Here is a letter I wrote today to William Safire, an opinion writer for the New York Times. He wrote an article about how the book of Job (and, presumably, Christians or Jews) would respond to the hundreds of thousands of deaths that resulted from the tsunami. As you'll see, I disagreed with his interpretation. Go to www.nytimes.com if you want to see his article, but it will probably be gone by tomorrow. If you know nothing about me and my understanding of God, this is a pretty good starting point.

Dear Mr. Safire,
Thank you for your recent article on Job, and what the book has to say about suffering. It means much to the Christian community when those who are in position of influence take the time to consider how we approach the world.

However, I think it is a mistake to approach the Bible as Spinoza did, reading a certain portion without understanding the larger scheme of the work. I believe you missed the point of the book.

Throughout the Bible, we are shown that life is not about a moral code, nor is it an all-out love fest (though those are both elements of the larger point). Instead, the Bible teaches us what it is to glorify God.

The famous play JB outlines what most humans believe to be an impossible roadblock to a Christian understanding of God by suggesting that if God is good, he is not all-powerful. If he is all-powerful, he must not be good.

The problem here is that humans have arrogantly assumed that they have complete knowledge of what is good and what isn't. They are making the case that God is either uncaring, by allowing large amounts of pain when he could prevent it, or that he is weak. They assume pain is inherently bad according to their personal moral code, and that God must live up to it to be worthy of their interest.

Job shows us that this argument is not the point. In the beginning of the book, Job is a good guy. He doesn't break any rules, he is "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1) God allows Satan to test him, but note that he does not tell Satan what the end result will be. Clearly, God has more in mind for Job than some cosmic bet. God is teaching Job something.
Near the end of his time with his friends, a young man makes some observations that God does NOT correct in the end. Apparently, they are true. This young man, Elihu, makes some of the most important summarizing arguments of the book in chapters 32-37. His points, along with God's statements, make it clear that God does not want moral perfection from us. He wants to be WORSHIPPED. God is teaching Job that he needs to be seeking and worshipping God, not just obeying his rules.

As Elihu says, "God is exalted in his power, who is a teacher like him? Or said to him, 'you have done wrong'? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it, men gaze on it from afar. How great is God-beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out." (Job 36:22-26)

In another place (Job 35:3-8) Elihu points out that your righteousness or lack therof doesn't add anything to God or take anything away… it affects only us. Instead, we should be worshipping.
After God's statements, all of which point to his cosmic value and worthiness of worship, Job's reply says it all.

"My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." (Job 42:5, emphasis mine) Job now realizes that "being good" isn't enough. Suffering is there because God allows it. He allows it because it is a part of what must be done (and only an all-knowing God could know what must be done) to gain the worship of his creation.

Where would worship of a powerful God be without fear of His power? Where would joyful worship be without pain to oppose it? Who would worship God through his plan of salvation if there were no death to be saved from?

Many have struggled with the question of whether something is good because God does it, or whether God does it because it's good. This is a hard question because the former perpetuates chaos and we don't feel as though the latter has been shown to be true. The correct answer, though, is neither. Something is good because it glorifies God. Therefore, God does those things that glorify Himself, because there is no other good in the universe. He is bound by the need to honor himself, because the Truth is that He is deserving of it, and God cannot avoid doing what is right due to false humility or a desire to look good in our eyes.

Christian theology is built on these principles. It cannot be approached in the same way as Islam or modern-day Judaism, because goodness isn't a meeting of the standard. Goodness is worship for the only One who CAN meet the standard.

Thank you, again, for your thoughts on this important and emotionally hard issue. I continue to appreciate your articles and your contributions to society.

Ben Bartlett

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