Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? With Dr. Norman Geisler and Rabbi Harold Kushner – Program 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler, Rabbi Harold Kushner; ©1985
What’s really going on with Job? Why would God allow this good man to suffer? Did God lose control in Job’s life?

Program 4: Why Do BAD THINGS Happen to GOOD PEOPLE?
The Book of Job

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re talking about the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Our guests are Dr. Norman Geisler from Dallas Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Harold Kushner, who has written the bestselling book concerning this topic. We’re talking about: Is there a God, and if there is, what kind of God is He? By what rules is He running the game of life? Is He free or is He handcuffed by His own universe? Does it do any good to pray? This week, gentlemen, I’d like to come via the book of Job because we haven’t brought this up. Both of you agree that it has a message. Rabbi Kushner, why don’t you take us back and talk about the three options – A, B, C – that you’ve put into your book? Why don’t you describe those for us, and tell us why you opted for one of those? Why don’t you describe it in your own words?
Kushner: Now, when I teach the book of Job, I try and diagram the philosophical argument in the following way: There are three theses, three ideas, which everyone in the book would like to affirm. First, God is all-powerful. He controls everything that happens in the world. Second, God is good, fair, kind, just, gives us what we deserve. Third, Job is a good man. Now, as long as Job is prospering, all three of those are compatible. When Job suffers, when his children die, when he gets sick, you can no longer affirm all three of those simultaneously. You can affirm any two by denying the third. The key to understanding the dialogue in Job, the 38 chapters of poetry in the middle, is this: Which one of those three ideas would you be prepared to sacrifice so that you can affirm the other two: that God’s all-powerful; that God is good and kind; Job is a good man? Job’s friends find it so necessary to affirm what they were taught in Sunday School, that God is all-powerful and all-loving, the only conclusion they can come to is that somehow Job deserves this. They’ve read Sigmund Freud. They know all about repression and they feel that Job must have done some sin, and God is trying to open his eyes to it. Job can’t accept that. His solution is to deny proposition number two – “I’m innocent and God is great. God is so great He is not limited by considerations of fairness.” Job is always saying things like, “Would that there were an umpire between us, somebody who could make God play by the rules. But God is all-powerful and He can be arbitrary, He can be immoral, He can be unjust.” I find I have to reject that idea on the basis of the whole biblical network of values which sees God as the fountain of morality and not the fountain of power. So, if I have to choose to deny one of those three propositions, my choice – I think it may possibly be the answer of the author of Job, although the answer is very hard to pin down in the traditional text – my choice is to deny proposition number one, that God is all-powerful, and to say the only way I can affirm the goodness of Job and the goodness of God is to say that the tragedies which happen to innocent people are not God’s will. What kind of God would want things like this to happen?
Ankerberg: Okay, I think you also said in your book, though, that actually that’s your opinion and not necessarily what Job said.
Kushner: No, it’s certainly not what Job said. It may be what the author said. That has been a real problem of interpretation.
Ankerberg: Let me ask you how you would know that might be what the author meant.
Kushner: How do I know it might be what the author meant?
Ankerberg: When Job said something else.
Kushner: Yes, but the author’s answer does not come out of the mouth of Job. The author’s answer comes out of the mouth of God in the speech from the whirlwind. And you’ve got a real problem there because if…. what does that speech from the whirlwind mean? It’s written in very difficult Hebrew. It seems to say, “I am so powerful that you have no right to question me.” But if that’s what it says, why does Job put his hand to his mouth and apologize? That’s what Job’s been saying for 36 chapters, “God is so powerful, I have no right to….”
Ankerberg: You’re referring to chapter 40 and verses 9-14 in your book?
Kushner: The Leviathan passage.
Ankerberg: “Have you an arm like God? Can you thunder with a voice like His?… You tread down the wicked where they stand, bury them in the dust together; then will I acknowledge that your own right hand can give you victory.” [vs. 9, 12-14]
Kushner: The verse should read “You tread down the wicked where they stand.”
Ankerberg: That’s what I read.
Kushner: No, no. You’ve got to underline the “you.” Not “You tread down the wicked.” “You try it.” God says to Job, “You think it’s easy to make a perfect world. Go ahead. You control evil without me.” Leviathan, I suspect, is a symbol of chaos, of randomness, of harm happening for no moral reason.
Ankerberg: You understand, that in the context itself, though, that that doesn’t jibe?
Kushner: I’m not sure.
Ankerberg: Well, for example, that it doesn’t jibe because of what Job himself said in 42:2, “I know that thou canst do all things and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted,” and that in the context that you’re talking about, it’s a dare by God Himself and He loads up the very context that you’re talking about. And the thing that you are talking about is to say, “Job, understand that you cannot do it.” In fact, maybe… Dr. Geisler, are you familiar with this passage? Maybe you’d like to comment right here?
Kushner: I’m sure you are.
Geisler: Well, I would outline the book of Job this way: The first two chapters I could call the “behind the scene,” and the middle chapters I would call the “on the scene,” and the last chapters the “beyond the scene.” My contention is that to understand the book of Job you will not ever understand what’s going on on the scene unless you understand what’s going on behind the scene, and then what’s going to happen beyond the scene. Now, the first part, the behind the scene, is really a kind of contest between God and Satan. I don’t think we can ultimately understand evil unless we understand the ultimate origin of evil, which in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 is in terms of a created angel that rebelled against God and that hates Him, and hates His people, and wants to do evil. That contest between God and evil prompted God to permit Job to suffer because of Satan’s challenge. Satan is the one who inflicts the evil. God permits it in order that Job may say, as he did in 23:10, “…when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold,” and “I know that my redeemer liveth” in 19:25, so that when we get to the end of the book God rewards Job and he has twice as many of everything he had in the beginning. So God permits evil to bring a greater good, but only if He is prompted by the evil one who inflicts the evil on Job. And the suffering then becomes significant in the light of the ultimate purpose of a sovereign God who can do anything, and who does anything, and does it good both for Job and for His own glory.
Kushner: Norm, I have problems with that. I read the book of Job as a lot of modern scholars do, as essentially two books. Chapters 1, 2, and 42 are an ancient fable where God and Satan enter into this wager. Chapters 3 through 41 are a much, much later, much more philosophically sophisticated poem dialogue. If I thought that 1, 2, and 42 were really part of the same book, I’d have real problems with a God who lets Himself get talked into this wager, and even worse, who thinks that you compensate someone for the death of his children by giving him more children. I can find it only as a very ancient fable and by identifying with the author of the poem in the middle, who I believe is as unsatisfied with that chapter 42 ending as I am. Otherwise the God that the book seems to present is not a terribly edifying God.
Geisler: Well, let me point out a couple of things in response. First of all, as to the book of Job being divided into parts, there is no manuscript evidence for that. Our oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament have it as one book in text. Secondly, there’s good literary evidence internally that this is one book. A phrase like “sons of God” in Job chapter 1:6 and 2:1, also found in Job 38:7, is only found one other place in the entire Old Testament and that’s in Genesis 6:2 – “the sons of God.” That shows the kind of literary continuity, along with a lot of other very ancient landmark-indication type thing. So we have no internal or external evidence that there were ever two books. Furthermore…
Kushner: Except the names of God are different.
Geisler: No, the names of God are not different. They’re the same names of God that are used throughout the Old Testament. And the name of God that is used most in the book of Job is “the Almighty,” and that indicates an all-powerful God, the very kind of God you reject. That name is only used 48 times in the entire Old Testament. Thirty-one of those 48 times are found right there in the book of Job. So you’ve got an Almighty, sovereign God who sees this whole thing, who permits it and brings His good and greater purposes out of it, which is contrary to your book.
Kushner: Alright that’s very impressive. I’m going to have to pull rank on you. I haven’t done this for four weeks. I’m going to have to use my knowledge of Hebrew. God is not referred to as the Almighty. He’s referred to as Shaddai, and there is absolutely no conclusive proof that Shaddai means Almighty, except that the King James committee translated it that way.
Ankerberg: What about Brown-Driver-Briggs, the lexicon for the Hebrew language?
Geisler: That’s right. They translate it that way.
Ankerberg: They’re not too bad.
Geisler: That’s the standard lexicon.
Kushner: An early 20th century dictionary is really not conclusive proof.
Ankerberg: Based on the papyri, as well as all the manuscript evidence, which is what that is?
Kushner: Shaddai does not necessarily mean “Almighty.”
Geisler: Well the standard reference, Brown-Driver-Briggs, the Old Testament dictionary, translates it that way, so I think that’s good evidence that it should be…
Kushner: No, I’m sorry that’s not a theological concept. Shaddai is not a theological affirmation about God. It is a praise name of God. Secondly, the fable framework 1, 2 and 42, refers to God as Elohim and the poem refers to him as Adonai. You never find Elohim in the poem and you never find Adonai in the framework.
Geisler: But you’re pointing to some differences and overlooking the similarities. What about the phrase “the sons of God?” What about the ancient references, the landmarks, the kind of day in which they lived, the patriarchal period, the pre-Mosaic type of period? All of that follows right through the whole book of Job.
Kushner: No, I’m not sure it does. What you have is a poet who is deliberately archaizing. I’m not saying that the two books grew up independently of each other.
Geisler: Well you’re saying he’s deliberately deceiving them.
Kushner: No, of course not.
Geisler: Well, if he is deliberately presenting it as though it were a period in which it is not, I would say that would be deliberately deceiving.
Kushner: Certainly not. This is the way literature was written in the biblical period.
Geisler: Well, I think that Job is referred to even in the rest of the Old Testament as a historical character, and not as a legend. Ezekiel refers to him as a very notable person that everyone knew, along with Daniel and Noah.
Kushner: Right. And St. Paul refers to him similarly. As, “the patience of Job.” But after chapters…

Geisler: That was James [5:11].

Kushner: I’m sorry. After chapter 2, once you transfer from prose to poetry, Job stops being patient. Starting in chapter 3 he is a terribly impatient, outraged, angry, blaspheming Job. There is a total inversion of the characters there, and the friends who started out urging Job to be a little bit heretical, they become the defenders of conventional wisdom. You know, I think there are some real disjunctures between the prose framework and the poem in the middle.
Geisler: I don’t think that’s a disjuncture to say that Job started out praising God and then later he turned exactly the opposite, because even in that middle section he’s still recognizing God’s hand. Don’t forget Job is the one who uttered in chapter 19, “I know that my redeemer liveth” [v. 25]. He’s the one who said in chapter 23, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” [v. 10]. True, Job had some discouraging moments. You do, and I do. But that doesn’t mean there’s a total antithesis between these two sections.
Kushner: First of all, “I know that my redeemer liveth” happens to be very obscure Hebrew. The Hebrew is not nearly as clear or as inspiring as the English. All of this is really small details. The major point, Norm, is: Is the concept of God presented in the speech from the whirlwind the same as the God presented in chapters 1, 2, and 42; that is, a bargaining and compensating God? And I really don’t see that He is.
Geisler: Well, I don’t see that He is a bargaining God but I do think that He is a compensating God, because He did compensate Job in the end. Notice that in chapter 42 when He compensated Job He gave him twice as many cattle, twice as much silver, twice as much gold, but the same amount of children, not twice as many [vv. 12-13]. And I think the direct implication of that is, he never lost the first ones. He will get them in the resurrection and he affirmed his belief in the resurrection in chapter 19. So that shows that the God behind the scenes will bring about beyond the scenes what we can’t understand on the scenes.
Kushner: I think that’s beautiful, but it’s homiletic.
Ankerberg: All right, we’re going to break right there. We’re going to pick this up. We’ll take a break. We’ll come right back.

Ankerberg: May I throw in an idea concerning the interpretation of the book of Job? And that is, namely, that what you said in your book is what the book of Job is all about; namely, that God wants people who will serve Him because they love Him, not because of what they’ll get from Him. Is that not the story of the book of Job, even when the people don’t have all the reasons?
Kushner: I think that’s a very plausible interpretation. By the way, that’s what Archibald MacLeish says in his modern telling of Job in J.B., that the key to understanding God’s role in tragedy is that the imperfection of the world makes it possible for us to love God not because we are overwhelmed with His greatness, but because we are warmed by His goodness. I’m not sure that’s the point of biblical Job. The biblical story of Job almost makes the opposite point, John. God appears in the whirlwind. God overwhelms Job. Frankly, I am more comfortable with a God who invites us to love Him than with a God who intimidates us into apologizing and being afraid of Him.
Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler?
Geisler: I don’t think it’s either a great God or a good God. I think if you look at Job in the total balance you have a great God who is a good God. He’s great. He’s in sovereign control of the universe; even Satan can’t do anything without His permission. There are limits around Job. Satan complained because God had built a hedge around Job that Satan couldn’t get into. He got in only because God permitted. You have a God who is in sovereign control of the entire universe, including the forces of evil, throughout the entire book, but who is not simply all-powerful and therefore we fearfully bow before Him. But He is a God who is all-loving and we willingly submit to Him, and that’s the message at the end of the book of Job.
Kushner: Norm, I could go along with that as long as we keep the focus on Job. Suppose someone chose to write a book, not about Job, but about Job’s children, and the story ended with their being killed? Where is the purification? Where is the sense of growth through misfortune when they are dead before you come to the end of chapter one?
Geisler: I think the sense is, Job himself proclaimed, that our hope does not end in the grave, that we have an all-powerful God who will be able to reverse death and bring a life beyond the grave that will rectify all of the injustices in this life. But as I read your book carefully, you held out no hope that there would be such a life beyond the grave, and as a consequence of that, I think your conclusion was a logical one from your premises. If there is no hope beyond the grave, then we are in this life, as the Apostle Paul said, most miserable [1 Cor. 15:19], because we can’t figure out anything and we don’t have any assurance that anything better is going to come.
Kushner: Norm, the only page reference I know by heart in my book is this one: it’s on page 29, because I’m asked this question so often. It’s not that I offer no hope, it’s that I offer no confidence. There may, there may not be, a life beyond this one. And because I can’t be sure, I can’t bet all my chips on the fact that there is another world where the injustices of this world will be straightened out. And because I can’t, I have to work that much harder to try and minimize the amount of injustice in this world. What happens, I think, is that when Christian and Jewish preachers alike want to mobilize people for social action, for world peace, for racial justice, for economic justice, they tend to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and to the Prophets, because they play down the world to come and its balancing effect, and they do focus on trying to make this world more nearly the kingdom of God. And I think I stand with them.
Geisler: Let me offer a suggestion on how that can be done. Usually it’s argued if God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil. If He is all good, He would destroy evil. But evil isn’t destroyed; therefore, there is no such God. Well, I think you can turn that around and argue just the opposite. If He is all-powerful, He can do it. If He is all-good, He will do it. And the fact that it’s not yet done proves that He will one day do it. You can’t stop a novel in the second chapter and say, “This thing will never turn out.” And you can’t look at life right in the middle and say, “There is no way for this to come out.” If there is an all-good, an all-powerful God, He not only can do it, He will do it. And that is your hope and assurance that it will be done.
Kushner: Yes, this is the 92nd Psalm, that the wicked may flourish like the grass and the righteous are like the palm tree [v. 7]. That is, wickedness may have an apparent head start, but in the long run God’s justice catches up with it. Until you remember the words of John Maynard Keynes that in the long run we are all dead.
Geisler: But I wouldn’t take the words of Keynes over the authoritative words of Scripture. I would say in the long run we’re all going to be alive. And from my standpoint, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” [John 11:25]. So I don’t believe in the long run we’re going to be dead. If I knew that in the long run we were going to be dead, I would have to know everything. If I knew everything, I would be God. So in order to know in the long run that it’s not going to turn out, you would have to be omniscient. So you would have to be God in order to defeat God.
Ankerberg: Also, the evidence that it’s true. Let’s put it the other way, not just the negative, but the fact that what you are saying is true, is Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits, as the proof of the fact of the hope that we have [1 Cor. 15:20].
Kushner: John, I would throw back the question that you tossed out to me two weeks ago. That’s great for the committed Christian who’s watching. What about the skeptic who’s watching and says, “The resurrection of Jesus is hardly a fact. It is at best a religious hypothesis and I’m not impressed? What am I to make of all the suffering, and all the oppression, and all the unfairness of the world if I am skeptical about the resurrection?”
Ankerberg: It’s a great question. I’d be glad to answer, but the guy that’s sitting next to you wrote three books on that very question. So why don’t you answer it?
Geisler: Well, in brief, I would say, read Rabbi Pinchas Lapide’s book. Here is a Jewish rabbi who has concluded that Jesus rose from the dead. Or read Frank Morison’s book Who Moved the Stone? He was a skeptic who wanted to look into the evidence about Christ in order to disprove it. The evidence was so overwhelming that he was converted and wrote a book showing how Christ did rise from the dead. Or read…
Ankerberg: Simon Greenleaf.
Geisler: Simon Greenleaf from Harvard Law School wrote the book on legal evidence. A student challenged him to apply the legal evidence to the New Testament documents to test their authenticity. He, too, was converted and became a Christian. The evidence is there. But you can lead a horse to the water; you can’t make him drink.
Kushner: Norm, you’re preaching to the choir. That is, these evidences will persuade the persuaded and strengthen the belief of those who are open to believing. And there is a real purpose to doing that.
Geisler: Well, then, you missed the point I made, because in each of those cases it was someone who was un-persuaded that the evidence was presented to. Simon Greenleaf was un-persuaded. Frank Morison was un-persuaded. Pinchas Lapide was un-persuaded. They became persuaded by the evidence. I’m saying that the cart and the horse is, evidence first, and then persuasion.
Kushner: But, Harold Kushner has also read the New Testament and taught at the college level, and has some familiarity with it, and I’m still un-persuaded.
Geisler: Well I’m not saying you’re not un-persuaded. I’m just saying that there is objective evidence there for anyone who wishes to look into it and that as a Christian – and numerous other people who have looked at the evidence even when they weren’t – they found it sufficient to make a commitment without saying, “I leap before I look.” They took a look and then they placed their faith in the sufficiency of the evidence, rather than a blind leap of faith.
Ankerberg: Does that make sense?
Kushner: It describes the situation. I don’t think it’s going to convert any of the unconverted.
Geisler: Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to convert. I think there’s a difference between proof and persuasion. I think there’s a difference between objective evidence and a subjective decision. I know a lot of people who are persuaded that airplanes are the most efficient forms of transportation, but they won’t get on an airplane and go anywhere. It’s a difference between belief “that” and a belief “in.” All I’m saying is that there is plenty of evidence for anyone who wants to believe that. He’s going to have to make his own free choice as to whether he wants to believe in.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s hold it right there, and we’ll continue this discussion next week. So please stick with us.

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