With biting irony, Woody Allen declared, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering, and it’s all over much too soon.” Allen wasn’t telling us something we didn’t already know. Pain and suffering are woven into our common human experience. Suffering erupts globally through war, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons. It expresses itself personally: loss of a relationship, loss of health, loss of a child, loss of a marriage, loss of a job. Suffering touches us in ways we are usually unprepared for. It seizes us with pain we cannot define. It affects us physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually. In suffering, we slam up against a nameless, faceless, heartless enemy. And that enemy evokes questions for which we have inadequate answers.
Yet, difficult as they are, those very questions compel our search for better answers. We read books. We consult thinkers, philosophers, theologians, and teachers. We argue and debate explanations of the problem of suffering. But no matter how high our expectations or how promising these sources appear, they leave us with unanswered questions—maddening mysteries that either drive us away from God or draw us to Him.
In the pages of this booklet, we can examine only a few of the questions swirling like a cyclone around this difficult issue. What is suffering like? How do we respond when suffering calls our name? How can God be found in the midst of life’s darkest moments?
There is no better starting point from which to view suffering than through the experiences of a man named Job. His story is told in the oldest book of the Bible.
Job lived in the land of Uz in the earliest times of recorded human history. He is introduced as a man who lived in relationship to God and is described as “blameless,” “upright,” and a man who “shunned evil” (Job 1:1). He sought to do right and to please God. Yet a rapid series of cataclysmic events shattered his world and threatened that relationship.
It is telling that the oldest book in the Bible focuses on the common denominator of human experience—the problem of pain and suffering. Though Job’s story is familiar to many, it has more to say than we might imagine. More about our world, more about us, and more about God.