Guests: Dave Thomas and Jenn Ogden
Related Verses: Job
Leading Question: If all we had was the book of Job, what would it tell us about God and human suffering?
Without the rest of Scripture, Job tells us little about God and human suffering. Yet the book plays a crucial role in the story. The Adventist perspective is shaped by a free-will theology that highlights both the role of the human and the divine as God seeks to work with fallen humankind. The Sabbath School discussion could evaluate the role of each of the following passages in illuminating the topic of “God and Human Suffering.”
1. Genesis 3: Deception in the garden. In Genesis 3, the human story is shaped by the role of Satan, disguised as a serpent, an identification not explicit until Revelation 12:7-12.
2. War in heaven, climaxing at the cross. In Revelation 12:7-12, the war in heaven is seen to climax at the cross. Thereafter Satan is excluded from the heavenly realm:
7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”
From the Garden to the Cross to a New Earth
3. Genesis 22: Sacrifice of Isaac. Genesis 22 depicts the twisted impact of sin on human attitudes toward divine authority: the ultimate demand of the gods is seen to be the sacrifice of the first born. God worked within that catastrophic situation to show that he will provide the sacrifice; humans cannot sacrifice their offspring to satisfy an angry God.
4. Job: An innocent man mercilessly tormented by Satan. God is seen as the one responsible for turning Satan loose on Job. The goal seems to have been to show that human beings are indeed capable of unselfish love in the service of the God they worship.
5. Arrogance among heavenly beings. Although Isaiah 14:12-15 (the fall of Lucifer) and Ezekiel 28:12-19 (the guardian cherub from Eden) were not explicitly linked with Satan until well into the Christian era, these two narratives do reveal a tension between created beings and God on high, with the sin of pride being prominent in both passages.
6. Micah 6:6-8: What does God require? The classic prophetic passage on the human pay-back psychology shows how the human mind keeps imagining an ever higher price in order to gain peace with God. The Good News Translation actually adds an explicit “no” to clarify the implied negative in the passage:
6 What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? 7 Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? 8 No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
In short, God does not demand that a price be paid, but fallen sinners imagine that such a price must be paid. The sacrifice of Christ illustrates the divine intent to satisfy that felt need.
7. Philippians 2:1-11 (5-11): Divine example of selflessness. The crucial illustration of selfless divine love is provided by the second chapter of Philippians. Though the classic passage is usually given as verses 5-11, the introductory verses provide the setting of divine selflessness:
1. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)
8. Revelation 21:1-4: God dwells among his people forever. Ultimately, God will establish a pain-free world where he will be present with his people forever. That’s the goal of the great struggle between good and evil, the “Cosmic Conflict,” or what Adventists have called, “The Great Controversy” between Christ and Satan.
A quotation from The Desire of Ages and one from the renowned New Testament scholar, John Stott, both focus on the role that Jesus Christ played in the cosmic drama.
Ellen White: “At the cross of Calvary, love and selfishness stood face to face. Here was their crowning manifestation.” The Desire of Ages, p. 57
John Stott: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world’ [P. T. Forsyth] as ours….” – The Cross of Christ, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1986, 2006 (pp. 326-27).