As part of my role with the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission I sometimes contribute one-off sessions in other lecturers’ courses. Students on our MA in Global Issues in Contemporary Mission have the option to take a class in ‘Prosperity Theology and Suffering’. ‘Prosperity’ or ‘Faith teaching’ is widespread around the globe and so it is vital to understand how to respond to it. This module offers a critique of ‘Health and Wealth’ theology and explores the complex problem of suffering and theodicy. These are profoundly missional issues.
My session this week was to look at biblical perspectives on suffering. Our key preparatory reading was W. Brueggemann’s chapter, ‘Yahweh and Negativity’ in his Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, and L. Waters’ ‘Missio Dei and Suffering: Missiological Principles Related to the Believer’s Suffering’ in F. Tan (ed.), Connected for Christ (also appearing in Bibliotheca Sacra 166, 661 (2009), 19-34).
Brueggemann is, as ever, stimulating, exciting, frustrating, controversial and everything in between! Waters’ provides a rather different angle but is helpful in discussing the question of whether and how suffering might in some way further the mission of God (Antony Billington posted on Waters’ paper recently).
Both writers deal with suffering in the context of the book of Job. It seems to me that faith teaching, as far as I am aware, does not engage adequately with the book of Job. After all one of the main points of Job is to dismantle a mechanical belief in the relationship between sin and suffering. Prosperity teaching is profoundly unhelpful for a variety of reasons but one of the main things is that it does not have room for suffering, and so loads guilt on top of everything a person is going through.
These are not easy issues but they are universal. If we as the people of God are seeking to share the true rendering of God and reality, then surely we should be able to address the questions that arise when suffering comes. It is not that there are easy answers; but at least there should be space to discuss it. I’m glad the book of Job is in the Bible.