Suffering and Laws: How Do We Respond?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, March 10, 2018 0 comments

by Nathan Buck

[This is my third blog post on recent events, and builds somewhat on the previous two. You may want to read my last two posts here and here for additional insights on navigating policy, public debate, and checking our motives.]

A recent trend in our culture has been to elevate someone who has experienced a trauma or suffering, as if they were an expert on making policies that may be related to their experience. Jimmy Kimmel positioned himself as a spokesperson on healthcare, because of his child's experience with tetralogy of fallot. Soon after, the #metoo trend went around, and women who had experienced sexual assault or harassment positioned themselves as spokespersons for women's rights. Then we had the Florida school shootings, and students who suffered severe trauma were put out on the media and encouraged to make statements about policy and gun control.

In each situation, the policy changes requested, the platforms advocated for, and the legislation demanded were narrow and tuned almost exclusively into the one slice of experience that impacted these individuals so greatly. Now let me say that each of their situations are worthy of our listening, support, compassion, and care. They are experts in their own experience, and it is worthy of our respect and attention to hear their story, to consider our role in helping them move forward, and to guard others from unnecessary pain - in so far as that is possible and purposeful. I would think that any human being with half a heart would want to see healing and wholeness come to the hurting, the broken, the abused, and the grieving. That is a given.

It is a separate issue though to consider policy measures and laws based solely on their experiences. It is a fair question to ask if their experience had in some way endowed them with an expertise or insight that should dominate the focus of policies on related issues. Consider the story of Job (pronounced “jobe”). In chapters 38-42 we see the conclusion to his story, which answers that question pretty clearly.

Let me set the stage with Job. His story challenges the notion that those who are suffering are cursed and those who prospering are blessed. In his day, there was an assumption that God always blessed the righteous, and as long as you didn't do anything wrong, God would make you wealthy and healthy. Now Job is a guy who did everything right. He was wealthy and everything he had was healthy and prospering - his family, his herds of animals, his fields, etc. Unknown to Job, there is a conversation Satan has with God. It's essentially a dare; Satan dares God to let Job experience pain and loss to see if Job will curse God. God accepts the challenge and is confident that Job will pass. The only condition God ultimately puts on Satan is that he cannot harm Job himself.

What happens next is so traumatizing that most of us would go insane with grief. Job's herds of animals, his crops, and all of his children are stolen, destroyed, or killed in ONE day. Then when Job doesn't curse God, Satan afflicts his body with sores from head to toe. It's so painful and dramatic that Job's wife even tells him to "curse God and die." I can't imagine the pain, the grief, or the suffering.

Job's three friends come and sit with him for 7 days and say nothing. It's the most compassionate thing they do. Because after the 7 days, each of them speaks in turn and each of them tries to get Job to admit to some fault or sin that must have caused this. Chapter after chapter of Job's story is their discussion with him, insisting he MUST have done something wrong. Eventually, Job has defended himself against their accusations long enough, and he demands an audience with God to vindicate him and show that He committed no sin, even in the depths of his grief. 

Now, if we were to accept the idea that Job is an expert by his suffering and that somehow he had gained insight into the workings of the universe and wisdom for policies that would benefit humankind, then we would expect God to vindicate Job and the story to be over. This is not what happens. Yes, Job had not sinned to cause any of this. But in his suffering and frustration with his friends' assumptions, he stepped into a place that appears to be indignation. Somewhere, in the midst of his pain, the absolution he wanted became something he felt he deserved, to the point where he accuses God of denying him justice. And after the youngest friend speaks to defend God and convince Job of his own guilt, then God speaks.

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me..." (Job 38:1-2)

In the very first sentence, God demonstrates the simple truth that Job has not seen and cannot see what God sees. I love the "brace yourself like a man" statement; I can hear both sarcasm and a loving father about to deal a hard truth to his child. God goes on to ask Job if he was there at the start of creation, if he helped build all that exists, if he has the power to put the stars in place, if he can create or tame the great creatures of the earth, etc. By the end of God's questioning, the one clear thing displayed is that Job is NOT an expert on justice, or creation, or anything in comparison to God. And it's important to notice Job's attitude in Job 42:1-6.

While Job's experience was painful and his suffering worthy of compassion, it had not imparted him with greater knowledge of who God is or how God works. He also didn't have greater insight into justice or policies to protect people from bad things happening.

We learn that our lives and experiences are part of a greater story in which our gains and losses all play a part in the victory of good over evil. God revealed to Job what He planned from the beginning after the testing by Satan. He blesses him with more than he had previously and let him see his grandchildren to the fourth generation. God also confronted Job's friends and affirms that Job had represented Him well throughout their accusations.

In Job's story we are reminded that not only are those who suffer not experts in regard to passing law and policies, but also those 'friends' who seem wise may not be experts either. There is only one sound way to have good laws and policies, and that is to have insight beyond our own experiences. We need to have God's perspective on things if we hope to have laws and policies that benefit society and build people up. So, we can listen and learn from those who are hurting, and we should. But before we set to writing laws and policies, we need to take a breath, pause, then discern God's guidance for the decisions ahead.

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