Wisdom and Suffering: 2 Reflections about God’s Sovereignty
Lately, I did a theological study on Job and Ecclesiastes as part of my Master of Divinity course. These are wisdom literatures from the Old Testament that address issues in life such as suffering and meaning of life. Learning about wisdom and suffering, it spurs some thoughts and reflections which I think is worth sharing here.
1. We can learn from wisdom and suffering that God’s sovereignty is certain
The book of Job chronicles the struggle of Job in understanding his plight after he lost everything and suffered from health issues after that (Job 1-2).
The solutions offered by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did not fully answer Job’s predicament. Their central thesis states that bad things happen to people because of their sins, therefore Job must have sinned (Job 22:5, 25:4, 20:29). However, Job insisted on his innocence and struggled to understand.
At the end of the day, God spoke to Job Himself through a series of questions that suggested Job’s limited knowledge of creation (Job 38-42). The peculiarity of God’s conversation with Job after a long discourse between Job and his friends, however, yielded no straight answer. What came out from the list of questions posed to Job is a sense that in this chaotic world, God’s sovereignty is over all. It implies that we need to trust God even when our conventional wisdom failed to help us comprehend what is happening.
For me, this poses another question. Am I able to trust God with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding? This is easier said than done and preached. But at the core of our theology, if God is indeed trustworthy and sovereign, then we should respond like Job, who declared it sufficient to have seen and heard God (Job 42:5). This is not to say that I can easily trust God in all the seasons of my life but this is the one lesson that God reminds me from time to time in different forms.
Extending this to my pastoral ministry, this means that the logical outcome of journeying with any ‘sufferers’ is really to lead them to trust in God’s sovereignty. We do not need to achieve instantly, but just as how Job journeyed and eventually encountered God, it is one that I need to aspire to achieve when journeying pastorally.
2. We can learn from wisdom and suffering that life definitely has its meaning
Any Christians reading Ecclesiastes will find the book depressing. After all, what can you do when a book in the Bible keeps telling you that life is ‘meaningless?’ How do you respond when ‘all are vanity (Ecc 1: 2)?’
Life is indeed meaningless under the sun. Before I came to know Christ, I used to wonder what is the ultimate purpose that will drive me in life? It can’t be the case that I am forever chasing success for the sake of money or for the sake of the loved ones around me. However, it should be comforting for us to understand that life can be meaningful if we look up to God.
The conclusion of Ecclesiastes said that after all things were considered, our duty is simply to fear God and obey all His commandments (Ecc 12:13). In short, there has to be a right relationship with God that leads to worship before anything else. That itself should then lead to
Therefore, as Christ-believing disciples, we need to examine our own walk with Him. We have to work on our ‘being with God’ before we ‘do for God.’ This will then sustain us when we really go through hardship or suffering. After all, the Bible does encourage us to live our lives as a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercies (Rom 12:1). This implies that the starting point of our lives,
In a practical sense, this means, as I help people to make sense of their meaning in life, it boils down to discipleship and leading them to a closer relationship with Christ. We can philosophise all we want regarding life but at the end of the day, living right with God is the baseline that I will want to establish.
So, share with me what you think from your reading of Job and Ecclesiastes. How would you understand