15 March 2013

Sound Theology vs Feelings in Times of Suffering

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in August 2011.  Phil uses the example of Job to show the vital importance of sound theology (as opposed to feelings and emotions) in times of suffering.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Job, by God's own testimony, was a righteous man, "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (1:1)—"none like him on the earth" (v.8).

But even the most righteous people on earth sometimes feel God is obscured by the darkness of grief and suffering. Job in particular suffered the loss of all his children and all his earthly possessions in a single day, after which his entire body was reduced to a festering mass of sores, and he was left without any earthly comfort whatsoever—while being besieged with bad counsel.

In the wake of so many unimaginable, crushing, life-destroying tragedies and plagues, Job felt abandoned by God. He felt overwhelmed by grief and personal loss.

I imagine it would be pretty hard for any of us to understand how he felt, how much it hurt, and how bitter the whole experience tasted.

But I'll tell you this: What Job suffered was no easier for him emotionally than it would be for you and me, no matter how righteous he was. He still felt the same kind of pain, with the same intensity, that you and I would feel if we suffered this way.

Job 2:13 says his friends "sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great."

Human emotions don't help us make sense of these things. If you want to sort through the problem of evil, you have to think sensibly, and theologically, and biblically, and not let your emotions rule your mind.

Job was a wise enough man than to know better than to respond by reflex on the basis of his feelings. If he had responded according to what he felt like, he might have cursed God. If he had just given vent to his feelings, he could easily been consumed with bitterness, self-pity, anger, and frustration—and he might have been tempted to take his wife's advice: "Curse God and die!"

But Job's very first response was the response of someone who knows something about God: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).

Job had filtered his feelings through his theology. It still did not make sense to him why he had to suffer like this (and that is why Job is 42 chapters long; because it records the dialogue Job had with his friends as he tried to sort this out). But even though it made no sense to him, even though he was overwhelmed with painful feelings, his immediate response made no mention of those feelings.

He doesn't focus on any doubt or confusion he might have been struggling with. Instead, his very first response was a bold affirmation of what he knew to be true about God.

Faced with the darkness of pain and loss, he didn't go chasing his emotions or wallowing in his uncertainty; he stood firm and clung to what he knew for sure. He anchored his soul on theological truths he was certain of, rather than setting himself adrift on a sea of confusion and doubt.

This cannot be stressed too much: It was sound theology, not his feelings, that enabled Job to weather the immediate shock of the news that his children and everything he owned were gone forever. This is why sound theology is so important—and so intensely practical.