Thoughts on Suffering

One of the certainties of life is suffering. There is flooding in Texas. In my personal world, a young woman is fighting cancer and treatment is uncertain. Friends lost their 25-year-old brother unexpectedly. Our world is one of pain, grief, loss, disappointment, failure, betrayal, and anxiety. No one is exempt. It may come in different forms, but suffering is certain.

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Relief at all costs: “Curse God and die.” This was Satan’s goal. If Job’s relationship with God was dependent on his circumstances, he would love God when life was good and curse Him when life was bad. Job’s wife, unfortunately, was on Satan’s team for this one. Isn’t it interesting that of all the things Satan asked to take away from Job, his wife was not one of them.Job’s suffering was unexpected and devastating. He lost material wealth, his children, and his health. Like some of us, this is how others responded:

  1. Experience is the solution: “I’ve seen this. It happened to ____.”  Job’s friend, Eliphaz, related Job’s suffering to his own experiences. We may have seen, heard, or experienced things in our lives but that is a) not a comfort someone who is suffering and b) not an accurate measure of who God is or how He works.
  2. Traditional practice is the solution: “If you’d done this (name it) this (name calamity) wouldn’t have happened.” We may not come right out and say it, but it’s easy to carry the same undertone as Zophar ‘s message: “We’ve always done it this way.” In other words, it’s your fault for not following the accepted pattern. “What did you do to bring this on yourself?”
  3. Rules or legalism is the solution: “You can fix this by ____.”  Bildad professes a health, wealth and prosperity doctrine: If you do such and such, you can make it go away. This is another form of, “It’s your fault” with the added burden of changing the circumstances.

None of them were helpful. In fact, they made things worse. On top of external forces, Job battled his thoughts, emotions and the untruths of his “friends.”

These friends were focused on why Job was suffering. If they knew why, they could escape, avoid, or control suffering in their own lives. They pointed the finger, “It’s your fault” as another way of saying, “As long as I don’t do what you did, I’m safe.” There is something threatening about suffering—something ominous, dangerous, and unpleasant—we want to avoid. In reality, we can’t. And we won’t.

What about Job? In the face of disaster and calamity, who, like him, doesn’t want to talk directly to God?(7:20, 10:2, 13:3, 15, 22; 16:21; 23:4, etc.)

Once they ran out of arguments–Job included–Elihu, the youngest, silent observer spoke. Unlike the others, Elihu persisted in presence with a listening ear and keen thoughts. Because he escaped God’s criticism, we would do well to listen to his words and attitudes.

In humility, he admitted his own failures. He found common ground with Job and proved it by sitting through this entire discourse (7 days of silence plus 28 chapters’ worth of discussion). He did not lay blame, tell Job what to do, or criticize him harshly. He practiced what Dr. Bob Kellemen calls, “climbing in the casket.” And after lying in that dark, despairing place with Job, he provides perspective: don’t forget God’s grace and generosity, look for God’s hand and purpose even in suffering, if God controls the lightning, wind and wild beast, He is able to care for you, and remember, God cannot be moved or manipulated by the works of man.

God, in His goodness, wisdom and sovereignty approached Job in chapters 38-41, but not to answer Job’s “why?” Instead, God assured him that He saw, knew, controlled, and governed in might, goodness and wisdom.

Job’s reply?

“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

Then the Lord spoke to Eliphaz (how terrifying!), “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). They offered sacrifices, Job prayed, and they were forgiven. The Lord returned Job’s wealth and “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” (42:12)

In our suffering—in suffering with others—we may never know why, but we can always know Who.

Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold,
And a silversmith fashions chains of silver.
20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering
Selects a tree that does not rot;
He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman
To prepare an idol that will not totter.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40)

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