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Minggu, 31 Januari 2016

“Suffering”

“Suffering”
(Comparison of Suffering in Islam and Christianity)

1.      Introduction
Suffering is a reality in human life and every religion has their answer of why people suffer. It can happen to all people whatever their religion or culture background. Most of every religion try to answer the question : Why there is  suffering in the world? What is the purpose of suffering? If the purpose of human life is to have a happy life, why does God (the Mighty Power) allow suffering? Suffering can lead people to know God, but it also can lead people to doubt about God and reject His truth. In daily life we see people suffer of loss, pain, sickness, disaster, afflicted, slaved, treated unjust, etc. How we explain about these reality?
On this writing, I try to find out answer of the question about “why people suffer”, by seeing it in the perspective of Christianity and Islam about suffering. I try to limit my study focus only on some verses related to “Job” in Al-Quran. And I try to compare it with the meaning of suffering in the book of Job. Al-Quran tells us the story of Job, but not as complete and as chronological as in the bible. The purpose of this writing is to know the perspective of Islam about suffering, and being ready to give answer of the question about what is the differences between the perspective of Christianity and Islam about suffering.

II.    Suffering in Christianity
a. Suffering in the Bible
Suffering in the Bible caused by many reasons. In the Old Testament, suffering can be caused by sin, wickedness and foolishness[1]. We also can find in the prophetic books that people mourn because of God's judgment and punishment toward their sin[2].  Suffering also can be caused by actions of enemies, when they threat against God's people and causing pain. God's people are also suffer when their expectation of life is different with the reality they faced. It leads to expression of grief and frustration with God, for instance: lament. It also could lead God's people to questioning about God and His given life.
At the time of early Christianity, Christians suffered because of their faith to Christ. They were being outcast and displaced from their town and community[3]. They withdrew from immoral pagan lifestyle. It is clear portrayed in the book of Acts Christians being mocked, maligned, arrested, chained, falsely charged, flogged, expelled, etc[4].  In the letter of Hebrews the writer exhorted the readers to obey and persevere in the midst of trial and crisis of the readers' faith. There were numbers of early disciples and our church fathers who suffered as martyrs because of their stand firm faith in Christ.

b. Suffering in the book of Job
Suffering in the book of Job has unique characteristics from other perspective of suffering in the bible. The book of Job tells us a story of an innocent person, whose name is Job, who terribly suffered. Job has certain qualities in his life. As we are told at the beginning of his story that he is innocent, virtous, fearing God, and turning away from evil (Job 1:8). But amidst of his wise life, he suffered horrible afflictions : he loss all his possessions, his daughters and sons. He suffered physical affliction short to death, even his wife asked him to curse God because of the heavy load of suffering and his close friends counseled him in a wrong way.
It is clear from the beginning of the book of Job that Job's suffering was not because of his sin. The scene in chapter 1-2 portrayed the reason of Job's suffering is related to Satan request to test Job's character through afflictions. In Job 2:3 God commemorates Job that he holds fast his integrity although Satan incited to destroy Job without reason. Job was innocent. The thing which is left in him was his soul. He mourned because of the horrible suffer. Why does God allow this innocent man heavily suffered of internal and external afflictions?
The first trial of Job is he loss his possession and children. The outsiders (Sabeans and Chaldeans) and natural disaster (lightning and wind) consumed his possession and family. After that trial, he was struck by sores on the whole of his body, even his close friends could not recognize him because of the illness. God apparently against him and afflicting him. After 7 days silent in front of his silent friends, he opened his mouth, lamenting in a deep mourning and complaining to God. 
From the perspective of Job's friends, suffering is God's judgment for sin[5]. The concept behind is the law of sowing and reaping. You will reap what you saw. If you are righteous, you will not suffer, but if you are wicked, you will suffer. So if we do not want to be suffer and blessed, we have to be righteous. We have reason, for our own interest, why we believe in God.
The trap of Satan in this concept of sow and reap is that we fear God because of our need of Him, only because of his blessing and protection. The Satan trap also is the thinking that what I do in this earth will effect God's acceptance to me.  The quality of my work will determine God's blessing to me. We can be righteous because of our good work, our own righteousness. You love your God because He loves you, but you hate God when He apparently in opposite of you or make you suffer. This is a very selfish-self centric love. Through the book of Job, we learn that God does not want the self centric love in the life of His children.
Job stated in the first trial said that “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away”.  And the second trials Job said “shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”. Job was blessed by God with a perfect number of blessing in his family and possession. He also endured the unbearable suffering of all premier aspects in his life.  The range of Job's blessing and his suffering is to the maximum level in each range. And the root of Job's problem is the concept that his righteousness will never lead him to endure afflictions.  He think that he is innocent and unnatural to suffer these afflictions. Suffering is only because of wickedness in human life, righteous people will never horribly suffer, because they keep their way against evil. This concept troubled him to accept the calamity in his life. This concept also is as the basic reason of sarcastic debate of his friends on Job's case.

III. Suffering in The Perspective of Islam
a. Suffering in Al-Quran
In Qur'an, the teaching about suffering related to submission to God. Islam is a religion which emphasized of total submission to the will of God. In Muslim religion they acknowledge the concept of “Takdir” or predestine by God. They believe at “fate”. Whatever happen in life is under God's will, as human we only have the right to accept and obey to the will of God. Whether it is pleasure or suffering in life, it is under God's control. The relationship between Allah and us humans in Islam is a direct one, with no mediator[6].
 Muslims generally perceived that suffering as a way of atonement for one’s sins, as the Prophet said, “No fatigue, no disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but Allah expiates some of his sins for that”.
In Surah 21 Al Anbiya, it is stated : “Every person (nafs) shall taste of death; and We try you with evil and good for a testing, then unto Us you shall be returned.” ( Q.21:35-36). The concept of death in this verse refers that soul does not die. Soul will separate from the body when someone death. When we live in the earth, our virtues and faith will be tested by many things: some by calamities, some by good things in life[7]. God determines someone's death. Muslims believe that the longevity of every person is only known by Allah who predetermined the exact timing of death.
In the practice of Islam religion, when they approach hardships and tests, they see it as  the decree of Allah. They should never ask Allah "Why has he given us such trials?” For by questioning Allah “why”, they think that they have already sin and disobey Allah. Questioning or complaining to God is a sinful attitude because they have to submit to God's will, whatever it takes.
Patience is one of the greatest attributes a person can acquire and Allah is with those who are patient. The reward for Patience is Paradise! If one is patient, and is among the ones described in the following manner in the Qur’an (Baqarah, 2: 256).  Who say, when afflicted with calamity:“To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return”

b. Relation between suffering and sin in Islam
In Islam, sometimes suffering is not only as a test but also as punishment of sin and transgressions.  It is stated in Islamic teaching: [8]
The Prophet also explained that adultery, when practised openly, increases the accidental and sudden death, brings such plagues and diseases which had never been heard of before. When people resort to cheating in weight and measure, warning comes in form of famine, underemployment, and tyrants. When rich people withhold zakat, poverty strikes the community.”

c. The account of Job's suffering in Al-Quran
The story of Job in Alquran is not specific to describe about Job's suffering. Following I quoted some concept that I found about Job's suffering in Al-Quran:
First, Job acknowledge that the source of his suffering is from the Evil one. “Commemorate Our Servant Job. Behold he cried to his Lord: “The Evil One has afflicted me with distress and suffering!” (Q. Sad. 41). From this verse we can learn that in Al-Quran, Job acknowledged that the source of his affliction is from the Evil One. He cried upon the Lord for help. 
Second, Job is faithful in the midst of his suffering. In the Al Quran, we will not find the words of sarcasm from the Job about life and Allah, as it is described in the Bible. We see a profile of Job without blemish; he suffered because of the Evil but he is faithful, patience before Allah.
Third, because of Job's faithfulness, Allah restored in his life. Q. Al Anbiya :84 “So We listened to him (Job), We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his people to him, and doubled their number- as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration, for all who serve Us.”  The cause-effect law can be seen here. If you are merciful, God will be merciful to you. If you do something good in your life, Allah will give his mercy to you. If you disobey, or sinful, Allah will give punishment.
Fourth, Job is commemorated because of his faith. The life of Job becomes a commemorate  for people who served Allah as an example of humility, patience and faith to Allah. Job became example Allah's servant who is faithful. There is no dialog of Job's complain to God. There is no record of sarcastic words of Job toward God and life
Fifth, it is unique that Alquran stated that part of the restoration of Job related to water cleansing. Al Quran in Q. Sad. 42 stated “(The command was given:) “Strike with thy foot: Here is (water) wherein you wash, cool and refreshing and (water) to drink”.  In the meaning of Holy Quran it was interpret that the recuperative process having begun, Job was commanded to strike the earth or rock and the fountain of water will gush out. The water is give Job a bath, clean his body, refresh his mind and spirit, drink and rest. This picture cannot be found in the bible and only stated in Al Quran.

d. Some of the differences
The concept that “we are being righteous because of our deed” can lead to cause-effect conclusion that if we do good, God will bless; if we are wicked, God will punish with suffering. We have to think then, what is the meaning of our relationship with God?
The fear of God can be foster in a wrong foundation of fear of God's rejection and punishment. But it is not the true meaning of “fear of God” because it is rooted in the “fear of suffering or rejection from God”. It is not the true submission because it is based on the fear of being punished. In order to maintain the relation people try to please God with their good deeds. We seek God only for our personal gain.
In Christianity we belief that we have a relational God, who accept us as we are, sinners who is forgiven. We do the good work, righteous and blameless way in our life are not in order to get God blessing or acceptance. It is not because of our offerings to God that we are righteous in God's sight. God is holy, that is the reason why we also as His children keep our life holy.
We accept a God who was wounded on the cross. Christ suffered in the cross. He cried on the cross “Eli Eli lema Sabachthani: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The reason of his suffering is His deep love to us the sinner. It is not because of our personal ability or capacity. And God invites us to suffer with him, and bear our own cross.

IV. Conclusion
 I found some of similar concept between Job's friends and some of the teaching of Islam. First, the concept of “some one reaps what he sows”. This means that God will give reward to our good deed and punish our wickedness. Second is the concept that human is insignificant (very inferior) before God. In Islam, the concept of total submission leads to total obedience, without any room for questioning, reasoning or complaining to God. Third, the concept that serving or worship God is for the benefit that piety brings. Men obligated to do the law in order to be accepted and blessed by God.
From the story of Job we learn that the ideal life of Christian is not a life without suffering. It is a life with suffering and we are called to endure the suffering with faith and perseverance in Christ. We have a God who suffered on the cross. God chose the way of the most horrible suffering to save humanity from sin. Suffering is part of Christian life, it makes our faith in God refined and completed.





[1]    Belcher Jr., R.P., Dictionary of Old Testament : Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, “Suffering”, Tremper Longman III & Peter Enns (Ed), (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), p. 775-776
[2]    Thomas, H.A, Dictionary of Old Testament : Prophets, “Suffering”, Mark J. Boda & J Gordon Mc Conville (Ed), (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), p. 760-761
[3]    Webb, W.J., Dictionary of New Testament & Its Development, “Suffering”, Ralph P. Matin & Peter H David (Ed), (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), p. 1135
[4]    Webb, p.1138
[5]    Jensen, Irving L., Job “A Self-Study Guide” (The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1975), p.19
[7]    Maulana Abdullah Yusuf Ali, “The Meaning of the Holy Quran” (Delhi: Kutub Khana Ishayatul Islam, )

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