Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: Wait a minute: there is a Redeemer who will set things right!

Job 18-19

icon-resurrectionBildad continues to insist on the view that the Lord operates strictly according to the laws of cause and effect. Suffering is always a result of ungodliness and ungodliness always results in punishment. Therefore Job must be guilty of sin. This speech provokes Job to respond that such accusations are unfounded. They are based only on presuppositions and biased thinking. These rigid views do not for a moment consider Job’s upright character or the fact that God has so far not accused him of anything, has not even responded to his pleas for help or for an explanation. Thus he challenges his friends and us to re-examine our views of the world and the character of God. Job’s suffering must be interpreted and assessed in the light of God’s justice and mercy.

As Job continues his complaint he suddenly realizes that some day he will get the vindication he desires. For in heaven he has a redeemer or witness who will testify before God on his behalf, one who will proclaim his innocence. His words concerning this redeemer are prophetic of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus died and rose again to free us from our sins, to make us right with God. Now we are assured that all the suffering, persecution, pain and injustice we endure know will be vindicated.

Now Job did not know about Jesus specifically nor did he intend this as his meaning. He realized only that some heavenly advocate, an angel or perhaps God’s word itself would plead his case, prove his righteousness and allow him entry into the presence of the Lord. He is so confident of this that he warns his friends that they, not he, will have to face divine judgment for falsely accusing him in the name of the Lord and for claiming to know and fully understand God.

Many of us have falsely accused other Christians of wickedness and sin based on our personal interpretation of their actions or words but failed to consider what we knew to be true of their character. And many of us have been on the receiving end of such accusations. We felt violated, hurt and abused at this lack of understanding of trust. Therefore we should be ever mindful of making such accusations and should ask forgiveness of all those who have felt the sting of our words.

 

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: Doesn’t my pain disturb you?

JobaccusedJob 16-17

In answer to the accusation of Eliphaz, Job becomes angry and indignant. He continues to insist that he is not guilty of any sin that would cause the Lord to punish him with such horrible afflictions. In addition, he rejects his friends’ rigid view of the world for his experience tells him that God does what he pleases, and is not bound to act according to their way of thinking.  And it seems as if God has open animosity towards Job which they feel is justified. They do not know Job. They do not support him in any way. Yet he does feel that eventually he will have support from God. One day the Lord will evaluate the situation and he will be vindicated.

As we consider the plight of Job we should feel appalled: he is innocent yet he is enduring enormous agony. We know that God will bring good out of this but still it is disturbing for we observe the same situation every day. Sure no one is totally innocent but daily we see people suffering excruciating pain and enduring all sorts of abuse. We see infants and young children being physically and emotionally abused by cruel unthinking people who suffer from an extreme lack of compassion. We see innocent men and women being abused and slaughtered by wicked and evil minded persons sometimes in the name of God. And God allows all these things to happen for some reason unknown to us. Rather than rant and rail against God for what we perceive as cruel and intolerable injustices or make unfeeling accusations of wrongdoing against the suffering one such wicked things should arouse our sympathy and compassion and lead us to seek justice for those oppressed and freedom and truth for those bound by the slavery of sin.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: God is way more mysterious than we think.

Job 12

Job phrases his reply to Zophar in words that include the arguments raised by Eliphaz and Bildad. Perhaps they had good intentions for what they said, concerned as they are with Job’s healing. Yet they have accused him of foolishness, arrogance and stupidity. Job tells them that he is as wise as they. He knows all their arguments, all their wisdom. Yet he admits he knows one thing more: his suffering and pain has told him that the rigid idea of God’s retributive justice is belied by experience. His current situation tells him that the righteous indeed suffer bad things and suffer for no apparent reason.

In addition, as Job observes the world, God’s ways seem arbitrary and inexplicable. Wicked men prosper unmolested, while the good and the innocent are oppressed, enslaved and subjected to a multitude of sorrows. Job also sees great injustice as he observes the animal world. Tame, docile creatures such as sheep, cows and goats all are victimized by ravenous predators without cause simply because this is how God made them. Finally Job notes that kingdoms and rulers rise and fall without any valid explanation. Good nations rise only to fall to the might of wicked ones which fall victim to those even more wicked. Job essentially feels that God does as He pleases. This he feels is unjust.

As Job wrestles with this inconsistency, his thinking leads him to conclude a truth that is essential for our lives: God is much more mysterious and infinitely more vast than man can conceive. His ways are not ours. God makes up the laws of the universe and they do not have to conform to our way of thinking, or our sense of what is fair and just. This is why so many people do not like the God of the Bible. They do not want to serve a being who holds them accountable to His laws. They want to exercise control over their own lives and control over God as well. They would rather fashion a god who conforms to their rules, one who is tolerant of all they think, desire and do. This is the type of false god we Christians must battle every day, a god who is powerful because his (or her or its) ways are so treacherous and deceptive that they blind, captivate and keep enslaved billions of unsuspecting people every day.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: So you think you know everything?

Job 11

job11Like Job’s two other friends, Zophar has little sympathy for the suffering man. He is outraged by Job’s allegations against God’s integrity and scolds him vehemently. He feels that Job’s loud protestations of innocence and about God’s lack of care demonstrate great arrogance as well as utter foolishness. Zophar wants Job to understand that because God is the supreme creator, He is always right. God knows who is guilty and who is not. He doesn’t make mistakes. Mortal human beings cannot accuse him of injustice and get away with it. No man can even dare to take God to court because the suffering person is always the one at fault. It is Job who has brought all these afflictions on himself. Repentance is the only wise course of action.

Zophar’s words are theologically correct but insensitive. God, in fact, is always right but our finite minds cannot grasp all that He knows or does, only that which He chooses to reveal. Zophar knew this but did not take into account his own finite mind’s inability to fully grasp God’s ways. He thought he had God neatly pinned down, but the Lord is so much more vast and mysterious. Therefore if we judge the sufferings and trials of life solely on experience or our preconceived theology we will usually judge erroneously. But if we assume that God is merciful and compassionate as Jesus has revealed Him to be, we will trust that He always does what is right for Himself as well as for His dearly beloved children. Then we will be better able to endure our trials with faith, convinced that He disciplines us for our good and to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes when we argue theology, we insist that we are always right. Sometimes, we would rather win an argument than make a friend. We would rather be right even if it means we suffer the loss of a relationship with a fellow Christian or the salvation of a lost soul. In some matters of theology and doctrine there is room for a difference of opinion and discussion. In central matters of faith such as salvation in Christ alone by grace through faith not human works there is no room for discussion or compromise for the true Christian. However our stand on this doctrine is meant to present truth to the lost person seeking answers. We do not apologize for our strict stand but neither can we gloat. Our purpose is to help the lost into the Kingdom, not to make ourselves look good by ridicule or derision. Rather than feel self-satisfied we should feel sadness for those who will not listen and believe.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: The silence of God is deafening.

Job 10
job10Despite the fear he has of the Lord, Job elaborates on the things he would say to God in court. In this way he pours out his anguished frustrations to the Lord in a way that may seem to us a bit disrespectful for he questions God’s integrity. He accuses the Lord of hounding and oppressing him for no reason, like a cosmic bully against whom he can offer no defense. And he asks God if He is actually taking pleasure in afflicting him or for that matter, anyone else. He wonders why God would choose to do this to any one of His creations. Then he asks God just to leave him alone and he will have some peace in the few days he has left to him. But he knows that this is a futile argument so he figures it is best to just die.

When we look at these words we have to admit that most of us have given utterance to similar words and feelings in times of suffering and trial. Our pain makes us think God does not love us or care about us, that we are just pawns in His great plan for the universe. What seems to make our suffering worse is God’s apparent silence in the face of our persistent prayers for relief and help. We would at least welcome an explanation for our suffering as that would give us some encouragement, some hope. This too was Job’s desire, for the silence only intensified his pain. The truth is that for God’s testing of Him to be genuine, Job had to be ignorant of God’s plan and of His total confidence in the ability of his righteousness and faith to carry him through. Perhaps that is true of us as well. Even in the silence we must choose to believe that God still loves us and He will get us through. This may be difficult but we have no other choice. The gods of this world, science, government, celebrities, the media, false religions, religious gurus, none of them can or will answer our prayers. None can truly help us is any lasting or satisfying way. Better to have the silence of a God who keeps His promises than the false promises of gods who are deaf as well as impotent.

Biblical Thoughts on Sin and suffering.

Job 4
job4We encountered Job’s 3 friends in the 2nd chapter. At first they appear to be wise men because the wise know when to be silent. These men kept a silent vigil with the grieving man. Often the only thing we can do is sit with someone who is grieving or facing serious pain and/or death. Sometimes we cannot speak because we do not know what to say or because we feel their pain deeply and, we, too, are overcome with grief. But more often, we do not speak for fear we will say the wrong thing or utter empty platitudes that sound right, true, and noble but which make things worse, show a lack of compassion or entirely miss the point.

Unfortunately, once Job speaks, his friends feel the need to respond to his outburst in an attempt to make things better, to make him see reason. Their dialogues with Job explore some of the ways that people think and speak when coping with sorrow and tragedy. Eliphaz begins by stating the obvious answer, based upon Biblical wisdom, the law of retribution has fallen on Job. Bad things happen only as a result of sin. If you are good you will have few or no problems in life. Hence, Eliphaz tells Job, he has sinned and brought this tragedy upon himself. He backs up his statement by claiming to have heard a revelation in the spirit, a whisper in the night which ought to stress and confirm to Job his need for repentance.

Theologically we can state that sin is always the cause of our suffering, specifically the sin of Adam and Eve which has corrupted all of creation. However, we cannot and should not attribute every specific case of suffering and tragedy to the specific sin of any individual. While it is true that violence, problems and devastation caused by wars, crimes and selfishness is attributed to the sin of a specific person or group of persons or nation or corporation to say that the one suffering is guilty of a specific sin is not for any human to say. The Lord may reveal that this is the case, but we have no right to accuse unless the Lord has commissioned us to do so.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: Why did this happen to me?

jobJob 3

In the first 2 chapters we are told twice that Job did not sin even after he lost everything. In fact, he blessed God. Now as he speaks we realize that he is not happy or filled with joy. Rather he is filled with questions, doubts, turmoil, confusion and overwhelming sadness.  He does not know why these things have happened to him because he knows he has not done anything wrong. He is still operating under the misconception that a good life will reap rewards and blessings. This idea has been so challenged by his experience, that his concept of God, his entire view of a nice orderly world has been blown apart.

As he tries to come to terms with his confusion, he voices his complaints, his feelings of woe. He comes dangerously close to stepping over the line by cursing the day of his birth in a way that seems an attempt to reverse Creation itself by cursing the light. Job thinks that death is preferable to his present state because at least then he would be resting and at peace. We may think that such words are sinful, that no one should give utterance to such ideas, as this is unbefitting to a believer, a lack of faith. Yet which of us can say that we have never felt such things or even spoken them? Which of us have never been in such a situation that we despaired of life because we had no clue what God was doing or why He was or is allowing us to endure what we are enduring? Which of us has not jumped to the easy conclusion that God is punishing us for sin? We want easy answers as Job does but there are none. The good thing we learn is to cry out to God and voice our complaints and feelings. That way we can at least remain in active relationship with Him. God does not become angry for He understands what we feel.