Job feels he is righteous and has done no harm. Why bad things happen to good people?? What ultimately gives Job comfort?
The first of the Ten Commandments reads:
“I am Jehovah, your Elohim, who have brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, of the house of slaves” (Exodus 20:2).
This commandment looks more like a declaration:
- There is God;
- There is Divine Providence (Hashgacha Pratit: “For His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He sees all his goings”, Job 33:21).
What then transforms this “declaration of facts”, “description of reality”, into a commandment?
“Why bad things happen to good people” is an ancient quandary that has occupied the minds of thinking people for millennia. We have likewise addressed this issue in this post. As related therein, perhaps the ultimate source to address this issue is the biblical book of Job, not coincidentally attributed to Moses. The story of Job is well known:
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Furthermore, he had a family and much property so that “…this man was the greatest of all the men of the East” (Job 1:3).
Alas, one day the angels came before Jehovah, among them Satan, and the latter challenged the Divine that Job is “blameless and upright and fears God and shuns evil” (as described by God; Job 1:8) only because Job was protected and blessed by God (Job 1:9-10). God then delivers Satan the permission to harm Job any way he wished (“all that he has is in thy power”) except for taking Job’s soul (Job 1:12). Thus, Satan was allowed by God to test Job so that all may realize whether Job, despite all “bad things” that had befallen him, remained faithful to his former self.
Following description of the “bad things”, three of Job’s friends come to visit him “to mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). The multi-sided dialogue that then develops, between Job and his friends, is in essence a debate on whether “Bad things happen to good people”. Job holds on to his basic conviction that he is “blameless and upright and fears God and shuns evil” and therefore he is helpless to explain all the harm that has befallen him. The friends defy this claim and elaborate on why it is illogical and impossible to assume that the perfect God would allow this to happen, therefore concluding that Job probably is not “blameless”, as he pretends to be.
Job remains unconvinced and therefore also uncomforted.
What then ultimately comforted Job?
Throughout Scripture, a single theme keeps resurfacing: “The ways by which Jehovah leads his world are unknown to us and therefore humanly unexplainable”.
- “I will be Whoever I will be” (Exodus 3:14)
- “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19)
- “And Moses said to Jehovah…show me thy way that I may know thee” (Exodus 33:12-13), and Jehovah said “you cannot see my face for no man shall see me and live...” (Exodus 33:20); Therefore, “thou shall see my back and my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). Re-phrased: One may witness the results of Divine leadership and intervention in the world; these, however, cannot be explained (predicted) in advance, neither can they be explained post-factum. These results remain only to be witnessed!
The debate between Job and his friends comes to an abrupt conclusion when Jehovah intervenes in the debate. The essence of God’s explanation for “Why bad things happen to good people” is a genuine mystery:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
Obviously, this does not constitute a satisfactory answer to the basic question. Surprisingly, Job is now comforted and he expresses this explicitly:
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now that my eye has seen you I abhor myself and am comforted for the dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).
(Note that “dust and ashes” are signs of mourning, as mentioned early on in Job 2:12.)
Job had not received an answer to the basic question “Why bad things happen to good people”. Yet, once God has spoken to him, Job is comforted. He understands that there is Divine Providence and there is no more room for the basic question— silence is the right response (“..and Aharon kept his silence”, Leviticus 10:3).
We, mere mortals, are not privileged as was Job. We are “doomed” to exist in a universe of free will, and the latter cannot co-exist with the certainty that God exists and that there is Divine Providence. Either we have free will or we know for certain that God exists. Both, by definition, cannot co-exist. Job, once being exposed to God speaking to him, is no more a man of free will. We are.
The first of the Ten Commandments, outwardly looking like a mere declaration of facts, is in fact a commandment that demands of us the ultimate expression of free-will:
“Out of free will I accept as faithful description of reality existence of Elohim-Jehovah; Out of free will I accept as faithful description of reality existence of Divine Providence (Hashgacha Pratit)”.
*Shorty is a short post