’s existence would be expunged.
But God doesn’t do that. Instead, he leaves us to struggle with doubts and questions. We relive the book of Job every time something we can’t explain enters our lives.
If you’ve read so far and expecting a dramatic answer to these things in this thought for the week, sorry to disappoint you! I am, of course, just as fallible as Job and his three friends. But, I believe there is a reason God leaves us in the dark when it comes to many of the things we struggle to understand.
The wise man says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (Prov. 25:2).
Think of it this way to begin with: how would we respond if we were spoon fed all the answers? Yes, we might avoid a lot of angst trying to figure out why certain things happen in our lives. But we wouldn’t have those walks around the block discussing and debating and trying to come up with answers. Our sense of wonder, curiosity, and creative juices would all be dampened. And would we actually learn anything?
God has made himself obvious in the past, like at the time of the Exodus. With miracle after miracle, it was abundantly clear that Yahweh exists and is at work. And he spoon fed the children of Israel with a list of instructions in the form of the Law of Moses. However, if my math is correct according to the numbers given to us, only 0.00013% made it to the Promised Land of the responsible who came out of Egypt. The rest died because of unbelief.
God has made himself obvious in the past, and spoon fed the children of Isreal.
I have thoughts on why we suffer and why God is invisible and doesn’t make himself conspicuous. And I think it’s spiritually healthy to think about these things. It all gets our minds rising above the mundane aspects of life and things we naturally think about. It’s part of getting in tune with the eternal God of heaven.
And there’s one more thing these open-ended questions help us to understand. Yes, we’d prefer to have everything in a nice box. But life isn’t like that. Instead, life is full of fuzzy edges, ambiguities, principles conflicting with each other, seemingly similar circumstances demanding completely different principles to govern them, and a host of other things that can’t be contained in a box.
So, as we continue to read through the book of Job and sometimes feel their pain as they struggle to come up with answers, remember that God designed things this way for our benefit. He wants us to ponder and wrestle with things we struggle to understand. It’s all part of turning us into his sons and daughters.