We advertised at our church that three different small groups would be studying Job. I sent the email about the Job study out church-wide, and boy, am I glad I did. Eight people have expressed interest in being in one of the group. None of those eight are currently in any of the three groups involved in the study.
Why is there such interest in Job?
The first group began the first session on Job by asking the group, what guides your thinking? What I mean there is who has influenced you? I hear a lot of people swear that they base their beliefs on the Bible. If you dig into their thinking, you discover they really base their beliefs on what their pastor taught them the Bible said (which is partially but not completely accurate most of the time). Or, they base their beliefs on what their mother or grandmother taught the Bible says. That teaching from a beloved and formative figure in a person’s life is important. However, did the grandmother have any training in critical Bible study? Was the grandmother exposed to the various methods of Biblical study and the various perspective through history from which scripture is viewed? Grandma taught the best grandma could, but it’s likely her view, while valuable, is limited.
Another potential distortion is the person who claims he believes only what he reads in the Bible. But in fact, he doesn’t read the Bible so much as he tells you what Max Lucado told him the Bible said. He heard Max on TV, so he uses Max’s words to establish his faith stance. Then, he calls it Biblical. It may be Rick Warren instead of Max Lucado, or Billy Graham, Philip Yancey, or John Ortberg, or Charles Swindoll, or Andy Stanley. Each of these authors is a trustworthy preacher/teacher, but none is a Biblical scholar. Not a one, to my knowledge, has a PhD in Biblical studies.
So, what guides your thinking? A beloved pastor or parent? A Christian who has attained some fame? Your own reading of the Bible?
That began our discussion with a bang, and it took off from there. We next looked at three questions that come from Philip Yancey’s book Where is God when it hurts.
(1) Is God fair?
(2) Is God silent?
(3) Is God hidden?
People began sharing some of the struggles they’ve been through. A relative with a debilitating disease. Losing a sibling. Losing a baby. This group of affluent people, all happily married had been through some very personal, real tragedies. And they talked about it.
I have led countless Bible studies. Sometimes people get into the text enthusiastically, but just as often, people are mute. I want it to be a discussion where we dynamically engage God’s word, but people just sit quietly and wait for me to give them the right answer. That did not happen with the Job discussion. People were telling their own stories, and my task was to watch the time while still allowing everyone to share. It was a spiritually powerful night. We got to Job 1:6, and our 90 minutes was up.
Now I am sitting at my desk, thinking about the energy and the willingness of the people in that discussion group. I am thinking about eight people needing a group because they too want to enter into Job and enter into discussion about Job with their Christian friends. Job pushes the issue of suffering to the center of the table and forces believers and God to talk about it. And, in my church, a church not beset by tragedy, people yearn for this discussion. It’s popular to talk our way through tough times. It’s needed because it is cathartic and in the discussion, one sees more of God and more of himself or herself.
One can either abandon faith as a result of suffering, or grow deeper in the relationship with God. It goes both ways, and there is no guarantee.