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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Downfall and Uprising: Job

December 28th, 2015

And then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

Job 38:1-3

Job had to spiritually recover from the sin of self-pity and from the thought that his sufferings were enough to pay for his own sins. In Job God has given us an example of a good and just man who suffered loss and sickness, but still gave him no right for self-vindication or accusation against God. It is an intriguing tale.

This is where the story connects with our life today. Do any of us have the right to say that we have suffered enough in this life to merit salvation? When we look at the life of Job, and see the difference between human sufferings on earth and the atoning sacrifice of Christ, we realize how much we need Christ. Our sufferings, no matter how terrible they might be, do not make amends or atonement or rectification for our sins. Only Christ’s death does that.

Western philosophy has developed considerable sympathy with the victim over the last two hundred years. From Kierkegaard to Camus, from existentialism to nihilism, the philosophical minds of the West have seen a certain element of nonsensical “Absurdism” woven into the fabric of the world. This is especially so in light of the two devastating world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation we have lived under for so long. We now see human pain and misery as inexcusable failures on God’s part, and not as the result of human failure. “We did not choose to be born,” as a common lament among recent philosophers goes, “so how can God hold us accountable for this messed up world?”

This philosophy is actually not new – “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) – and we find it in biblical times as well. The Canaanite woman who came to Jesus asking for her daughter’s healing said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed” (Matt. 15:22). The thought being that her condition earned her the right to expect pity from God. Jesus refused to answer her until she revealed some level of humility, and then He readily healed her.

But this is the thought of the day – “I did not asked to be born, so I should be treated like an important guest in the universe and if the Creator fails to meet my every desire, to respond to my every whim, then the problem rests with Him and not with me.” So when we find a person like Job, we especially want to coddle him, protect him, and say that his suffering has earned him pity, consolation, and salvation.

The dominant philosophy and theology of Job’s day was the extreme opposite, that trouble in your life was deserved and meant you had done something evil. His friends who came to comfort him were strongly biased this way, that Job must have done something terribly evil and his only salvation lay in his repentance and confession. The entire book is given to rebut this simplistic answer to evil that is still among many believers.

But in the telling of Job’s story we see how he began to go over to the other side and become similar to the nihilist of today. He began to feel sorry for himself and accuse God. Chapters 29-31, the end of his laments, turn into an accusation against God. “I am a brother of jackals … my bones burn with fever, my harp is turned to mourning” (30:29-31). “Oh, that I had one to heard me! … Oh, that the Almighty would answer me” (31:35-36). This great and good man finally succumbs to the sin of self-pity.

Do our sufferings make atonement for our sins? This is one of the misconceptions of justice in the world, that punishment somehow makes things balance out. But this thought is absurd in itself. If a man’s carelessness results in the tragic death of a child, he may be found guilty and sent to prison, but would his imprisonment ever remove from the parents’ hearts one ounce of the sorrow that they feel? We may speak of a moral balance in the universe, that those who do good tend to be treated well and those who do evil have evil come back upon them, but these are only general tendencies. And for an evil person to suffer for the evil he had inflicted on others does not mean that the pain he has caused them has vanished away. Punishment is a determent, not a means of rectifying or atoning for wrong-doing.

And our own sufferings, from whatever source they come, do not make amends for our sins. The two matters are disconnected. The problems we experience in this world are related – either directly or indirectly – to the sin of humanity. All of us have had some part in furthering this sin problem along in the wrong direction. The common notion that if our good deeds outweigh our bad ones then we go to heaven is entirely absurd on its very face. Who is to say whether a man who was very good in almost all ways, but committed one evil act, that perhaps that evil act will have a greater influence in the succeeding generations than all the good he did. Or the reverse could be true, that a very evil man happened to do a good deed that made a tremendous difference. Surely God, as a just and perfect Judge, would see through all of these matters.

The power of the cross: There is only one answer given for our failings and for the sins of the world, the cross of Christ. Paul wrote,

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-32: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

It is only His sufferings, not ours, that pay for our sins. But praise God they do make full atonement, rectification, and reconciliation. My pains and miseries are useless to appeal to in the day of judgment, as payments for my salvation. But they are also not necessary at all. Christ made the payment, the full payment, the only payment. His death is the atoning death for the sins of the world.

What a poor savior anybody other than Christ would make – even if that “savior” is thought to be the individual who suffers. There would only be the hope of a lesser hell, not of grace and heaven. But in Christ we receive not only forgiveness and mercy, for the grace of love and life, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and an eternity with God. In Him we are not merely more excusable or our bad deeds more understandable – they are removed entirely and we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. “There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), not merely less condemnation but none whatsoever. That is God’s grace in Christ!

Job’s recovery: Job recovered when he repented of his accusations against God and submitted to God’s rule. Job had an insight into the reality of God’s grace. He had a choice that day whether to believe that his sufferings alone were enough to cause God to save him, or if God had another plan. He repented of the thought that he was the savior, that his suffering were the same as what God suffered in the cross of Christ, and that God owed him an apology. Though he lived before the cross and did not see Christ crucified, he trusted that God had another way of salvation, and left the matter into the hands of God.

Rather than raging against God, he was silenced and realized that even his suffering and pain gave him no right to question the Almighty. Job 42:1-6 gives the response of Job. After this long book of long-winded speeches, we are shocked at how short is Job’s final response. The silence and trust in his heart are blended together to form part of the response.

Similarly, we stand silent in light of the cross – silent in light of the love and redemption of God through Christ. Often in suffering God gives us a deeper and more profound understanding of Him. He is especially near those who are in pain, who suffer injustices, and who must deal with the problems of this world. Paul reflected this in his “thorn in the flesh” experience, as God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Spiritual Recovery , , , ,

Tribulation in This World

August 20th, 2015

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

How often have we looked upon these words of Christ with some complaint in our hearts. If You can, we begin to say to Him, overcome all of the misery and pain in the world, why have You not already done so?

This is not an unreasonable question, I believe. It rises from hearts that have great expectations from God, that believe that by definition God is good, all powerful, majestic, trustworthy, able to do all things. So why hasn’t He done them already? Why do we believers not read about the unhappiness in this world like some ancient history, like we have read about the ways that people have suffered in wars and in famines, but endured these things long ago in the past?

There are, however, no clear and complete answers for these questions. The Almighty is often silent, and the words of Jesus seem to tell us why, “If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12) This means, if I grasp it at all, that we could not understand the answer.

And perhaps our whining and incessant complaint that we do not have the answer to this theological riddle reveals more than any other single thing our unfitness to receive the answer. God hides the largest part from us, and simply calls us to faith and warfare.

Here is a mystery that confronts every Christian – that God is sovereign, yet He calls us to engage with Him in the battle against evil, against the powers and principalities, even the sinful human nature, that wars against Him. He made us not only for the future peace, but also for the present conflict. So He calls us to His side in this conflict, telling us that we should expect attacks, hardships, and, like any battle, see things that shake our faith to the core. The battle is not only “out there” in the world, but also “in here” in our hearts, for doubts shake our souls and the enemy invades our mental space and sows his weeds of unbelief.

To the questioning mind, to the soul worn out and belabored with conflict, to the soul of the depressed, to the heart of the anxious, to those dealing with cancer, poverty, weakness, emotional burdens, loneliness, and apathy, He simply says, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

There is more than just this, of course. There is the suffering of Christ who enters into the trouble of the world. There are testimonies of millions who have found His peace in the midst of this conflict. And there are numerous scripture verses and passages that proclaim the final victory and the present presence of Christ with us today. There is intricate and profound theology in the Word, that explains to us much about this spiritual warfare, and the final victory of God. And there is the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Spirit. But it all still comes down to simple faith.

There is no other way given to us, other than this way of faith, and God then calls us to join His side in this conflict. God calls us to the battle. Proverbs 20:21 says, “An inheritance quickly claimed will not be blessed in the end.” We are only saved by His grace, by His achievement, not our own, but that does not mean we have no part in the matter. Our inheritance in Christ will not be gained without warfare, without us fighting a spiritual conflict in our souls – trusting and loving God, being of “good cheer” in the Lord, even when we feel otherwise.

Paul wrote, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5). The experiences of pain in this life, also bring to us the possibility of depending more than ever before on the comfort of Christ. Paul went on to explain that the consolation abounded or overflowed so that they could comfort others, meaning that the life of the Christian spiritual fighter looks with compassion on others. His grace and comfort flows through us, “that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

This does not mean that we suffer only so that we may help others who suffer – if this were all that it meant then it does not answer the question of “Why allow it at all?” But what this means is that in the very process of receiving the grace and comfort of God in our troubles, something happens to our hearts. Our eyes are opened and we see others around us who also need to upward hope of Christ, who also need the “good cheer” of the Holy Spirit.

To me that analogy is something like this – we are like children who have created so huge a mess that we cannot even begin to clean it up. Only our Father can, and He begins to do so – the centuries of witness, the sacrificial death and marvelous resurrection of Christ the Son, the work of the Spirit in hearts to bring conversion – but as a good Father, He brings us along with Him to see the results of this mess. He even gives us some means to help make it better – means that are impossible to even begin to do, let alone achieve to any meaningful level without Him – but He puts us to work in some fashion.

And when we complain and whine that we would rather be playing games rather than cleaning up the mess our race has caused – remember, we are but children – the Father patiently let’s us feel the pain of the mess, not in anger or meanness, but just to remind us that a war is on. It seems that those of us who have suffered are often the most sympathetic – not always, of course. Some just get bitter.

But let it never be said that our race does not deserve its problems, that we are innocent entirely. God forgive us! He redeems what mankind has ruined. Somehow, someway, in a measure that we will only understand on the otherside of it all, we find spiritual health and vibrancy in the midst of these things. His grace is sufficient for every ailment of mankind.

Helmut Thielicke preached these words in the closing days of World War II, ministering to German believers in Stuttgart:

So everything is transformed for those who are his children, for those who have seen the Father in Jesus’ life and death, and never again will let him go. Then it comes from his hands; in any case it must go through his hands. And we all know what a tremendous comfort it is to be able to accept something from the hand of God.

Even relatively light blows of fate become heavy when we cannot see that hand, and therefore they seem to be accidental, arbitrary, and meaningless. On the other hand, we can confidently accept even the hardest blows when we know that his good hand is at work in our lives. Then we know that, even though the sin and spite of men may be back of what may happen to us, even though men have tried ten times over to make it evil, nevertheless it comes from God’s hands and because this is so, it has been transformed.

This gives new direction and new impetus to our lives. Now we don’t have to ask what people were thinking when they did this or that. We don’t have to ask why fate permitted our dearest to be taken away from us. Now we are free; free to ask another, more confident, question. And that question is: What was God trying to do with us when he sent this upon us? What is his purpose in all this? What are his goals for us? We learn to look up, because God is a God of purpose, a God with great fatherly plans for our lives, for the life of his people, and the life of all mankind.

Dealing with Difficulties , , , , , ,