This essay appears as the Commentary to the June 24th post in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.
It wasn’t long after becoming a Christian that I started losing things. My job. My fairy-tale home in the mountains. My horses. A marriage. My health. The losses just kept coming. At a certain point, I got mad. What the heck, God? I thought you were going to make everything better, instead you’re taking my life apart, making a heaps of ashes out of every one of my ideals.
I get Job. He wasn’t actually a patient sufferer. He was furious. Why, when I served you, when no one else would, why are you doing this to ME? The problem of God and evil does not have a logical answer. We can find various texts, ancient and new, that purport to explain how a good and loving God allows evil. We can argue or agree. He’s doing it himself. He’s just allowing it because he can’t help it. Or we ourselves are at fault. But in the end, the same decision Job faced will eventually be our own.
We will answer, not just out of pious memorization of scriptures that we think we can wield against the void, not with platitudes or theology or reason. We will answer from the bottom of our own beings, from the murky depths of a tortured soul, in the actual experience of suffering, we will respond to the question Jesus asked: Who do you say that I am?
When there is no palace. When we are not healed. When the darkness does not threaten to overwhelm us because it already has, there it is again: Who do you say that I am? This is an existential question that cannot be answered truthfully from the position of one who does not suffer. As long as we are above the suffering, answers are simple. We can tell others to do this thing or that. We can tell them how to think about God, how we would respond. Only from the depths of our own loss can we truly respond to God without coercion, without pretense or a vague hope we can manipulate him into doing what we want. Only from Gethsemane, from Job’s ash heap, can the question be answered, naked and without ideals.
Whether we agree with suffering or not, whether we think it’s fair, when it happens we have two choices. We can choose to believe God is good, or we can choose to believe he is not. Suffering will come, if it has not already. This is the ultimate experience of free will. When we say, from the pit, God is good, we transcend evil, and become his children in deed as well as truth. We speak the creation words then, without any hope for reward or recompense. In the whole universe, nothing is more powerful, nothing releases all the pain of suffering more than this simple answer, Job’s answer, spoken back to the void: God is good.