What the Chronology of the Bible Reveals About the Problem of Pain

Sometimes, in reading the Bible, we might begin to think that the events recorded in it are fairly close together. That Noah just missed Adam but was there on the scene in enough time to have some coffee with Abraham. Moses showed up at the party, too, and they all sat around a camp fire. Though there are hundreds of years in between the lives of these characters, you do find some closer together. In the prophets, for example, you’ll find one prophet prophesying at the same time as another, just in a different area. It’s hard to keep track of who might have known who and who was a historical figure to someone else.

At some point, we begin to put together that the Bible isn’t necessarily recorded chronologically; it’s organized in different ways than that. You get chunks of Scripture placed together based on genre while others do indeed follow a general historical order. That’s why it’s of great benefit, if you’ve never done so, to read the Bible according to a chronological Bible plan. In doing so, you don’t read, for example, all the psalms together; instead you read a portion of narrative about the life of David which is followed by the psalm he wrote during that period.

But here’s one of the most interesting things you’ll find in the chronology of the Bible: You only get the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis before you read the entire book of Job. Job is a bit of a historical mystery, but most scholars place it during this period of early biblical history.

Think about that for a second. You get creation, the garden, and the fall. You get the judgment of the flood and the redemption that Noah saw on the back end. You get the tower of Babel – that wicked demonstration of the commitment of men toward sin, and God’s response of dispersing humanity across the earth and confusing their languages. Then, right on the heels of it, you read that “There was a man in the country of Uz named Job…”

Interesting, right?

Before Abraham, before Joseph, before Moses, you find this account of a man whose life was dismantled by suffering. Perhaps this reveals to us something of the fundamental problem of pain to humanity.

You don’t get a full book into the historical scriptural record before you find a man asking the same questions that all of us have during moments of trial:

“Why is this happening?”

“Where is God?”

“Is this punishment?”

“Where is the justice in this situation?”

Sound familiar? It’s those same questions you might have had down deep in your guts – down in the places where only you are there to ask yourself. So fundamental is this problem to the scope of humanity that the only place for it to be addressed is here, right at the very beginning. Here before the burning bush. Here before the psalms. Here before the exile and the building of the walls. Pain is our common denominator, for we are all born into a world corrupted and marred by sin, and pain leads us to confront the very questions the Bible answers for us.

What are we to make of this? What are we to glean from the fact that pain so quickly appears in the history of the Bible?

Many things, I’m sure, but at least this: The Bible from the outset puts forth a world that is not right. It’s not right not only in the sense that a piece of fruit was chosen because a snake was believed; it’s not right not only because we are sinned against in addition to sinning ourselves daily; it’s not right not only because we stand condemned because when Adam fell, we all fell.

It’s not right every time we ask these questions above. The very presence of such questions points us to the fact that there is something wrong in the world. It’s something bigger than a self-help program can address; it’s something more fundamental than we can simply gloss over because “it’s just the way things are.” The fundamental presence of a broken world points us to the fact that once the world was not broken, and someday it won’t be again. It points us, as it did to Job, straight to the source:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.” CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain.

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