Whose Fault Suffering?
Pain is one thing in life. It is usually something that warns us, lets us know that something is either wrong or that something our bodies are not meant to do is happening. Brush your hand against a hot pan on the stove? Pain tells you to stop doing that. Push too hard in a workout, or in a day's work? Pain tells you to ease up. In childbirth? Pain tells you that the baby is coming (I know, that's an understatement.) Pain is a device our body uses to let our brains know that all is not well and it is time to do something about it.
Suffering is another matter. Whether suffering is tied into a sustained experience of pain, or something else, it is an accumulative thing. Suffering builds over time, and it usually lacks an effective outlet. A sharp pain makes me cry out. Sustained pain makes me cry. One is an expulsive release while the other? Prolonged, it's just an articulation of being at the brink of despair.
Job is suffering. In so many ways, he is beyond his pain. All the loss, all the pain...and now he is listening to his friend Elihu attempt to reason him through his suffering in an attempt to find meaning in it all. That isn't helping. Elihu points out that pain is simply part of life, even the dramatic pain that comes from grief and loss when someone we love dies. He opines that God, as the author of life, is bigger than our pain. If God can indict angels, then how can we stand? Our job is to be good people, and then God seeing our good will lead us into good. If we wind up suffering, then isn't that just God's way of 1) winnowing the husks of our sins from what is righteous in us, or 2) simple recompense for the fact that the created cannot ever possibly rival the creator for righteousness and thus our frailty in the face of God's truth causes us to melt like wax before a flame.
Pale words: Job is suffering, and quite legitimately so. Job isn't looking for his suffering to be justified. He, as we all do when real suffering takes hold of us, wants to confront the source of that sustained, senses-dulling pain. He wants to know why he suffers, and learn that by confronting the source of all things. Elihu is asking him to look inside himself and admit that he is the broken bits Job calls himself. Job wants to confront the breaker...
...and there is the rub. We are always ready in prayer to give thanks, seek blessings and even offer up our problems. When real suffering has hold of us, though, are we strong enough to bring that before God? If true, then we have to be willing to confront God with our pain, our frustrations our anger, our despair....all our junk. Job's struggle, and ours, is to find a way to bring that junk up and out. Not easy, when it means that we in our suffering wind up contending with our maker.