Why do people suffer? What is God’s role in suffering? How can we help those who suffer? The fact of suffering in the world challenges us with its questions. The book of Job is all about human suffering. We meet a man who is afflicted physically and emotionally. We encounter friends who do their best, but make things worse. We are brought face-to-face with intellectual puzzles. Above all this, and because of it, we find Job struggling with his faith in God.
David Atkinson offers a compelling exploration of Job’s story. He shows the power of the book of Job to reach into our human situation and to engage with our human needs. It offers, he believes, the strong comfort which comes from knowing that someone else has been there before. The message of Job is both a comfort to us in our own suffering, and it serves as a model for our ministry of counseling to others in pain.
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“In other words: can there be such a thing as disinterested goodness? Is Job only good because of what he can get out of it? The question sometimes comes to us like that also: ‘Are people only religious because of what they can get out of it? Is your faith in God dependent only on the good you think it will do you?’” (Page 21)
“God is seen as an end in himself. This question at the centre of the book of Job is addressed to us all. Why do we serve God? Is it just for what we can get out of it? Or is ours a faith rooted in the reality of a personal communion with God himself—for his sake?” (Page 21)
“Everything Job believed about God was being called in question.” (Page 26)
“Job’s worst fears were that God had abandoned him. In the silence and the isolation, he had assumed that God had let him down and let him go. Job did not know that God had taken a risk, so to speak, to demonstrate Job’s integrity for heavenly purposes of his own. Of course God’s withdrawal was all part of the story, for Job’s pilgrimage of faith was precisely not a pilgrimage of sight. It is crucial to the story that Job should be in the dark. So he stands as a representative of, and an example for, all those of us who try to keep trusting in the dark. For all those of us whose faith is tested by the darkness and the apparent absence of God, the great reassurance of Job 38 is that God speaks. The Lord does come!” (Page 140)
David J. Atkinson is retired as assistant bishop in Southwark Diocese. Previously, he was a fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford, England, an assistant curate of The Cathedral Church of St. Andrew, archdeacon of Lewisham, and bishop of Thetford. He is the author of several books and commentaries, including Pastoral Ethics: A Guide to the Key Issues of Daily Living.