In this episode John and Gregg discuss the idea that being a Christian should be “easy,” a notion with which Gregg largely disagrees.
As part of doing his own work John has been making slow progress in his reading of a Chronological Daily Bible, with commentary by F. LaGard Smith. John has been in Genesis and comes across a section where Smith inserts a section observing that the book of Job possibly happened at the same time. Gregg references Dillard and Longman’s Introduction to the Old Testament to offer some information on Job, including considerations of its genre.
John questions Smith’s conclusion about the reason for Job’s adversity.
Job’s life will become the basis for a literary masterpiece dealing with suffering and the issue of its causes. Little does this humble man know how his very personal adversity will be a source of comfort to multitudes of fellow-suffers for centuries to come. That fact alone might well have something to do with why he is called upon to experience such adversity. (page 22)
So John wonders, does God really bring suffering? Or, at what point does suffering amount to “evil”?
John wonders how Gregg would discuss this topic with someone espousing a perspective that God brings direct suffering to people’s lives. Assuming that they don’t know each other overly well, how would Gregg “push back” against this perspective? Gregg notes in such a context, where there isn’t a close relationship and not any context for intimate discussion, he would actually not respond if the problem of evil was a “raw” issue for him.
Given that proviso, Gregg notes a key difference when it comes to “not understanding” suffering (or even evil). First, there is the notion that one does not understand the situation in its entirety, so not knowing the causes or why certain choices were made or why this resulted (and not that). Second, there not understanding how something can happen and yet God can remain good.
John then raises the notion of whether God actually caused the event. Gregg replies that, providing that he was not in a “raw” state of emotion about the issue, he would be very curious to understand how someone might know that, for example, Gregg’s brother’s death was caused by God. Further, this connects with the issue of God’s goodness being at stake in such situations, and Gregg believes that those in the grip of such situations must resolve this question.
Gregg begins by noting the importance of the “disciple’s prayer” and the fact that being taught to pray that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is clear indication that all that happens on earth is not God’s will. Gregg sees this as definitively precluding the notion that God “causes” all things to happen, including things that we would broadly understand as being “evil.”
Further, in reading passages from Job 1 and 2, Gregg observes that it is actually the entity called “Satan” who acts against Job, not God! Gregg wonders if the typical Christian “misreading” of Job (that sees God causing Job’s suffering rather than permitting it) is due to the human need to explain suffering by making God in control of everything, so that the world is not a scary place. Yet Gregg notes that the Bible contradicts this: God is not in full control. On this point Gregg distinguishes between God being unable to do something and God having chosen, for a variety of reasons, not to do something—that God “limits” Godself.
John returns to his initial question, and Gregg summarizes his view: in the wake of / after the fallout from painful, difficult, and even evil things there are still new and different possibilities that arise. These are not necessarily better possibilities, but they are truly new and different possibilities that did not exist before. It is out of this new context (which includes the reality that those who have suffered in particular ways are best able to empathize with and support those presently enduring such sufferings) that Gregg believes that we may be most able to “love our neighbours,” without God in any way causing the suffering.