The problem of suffering
We have as a church family been going through a deep season of loss over the last nine months. For most of us, that loss has centered around that which is a normal life cycle. The passing of my mom at 92 and Pastor Grant at 90 were things that were difficult, yet at the same time very much anticipated. When our loved ones have lived a long full life, we can give God all the praise and thanks for His great kindness and care in their lives over many years. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon writes, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted”, (3:1,2 NKJV). The problem occurs when the time to be born is also the time of death. This very much does not feel like the sequential order, nor the normal cycle of life. If everything has a season, then this certainly seems like an out-of-season event. Yet I think there can be great insight gained from Job’s experience of suffering as it relates to out-of-sequence losses.
In the first chapter of the book of Job, after Job has lost all 10 of his children, all of his cattle, and all of his earthly possessions we read his response, “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:20,21 NKJV). In a moment the richest sheik in the mid-east was turned into a pauper. Stunned and deeply grieving, he did not hide his overwhelming grief. But one thing Job did not do is lose his faith in the living God of the universe. Instead, his emotions showed that he was human and that he deeply loved his family. God has designed and created us as emotional beings, so it is not sinful or inappropriate to express our emotions as Job did. He ripped his robe, fell to the ground, and worshiped the living God of the universe. Job acknowledged God’s Lordship over all of his possessions and sought consolation from the Almighty. Job doesn’t try to hide his emotional pain. A person is not expected to be stoic under the weight of such overwhelming losses. God hasn’t given us hearts of stone. There is a whole religious cult that teaches that suffering isn’t real. What kind of science is that? Job surrendered to God his pain and hurt and confessed his deep sorrow under the heavy hand of God. Instead of cursing God, as Satan suggested he would do if God removed his hand of protection from Job, Job found in his heart to bless and worship the Lord God who had blessed him in so many ways.
Job’s resignation to the divine will is incredible. He professed that the God who had given him all his wealth in the first place had every right to take it away. He assumed no inherent right to his possessions. Do we take the same view of the vast wealth and treasures that God has given to us today? By Job’s reaction he proved Satan a liar and though Job was left a childless beggar, he justifies God’s trust in him. Job would find it in his heart to bless God, even when God had allowed all these things to be removed from him. There is a life that does not consist in the things that we possess. It is a life infinitely superior to possessions and independent of them. People can be godly apart from material gain. I wonder how we (or I) would’ve responded in Job’s shoes? Job recognized the hand of God in everything and everywhere. We have lost in our society a sense of God being ultimately in control and that all that we have is a gift from God. How different our view of our circumstances might be if we really believe that God is the one who dictates those circumstances. At this point there’s no sense of quarrel with God and Job blesses God because he had what he had for so long.
I like to consider a little further Job’s experience next week in our blog, but I want to point out one more interesting thought that Solomon shares with us in Ecclesiastes. Solomon writes, “I have seen the God given task with which the sons of men are occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end,” (Ecc. 3:11,12 NKJV). Earlier Solomon had written, “vanity of vanities, all is vain”, but when he brought God into the picture this gave them a new perspective. The beauty comes in recognizing and acknowledging the place and purpose of every person, thing, or event in God’s overall plan. We have mastered many things, but we really have no control over time. Each moment should be lived as a gift from God and received as such. This sense of God making everything beautiful is one of the things that allies us to God. God accomplishes his purpose in his time and our desire is to understand that. But many things we will never understand, just as Job never got an explanation for all the things that he went through. We have some very hard “why” questions in this life, but when we arrive in eternity it will not be so. Then we will begin to completely comprehend God’s total plan and His work of love and redemption in each of our lives. Until then, let us join with Job in worshiping the true and living God, even when we don’t understand what He is doing or how He’s going to use this season of loss in our lives.
All for God’s glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo