Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!
We have had quite a journey through Job. It’s hard to imagine we began just six weeks ago—it seems like we have been with Job for months! We have followed him from the beginning when he confidently credited God with everything that happened around him…through discussions with his ‘friends.’ We listened with him as God responded to the accusations set before Him…all the way to Job’s final response—“I cannot understand it all.” Amazingly, through all of this, Job’s faith—his trust and confidence in God—has not wavered. His understanding of reality changed, his self-perception has changed, his understanding of God changed—but his faith IN God has remained unmovable. In this, we can admire and learn from Job.
Let’s go the Scriptures once more as we conclude this study of Job and see what we might find….
Scripture – Job 42:7-17
7After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 8So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” 9So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
12The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
16After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17And, so Job died, an old man and full of years.
Here, we find the bad advice of the friends brought to light…and the grace of God in dealing with the friends is clear—here’s how to make things right.
Job is surrounded with family, friends and neighbors…and he is blessed by them.
God restores all of Job’s fortunes and even gives Job a new family.
He lives a long life and comes to the end of his days.
And so the book of Job comes to a close.
Yet, as we come to the end of this series, one question remains…lingers…hovers in the background.
We have learned that God is not the author of suffering. We have affirmed the sovereignty—omnipotence—of God. We have affirmed the unchanging character of God. We have rejoiced in the goodness of God.
If God is not the author of suffering, why does our good, unchanging, all-powerful God allow suffering? Why does our God allow what harms, hurts, maims or kills?
Surely, He could end suffering with a word. Certainly, God could rescue any and all of us from our suffering in a second. Why does He allow suffering?
II. Where does Suffering come from?
Let’s look again at our definition of suffering:
Suffering is enduring, going through, experiencing a prolonged physical, mental and/or emotional pain as a result of illness, injury and/or loss.
Suffering is a result of ‘illness, injury and/or loss.’ In order to rid the world of suffering, God would have to remove illness, injury and loss from our lives. “GREAT!” we’d say, right? “God—do it! Get these things out of our lives!”
Yes, I’d agree.
But, we need to step back and ask why we have these things in our world in the first place. Why do we have illness, injury and loss in this world? Are these things that God in His unparalleled wisdom simply added to our world at the time of creation? Are these some of the things that God simply included in our ‘earth experience’ for some odd reason? No.
Of course, we have to go back to the beginning—again!—to remember why we have illness, injury and loss in our lives, back to the Garden…because that’s where all of these things came in.
Adam and Eve were created, placed in an amazing Garden that provided all of their needs and probably for all of their joy as well. Yet, God did NOT want His creation to be robots, automatons, so He gave humans the ability to chose, to decide…to rebel even—He gave humanity the gift of ‘free will.’ In the Garden, He placed a tree—one tree among the hundreds if not thousands—and asked His creation, the man and woman, not to eat of the fruit of that one tree. Its presence was the symbol of free will, of freedom. Without the option to chose, there would be no freedom, no free will, no decision to make with regard to trusting God.
You probably remember the story. Satan (or 'Evil' or 'Rebellion') was there, too, in the form of a snake…urging the couple to try just a bit of the fruit, “Surely you will not die as God has suggested…I mean, look, it’s a beautiful fruit…just one bite.” And the man and woman decided NOT to trust God, not to believe God, to do their own thing…and they ate the fruit. They sinned. They rebelled against God’s wishes and hopes and dreams for them. And sin entered the world.
Ah. There it is: Sin—the source of all our brokenness, our pain, our illness, our injury and our loss. And sin…it’s the result of our rebellion…and our rebellion a result of our free will, our God-given ability to decide if we will trust, believe in, follow and love God…or not.
In order for God to remove suffering from our lives, He would have to remove effect of sin that we brought into the world, and this would require removing the gift of free-will…the very thing that enables us to love God, to choose God, to follow Jesus.
III. Suffering on its head
God will not not suffering out of our lives…and if He did, we’d turn around tomorrow, sin again…and we’d have the suffering back again! So, what does God do with suffering?
We learned a few weeks ago from Paul that “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” That is one positive thing the God does with suffering—He uses it to produce hope…to help us to reach farther, to look beyond where we are.
God uses also suffering to temper us a bit. When we see the suffering incurred by those who do not take care of themselves, those who have delved into the world of heroin and cocaine, those who have elected to live on the wild side of violence—when we see their suffering and/or the suffering endured by their families and loved ones, we are less likely to embrace those kinds of lives. Suffering in others can move us away from destructive behaviors and dangerous situations.
And, suffering expands our humanity.
How many of us saw the picture of the little boy, a victim of the civil war in Syria, sitting in the back of the ambulance? When we see his suffering, we are moved...we feel for the people of Syria who are enduring these horrors.
Many of us have seen the devastation in Louisiana due to the flooding. These people are enduring long-term pain from loss. They suffer. When we see their suffering, our hearts are softened…and we are moved to help, to reach out. Indeed, you have given above and beyond last week and this week to help the people of Louisiana.
When we see a loved one suffer, we suffer with them. When we see someone suffering as we have suffered—illness, injury or loss—we can feel for and with the person now going through suffering. Our humanity, our empathy, is expanded.
God takes suffering and makes it a positive force in our lives. Even in suffering, God’s Word remains true and faithful:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
All things. All things work together. All things work together for good. Even suffering.
IV. The Cross
There is no place that we see this more clearly than in the cross.
Suffering? Jesus suffered…like we can’t imagine. In this morning’s reading from Luke, Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem even though he knows he is going there to suffer. He even tells his disciples that he is going to suffer.
And there, he endures public ridicule, beatings, a crown of thorns…and finally the most horrific form of execution the Romans can think of—crucifixion: Public humiliation as one is hung naked before the world; physical pain as nails pierce flesh and break bone…as the muscles exhaust themselves and the person slowly suffocates to death. Crucifixion was designed to be a slow, painful death…a suffering death.
God could have saved Jesus—His Son!—from this death, but He knew that only through this suffering death could we—you and I—be saved from our sins. In Jesus’ death, you and I have been given life.
As we come to the table today, we come with thankful hearts—through Jesus’ suffering, our sins are forgiven. We come with joy—through Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope for that day when all things will be made new.
As we prepare to come to the table today, let us consider anew the suffering that God endured through His Son…and give thanks that God has redeemed even the suffering of our lives. May our faith, like that of Job, ever remain constant. May we recognize that our good, unchanging, all-powerful God is ever working all things together for good. Because, God is good…all the time.