Imagination and The Problem of Suffering

(SeanO) #1

God’s answer to Job is very intriguing.

Job and his friends believed in some form of the retribution principle - that those who suffer have sinned and that God blesses the obedient.

Because they believed in this principle, when they dealt with the problem of suffering they automatically debated God’s justice - putting God in the dock, so to speak.

But God’s answer is not an explanation at all. He does not defend the justness of His actions. Instead, God uses images from the boundaries of the ancient’s understanding of nature in order to help them grasp at a heart level that God alone is wise and that none can contend with Him.

These images - of leviathan and behemoth and the stars singing for God in the very beginning of creation - allowed Job to grasp at a heart level a truth about God’s very deity that He had not grasped through argument. That God’s goodness, greatness and wisdom are root realities of the universe and that He is not a tame God.

So my question is this:

How can we use imagination to address the problem of suffering? What are some examples of apologists who have used the imagination to teach the heart about these root realities of who God is so that they can worship through suffering?

One example I can think of that is often used is remembering Jesus on the cross - the very Son of God slain for us - as the proof of God’s love in times of suffering. Paul the apostle does not appeal to reason - but to a story - the Greatest Story - when assuring the Romans that God does indeed love them (Rom 5:8).

(Melvin Greene) #2

I am reminded of a book I read several years ago titled “On The Anvil” by Max Lucado. He uses the illustration of how a blacksmith molds and shapes pieces of metal into useful tools by heating and hammering the them on an anvil as to why God sometimes allows pain and suffering to come into the life of a believer, which is to make them into “God’s chosen instruments”. I think the Bible describes also this process with the illustration of a potter and clay.

(SeanO) #3

@Melvin_Greene Sounds like a good book. I may need to check it out.

(SeanO) #4

Here is 1 example from At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. The basic plot is that a boy named Diamond gets to go on adventures with the North Wind.

As Wikipedia says, though the North Wind does good deeds and helps people, she also does seemingly terrible things. On one of her assignments, she must sink a ship. Yet everything she does that seems bad leads to something good.

Here is a quote from a discussion between Diamond and the North Wind when the men are sinking in the ship:

“I am always hearing. . . the sound of a far off song. I do not exactly know where it is, or what it means; and I don’t hear much of it, only the odour of its music, as it were, flitting across the great billows of the ocean outside this air in which I make such a storm; but what I do hear, is quite enough to make me able to bear the cry from the drowning ship. So it would you if you could hear it.’
‘No it wouldn’t,’ returned Diamond stoutly. ‘For they wouldn’t hear the music of the far-away song; and if they did, it wouldn’t do them any good. You see you and I are not going to be drowned, and so we might enjoy it.’
'But you have never heard the psalm, and you don’t know what it is like. Somehow, I can’t say how, it tells me that all is right; that it is coming to swallow up all the cries. . . . It wouldn’t be the song it seems if it did not swallow up all their fear and pain too, and set them singing it themselves with all the rest.”
― George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

(SeanO) #5

Another example from Lord of the Rings when Sam and Frodo are in Mordor:

Frodo … was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place… The land seemed full of … noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim…

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

(Jimmy Sellers) #6

Hi @Sean_Oesch:
How about music. A contempory Christian Band that I like is Mercy Me and one of the current songs that is still played is "Even If"
Here is link.

It is a song about difficult times in our lives that will never go away. In his case a sick child with an incurable disease. It still make me cry when I listen to it.

(Melvin Greene) #7

@Sean_Oesch, I just started to read George MacDonald. I believe the story I’m reading is “The Princess and the Goblin”. And of course you know my affinity for J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks for sharing that.

@Jimmy_Sellers, that happens to be one of my favorite songs right now. I haven’t thought about songs, but since you brought up that great song, I’m reminded of a couple that have moved me deeply: “I have This Hope”, and “Hold My Heart”, both by Tenth Avenue North. Music is such a powerful medium. It can stir the soul and have a healing effect to someone who is hurting. Thanks, Jimmy!

(SeanO) #8

@Jimmy_Sellers That’s a great point - it reminds me of the quote from Andrew Fletcher that I have heard Ravi use - “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

Songs are a powerful means of communicating truth to the human heart.

(SeanO) #9

@Melvin_Greene I really enjoyed that book - the image of the barely visible cord leading Curdie home through a dark world (of the goblins) is also an image of how we have a glimpse of the road home in the midst of struggle.

(Jimmy Sellers) #10

Hi @Sean_Oesch:
Movies. The teardrop from Heaven in the crucifixion scene, The Passion, Mel Gibson. The movie Shack in the scene with Sophia (wisdom) when Mack had to choose which of his child to send to Hell. Same movie the burial of his daughter in the garden, as Sarayu pours out Mack’s tears, Ps 56:8 as the tree of life springs forth anew.
I am sure there are others.

(SeanO) #11

@Jimmy_Sellers Movies are a great example as well.

What I find most often is that very good books rooted in Christian theology like Narnia and LOTR make very good movies for ‘sanctifying the imagination’. The Passion is another good example.

I would be wary of ‘The Shack’ though - as I’m sure you are already aware there is a lot of bad theology in both the book and the movie. I personally avoided it - and that is saying something because I enjoy the HP novels and movies. The reason I avoided the Shack is because it claims (at least indirectly) to be representing Christian truth and actually puts words in God’s mouth but is in fact presenting something quite different.

I noticed that even Ravi is very careful in his books where Jesus dialogues with people like Buddha and Oscar Wilde to mostly use the Words of Scripture when Jesus speaks. The author of ‘The Shack’ showed no such discretion.

(angelina Edmonston) #12


I have some real questions. I understand all suffering is not from sin. It is a given. I am unsure though why Job stated he repented Job 42:6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. He obviously felt convicted. God in Job 40-42 gave Job a lesson in contending with the Creator.

I am wondering what you feel Leviathan and Behemoth are? And can you please show me a scripture where the imagination is described in the Scripture as something good?

Thank you for your thoughts.

(SeanO) #13

@angelina_Edmonston Very good questions! So, I will answer the questions regarding Job here and then start a new topic on the imagination (other people probably have some great thoughts on that and it is a separate idea).

1 - Why did Job repent?

God accuses Job of 2 things:

  • Job 38:2 - darkening counsel with words without knowledge
  • Job 40:2 - being a ‘faultfinder’ that ‘contends with the Almighty’

Job repents twice with the same basic admission:

  • Job 40:4 - I am of small account - I lay my hands on my mouth
  • Job 42:1-6 - Job admits not knowing God’s counsel and ‘despises himself’, repenting in dust and ashes

God vindicates Job over his friends:

  • Job 42:7 - the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoke of me what is right, as my servant Job has”

So what’s going on? Did Job sin or not?

I think the answer is that Job did not commit the sins that his friends accused him of, but he did “speak words without knowledge” and act as a “faultfinder” with God - as God said.

Job repented of accusing God with words without knowledge. Job did not understand the hidden counsel of God and had no right to lay an accusation against God.

But Job did not commit any sin that led to his suffering.

2 - Behemoth and Leviathan

This article is good - frankly I do not think people can identify them precisely and their identity is not necessary to understand the gist of the passage. Some say they are mythical (and leviathan sometimes does appear to be), but in this case they seem to be animals with which Job would be familiar.

(angelina Edmonston) #14

WOW !!! This answers so much about Job. :grinning:

When people accuse GOD and are in ignorance is this not imputed to them as unrighteousness? As in the case of Job?

I was taught behemoth and leviathan had a dual meaning years ago… 1) as the article states and 2) spiritual forces of darkness. Behemoth is described as “chief in the ways of GOD”. And I was told this was a fallen beings who understood the mindsets of religion the high things. Job 40:19 He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him.

And leviathan i was told is the “king of the children of pride”. Described in Job 41 almost like dragon/ Satan who is the scorner, his words are destructive, unteachable Job 41:34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.

Have you ever heard this explanation? is this what you mean by mythical?

Thank you for writing.

(SeanO) #15

@angelina_Edmonston I am glad it was helpful. I have never heard of that explanation of behemoth and leviathan.

By mythical I mean that when the Bible talks about God subduing the powers of darkness I think (and I may be wrong) that sometimes leviathan represents chaos and disorder.

I would be careful about saying that God “imputed Job’s accusations as unrighteousness” since that is not what the text says. Certainly Job was not right to accuse God, but in the end God acquitted Job and applauded him for the other parts his speech and I do not think Job ever ceased to be in God’s Kingdom - he never turned away to serve the accuser.

(angelina Edmonston) #16

Do you think it was Jobs humility and acceptance of GOD is greater and this is what GOD accepted?

I see Job was not told by GOD he sinned… and yes his friends were rebuked for offering there opinions. Here is what I was taught. Job was tested. Job had fear because he was making sacrifices for his kids a-lot. Job said “what he greatly feared about his children came upon him”. Job had a spirit of fear and even said “a spirit caused the hair of his skin to rise up”. Job also had accusation and a spirit of religion and pride. Thus job was not sinless. He was serving the kingdom of Sin. not faith… Job was righteous in that Job had a heart for GOD. And GOD did not look at his sin as much as his heart of remaining faithful to GOD through all the test. This was the application of grace to Job.

I am very grateful for your explanations as it makes me consider where my scriptural mindset lies. Dave in another post described my tradition of learning very succinctly. So I am trying to understand and wrestle with these other traditions of thought.


(SeanO) #17

@angelina_Edmonston I am glad @Dave_Kenny was able to help you understand your tradition.

To me the interpretation of Job you presented is an attempt by a well meaning pastor to reconcile Romans 3:23 with the statement that Job was “righteous” and a complete misunderstanding of the reason that Job was rebuked.

There are a few things I would say are wrong about the interpretation you have been taught of the book of Job:

1 - The verse about what Job feared coming upon him does not specifically mention his children. It says:

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.

It is generic - the things that Job would be afraid of came upon him.

2 - Nothing in the text suggests that Job had a “spirit of religion and pride” - not one verse. Again, Job was guilty of finding fault with God because he did not know God’s secret councils. If anyone had a spirit of “religion and pride” - it was the three friends.

I think the reason you were taught that Job had a “spirit of religion and pride” is that Rom 3:23 says all have sinned, so people feel the need to point to something wrong with Job - he can’t be sinless, right? The idea of him being righteous bothers people whose main framework for understanding a relationship with God is the Romans road.

I think the following article takes a look at the question of how job could be considered righteous:

Basically, in the OT someone was “righteous” if they feared God, obeyed His commandments, took care of the poor and widow and repented of sin when they committed it. It does not mean that they were perfect. But certainly the picture we are given of Job is about as close as we can get.

(angelina Edmonston) #18

Thank you this is one to ponder. I will print this. :grinning:

(Jolene Laughlin) #19

Hi Angelina,

There are so very many aspects to the book of Job (and a lot of theories about the point of the book of Job) that it makes my head spin sometimes. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible, if not THE favorite, because I can see God’s intimate knowledge of, and love for his creation in it.

I keyed in on the part of the conversation that you wrote above, because I just recently learned something about this myself and thought I would share. Job was not sinless, because none of us can be, but I think that he “feared the Lord” in the way that we all should. He was not “afraid” or “living in fear” in a way that was sinful. I didn’t really grasp this concept until I read Hugh Ross’ book “Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job” which was very intriguing and opened up possibilities I had never thought of before.

Since Job is the oldest book in the Bible, it is describing a time prior to the Hebrews being enslaved in Egypt and coming out as “God’s Chosen People.” The tribes, including the priestly tribe, had not yet been established and the law had not yet been given to Moses. At that time, the head of the home acted in a priestly role for his entire family - he offered sacrifices for them as the priests did later, and interceded on behalf of them before God. So, he was “fearing the Lord” in a good way, and doing what a good father/husband/employer was supposed to. So I don’t think God saw Job’s “fear” as a sin. I think it was a good thing.

I have heard several other interpretations and lessons taken from the book of Job, but one of the biggest that stands out to me is that the book of Job is there to help us understand the sovereignty of God and offer us comfort in the midst of our own suffering. If you notice, God never explains to Job why these calamities came on him and his family. He essentially brings home to Job, though, that He is all good and all holy. He is the master of the universe and nothing that happens within it happens without his knowledge. The point is that Job can trust in him, even when it seems like the entire world has fallen apart.

Through God’s voice and questions, Job does recognize his own smallness and the enormity of the insult he has offered to God (who is he to demand an answer and an accounting of the most high God?), though he did not do so deliberately or with arrogance. He was asking genuine questions and shouting out in pain from a place of utter desolation. When God graced him with His presence, and basically put him on trial, Job became fully aware of his own sinfulness as well as the holiness and purity of God. I think it will be like that for us, the first time we really and truly come into the presence of His holiness, purity, and might. We will recognize our sinfulness to the core of our being. The proper response to this is repentance and worship, which is what Job did. When his erroneous thinking was pointed out to him, he immediately and completely repented of it. And he accepted what had happened to him without ever actually getting an explanation. After coming face to face with the majesty of God, he was content with the answer that God knows more than we do and that He is in control even when we can’t see or understand what He is doing.

All of Job’s friends but one, on the other hand, did act arrogantly and even presumed to speak on God’s behalf. Their arrogance and lack of humility - judging others as if they knew the mind of God, handing out advice as if they were God’s mouthpiece - angered God. They did not pause to seek God’s word or counsel. They assumed that they knew. God knew the inner thoughts and intentions of all those involved, and Job’s faith, shown by a life of obedience and a heart that was wholly seeking after God, is what made Job righteous in God’s eyes.

What was allowed to happen to Job was not done as a punishment for any sin. It was done for God’s own purposes - and even though we know it was a test, Job did not ever seem to get that information. And even we don’t know fully what God’s purposes in this situation were. Perhaps to allow Job to examine himself for hidden sin, and to know God better, or just to serve as a powerful reminder for the rest of humanity that God is far greater than we are and sees far beyond what we can, and we can rest assured that He has a purpose in suffering, though we don’t understand what it is right now.