Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Lesson in Suffering?

I wrote earlier this week on Job's words of faith, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” One of the great vexations of such slaying is the constant inward questioning (and sometimes outward questioning by others as in Job's case) of why this is happening to you. Why won't God let me get pregnant? Why won't God heal my child? Why did her husband stay and mine leave? Why did that woman get married to a great guy but I am left lingering in my loneliness? What is wrong with me?! Is it disobedience on my part? Is there some hidden sin of which I need to repent? Is there some lesson I need to learn? If so, then I need to figure out what it is so I can go ahead and learn it! 

Certainly, there are consequences to sin, and self-examination with repentance is healthy in most any circumstance. But Job's example shows us that these types of questions, which often badger us in the midst of long term suffering, miss the entire point of what's truly going on. The answer to why in Job's case was simply the importance of God's testimony in the heavenly realm. There was no lesson that Job needed to learn that led to him being chosen for suffering (though he certainly did learn some valuable lessons along the way). There was no flaw God was trying to correct and no sin of which God was leading him to repent. No, it was just God's testimony in the heavenly realm. It was completely about silencing Satan and none about Job's flaws or inadequacies.

This is illustrated well in another story in which God clearly allows suffering – the raising of Lazarus in John 11.
John 11 1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. ... 
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. ... 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
There are many intriguing facets of this story of suffering and redemption. I note in particular the wording of verses 5-6. Jesus loved them. I get that. But the connecting word “so” seems out of place. He loved them SO He didn't go to heal Lazarus?! That seems contradictory, yet that is exactly what the text says. We know from the end of the story what God revealed to them about Himself, that Jesus was not just someone who also believed in resurrection with them but was the actual One who holds life in His hand! By the end of the story, His love is clear – certainly because He healed Lazarus, but also because He showed Himself to be much, much bigger than they had understood to that point. 

Like the story of Job, nothing in John 11 is about Mary or Martha needing to do more (or to do less). God isn't chastising Martha for not being more of a student like Mary or Mary for not being a servant like Martha. He's not punishing them for asking for His help. He's not teaching them to ask for it more. He's just revealing something of Himself. And it was a beautiful thing for them all to know.

My take away for my own suffering is simple. Suffering isn't about punishing me. It's probably not much about sanctifying me – rooting out unknown sins and replacing them with more righteous behavior – though I will likely grow in grace through suffering. Yet Satan accuses me. He prompts me to self-examine well past what is healthy and God-honoring, leaving me plagued with thoughts of my own inadequacies and failures. In reality, what God most likely wants me to learn is just that He is good, and He gives life. In the meantime, I am best served simply resting in His arms until redemption breaks forth in the storm of my own struggles.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

6 comments:

  1. Exactly what I needed to hear today. So often your posts answer immediate musings on my part. I take this as God moving in my life, letting me know He sees and hears. Thank you!

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  2. “there was no lesson that Job needed to learn”- as humans on this side of eternity, probably always a lesson the Lord has to teach us to learn… some element of unbelief ...which is just what I think you are saying

    Then the LORD said to Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.” Then Job answered the LORD and said, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. “Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add nothing more.” Job 40:1-5
    Then Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that You can do all things,And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;But now my eye sees You;6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6
    therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 2 Thess1:4-5

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  3. Wendy,
    Please know and praise our exceedingly loving God with me for the way He is speaking to me with you posts. Again, I am deep in suffering (as I was when I read your post recently on not leaving Church when you are burned by a church) and yesterday morning I opened the email containing this post (I haven't had a chance to read many other intervening posts), not sure what I would find. It amazes me. I tend very much to over self-examine and am constantly repenting of sin and weakness, so afraid my failings are putting a barrier between Him and me. And now I know that the reason He has not given me a new and better personality, has not fixed up my messed up life, is because though gratifying those desires (no matter how godly they may be) would comfort me and give me rest, He has a greater comfort and rest for me...Himself. And that is all I need. Thanks so much Wendy!

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  4. This post reminds me again how we need to be careful in the words we use with those that are suffering and that a Biblical view on suffering will cause the words we do use to be true words of comfort - i.e. practical theology! A new thought was brought to me in your last paragraph - the importance of how we talk to ourselves in our own suffering. I, too, self-examine beyond what is healthy and wrap myself in my own weak arms. How much better to, as you put it, to simply rest in His arms until redemption breaks forth in the storm of my own struggles.

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  5. Two excellent posts from the book of Job. I'd also recommend reading Mike Mason's the Gospel According to Job for more helpful insight into his suffering and ours and God's purpose (His glory) in it.

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  6. I just wanted to clarify...regarding my Anonymous comment on 10/18, God does not speak to me through you posts. He only speaks through His Word, Scripture. But He is sovereign over all and did minister to me by your thoughts about Him in this post. I am gaining some valuable insight into and appreciating the opportunity to think deeply about the practical outworkings of theology. Thanks.

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