I recall hearing Stephen Fry on TV discussing depression and telling the story of a man who had thrown himself in front of a bus. The man didn’t die, as he intended, and when someone commenting on his injuries said: “That must be very painful!” The man replied: “Yes, that’s why I threw myself under the bus!” We can’t underestimate internal pain, or how it will affect an individual.
The story of Job in the Bible begins with a series of catastrophic events that result in Job’s wife telling him to ‘curse God, and die’! It is this internal struggle and not the external circumstances that is the heart of the matter, and the only portion that we can really deal with. Circumstances are outside our control and as the advertisers are always caveating, may go down as well as up.
One thing we can never do with suffering is compare it to that of someone else. For someone who is genuinely suffering, whether physically, emotionally, socially, fiscally or spiritually their pain is what they have to cope with. It doesn’t stop them understanding the suffering of others or prevent them from empathising with the suffering of others, but it is their pain that is foremost and their pain that needs answering, if not resolving. Knowledge of someone else’s suffering does not trump and render ineffective your own suffering. For that reason I want to deal with the internal responses to suffering, and not the big question of why there is suffering – that might just turn a blog post into an epic…
I believe that when we look at suffering in the Bible we tend to romanticise it. The differences in time and culture can dull us to the stark reality of what is going on. I suspect that we subconsciously do this with the book of Job. We see a wealthy man with a temporary setback (we know how it ends), who has a few questions for God. To romanticise or play down Job’s suffering for whatever reason leaves us without any real help.
It may help to put Job’s circumstances into a modern day equivalent so that we can better understand his pain.
Imagine a businessman, one who has worked hard over several decades building up a company. He has employees, multiple premises, a whole host of connections: customers, suppliers, contemporaries, legal and financial, not to mention the social life and status of a big man in the city. He has an expensive house or two, an expensive car and more, and quite possibly, he has an expensive wife. People listen to him because his success is the proof of his wisdom. The correlation is obvious to all.
Every businessman knows that he should have a disaster recovery plan. Every businessman also knows that there are some disasters that you will never recover from.
Imagine that, despite this businessman’s wisdom and foresight and competence that disaster comes. It’s outside his control. Suppliers fail at the same time as his customer base goes elsewhere. As the business goes into freefall the factory goes up in flames. Despite their best efforts the fire crew cannot save the building. The extended family en-route to the holiday home in their private jet crash – there are no survivors.
Creditors come knocking, suppliers stop supplying, customers stop buying, employees are suing and in all of this the businessman is grieving for his family. And, just when it seems the worst has happened the businessman contracts a mysterious disease that causes sleep to flee and waking moments to be dreaded.
The man, for he is no longer a ‘businessman’ finds at the last that he has no friends, not even his wife. Those who he thought were there for him he now realises were there for them. All of them walk away!
The man is humiliated, isolated, powerless, and yet, the one thing that no-one can take away from him is his faith. The problem is, he is sorely tempted to throw that one away himself. He feels he has nothing. He is tempted to believe he has nothing.
Can you begin to comprehend what is going through Job’s mind? The pillar of the community is treated like the beggar in the street.
The sweetest truth in the book of Job isn’t the knowledge that Job got it all back. It isn’t even the fact that it proves that circumstances don’t determine the man, or woman. The sweetest truth in this tragedy of disaster and humiliation is that God can and will be proud of those who follow him! I’m sure you know the story, but go read it again when you’re finished here, it’s worth the read.
In all that is recorded of Job: his success, his decline, his debating with men and with God, his rise again; in all that, Job is completely unaware of the most important truth: God is proud of Job! God takes pleasure in Job – not in his circumstances, good or bad, but in his life lived before God and for God, whatever the surrounding circumstances.
Think for a moment about why this series of events overtook Job. It wasn’t because he sinned! That much is argued clearly. But, God in his providence allowed these events because Job was righteous! ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ What an incredible thing for the Creator God, the Righteous One to say about any son of Adam!
I know that at this point, if you are going through your own suffering Satan is whispering in your ear: “But you’re not righteous, you brought this on yourself.” Everything that Satan whispers is a lie – don’t believe him.
Job wrestled with his own faith, he wrestled with his wife’s faith, he wrestled with the accusations, the insinuations, the holier than thou attitudes of his ‘comforters’, but in the end, even though he had nothing left in this world, he was convinced that he had something still in the world to come.
I don’t think I will ever fully know what Job experienced. I doubt that you will. But, that doesn’t make our suffering or struggles any less real or any less important. The devil whispers ‘Curse God, and die.’, God is saying to Satan ‘Have you considered my servant…?’
Let me assure you of this one thing: as you lift your soul in faith to God and agree to trust him regardless of your external circumstances, good or bad, God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is smiling on you. He is proud of your faith, He is worshipped in your life by your faith.
The sweetest truth in our suffering, whatever that may be is that it is only you and your God, and he is for you! Friends, position in society, security of job and of relationships can all go down as well as up. But we have a God who is love, who has demonstrated his love for us in giving his only Son to a suffering more than we can begin to understand. We have a God who is waiting to praise us, who is actively loving us, even in our suffering.
So, whether your life is externally great, or you’re in the depths of despair, please lift your hearts and souls to God and continue to worship, obey, believe, hope. In so doing you reveal real meaning in your life, meaning that will count for all eternity.
Think for a moment about the final outcome of the story of Job, one not recorded in the Bible. Think that one day, Job will be presented before his Creator, and God will say before the heavenly host: ‘Consider my servant, Job!’
One day, we too will stand and God will say ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Matthew 25:34
This is our hope!