The Seeker of Peace

Suffering as an Opportunity
October 14, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: God, Suffering | Tags: , ,

On Sunday, I was battling a painful flare-up of my Crohn’s Disease. (This is the reason there was no blog post that day.) It got me to thinking about the reason for suffering. While I’ve never had the inclination to do this before, I found myself turning to the Bible for inspiration.

I have never, and still don’t, consider the Bible to be the literal word of God. There are too many alternate versions and other irregularities for that to be true. However, the more I look at it, the more I see that there’s the core of a deep mystical traditional below the more “modern” Judeo-Christian interpretation of things.

Since I was thinking about suffering, I turned to the book of Job. For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s a brief summary: God is talking with a council of angels, which includes the Accuser (who later forms the basis for the Christian Satan). God points of Job as a paragon of virtue, but the Accuser says that’s only because Job has it so good. God lets the Accuser mess with Job’s life. Job loses his wealth, his family, and his health. Three friends, and a fourth visitor, come to guide and console him to no avail. Job is angered over the injustice of it all. Finally, God shows himself to Job, Job bows in humility, and God gives Job a long and blessed life.

Until recently, I saw this as an example of God being capricious and arbitrary. I thought he cared so much about Job’s absolute devotion that he was willing to let the Accuser destroy Job’s life in order to get a better demonstration. But now, I see a new interpretation.

The Accuser was correct that the loss of worldly comfort would shake Job’s faith. However, through the ordeal Job kept talking to God and seeking the answer. This is the key difference between Job and his friends: his friends spout a lot of beautiful doctrine, but they’re always talking about God, not to God. And, in fact, when God appears he rebukes the friends for that reason.

Job’s suffering forces him to really think about his relationship to God, and to try to improve his communication with God. That is, it forces him onto a spiritual search much deeper than any his friends had taken. Ultimately, he sees God in a way he never has before, and the suffering disappears.

I’d be lying if I said I liked having Crohn’s Disease. However, I know that my illness is what set me down a spiritual path. Perhaps, suffering is an opportunity for us to move beyond the dharmic recitations of Job’s friends and reach the true experience of God’s presence. When I think of it that way, the suffering is much easier to take.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve been consoled by a Bible story. I hope that’s a sign that I’m becoming more open in my thinking.


7 Comments so far
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What a wonderful thing to bring away from Job.

Question: Is it possible the Bible, in the original writings are the literal word of God?

Comment by wbmoore

Walter –

Anything is possible; I wish I knew the absolute Truth! Because I see God as immanent, in a non-dualistic framework, I have a hard time understanding how God could have a “literal word” to dictate to someone.

If God is immanent, and we’re all part of God, then there would be people who let go of their ego and became enlightened. I believe that some of the Bible derives from teachings from enlightened people. The same seems to be true of holy works from other traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.).

Since enlightened people let the God within them act, their teachings are, in a sense, words of God. However, because how they render their teachings is influenced by their situation, I don’t see them as *the* word of God.

Comment by The Seeker of Peace

In modern terms, could the Accuser be the ego?

Comment by Sarah

Sarah –

I never thought of it that way, and it’s a fascinating idea! Speaking for myself, my ego is the biggest accuser I have.

Since the Accuser from Job is the basis for the Christian Satan, that leads me to wonder if the Christian mystics saw Satan as the ego. After all, it’s the ego’s desire for security, approval, etc. that leads us to “sell our soul” (cut ourselves off from God) in order to seek worldly comforts.

I’ll have to think a lot more about this. Thanks for the comment!

Comment by The Seeker of Peace

And I’ve heard some Christians refer to Satan as The Deceiver. Then there’s the Satan/temptation association. I think the ego probably uses both deception and temptation. I think “ego” was probably a word invented fairly recently by Freud or someone else, so it makes sense to me that ancient peoples would have another word for the concept and would anthropomorphize it.

Comment by Sarah

Sarah –

That makes sense. Other traditions have similar ideas. For example, Buddhism has Māra, the evil demon that tempts people away from the spiritual life by making things in the mundane world seem attractive or important. At least one branch of Buddhism sees Māra as the embodiment of undisciplined emotions, which sure sounds a lot like another way of saying the ego.

Comment by The Seeker of Peace

I see God as simultaneously immanent and transcendent. He created the universe, therefore exists outside of it. However, because He created it, He love us and wants to dwell within us at the same time. Because He created the universe, He has the ability to be both at the same time.

It is precisely because He is both that He could breathe His message to whomever He chooses.

Comment by wbmoore

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