The Sin of Simplicity

The book of Job consists mainly of a dialogue between Job and his friends about God. The two sides do not agree, so the conversation goes back and forth. Things are said that upset the other side. People are offended. Rude and insensitive comments are sometimes made. It’s like an average day on Facebook.

The events that cause the dialogue are tragic. Job loses everything. He loses his children, his livelihood, and his health. The discussion between Job and his friends centers around why this has happened. Job’s friends have adopted a simple way of understanding the world and God. It seems that Job once possessed this same view, but now rejects it. Job does not have a solid view of God and how the world works, but he knows his friends cannot be right. He knows what they are saying about his circumstances are untrue.

The view of God adopted by Job’s friends is a simple one. They believe if God is both sovereign and just, then everything that happens is just. In other words, bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people. This view has been adopted by many different people in many different religions over the years. The disciples of Jesus held this view (John 9:1-7). Hindus call it Karma. This simple belief is a temptation for many because we all desire for people to get what they deserve.

Job’s friends believe he or his children must have done something to deserve this tragedy. They believe that Job or his children must have sinned against God, and what has happened is God’s just punishment. Job does not claim to be perfect, but he knows he has not done anything to merit the tragic events that have happened to him. He does not know why these things have occurred, but he knows they are not a result of any sin he has committed.

It would be nice if the world made perfect sense. It would be nice if we could explain all tragedy away as if the recent events in Paris were somehow caused by some sin the people of Paris committed. (Sadly, there will be some who will suggest this) The truth is sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good things happen to bad people. The psalmist complains about the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:3). He complains because he knows this is not just. Job is a righteous man who deserves to be blessed, but instead he suffers greatly. It does not make sense, and Job is never given an answer to why he had to suffer as he did.

We like simple, but simple is not always the best, especially when we are speaking about God. There are certain things in the Bible that are simple because God has given them to us to understand, but we should not expect any thoughts concerning God to be simple.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Often when we seek to make things simple, we end up making God out to be someone he is not. This was true of Job’s friends. We cannot fit God into our human systems. God is not simple, and the sooner our feeble minds realize this, the better.

We live in a rational world that often rejects what it does not understand. It makes us nervous not to be able to explain something in our lives. We would rather believe something that is simple and wrong than to say, “I don’t know.” When we experience tragedy, we invent myths that make us feel comfortable. When a loved one dies, we say, “God needed another angel.” There is no Biblical precedent for this, but it is better than not knowing. We may be more like Job’s friends than we realize.

Simplicity is something to be desired in many things. We should desire simplicity in our lives. I would like a simplified tax code, but when it comes to God, simplicity is not the answer. Instead of seeking to understand and explain everything about God, we should seek to worship an Almighty God, who is so far beyond us that there is no way we would be able to grasp his infinite greatness. It should be our desire to sit in the presence of a deity that is beyond our comprehension. We should want awe more than understanding. We should boast in the complexities of our God!

We can know much about God. We know even more than Job because we know Jesus. God has come to earth and made himself known, but at the same time there is still much we do not know. We are unable to explain every tragedy, and we should not try. We don’t need to have an answer for all the tough questions and hypothetical situations. We don’t need to defend God if it means concocting some theory about something we don’t understand. Sometimes, the best things we can say is, “I don’t know.” There are many things about God that are a mystery, and that’s ok. If we serve a God we fully understand, then this means we have made God in our own image. God is not simple. He is beyond our comprehension, and we should feel safe and secure living with this mystery.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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