The book of Job is recommended by Christians as a guide to make sense of the existence of sufferings in the world. It fulfills this function without subscribing to a more commonly proposed rationale that sufferings stem from the sufferers’ personal sins. Indeed, in the book of Job, the friends of Job lends a mouthpiece to the traditionally held view that sufferings are consequences of personal sins, but the reader is given knowledge of the backdrop for Job’s sufferings and are able to see the arguments presented by Job’s friends as misdirected. In the book of Job, an alternative proposal to the question of suffering seems to have been offered- That suffering can be a test meted out by God. In this article, I seek to evaluate whether this is an acceptable explanation for the existence of suffering.
The introduction of the book of Job showcases an interaction between God and Satan, in which God is shown to extol the virtuousness of Job to Satan. Satan challenges God that Job’s virtuousness were a result of God’s blessings on Job, and that if God should strike him with ill-effects, Job would not be as virtuous. God then agrees to the challenge and allows Satan to test Job. Then, in a chain of unfortunate events, Job’s oxen and donkeys were stolen by marauding Sabeans and his servants put to the sword, his sheep and more servants consumed by fire from the sky, his camels and even more servants stolen by raiding Chaldeans, and his sons and daughters killed when a mighty wind caused the house they were feasting in to collapse on them. Subsequently, on further prompting by Satan to God to test Job, God allowed Satan to strike Job’s flesh and bones, whence upon Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.
The paradigm offered by the book of Job for the experience of suffering, especially on people who might have been deemed as righteous and not deserving of punishment, is that God allows Satan to test humans in order that their sincerity in their faith in Him may be revealed. I seek to evaluate whether God has infringed upon certain moral principles (as prescribed in biblical texts or in philosophy) by allowing Satan to inflict such sufferings.
Does God have the right to test humans by causing them to suffer? I believe that every human beings have a right to dignity based on their individuality, and that suffering is anathema to the dignity of a human being. Because individuality is the sole criteria for a human being’s right to dignity, no one has the right to cause him or her harm. Such is the precept that I believe should govern human relations towards one another. Now, does such a precept apply to God? If it does, then can we say that God should not have the moral right to allow Satan to cause Job to suffer? And if it doesn’t, how can we conciliate human suffering to the right of dignity of a human being that I have prescribed above?
Sufferings are observable events in the world through the reports we see in the media. I believe that many of the victims of natural disasters, murders, rapes, thefts and many other ill-fortunes are not guilty of sins that warrant their sufferings. I myself am in experience of a certain trivial suffering in a minor form of tinnitus which I experience after attending a loud concert. Can we satisfactorily conciliate these observations of sufferings to the explanation provided by the book of Job? Is it any comfort at all to tell a woman who had been raped that her traumatic experience was due to God allowing Satan to test her? I personally find it just as reprehensive an explanation as to explain that she was a victim of rape because of her personal sins. In the book of Job, the sons and daughters of Job lost their lives as a result of the test meted out on their father. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Do you think it is fair that you should die because God allows Satan to kill you so that the sincerity of your father’s faith may be revealed? Does it not infringe on your right to life?
There might be several elements in my paradigm that might be questioned. One objection is that there were no such rights of a human being to begin with. Human beings have no rights to dignity or to life and such figments of my imagination or social constructs. Another objection possible is that the sufferings as shown in the book of Job did not infringe on any rights to dignity or life, or that sufferings does not rob a human being a dignity. God rehabilitated Job at the end of the test, and it is possible to conceive that the souls of his sons and daughters are in heavenly bliss in the afterlife. But there are certain sufferings in the world that might not preserve the dignity of the sufferer, one of which I believe is rape. I think if the book of Job was meant as an explanation for sufferings observed in the world, it probably cannot offer an explanation for certain suffering such as rape because it seems reprehensible to posit that God test the faith of a woman by allowing her to get raped. Another objection to my paradigm that I seem to have adopted for myself is that such suffering only happen to other people and would not happen to me, my family, or my friends because God is protecting me and the people around me. As of yet, I am relatively fine in health and status, although I think that adopting the paradigm of suffering in such a manner may be solipsistic and self-centered. However, it helps me make sense of sufferings observed that are extraneous to myself. I suppose my contraction of tinnitus somewhat damages such a view of mine and I have the grave apprehension that this illusion of mine will get shattered one day.