In our attempt to understand God’s ways in the midst of our suffering there are two common temptations which often fight to claim the higher ground in our mind.
First Temptation: The Temptation to Blame Someone
Automatically connecting personal suffering to personal sin is a typical human response. “Since God is good,” we reason, “he cannot be behind this accident, tragedy, or evil. Therefore, it must be the fault of the one who suffers or someone connected to him or her.” Thankfully, the Holy Spirit wrote the Old Testament book of Job at least in part to correct that response.
The book of Job is essential to our understanding of suffering because it destroys the credibility of the notion that all suffering is the result of the sin of the sufferer. Theologian D. A. Carson says it well when he explains Job’s unique contribution to our theology:
the book’s special contribution to the canon [of Scripture], and to the topic of evil and suffering, is its treatment of what most of us would call irrational evil, incoherent suffering. Such evil and suffering do not easily fit into glib “solutions.” We may remember lessons learned elsewhere in the Bible, but when we try to apply them here there are too many loose ends. The physical suffering, as bad as it is, is compounded in Job’s mind because it does not make any sense. Consequently, it threatens to destroy his understanding of God and the world, and is therefore not only massively painful in its own right, but disorienting and confusing.
[D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 136.]
On top of this, the pain and disillusionment of suffering is multiplied exponentially when accusations arise not only from our own doubtful hearts, but from the mouths of others— sometimes our own family or friends.
This is illustrated in the suffering of Job, whose friends believed their role in his life was to play private investigator, judge, and prosecuting attorney all wrapped into one, and to interrogate him about the cause of his suffering. They could not fathom that Job was not at least somehow responsible for the death of his ten children, the loss of his real estate and family fortune, or the painful sores covering his body from head to toe. The urgency of these miserable counselors to judge their hurting friend stemmed from their incomplete theology of God. D. A. Carson explains, “Job’s friends [had] a tight theology with no loose ends. Suffering [was] understood exclusively in terms of punishment or chastening. There [was] no category for innocent suffering: in their understanding, such a suggestion besmirches the integrity of the Almighty.” (Ibid., 46)
When we fast-forward to the New Testament, we find the disciples had the same incomplete theology, which resulted in asking the wrong question. As they wrestled with the problem of congenital disability, the disciples struggled to figure out who should be held responsible for causing a man to be blind from birth (John 9: 1– 12). They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” To which the Savior replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Clearly, the governing force behind this man’s disability was not any one person’s sin, but God’s larger agenda to display his work and the glory of his grace.
Let’s be honest. It’s common for us to struggle with theological “loose ends.” Our mind craves a “tight” theology about God that we are able to understand completely. We want a theology that leaves little room for true faith, mystery, wonder, or unanswered questions. As a result, disability can present a second temptation, which is to remake God in our image and likeness.
Excerpted from When Disability Hits Home by Paul Tautges with Joni Eareckson Tada.