Life happens, right? Good stuff, great stuff, not so good stuff and bad stuff. I have had a lot of people ask me the reason we suffer if God loves us so much. I have written about this before, but let’s take a look at an example out of the Bible; Job, the suffering saint.
Job was a righteous man, a man after God’s own heart. He had 10 children, wealth, friends, position, and he prayed every day. God was first in his life.The backdrop of the story is a conversation between God and Satan about Job’s righteousness; God offering up his faithful servant as an example, and Satan stating that if everything was taken away from Job that Job would turn away from God. Challenge taken and God gives Satan permission to take possessions, children, and health away from Job. At first Job accepts the hardship, after all we can’t expect that life be idyllic, right? As hardship is heaped upon hardship, however, Job’s attitude begins to change. I certainly don’t fault him for that; I wouldn’t have done as well as he did even short term given the intensity of the hardships he suffered.
Job’s children taken from him, his wealth and now his health, we find Job sitting in an ash heap scraping his wounds. Enter his wife advising her husband to curse God and die, obviously their blessed life had come to an end. Have you known people like Job’s wife in your life? The people when faced with hardship want to cash it all in, so to speak? What this couple had suffered to date was intense to say the least, and certainly more than most of us suffer in a lifetime, yet Job reminded his wife that they could not expect only good from the hand of God; that they must accept hardship as well. Job remained upright and steadfast in his faith, but it was getting more difficult.
Suffering, as we all know, takes it’s toll eventually, and Job’s story is a story of human suffering in the midst of God’s silence. Job’s friends, hearing of their friend’s multiple misfortunes, come together to sit with Job, to comfort and console as best they could. When they laid eyes upon poor Job, body full of festering wounds, sitting on his ash heap, they tore their robes and wept. Seven days and nights they sat silently with their friend.
Now Job’s friends see fit to offer wisdom from their vantage point. Essentially, Job’s friends blame Job for his plight. To paraphrase, Job is asked what he did to upset God, told that he has offered advice to others in similar situations and now that it is his turn, he cannot seem to take the heat, and the reason for his suffering is due to discipline from the hand of God. Really?? I’m not sensing a great deal of empathy for their friend. And we do that sometimes, don’t we? In our zeal to ease the suffering of others we try to find reason amid the calamity, and sometimes there is none, at least from our puny perspective, so we blame the victim. Another friend offers his two-cents; perhaps Job should repent! Of what? God said Job was upright before Him. The third friend believes that Job could have it so much worse; in other words, what are you complaining about, Job?
As time passed and God’s silence continued, the friends’ desire to comfort Job turned to judgment, condemnation and rebuke. Surely Job must have done or said something that brought God’s wrath! There was no other possible explanation, in their minds. In so doing they crushed beneath their heels what was left of their friend, smug in their own righteousness before a just God.
Job has had enough and speaks for himself. He hasn’t done anything as far as he can tell, who is completely innocent among men in the first place?And for a moment, Job has a pity-party-for-one and asks God to put him out of his misery. Who wouldn’t? Job rallies, however, and gathers what strength he has left to rebuke his “friends” for their lack of empathy, their need to condemn him for the tragedies of his recent days. In defense of his friends, I will say that we sometimes offer hollow explanations for hardship and tragedy we don’t understand and Job’s friends were no different. Their desire was to comfort their friend, but somehow their comfort sounded like blame and eventually turned to condemnation. Job is done with his so-called friends, opting to be alone in his misery.
Job’s suffering is too great, he has suffered too much. Job cries out for God to answer him, to justify the seeming punishment of a life lived in righteousness before he gives up his spirit and dies in misery. Job pours out his heart to God, pleading his case before Him, demanding an explanation; Job speaks frankly to his God. And God answers Job. At first blush it sounds as if God is angry with Job, but I don’t think that was the case. Job had demanded that God defend Himself, had blamed God for his circumstances, singled His righteous servant out to unjustly punish, so God answered honestly and matter of factly. God wants to know where Job was when He had laid the foundations of the earth, when He scattered the stars throughout the heavens; God asks Job if he knows when the mountain goats give birth, and finally, challenges Job to take His place as the Almighty, given that He has the mysteries of the earth all figured out. Harsh, maybe. We do that with God, though, we decide in the depths of our misery that God is punishing us, is angry with us, has turned His back on us; none of which is the reality.
Job repents. He admits before God that he did not have all the facts before he accused the Creator of the Universe of pettiness; deciding to arbitrarily punish a righteous man. The wager between God and the Adversary in the beginning of the story sounds like a whimsical test of a human pawn, but the reality is that God had confidence in this righteous man. He knew that even in the midst of intense tragedy Job would not curse God, would not turn his back and “sin” against his God; and Job lived up to the expectations of God. In Job 13:15 Job utters easily one of the most well-known and oft quoted scriptures of Christendom, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him, yet I will argue my ways to his face”. Most often only the first part of that scripture is quoted, I have rarely heard the second half, but in my mind the second half shows us the grit of a man immersed in misery, and the confidence he has in his God. True, Job was wearing down, but he had resolved to go to his grave without cursing God; resolve many do not have, even the most devout among us.
At the end of the story God restores everything to Job that had been taken, and rebukes Job’s friends for their foolish counsel. Job is our example of relationship with God, what God wants from those who reach out to Him. God wants His children to trust Him even in the midst of unexplainable tragedy, understanding that God stands in the fire with His beloved, and He welcomes our honest questions, hearts that cry out for explanation. Will we always get our answers like Job did? Maybe, maybe not, but we can utter like Job, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him…..”