Good theology will help us avoid blaming God (“I hate Thee”) or improperly blaming ourselves (“I hate me”) when we face great difficulty.
I continue to prepare for my Fall series on the book of Job. As a part of my preparation, I am benefiting immensely from Tim Keller’s excellent book on suffering. I will post more on it in the days to come. It is one of the best books I have ever read.
Keller rightly points out that when facing suffering we must hold two truths in tension:
- Suffering is just. The reason there is suffering is because humanity has rebelled against God. Our rebellion began with Adam and Eve’s sin, but we continue to make wrong decisions and there are consequences.
- Suffering is unjust. At the same time, there is not always an immediate reason why we suffer. If someone endures a trial, it does not mean that the person sinned in some way. Trying to assign particular sins to particular difficulties was the error Job’s friends made when they told Job that his difficulties must have been due to some sin in his life.
If we ignore either of these truths, we will be out of touch with the universe as it really is. If we forget the first truth –that, in general, suffering is just — we will fall into proud, resentful self-pity that bitterly rejects the goodness or even the existence of God. If we forget the second truth — that, in particular suffering is often unjust — we may be trapped in inordinate guilt and the belief that God must have abandoned us. These teachings eliminate what could be called both the “I hate thee” response–debilitating anger toward God – – and the “I hate me” response – – devastating guilt and a sense of personal failure. Counselors know what an enormous number of people fall into one or the other – – or both of these abysses. This balance – – that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair – – keeps us from many deadly errors. If we end up in one abyss or the other, it will be due to being unwise, “incompetent with regard to the realities of life.” (Keller, 139).