Thoughts from the Realm of Ideas and The Story of Job, Part 4
When a person is in the midst of a period of suffering, the most helpful role of a friend is to simply be there. Solutions, anecdotes, personal testimonies of how we have persevered, or even Bible verses about suffering all have limited ability to lift the downtrodden heart. A sympathetic ear or a gracious act of kindness will accomplish much to help someone who is suffering. The principles I will be sharing today are meant for the person who is not in the midst of a season of suffering, in hope that they will prepare you for the storm that may be ahead. I am convinced that they will be of greater blessing than any of the things I shared in previous posts because they come not from the realm of ideas, but from the truth of God’s Word! It is even possible that if God is gracious, they may even help those who are currently wrestling with undeserved or innocent suffering. They come from a speech from one of Job’s friends, named Elihu, and they are based on the following proposition, taken from Job 35:9-16.
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 faced with undeserved or innocent suffering:
Seek God’s Presence – Vs. 9-10
Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out; they call for help because of the arm of the mighty. But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night,(Job 35:9-10 ESV)
Our first impulse is to seek relief from pain instead of the presence of God. But the truth is that sometimes the only way we will get to the point of seeking God is when suffering makes us desperate for him. Elihu reminds us that prayer for God’s presence is neglected because all we pray for is relief from pain. But remember that even though the pain may continue, in the midst of it there is comfort in God’s presence. God gives us songs in the night. In our darkest hours, he meets us in our desperation.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psa 23:4-5 ESV)
Learn about God’s World – Vs. 11
Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?
This is a profound thought. The beasts of the earth and the birds of the air all live by a mathematical principle that is so cold and calculated: 1 + 1 = 2. They have instincts, they have cut and dried lives – survival of the fittest. But God teaches us to live differently than the animals. God teaches us to live in fellowship with him, to nurture intimacy with him, to love him, receive his power, to live as his children, and to rejoice in being in his family. There is a supernatural dynamic in God’s world that is especially comforting during times of suffering. When we suffer, it is easy to desire commentary on our world instead of insights into God’s world. God offers a supernatural overcoming power by his indwelling Spirit. That’s faith.
Marvel at God’s Mercy and Grace – Vs. 13-16
Vs. 12-14 – God does not respond to cries that are focused on self.
There they cry out, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it. How much less when you say that you do not see him, that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!
Vs. 15 – Yet God in his mercy and grace just keeps reaching out to us, inviting us to experience his presence
And now, because his anger does not punish, and he does not take much note of transgression, Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge.” (Job 35:13-16 ESV)
The truth is – if we all got the justice we deserve we would all instantly become toast!! Instead – God offers mercy and grace. We want to justify ourselves. We even judge God. But when we recognize the mercy and grace of his patience toward us when we deserve otherwise – that’s faith.
Elihu’s speech prepared Job to finally hear from God. He does not defend himself, and he does not explain the secret agreement he made with Satan. The mystery of providence remains. Rather, for four chapters, God reveals himself to Job. Finally Job finds his comfort in God.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 ESV)
Here is God’s message to all who suffer with undeserved or innocent suffering. Instead of giving us answers, God gives us himself. And isn’t this the only way it could be? If we had all the answers, God would be reduced to some explainable deity, fully understood by those he rules, which would mean that he really didn’t rule them at all. If God was explainable, we would simply put him in a three-ring binder, slip it among our other religious books on our shelf, and pursue another conquest in life. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6 ESV)
May I encourage you, in the midst of your suffering to take steps to practice being overwhelmed with God. Meditate on God’s Word, or rehearse the texts of some of the great hymns and worship songs that extol the sovereignty and love of God. There is undeserved and innocent suffering in this world. But God will never lead you where his grace will not sustain you.