The Bible has many examples of people who feared God, but who were not afraid to question God. Job is one of them.
“Job, did you forgive God?”
Angel Gabriel asked me that question soon after I reached heaven.
“Did you forgive God?”
I had never thought of it like that. But perhaps that is what I did. I ‘forgave’ God! I prefer to say, “I kept my faith in God.” But when I say that, people misunderstand. They think I simply kept on praising God. They think I stopped crying. They are wrong.
On earth, I don’t think I ever fully got over the loss of my children. I learnt to trust, and even praise God again. But it wasn’t praise with a big smile. It was praise with pain and tears.
People read verse 6 in chapter 42 and they think I accepted God’s answer. But how could I? There was no answer for me to accept. God never answered: Why let me suffer this? Why let my children die?
Instead God drowned me with His questions. Questions I couldn’t answer. Questions God knew I couldn’t answer. Except for one. The question of my faith. The question whether I could still trust God without receiving answers.
I hate not knowing answers. A Jew who suffered in the Holocaust said: “Suffering itself was not the worst thing; the worst thing was the meaninglessness of this suffering.” Suffering that made no sense. Why, Lord, why?
I cried. I argued. I begged. Why this?
For 38 chapters I cried. It seemed like forever.
When did I stop crying? You know, I don’t think I ever really stopped. There were periods when I didn’t cry so much. But then, I would see a boy playing on the street. And I would remember my youngest son. And the tears and questions would start again.
After a while, my eyes stopped crying. But not my heart. My heart never stopped crying. Never stopped wondering why. Never really understood.
So maybe Gabriel was right. Maybe that is what I did. I forgave God for never answering my questions.
It sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it?
Even my three friends then thought I was blasphemous. They meant well, I guess - but, gosh! They made me so angry. I can’t believe how insensitive they were.
“Job, God is testing you,” they said.
What comfort does that bring? Doesn’t God have better things to do than to test me? (7:17)
“Suffering is the way a loving God disciplines and corrects his children.”
Maybe, but how can I be corrected if you don’t tell me what I did wrong? Would a loving Father discipline his child without explaining why? Surely God wouldn’t do that. (10:2)
God does discipline us for our own good, sometimes. God does punish the children He loves, sometimes. But those couldn’t be the reasons why I was suffering.
Don’t misunderstand me. Their theological statements were not wrong. They were quoting verses from Proverbs and Psalms. God does discipline us for our own good, sometimes. God does punish the children He loves, sometimes. But those couldn’t be the reasons why I was suffering. Would any father punish his child without telling him what he was being punished for? Is God a stupid Father? And even if I had sinned, what great sin did I commit which could possibly have deserved the death of my children? Is God cruel? Of course not!
I think they were closer to blasphemy than I was.
Finally they shut up! See Job 42:7. God was angry with them for their stupid answers. And they came to their senses. I hope you never make the mistake they did. Correct theology is wrong if it is not applied correctly. Truth isn’t true unless applied truly.
Hey, that sounded quite good - let me say it again. Correct theology is wrong if it is not applied correctly. Truth isn’t true unless applied truly.
I learned to “forgive” God for not giving me answers. Now I had to forgive my friends who were trying to give me answers. See verses 8-9.
I’m glad I forgave them. Things became much better after that. (See 42:10).
They stopped offering answers to questions they couldn’t answer. Instead, see verse 11: they gave me friendship. Practical help. Bought me dinner. Paid some of my bills. Kept me company.
A friend in need is a friend indeed. Oscar Wilde joked that “A friend in need is a friend to avoid!” Thank goodness my friends didn’t take Oscar seriously! I was a friend in need. And they became my friends in deed.
Where was the Satan?
Oh yes, Gabriel told me about Satan’s challenge in chapter 1. How Satan said that the only reason I loved God was because my life was blessed with riches and earthly comforts. Satan said that I would reject God if earthly suffering were to come my way. And God accepted Satan’s challenge and allowed him to bring those terrible sufferings to my life.
Did I know about this Satanic challenge? No, I never knew. God was silent. He never told me about it.
Would it have helped to know? Maybe, but maybe not. I think if I knew Satan was involved, I would have asked, “But God, why did You give him permission?” And if God said He chose me in order to prove that my faith and love was true, I’m not sure what I would have said. But I know what I would have thought. “Please, God, not me. Find someone else to suffer and prove their love for You.”
In any case, God didn’t tell me about Satan. Not even at the end. Some can’t understand that. They expected God to explain everything in the last chapter of my book. To have Satan admit he was wrong. To send him off with his tail between his legs. But there’s not a word about Satan in the final chapter. In fact, it’s the opposite. Look at verse 11. It doesn’t say that it was Satan who made me suffer. It says it was God. God brought the trouble and tragedy upon me. God allowed it.
Why didn’t God mention Satan’s central role in my suffering?
Maybe God knew it wouldn’t really have helped. In my pain, it wouldn’t have brought comfort. It would have been just another answer that provoked even more questions. “Lord, why accept such a juvenile challenge from Satan? Why let him play with me? Why… me? Because you say that I am the most righteous man on earth??! You reward my righteousness with this??”
No. Knowing Satan’s challenge might not have helped me. And in the end, that wasn’t what helped me.
What was it that helped? Three things are highlighted in chapter 42. But it’s almost lunchtime in heaven, so I won’t explain the third. Let me just restate the first two.
I made peace with my friends. That’s the first thing. They stopped being philosophers. And they started being pastors. They became my real friends. In their prayers, and in their practice.
Do you have friends in need? Friends who are suffering? Friends who are questioning? Don’t be philosophers. Just be their friends. That’s one thing that helped. I made peace with my friends.
And the second thing? I made peace with God. No, He never answered my questions whilst I was on earth. I still didn’t understand why He allowed such a terrible tragedy. I still had my doubts and questions. But I gave God the benefit of those doubts.
“Did I forgive God?”
I don’t think of it that way. I prefer to say, “I gave God the benefit of my doubts.” And after what happened to me on earth, I had doubts a plenty.
But my friends eventually made peace with me.
And I made peace with God.
That’s what helped me pull through.
I hope it helps you too.
Rev Dr Gordon Wong has been married to Lai Foon, and they have two adult children, Deborah and Jeremy. He began pastoral ministry in 1986 with the Methodist Church and was elected the new Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore on 07 Sept. He will be consecrated on 04 Dec 2020.