Suffering and the Greatness of God

We all love to hear about a good miracle.  We love to read the gospels and see all the times Jesus healed the blind man, caused the lame to walk, or raised the dead little girl back to life. It’s exciting to see God work in such a way, and we pray for Him to continue to do so in our day. But, what about the times He doesn’t heal? What about the times when our prayers seem unanswered and God seems cold and distant? Are we to conclude that if God is good and sovereign then He must put an end to our suffering? In other words, if there’s suffering in the world are we left to assume that God is either not good (he can stop it but won’t) or He’s not sovereign (He wants to stop it but He can’t)?

In the book of Job, we see that God is good, He is sovereign even over Satan, and yet there’s still suffering in the world. While God’s goodness and sovereignty in regards to suffering is a big topic (perhaps we’ll discuss more in an upcoming post), for today I simply want to point out three truths we learn in the book of Job: we will suffer, we may not understand the reason behind our suffering, and even in our suffering, God can be trusted because of who He is.

We will suffer
There are churches that teach that following Jesus means He will take away all our suffering. However, Scripture never promises that Jesus will take away all our pain while we remain on this earth. We may not get what we want, regardless of how much faith we have. Some diseases won’t be healed. Not all bank accounts will grow large. The test results won’t always be what we like. We may have thorns that are never removed.

In fact, what Scripture teaches is that oftentimes we will suffer because we are believers.  Jesus told us to expect persecution if we follow him (Matt. 24:9). We are told the world will hate us (John 15:18-19). Here, we see that Job was singled out not because he was living a life of debauchery, but because he was serving the Lord like no one else on earth.  From the very beginning of the book we are told Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Even the Lord tells Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” That’s pretty high praise from the Lord who sees every thought and intent of the heart. Yet, we see that living for the Lord in this way didn’t keep suffering from Job’s life.

Suffering is a part of life. We live in a fallen world, and until the Lord makes all things new, life will not be easy. Knowing this is true doesn’t make suffering easier, but perhaps it keeps us from a false faith that wavers under the difficulties of life. Perhaps this truth will remind us that this world is not our home, and we long to be in a place where there shall be no more suffering. Oh, how we long for that day!

We may not understand our suffering
In the midst of suffering, there are times when we can see clearly how God is working in us and through us. Other times we may not see it until years later, but we can look back and see how the Lord used our suffering for His glory.  But there are also times when we may not ever know for sure why there was a certain trial in our life.

Job’s friends thought they knew. Their flawed theology taught them that if someone goes through the kind of suffering that Job had gone through, then clearly it was because of some hidden sin. For them it was simple, if you act right then there will be no major suffering, so if you are suffering you must be in sin. While Job never claimed perfection, he adamantly defended himself against these accusations. Later, the Lord rebuked Job’s friends for their words.

The book of Job teaches us that one who’s following the Lord may go through a very difficult time. Is it possible to go through difficulty as a consequence of sin? Absolutely,  we can make foolish decisions that lead to hardship.  Does that mean that every difficult situation is because of our sin or something we can explain? No.

So, if we don’t have the answers, what are we to do?

We can trust God even when we don’t understand our suffering
God never explained himself to Job.  He didn’t put the blame on Satan. He never gave him answers to the ‘why’ question. What did God say? Beginning in chapter 38, God reminds Job of His power. Here’s how the dialogue begins:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

That’s just the first 18 verses…the Lord continues for several chapters.  He asks Job where the snow is kept, where the mountain lion gives birth, who gave the ostrich her speed, etc.

Why is God asking Job these things? He’s reminding Job that He is God and Job isn’t. He’s showing Job how little he is, and he’s reminding us that we are not God and we see and know very little. He shows us that because of His great power, wisdom, and love, He can be trusted. We might not understand why God does what he does. We might not understand why certain trials are happening in our lives.  It might not make sense to us why there are terrorist or why people go hungry. But, whether or not we understand, we trust. We trust the One who truly knows and understands. We trust that He is good.  We trust that He’s working out His plan.  And, while we trust, we worship and obey.

If you’re currently in the midst of suffering, I can’t give you a few words that will simply take the pain away. But, I can encourage you to look to the God who knows and sees all. Call out to Him. Share your pain with Him. Get support from brothers and sisters in the faith whom He has placed in your life. You might not understand your suffering, but look to the One who laid the foundation of the earth. It is by His understanding that the hawk soars, and it’s at His command that the eagle makes his nest. He knows when the mountain goat gives birth, and He knows what you’re going through. And He cares. He’s working this out for His glory and your good. Don’t lose heart fellow saint. Remember, He’s a good, good Father.

 

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