22nd March 2023

Stained-glass windows are normally objects of beauty but the subject, Suffering and Sickness, must have challenged such a master of his craft as Geoffrey Robinson, especially since he chose to illustrate this by depicting a wretched Job, with shaven head and ulcerated skin, together with three grim-faced friends. So what is the lengthy OT book with his name all about? Its concern is to investigate different causes of suffering. The construction of the book centres around God giving Satan permission to test a man’s loyalty by inflicting him with a maximum deprivation of wealth, family members and health, insinuating that Job’s fidelity is directly conditioned by the many benefits in life he has received. However, Job’s friends were convinced that his plight was the result of undisclosed sins, suffering being a form of retribution. But ordinary experience suggests otherwise – too many unscrupulous people prosper, whilst those of high morality endure affliction, causing many to question God’s morality. A third option emerges at the end of the book when in poetic verses God interrogates Job as to what he knows about creation and God’s continued care of the created order. ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? … Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place? … Have the gates of death been shown to you? … What is the way to the abode of light? … Surely you know all this.’ [Job 38: 2–21] Job’s inability to respond positively suggests that human intelligence often fails to understand – perhaps there are deeper answers to these profound questions not immediately apparent. But one thing Job does know. In the midst of all this investigating comes his affirmation, ‘I know that my redeemer lives’. That is excellent theology, but artistically in the window the caring hand of God appears more like a spanner in the works! Do not let that put you off what the artist is trying to say about the way in which suffering fits into the divine economy: pause by the window for a moment and thank God for his loving care apparent in all circumstances.

John Briggs