Lessons from Job
When I lost my son Jonathan after a really painful fight with cancer I read Philip Yancey's book "Disappointment with God" and was impacted with the response of a man described in the book to have sustained a good deal of suffering and loss. He was asked "What have you learned that might help someone else going through a difficult time?" He said he was never disappointed with God and I realized that I was not either, just shocked and confused. Here's what I learned from him and the book.
I've learned, first through my own losses, not to confuse God with life. I have been as upset about what has happened to me as anyone could be but I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger. But I believe God feels the same way about my hurt and suffering. He is also grieved and angry. I don't blame God for what has happened.
I have learned to see beyond the physical reality in this world to the spiritual reality. We tend to think "Life should be fair because God is fair." But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life - be expecting constant good health and no problems, no disasters - then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment. "God's existence even his love for me, does not depend on my good health or anyone else I love or earthquakes or disasters. Frankly, I've had more time and opportunity to work on my relationship with God during these times.
If we develop a relationship with God apart from our life crises', then we may be able to hang on when the physical reality breaks down. We can learn to trust God despite all the unfairness of life. Our relationship with God can transcend from some kind of a "deal" with God to being able to follow Him even in hardship.
If you read the Gospels you will find that Jesus never denied unfairness. When he encountered a sick person he never delivered a lecture about "accepting your lot in life." He healed. The Son of Man reacted to life's unfairness much like anybody else. When he met a person in pain, he was deeply moved with compassion. When his friend Lazarus died, he wept. When Jesus himself faced suffering, he recoiled from it, asking his Father three times if there was any other way.
God responded to the question of unfairness in this world not with words but with a visit - by His son. The Cross that held Jesus' body naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice and unfairness of this world. The Cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have; a world of gross unfairness and a God of sacrificial love.
Even people who find physical healing eventually die. We need more than miracles in this world. We need a new heaven and a new earth, and until we have those, unfairness will not disappear.
In the first two chapters of Job there seems to be a "wager" made between God and Satan the devil whether Job - who was a righteous and upright man - would continue to trust in and believe in God if he had everything taken away from him. All of the trauma Job will experience traces back to a kind of "bet" placed by two cosmic powers. When people experience pain, questions spill out - the very questions that tormented Job for most of the rest of the Book of Job. Why me? What's going on? Does God care? Is there a God? This one time, in the raw recounting of Job's suffering and losses we - the onlookers - not Job - are granted a view behind the scene to see the supernatural activity normally hidden from us. God is not on trial in this book. Job is. The point of this book is not Job's suffering: Where is God when it hurts? The first two chapters answered that. The point is faith. Where is Job when it hurts. How is he responding? Is his faith based on the right "thing."
"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." - Job 42:3
Why doesn't God Explain?
Commenting on the book of Job in the Bible, Frederick Buechner sums up God's speech to Job. "God doesn't explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a little neck clam . . . God doesn't reveal his grand design, He reveals Himself.
1. Perhaps God keeps us ignorant because enlightenment might not help us. Knowing the cause doesn't alleviate the suffering or the feelings of despair and abandonment we feel in a crises. Knowledge is passive, intellectual; suffering is active and personal. No intellectual answer will solve suffering. Jesus' coming to this earth did not "solve" human suffering but at least it was an active and personal response to our need. Sometime "hard and fast answers to all the "Why" questions are, quite simply, out of reach.
2. Perhaps God keeps us ignorant because we are incapable of comprehending the answer. The unseen world exists outside our range of perception.
Is God Silent?
If God had delivered an inspiring pep talk to Job - "Do this for me, Job, as a Knight of Faith and we can prove to the devil that you love and trust me" - Job would have done that gladly - probably - but Satan had challenged Job's faith and whether his faith could survive without any outside help or explanation. Job eventually was able to say "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in him." The kind of faith God values seems to develp best when everything fuzzes over and when God does stay silent.
Sometimes God silences are meant to show us what is in our heart. Many of the Old Testamenet characters show up on the honor roll of Hebrews 11 for their faith even they didn't always get what they wanted or died waiting for their answers. Saints become saints by somehow hanging on to the stubborn conviction that things are not as they appear, and that the unseen world is as solid and trustworthy as the visible world around them. God, as creator and sustainer of this world, deserves our trust. The definition of faith in Hebrews is "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."
God's favorites, especially God's favorites, are not immune from the bewildering times when God seems silent. As Paul Tournier said, "Where there is no longer any opportunity for doubt, there is no longer any opportunity for faith either." The Bible includes many proofs of God's concern-some quite spectacular - but no guarantees. A guarantee would, after all, preclude faith.
Two Kinds of Faith
First - the childlike gulp of faith, when a person swallows the impossible. Childlike trust may not survive when the miracle does not come. Sometimes circumstances require a hang-on-at-any-cost type of faith. A faith that involves learning to trust that despite the silence, God still reigns and has not abandoned us. Sometimes our deepest faith sprouts at a point of contradiction, like a blade of grass between stones. Human beings grow by striving, working, stretching - we see to need problems more than solutions. Spiritual disciplines are designed primarily for our sakes not for God's. Shortcuts usually lead away from growth, not toward it. "Faith like Job's cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken."
We have little comprehension of what our faith means to God
Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden God has made enormous efforts to reach us for relationship and trust. Ever since God took the "risk" of making room for free human beings, faith - true, unbribed, freely offered faith - has had an intrinsic value to God that we can barely imagine. There is no better way for us to express love to God than by exercising trust in Him. According to the Bible, human beings serve as the principal foot soldiers in the warfare between unseen forces of good and evil; and faith is our most powerful weapon. Job saw the darkest side of life, heard the deepest silence of God, and still believed.
God did not exempt himself from the same demands of faith
Because of Jesus, God understands how I feel. In one sense, God tied his own hands in the wager over Job; in the most literal sense, He let His hands be tied the night of the Crucifixion. The powerful faith expressed in the New Testament by the followers of Jesus was based on the suffering death of Jesus and His resurrection. When God seemed most silent and absent during those events he was closer than ever and at work to accomplish our salvation. The pattern was tragedy, darkness, triumph! The evils and sufferings that afflict our lives are so real and so significant to God that he willed to share them and endure them himself!!!!
Despite the circumstances of this fallen and broken world God's Word tells us that "in all things we are more than conquerors" and that no amount of hardship can separate us from the love of God (Phillipians 3 and Romans 8)
In the midst of the suffering Job concluded that "God assails me and tears me in his anger." We know from the Bible account that Job was mistaken. The first two chapters of Job makes the important distinction that God did not personally cause Job's problems. He permitted them, yes, but the account of the Wager presents Satan, not God, as the instigator of Job's suffering. Far from being abandoned by God, Job was getting direct, almost microscopic scrutiny from Him. While Job was putting his case before God, sharing his hurt and anger he was actually participating in a trial of cosmic significance - he was the main witness in a test of faith.
By no means can we infer that our own trials are, like Job's, specially arranged by God to settle some decisive issue in the universe. But we can safely assume that our limited range of vision will, in similiar fashion, distort reality. Pain narrows vision. From Job, we can learn that much more is going on out there than we may suspect. If we can't comprehend the visible world we live in, how can we expect to comprehend a world we cannot even see?
We human beings instinctively regard the seen world as the "real" world and the unseen world as the "unreal". The Bible calls for the opposite. Through faith, the unseen world increasingly takes shape as the real world and sets the course for how we live in the seen world. In I Corinthians 15 Paul reminds us that we should "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
The Bible never belittles human pain or disappointment - after all Job's anguish there was restoration. What we feel now or experience now in this world is temporary. Our suffering and disappointment is itself, a sign, an aching, a hunger for something better. God has promised eternal life in His Son - not a guarantee of freedom from suffering and loss in this world. He is with us, He sees, He cares. Build your relationship with Him, trust Him.
An Undying Myth
A persistent myth circulates among spiritually attuned people. It claims if we follow God's purpose and vision for us, we always wind up living happily ever after. No pain or disappointment. Just smooth sailing toward the afterlife.
This myth persists because we want to believe it. We reason, "If God is good and perfect, can't He provide us with the good life? Doesn't He want to?
The answer on both counts is "yes". He provided this perfect life in the Garden of Eden, but we foiled the plan. Because of our choice to sin, even redeemed humanity can't know perfection until we reach heaven. We sense that somewhere perfection was possible, and we live with the desire but not the capability to acquire seamless lives.
Despite our wishes, Jesus said in the world we will experience trouble (John 16:33), and this trouble arrives in many forms. People say "Everything happens for a reason," but at times a justifiable cause is impossible to grasp.
One of our Purposes in Life is to learn to Trust God Through Suffering
"Through affliction He teaches us many precious lessons that otherwise we would never learn. By affliction He shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of His grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world, and makes us long for heaven." - J.C. Ryle
What is God after? His desire to conform us to the image of Christ and His ways of doing this are certainly opposite of our ways and our thinking. Why must we endure affliction and what should our response be to suffering?
Endurance - "is not just the ability to beat or overcome a hard thing, but to turn it into something glorious"
Suffering is equally necessary for us because it strips away the pretense that life is reasonable and good, a pretense that keeps us looking in all the wrong places for the satisfaction of our souls.
Peter's first letter provides a helpful perspective on enduring trials and suffering. What truth's about God, His purpose in suffering, and our response to suffering can your find in 1 Peter 1:3-9?
Praise to God for a Living Hope 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
"Perhaps the most valuable way we profit from adversity is in the deepening of our relationship with God. Through adversity we learn to bow before His sovereignty, to trush His wisdom, and to experience the consolations of His love, until we come to the place where we can say with Job, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you." - Job 42:5 We begin to pass from knowing about God to knowing God Himself in a personal and intimate way." - Jerry Bridges
God grieves with us and cares deeply about our broken hearts. Often He does not eradicate a difficulty - at least not immediately - but abides with us through it, whether or not we sense His presence. He longs to comfort and heal us, turning our ashes into beauty, our mourning into joy, our weakeness into praise. - Isiah 60: 1-3
What do the following verses say about God's presence and participation in our suffering?
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
"and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you."
II Corinthians 1:3-4
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
According to these verses, how does God comfort us?
Psalm 94: 17-19
17 Unless the LORD had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18 When I said, "My foot is slipping,"
your love, O LORD, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.
49 Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope. 50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me without restraint,
but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD,
and I find comfort in them.
Isaiah 40:1 (These words were spoken to Isaiah) (What does God want us to do?)
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Jesus shares our suffering, He nurses us and heals us by His own wounds and stripes. As we go through our valleys, He keeps us constant company. And that is what makes the difference!
Read Psalm 60
You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us;
you have been angry-now restore us! 2 You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
3 You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
4 But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow.
5 Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.
6 God has spoken from his sanctuary:
"In triumph I will parcel out Shechem
and measure off the Valley of Succoth.
7 Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my scepter.
8 Moab is my washbasin,
upon Edom I toss my sandal;
over Philistia I shout in triumph."
9 Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10 Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us
and no longer go out with our armies?
11 Give us aid against the enemy,
for the help of man is worthless.
12 With God we will gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies.
Written by King David in the Old Testament during a difficult battle. He expected victory and success just because he belonged to God but notice how clear he makes it that the outward crisis was matched by inward confusion and shock? Can you describe a time when your circumstances did not appear to line up with what you knew was true about God?
Read Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields [b] with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
"God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fail. God will help her at break of day. The nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall. He lifts His voice, the earth melts. The Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still and know that I am God."