Suffering: God’s chastening or the result of our faithfulness drawing enemy fire?

I am currently going through some very testing circumstances, and whilst it was easy to trust God on the onset of it all, months have now gone by and more things are being thrown at me and my family, and so like Job in the Bible, I keep seeking God for some answers. Whilst I realise that I am a sinful person and that in His mercy God will discipline me in those areas were I fall so short of His glory, such as pride and self-centeredness, I also know that Christ died to set the sinners free, and that the wrath of God was satisfied on the cross, and so I know God is good and He ultimately wants what is best for me, spiritually. He knows the end from the beginning and I don’t. With all that in mind, I looked into the story of Job in the bible and the lessons to be learnt from it, and the Lord reminded me that there is another angle to understanding our suffering.  Our flawed and sinful nature is not always the only element at the root of it all. There is another dimension to it, a huge one at that, spiritually speaking, and one that we will all do well to grasp and understand, if we are serious about following the Lord Jesus Christ to the very end, if we are to last the distance.

I, for one, desperately needed to hear some of the biblical insights, which I will sum up below and which I extracted from the following link: http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/expostudy/job.htm.

I pray that if you are suffering, as I am today, you will be comforted by these and reminded that whilst you may not understand the why of it all, God does, and that though all may seem to point to your sin, unworthiness and personal failings, God is looking at you with very different eyes and He is working out a glorious destiny for you in the midst of all the horror.  It may well be that your determination to keep going for the things of God, despite all your trials, is the very reason why you are suffering the way you are.  Because it is in that determination that your witness for Christ’s message of love and redemption lies.  Nothing draws more enemy fire than those souls who are relentless in their pursuit for Christ and His request for us to love God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves.

Here is the summary.  Sorry it is so lengthy, but every single bit was equally important.  If you wish to read the whole article, click on the link above.

These lessons we learn through the experiences of one man: Job. He is introduced to us as a man of great piety. He “was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). The following verses go further to explain that his piety was consistent even in his private home life. He did all he could to ensure the spiritual integrity of his entire family.

He was also a man of great prosperity. His material holdings made him “the greatest man of all the people of the East” (1:2).

But in a series of dreadful events, which come upon him in rapid succession, Job loses all of his wealth, all of his children, then his health, and then the support of his wife.

Then Job’s “friends” arrive on the scene with their counsel. Trying to conceive how Job could suffer so, they conclude that Job must be a terrible sinner. It was for them a simple matter of basic theology which reasoned something like this. First, God is obviously sovereign and in complete control of all that happens. Second, God is also just and holy. It very naturally follows, therefore, that if we are faithful God will bless us; and if we are not faithful, God will withdraw that blessing.

You see, it seems that Job was in basic agreement with the theology of his friends. He agreed that God was both righteous and sovereign and that blessing should follow faithfulness. But there was for Job this great problem: he was convinced that he was faithful! There was nothing in him that warranted this suffering. Now in point of fact, Job never denied that he was a sinner. Indeed, at the end of the book he confesses great depths of sin. But in reference to this suffering, he maintains, he is innocent. He has served God faithfully.

So there was for Job only one conclusion: God must be unfair! He is evidently an unfeeling tyrant who acts capriciously with his people. And what for his friends was indication of his sinfulness (i.e., suffering), was for Job a suggestion of God’s injustice.

Now understand, Job never turns on God as such. He questions God, but he does not reject Him. Job’s words reflect a struggling faith, but it is faith nonetheless and not contentious unbelief.

So we find Job summoning God to court, as it were. He wants to protest his case, argue his cause with God. But of course such a thought is staggering — “Who can contend with God?”  God, Job realized, would simply overpower him. Argue with God?! But this is his dilemma. He felt that he needed to argue with God, but he realized that he couldn’t. He wished, then, for a mediator — someone who could take his cause to God for him.

Lessons

1. Suffering often comes as the result of an unseen conflict in the spiritual world.

One of the most striking and even frustrating things about Job’s story is that we know something of his experience which he himself does not know. There is something very real going on about which Job and his friends are completely ignorant. Job really comes to the scene after the opening act. And it is in the opening act we learn what gave rise to the whole incident.

In that first scene we find Satan before God, boasting of his success in the world. God responds by pointing to Job and his godliness and faithfulness. To which Satan replies with insulting and challenging accusation. “He only serves you for what he gets out of it! Sure he’s faithful! Why shouldn’t he be? Look at all the wealth you have given him!” And to prove Satan wrong, God takes Satan’s bet. He gives permission to Satan to afflict Job in any way he chooses, only he must not touch Job himself. It is this that gives rise to Job’s troubles. And this is the point. Suffering often comes as a result of an unseen conflict in the spiritual world.

Satan is in mad rebellion against God, and unable to touch God Himself, he goes after those who serve Him. The battleground is what Bunyan called “the city of mansoul.” Satan is hard at work to keep men from God. “The god of this world blinds the minds of those who do not believe” (2Cor.4) and “takes men captive at his own will” (Tim.). Those who are lost belong to Satan; they are part of his kingdom. And even after conversion, Satan may well realize that cannot take us away from God or take our salvation from us, but he may by oppression of various sorts steal from us the joy of our salvation. He may prevent us from fully experiencing the blessedness of what we have in Christ. In practical ways, he may tear us away from God. Or, as Calvin puts it, Satan may “drive saints to madness by despair.” You understand, I’m sure!

Now the great question which so puzzled Job and his friends was the common question, “Why?” For Job’s friends, the answer to that question was found in Job’s sinfulness. For Job, who knew he did not deserve such affliction, the answer might rather be found in God’s injustice! But what neither side was able to consider was that they were both wrong! There was another reason entirely. Job was not suffering because he had sinned. He was suffering because he had not sinned! It was not his unfaithfulness to God, but his faithfulness that had caused all this. It simply never occurred to Job that Satan had instigated this whole affair. He had challenged and made the bet. He had thrown down the gauntlet and wrongly accused Job before God: “He does not really love you! He’s only in it for the money.” And now Job was suffering, not for his sin, but for God’s honor and in order to shame Satan.

We Christians are accustomed to hearing about persecution. We know that as Christians we will suffer at the hands of the world. And when that persecution comes we are able to recognize it as such, and that enables us to better cope with it. But when, say, sickness or tragedy comes — like Job’s — it is often more confusing. It seems so haphazard and without purpose. But the great lesson of Job is that even this may be persecution. It may be that because of faithfulness we have drawn enemy fire! It may be that God has taken the challenge once again, and once again He is silencing Satan by means of a worshipping sufferer.

Now I don’t want to deny that a person may be suffering as result of divine chastening. This too is taught in Scripture. It may also be that our suffering is merely a pedagogical tool in hands of Father Who by suffering teaches us and shapes us into what we must be.

2. The inadequacy of human reasoning in the presence of tragedy and suffering.

Now Job did not know all that we know. He did not see that opening act. But he knew that his friends were all wet. This is reflected in chapter 16 where he describes them as “windbags.” Their counsel was not able to satisfy him or give him any comfort. However high and lofty was their theology, they could not speak to his situation.

But Job’s problem was that neither could he! He had no adequate answer for his problems. No explanation. No reason. He could not explain his sufferings. All through the book we see Job grasping, looking, wishing, searching. So desperate is he, in fact, that finally in frustration he laments life and suggests that God is unjustly punishing him.

That is always the problem, isn’t it. This is always the great test. If only we could know why. If only we could see God’s plan from beginning to end, this suffering would be more tolerable. And what gets us down is that our own reasonings are inadequate. Somehow we feel that if God would only let us in on things, explain to us why He allows these bad things to happen to us when we are trying so hard to serve Him faithfully, then we could cope with the situation.

But God never did tell Job why. And often He does not tell us. What he does instead, is call us to trust Him.

Late in the book God finally speaks, and responds to Job’s challenge to explain Himself. But the response is not what Job expected. Rather than explaining to Job why he had been suffering so, He reasons with Job: “Did you create this world? Did you make the rain? Who is it that controls ‘nature.’ Who creates and controls the great beasts and the winds and the lightning?” That is to say, “Job, are you really calling me into question? There is no part of the universe outside my authority. Do I really owe you an explanation? Would you really vindicate yourself by vilifying me? Does it really appear that I need your help in running this universe?”

Do you see the point? When you find yourself in suffering, do you still trust God? Or do you feel that He owes you explanation? It does no honor to God to trust Him only when we understand fully what He is doing. That is not faith at all. It honors Him when we trust Him implicitly. When with Job we can say from heart of love, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15) — this is what honors God.

3. God is sovereign and supreme over Satan and our suffering.

But did you notice, at the beginning, that Satan had to get permission? Did you notice that he had to report in? That he had to get permission again to do more? Did you notice that prescribed limits were imposed on him?

Job’s frustration was that things seemed so wrong, unjust, out of control, random and without reason. So much so that he cries in frustration, “If it is not God, then who else could it be?” But it is just then that we want to shout to stage, “No, Job! It’s not God, it’s Satan! But not to worry, God has him on a leash!”

Isn’t that just what we need someone to do for us in suffering? We need a reminder that God is not absent. That Satan is not God. God is God. And the devil is His devil.

We love to say that God is love, and when we say it we refer, of course, to the cross. And well we should. But the test of whether or not we believe that is in our suffering. Does God still love then? Can you believe that? Can you in the midst of your worst day say, “The God Who loves me such that He sent His Son to die in my place, the God Who is my Father, this great, good, wonderful, loving God is in firm control of this whole thing! I don’t know what He is up to. But I know Him! And I know He loves me. And I know that He is good — too good to do me wrong. And I know that He is wise — too wise to make a mistake.

Now without this truth — God’s loving sovereignty over our suffering — we can understand well why people lose their minds in times of difficulty. That is one lonely, empty feeling! To feel that there really is no rhyme or reason or purpose would leave us in despair indeed! But equipped with this truth, is there anything we cannot face? When sickness comes to your house, or death or financial collapse or whatever, is there really any good reason for despair? Can it be reasonable or right for a Christian man or woman to fall all apart and live in frustration day in and day out? It is incumbent upon us to look heavenward with a believing heart and say, “God, I have no explanation for things as they are, but I bow before you and take as from your hand whatever you allow.” Nothing less is faith.

Throughout the book Job feels lost, lost in maze of unanswered questions. Chiefest of his concerns is his desire for God. This is why we hear him say things like, “O that I knew where I might find Him!” “O that I had someone to go to Him for me!” And so on.

And it is right here that we find ourselves giant steps ahead of him. He searched for a mediator, someone Who could speak for both parties. We have that mediator, and we know Him. He is Jesus Christ. Job wanted someone Who would not only plead his case, but sympathize with Him. We have Him, and He is the One who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He is “touched with the feelings of our infirmities,” and so He invites us to come boldly before His throne of grace and there find “grace to help in time of need.”

At this point there is a world of difference between us and Job. We have the revelation of Christ, Who has told us and shown us His great and undying love. He has told us that through Him we have direct access to the Father. And He has told us that we may and should come to Him with every problem we face, and there find Him not only sympathetic, but full of grace & mercy perfectly suited to our specific need.

With that advantage over Job, Job’s faith is all the more remarkable. And ours is all the more reasonable.

 

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One thought on “Suffering: God’s chastening or the result of our faithfulness drawing enemy fire?

  1. Like Job, my experience is that a greater revelation of the Lord usually comes in the valleys of our lives, and seldom on the mountaintops. It’s in my weakness that His power becomes perfected in me.

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