Thoughts from the Realm of Ideas and The Story of Job, Part 3
For believers, suffering can have profound purpose and meaning. Here are a few examples:
Suffering for discipline and growth – Heb 12:6-10. Parents discipline their children, but from the child’s perspective, it is not at all pleasant!.
Suffering to build perseverance and faith – James 1:2-5. Every serious athlete knows well the saying, “No pain, no gain.”
Suffering to purify character – 1 Peter 1:6-7, Rom 5:3-5. With heat, the impurities in a precious metal rise to the top and can be sifted off by the metallurgist.
Suffering that, when observed, motivates others to be bold in their faith – Phil 1:14, John 12:24. Believers are motivated to live for Christ when they observe each other persevere under trial and suffering.
Suffering and persecution that becomes the seed of the gospel – Acts 8:4, 11:19. Many times God uses the suffering of believers to reach the hearts of unbelievers.
All of these examples make sense and have purpose and meaning. But it is time to delve into the reality of suffering that has no apparent purpose or meaning. We all know of times, if not in our own lives, in the lives of people around us, when serious pain seems arbitrary. What do we do with an absolutely sovereign and good God who allows suffering? Let me set the context from the story of Job.
In Job chapters 1-3, the narrator tells of a secret agreement between God and Satan that allows Satan to afflict Job with unimaginable suffering. It is obvious that he did nothing to deserve his plight, yet clearly it falls under the passive and permissive sovereign will of God (see Part 1 of this series). Clearly, if we take this story at face value, undeserved and innocent suffering is a reality in this fallen world. Therefore, I believe that one of the purposes of this book is to illustrate what to do when undeserved and innocent suffering enters the life of a believer. The key is found in the speech of one of Job’s friends, named Elihu, found in chapter 35:9-16. I summarize it this way.
When we are overwhelmed with the realities of pain and suffering, there is no comfort in God. When we are overwhelmed with God, there is comfort in the realities of pain and suffering.
When Job was overwhelmed with his suffering, he was left to suffer with little or no comfort from God. This is not surprising because he was convinced that God was doing him wrong and he even accused God of injustice (see 31:35-37). But this would violate everything we just suggested about God being sovereign over both good and evil, yet not the originator of evil but only good, and about man being given the ability to make free decision, but those decisions not making God in any way contingent. Elihu opens the door for Job, not to receive answers or a rationale for undeserved and innocent suffering (the mystery of providence still applies to Job) but rather comfort from God in the midst of undeserved or innocent suffering. After all, God remains good and loving and he is always there to give us comfort even when his passive and permissive will leads us to undeserved and innocent pain and suffering.
Perhaps you are feeling like Job today and the realities of your circumstances trump any of the explanations from the realm of ideas that I have presented. In fact, perhaps you’re overwhelmed with your suffering. Elihu gives us three ways to find comfort by becoming overwhelmed with God. I will share them next time.