“I just don’t get how you talk about it like you are so sure,” Andrew stated, shrugging his shoulders in the process. “I mean, how can we be expected to believe in some ‘higher power’ when terrible things regularly happen to people who believe?”
“That’s a valid question,” the teacher, Mr. Rork, answered from the front of the classroom, a thoughtful expression on his face. “It’s a common one too. If God exists, then why does pain exist?”
“That’s all I’m saying,” Andrew augmented Mr. Rork’s question.
Tommy glanced around the room, thirty other students intently focused on the debate at hand. It was a small classroom, so it became muggy quickly. All that body heat and CO2 exhaled into the air created an artificial humidity that was unbearable on boring days. However, the debate effectively distracted the majority of the class from the uncomfortable nature of tight quarters.
“It’s a question I have personally pondered,” Mr. Rork continued. “I’ve tried to be a faithful servant of God for the majority of my life, but bad things have still happened to me. Even when I prayed and asked for help in those times, God seemed to be silent.”
“Perhaps God is silent because God isn’t real,” Andrew cut in again.
The room was beyond silent. As the phrase goes, the entire class could hear a needle, if Mr. Rork dropped one. Tommy felt that silence become thicker with the last statement. No one, as far as Tommy knew, had ever challenged the teachers in such a blunt way at this school. There were plenty of students who thought like Tommy, but few ever voiced their thoughts. Even fewer voiced them in such a blunt manner.
“Is that what you believe?” Mr. Rork, becoming slightly flushed, asked.
“I’m saying I don’t see any reason to NOT believe that God doesn’t exist,” Andrew answered just as bluntly as his previous statements. “Considering not only the pain we experience, but all the advancements we have made in medicine and technology. We read of people being cured of major mental and physical diseases in the New Testament, but I don’t see those same miracles coming from the hand of priests. I see it coming from doctors and psychiatrists, with the help of medicine. We read of an earth that is only 6,000 years old in the Bible, but technological advancements have given us carbon dating that has proven the earth to exist for millions of years.”
“So, if I might understand you a bit better,” Mr. Rork said, raising a hand to stop Andrew from continuing his argument for the absence of God. “You struggle with faith because, according to how you interpret the Bible, things just aren’t happening the same way?”
“I struggle with faith because I don’t see a reason to have faith,” Andrew replied. “I struggle with faith because all the reasons of the past no longer exist. We have medicine to cure us, not supernatural powers. We have technology that brings knowledge to our fingertips, not scripture. I haven’t seen a God that eliminates pain and answers questions or prayers. I have seen man eliminate pain and answer questions, while God, IF He exists, has remained silent and on the sidelines.”
The bell rang just as Andrew finished making his speech. The classroom burst into a flurry of motion as students grabbed their bags and hustled into the hallway. Andrew, who was seated next to Tommy, nudged Tommy on the shoulder as he made his way to the door.
“You coming?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Tommy answered. “In a minute.”
“Alright,” Andrew said and sauntered out of the room. He had a grin on his face.
Mr. Rork stood by his desk tucked in the corner and glanced over a document Tommy failed to identify. The commotion had moved entirely outside when Mr. Rork looked up and noticed Tommy still sitting there.
“Can I help you, Mr. Chandler?” he asked.
“What were you going to say?” Tommy asked.
“Say when?” Mr. Rork sought clarification.
“You were saying that you have considered the existence of God because of the existence of Pain,” Tommy explained. “You were about to give an answer, but Andrew interrupted you. What were you going to say before he interrupted you?”
“Well, Mr. Chandler,” Mr. Rork considered his reply carefully. “What is it you would like me to have said? You seem to be dissatisfied with me changing my line of inquiry.”
“I wanted you to tell us why we should have faith when bad things happen to faith-filled people,” Tommy answered.
Mr. Rork smiled slightly at Tommy’s boldness. Something about the young man’s inquiry made him like Tommy even more than he had before.
“Do you recall Job?” Mr. Rork asked, thinking to lead Tommy to the reservoir, rather than simply bring him a pale of water.
“Of course,” Tommy answered, rolling his eyes. He felt it a tired and typical example of suffering. “Are you going to tell me that Job suffered even though he was faithful, and God repaid him ten-fold for his suffering?”
Mr. Rork studied Tommy a moment before responding, trying to detect the intent of Tommy’s questioning. “Yes, I was going to point out the obvious about Job suffering despite his faithfulness. No, I was not going to say God repaid Job ten-fold for his suffering.”
“Then what were you going to say?” Tommy asked curiously.
“Job was not repaid ten-fold for his suffering,” Mr. Rork responded. “Job received ten-fold because he was faithful despite his suffering.” He paused to let the phrase sink in. He continued explaining once he saw, from the expressions on Tommy’s face, that he understood the statement. “I have heard people talk about Job as though God used him to prove a point to Satan; that Job was God’s golden boy and sought to exploit his faithfulness to sort of brag to Satan about the power of conviction amongst His followers.”
“I’ve never put it that way, but now that you say it…” Tommy said stroking his chin.
“That’s not the point,” Mr. Rork said. “God was not showing off, nor did he exploit Job. Satan wanted to take Job away and God simply gave Satan permission to try. However, God was confident Job would endure well.”
“Okay…” Tommy responded, looking for further explanation.
“Since Job did endure well,” Mr. Rork continued, “he was blessed. Not arbitrarily because God felt bad about letting Job suffer. Not because God just wanted to reward Job for doing well. Job was blessed because he became stronger through the entire ordeal. He suffered things he had never suffered before, such as the loss of family, physical disease, and the loss off his friends. As great as Job was, his faith needed to be deeper and stronger than it had been in his prosperity.”
“So, what are you iterating?” Tommy asked. “Are you saying faith comes because of difficulty, not prosperity?”
“I’m saying faith is easy when everything is going well,” Mr. Rork replied. “We can have faith in the absence of difficulty, but we will always lack a necessary depth to that faith unless it is tried. If Job’s faith had been based on his lack of suffering, then he would have turned away from God. If Job’s faith was based on God maintaining his health through miraculous means, then he would have turned away from God. If his faith was based on the advancements of the times, then he would have turned away from God. But Job’s faith was not based on any of those things. His faith was based on a reassurance that God wants what’s best for him. Which begs the question, are we so sure that evidence of God’s love is in removing all pain and obstacles from our life when we ask for it? Or could the evidence of His love and confidence in us be because He gives Satan permission to tempt us in every way imaginable?”
“That’s a lot to think about,” Tommy said, standing up from his desk and lifting his book bag from the ground. “You must have studied Job a lot.”
“I understand Job, yes,” Mr. Rork said, nodding his head. “But I don’t just understand Job because I have studied Job. I understand Job because I have, in a way, been where Job had been.” Mr. Rork lifted his pant leg, revealing a prosthetic. Tommy stared at it, frozen.
“This is what I was going to say,” Mr. Rork continued. “I lost my wife, two kids, and a leg because a drunk driver ran a stop sign and slammed into our car. I had a choice then. I could turn away from God or endure it well. I was tempted to do the former, but I decided on the latter. It did not bring back my wife and kids and it hasn’t been easy. However, my faith in God has become ten-fold. I know He is there and He has a plan. I don’t know what that plan is, but I know my family and I will be reunited.”
Tommy looked from the prosthetic and into Mr. Rork’s eyes. He could tell Mr. Rork meant every word.