Apologetics · God · Jesus · Suffering · The Church · Worship

A Godly Response to Suffering

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. 7 And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. 8 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. 12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:6-12).

There is an unspoken belief buried deep within the human heart, that life should be lived according to certain rules and regulations. It is believed that those who live as righteously as possible, will be properly rewarded, while those who act in an unjust manner will be punished. Job lived according to this principle.

The Bible says that Job lived a perfect and upright life before God. He feared the Lord and avoided evil. He acted as a high priest on behalf of his children, lest it was discovered that in some way, they had offended the Lord. And Job was consistent in living a righteous life. “Thus did Job continually.”

His religion was not a matter of convenience, but conviction. His faithfulness to the hour of worship was not a matter of self-persuasion that there was value in religion. Rather, it was his heart’s highest priority. Before Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” Job was seeking the glory of the world to come.

Against this holy lifestyle, the suffering that burst upon Job’s life like an afternoon thunderstorm is all the more surprising. One dark day, Job was fundamentally, and forever changed, as four black clouds gathered over the land of Uz.

Job was in his home when there was a sudden commotion outside his dwelling place. Excited voices could be heard. There was an electrifying presence in the atmosphere. When Job inquired into the situation, no one wanted for him to hear the news. Job realized it must not be good. He braced himself for the information that was to come. The messenger said everything pointedly and painfully.

“Sir, the 500 oxen you own were plowing in the fields today. We took the animals out to work as usual. The 500 donkeys nearby were well guarded. Sir, you must believe that suddenly, out of no-where, the Sabeans [marauders from SW Arabia] fell upon us. It was a swift and violent raid. Blood flowed freely as your servants were butchered without mercy. I only escaped alone to tell you all of this.”

The horrible words were now spoken. The deed was done, and God’s servant was silent. He was stunned. In this state came a second servant looking distraught. No doubt, there was more bad news.

“Sir,” said the servant. “There was a thunderstorm in the field today. The fire of God fell from heaven. The lightening struck and struck again. Brush fires were started around the animals and your servants. There was a ring of fire. I have never seen anything like it for no-one and nothing could escape. I heard the screaming but there was no way to help. I alone have managed to come and tell you the tragic news. I am sorry.”

Job bowed his head once more, and continued to be silent. What could he say? What could anyone say? It was apparent that his whole economic basis of support was being destroyed. In a moment of time Job had ceased to be the richest man in the land of Uz [a place in the Arabian Desert W of Babylon]. When Job lifted up his eyes again, there was a third messenger appearing and demanding to see him.

“Let him speak,” said Job, sensing again that what was to be said would not be good. “Sir, your servants were guarding the 3,000 camels you own. For a long time they had been a coveted trophy of the Chaldeans. We knew that. Today, the Chaldeans came to steal them by force. All of the servants were killed trying to protect your property but it was no use. Sir, there is blood in the sand, and the animals are gone. I alone have escaped to tell you the news.”

With these words the worst had been realized. Or so it seemed. The greatest financial fears of a rich man had been realized. In an instant, it was all gone. Job was suddenly a very poor man in material resources. But at least he had his family! Or did he?

“Who is there? Another messenger?

What does he want?

He wants to speak to me?

Send him in.”

The messenger stood before Job with the most tragic news that ever a parent can bear to hear about a beloved child, or children.

“Sir, thy sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

What would you do if, one dark day, in four successive waves, news came of economic ruin, faithful friends being slaughtered, valuable possessions perishing, and all your children being killed in a sudden windstorm? I know that some people would literally lose their minds in sorrow and grief. The sorrow and grief is compounded when there is a vivid imagination to relive the fate of a loved one.

As Job reflected upon the situation, his sensitive soul probably saw the marauding Sabeans with their drawn swords glistening in the sun. Strong and terrible arms were raised in violence to strike down the innocent. Then there was the fire falling from heaven, lightening starting fires that burned the flesh of frantic servants caught in the fiery flames. Cries for mercy, screams of terror echoed across the plains. And the children.

“Dear God, Why did all the children have to die? They were not hurting anyone. Brothers and sisters loved each other and displayed their affection in a rare show of unity.”

Again, I do not know how you would react to all of this, I do not know how I would react. But the Bible records what Job did. He arose. He tore his clothing.            He shaved his head. He fell upon the ground. He worshipped God.

First, Job arose. He had been sitting, numbed with silence. Now, something compelled Job to express actions of grief. In the ancient world, this took two forms: a tearing of the garments, and the shaving of the head. It has been observed in western culture that people are far too emotionless in the face of death. There is an emphasis in our culture on being stoic. For whatever reason, the person who does not weep loudly, or express outward sorrow, is commended. That may, or may not be right. What is certain is that grief is normal, and needful, whatever form it takes, and Job mourned.

Then second, Job began to worship the Lord. He fell on the ground prostrate, and he began to pray. What caused Job to be able to worship at such a time was a theology that submitted all things to the sovereignty of God. In summary form, Job expressed his own beliefs saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The first part of Job’s theology states a singular fact. He was born with nothing, and he will die with nothing. Everyone will return to the Lord without anything, which is why Billy Graham likes to tell people when the world is coming to an end. “I can tell you,” he has said, “when the world is coming to an end. The day you die. In the hour of death this world, for you, has come to an end.”

It is a simple and profound point. If the heart learns to believe this, it will not hold too tightly to anything in time. It will not hold onto money, but use it to advance the cause of Christ. It will not hold onto power, but release it to others. It will not hold onto reputation. Jesus made Himself of no reputation that He might save others. He humbled Himself unto death. There will be a divine releasing of all things back to God. The alternative to this philosophy is to try and possess what is impossible to keep. Many years ago, a young person named Jim Elliot realized this truth while training to become a missionary, and he wrote these words, “A man is no fool to give up what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.” Job gave up what he could not keep, in order to gain what he could not lose. He gave up everything to his sovereign God, so that he could continue to worship the Lord.

If the first part of Job’s words express a fact, the second part expresses faith. “The Lord gave, and the Lord taketh away.” “Job, what do you mean that the Lord gives everything that a person has?” “Job, do you not believe in the self-made man?” “Do you not believe that if you look out for number one, you can get ahead in this life by will, determination, and creating your own opportunities?”

Perhaps you have heard in contemporary theology, that every person can be healthy, wealthy, and wise. But if that is true, who needs God to give anything? If the world is there for the taking, and all a person has to do is to work hard, then who needs God? For Christians, the philosophy of the world runs counter to the theology of faith. Christians need for God to give salvation, and sustenance for life. For Job, the Lord was behind everything in life, both good and bad. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. So says a theology of faith. And if we listen, we can hear the voice of faith praying, as it whispers, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

That was all Job said at this time, but it was enough. It was enough to comfort his heart. It was enough to help him endure this ordeal. It was enough to give him victory over self, and Satan. It was enough to have him receive the hand-clap of heaven. Those on earth who saw Job that one dark day, saw a broken man, down in the dust, with torn clothes, and a shaven head, muttering an astonishing prayer. But those in heaven, who saw Job, saw a faithful servant who did not charge God with acting in an unworthy manner.

Even when Job perceived that the Lord was behind his adversities, he did not believe that God was acting in an inappropriate way. That God was behind the sufferings of His servant is the open testimony of Scriptures, but it does leave the heart astonished, and a little perplexed.

How can this be? When the animals of Job produced greatly and he became a wealthy man, the Lord was honored as the Father of all gifts. When the children were born to Job and his wife, he dedicated each of them to the Lord, and gave God the glory. But how can the Lord be blessed for taking away everything, and in such a tragic, and violent manner? Why? And why shouldn’t evil be placed at God’s feet?

The answer to the last question is found in part in understanding that God is separate from, but sovereign over sin, and the instruments of sin. Since certain creatures will do wrong, God has determined to permit that wrong doing, but to direct it for His own sovereign will. In this manner we are introduced to the personage of Satan.

While some mock at the concept of a Devil, the Bible presents Satan as a viable presence. We read of him in Zechariah 3 and 1 Chronicles 21.  Zechariah 3:1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. 2 And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? 1 Chronicles 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

Since the Scriptures speak of a real devil, there are two extremes that must be avoided. The first danger is to fly in the face of revelation and doubt, deny, or downplay his existence. The comedian, Flip Wilson, reflected the doubt the world has of the devil by using comedy. “The devil made me do it,” he would say. And the world laughed.

If there is danger in doubting, denying, and downplaying the reality of the Devil, there is equal danger in attributing to Satan more power, and more authority than he really has. There are some very sensational books on the market, such as This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti, that tends to magnify satanic power.

What is being overlooked, in certain religious circles, is the fact that from Genesis to Revelation, the consistent teaching of the Bible is that Satan remains under the authority of God. In all things he is subject to the Sovereign. This means that the universe is not governed by two forces; one Good—called God, and the other Evil—called Satan. That is Dualism. That is the teaching of eastern mysticism.

No, no! Satan has no authority, or permission to act against anyone unless God gives it. Even his rebellion, recorded by the prophet Isaiah, has not gotten Satan any more power than what God chooses to give him (Isa. 14:12-14). The proof of Satan being under the Lord’s authority is reflected by the Divine limitation imposed according to the narrative (Job 1:12), and by the fact that in the epilogue, Satan is not even mentioned. He is no longer important. He has served his purpose, and is dismissed from the story.

Now, at this point the Biblical narrative pauses. Job, assaulted by the cruelty of a fallen cosmic angel named Satan, blesses the God who has allowed the pain to come without explanation, and we are left to consider the situation.             Therefore, as the Holy Spirit leads, observe two thoughts by way of personal application.

First, when we as Christians are faced with inexplicable hardships, the hand of God must be discerned. It is the Lord, not a man, not a woman, and ultimately not even Satan, who is behind it all. It is the Lord who gives, and the Lord who takes away whatever we hold dear: money, family, power, position, reputation, joy, or good health.

Second, accept evil that is beyond human control as the will of God. There are times when something can be done about disease and death. Medicine can be taken. An operation can be performed. There are times when inappropriate behavior can be challenged, and corrected.

But there are other times when events will overwhelm the heart, and the situation becomes humanly hopeless. At that point, all that can be done is to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Jesus acted in this manner, as did His apostles. For example, not once, but twice the Lord went into the Temple and cleansed it. But the time came when evil was to know an hour of triumph, and Jesus was led away to be crucified. Since we are not greater than our Lord, let us learn to submit to the cross that God has ordained for our souls, and for His pleasure, as heaven watches, and the elect angels wonder at those who are to be the heirs of salvation. I do not say this is easy to do. I just say, it is far better in the end to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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