One of the main themes of the Psalms and the Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, etc.) is the problem of human suffering. Describe some of the major ways these books deal with this problem. Do you find any of their answers compelling? Why or why not?
The issue of suffering is a problem for all people, philosophies, and religions. Therefore, no one tradition will offer a perfect answer for all people. That said, I believe wisdom literature offers one of the best answers, if not the best answer. Let me give you a few examples.
First, the psalmist does not ignore suffering. Many of the psalms are complaints of human suffering. For example, Psalm 22, probably the most famous psalm, opens with these words:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest...
By the end of the psalm, the psalmist realizes that God is with him. This is one answer to suffering. God sees, knows, and helps us in our suffering. When we come to the New Testament, Jesus utters these same words and what follows is a resurrection, which suggests that God vindicates suffering.
The psalms also teach people that God uses suffering to teach his people. Therefore, suffering is not meaningless, but a sanctifying tool that God uses to mature people. Here is what Psalm 119:71-72 states:
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
Third, the book of Ecclesiastes gives another answer. In the final chapter, the book reminds readers that there is judgment before God. This point, too, suggests an answer to suffering, because the life we have now is not ultimate. There is a suggestion that there might be something else, and God will be the one who blesses people who have suffered well.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 states:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.