Archive for the tag “suffering”

Undeserved Suffering

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.

Undeserved Suffering

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.

Undeserved Suffering

Thoughts from the Realm of Ideas and The Story of Job, Part 2

In my last post I introduced a concept that D. A. Carson calls asymmetry, (How Long O Lord, pg 213) a suggestion that reconciles the apparent contradiction that God is sovereign over both good and evil. I further introduced a theological context for his suggestion that is as follows:

God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized or mitigated.

Human beings are morally responsible creatures–they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.  (pg 201)

Far from being a simple, convenient way to answer the unanswerable predicament of innocent suffering, these thoughts are clearly biblical in their origin. Today I share a few illustrations.

The fact that God is absolutely sovereign is clearly portrayed in Psalm 115:2-3

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.  (Psa 115:2-3 ESV)

In the NT the Apostle Paul declares,

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Eph 1:11 ESV)

Proverbs 21:1 tells of God’s rule over the heart of a king. Proverbs 16:9 also describes God’s sway over every human decision. God is the one who turned the hearts of the Egyptians favorably toward the Hebrews during the Exodus. In Isa 45:6-7 God declares his sovereignty over prosperity and disaster. Yet in all of his absolute control, human responsibility (culpability) for sin remains. For example, God motivates David to take a census, and then judges him for this act of disobedience (2 Sam 24:1ff). God intends to punish Eli’s sons, so he somehow stands behind their disobedience but it is nonetheless their own responsibility to bear the consequences. So, the first statement is clearly presented in the Bible. God is absolutely sovereign, but humanity is responsible for sinful actions.

The second statement is also clearly presented in Scripture. Over and over, we are commanded to obey the Law given by God and we are given the freedom to obey or disobey.

 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”  (Jos 24:14-15 ESV)

The Ten Commandments and the many invitations to believe the Gospel all point to the freedom of humanity in choices.   But never is God dependent on these choices (contingent), or obligated to humanity for the maintenance of his own character or governance over his creation.  At the same time, however, God is loving, just and good in all that he does.

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deu 32:4 ESV)

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”  (Rev 15:3-4 ESV

One of the most revealing passages that illustrates how both of these statements are true and not contradictory is the conclusion of the Joseph saga that is told in Gen 37-50.  Summarizing the egregious act of Joseph’s brothers and the sovereign oversight of our good God, Joseph declares:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen 50:20 ESV)

With this statement, Joseph acknowledged that God was behind every dastardly deed of his brothers, yet he was doing more than merely turning a bad situation into something good. It was God’s intention (“…God intended it…” ) for his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery. But there is never any indication that God was the author of evil; in fact, all along he was only accomplishing good. Joseph’s brothers, and only they, are held responsible for Joseph’s suffering.

If this seems too convenient for God – allowing him to be absolutely sovereign but not responsible for evil and never beholding to the free decisions of man – understand that this describes, exactly, the God of the Bible. Now we understand the term, ”the Mystery of Providence.” (Carson, pg. 199ff)

I hope you have a place in your thinking for mystery, because we clearly see it at work in the life of Job, the ultimate illustration of undeserved or innocent suffering, but suffering that is under the loving and sovereign hand of God.

Undeserved Suffering

Thoughts from the Realm of Ideas and The Story of Job, Part 1

It doesn’t take much effort to observe that there is suffering in this world that is not the result of personal decisions. Some people suffer illness because of lifestyle decisions (smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse, etc.). Some people suffer because of unwise relational practices (anger, lying, adultery, cause marital dysfunction). Other people suffer because of selfishness (debt, gambling, risky investments). All of these instances of suffering make sense. There is much suffering in this world simply because we are sinners and sinners live lives that often produce suffering. We take risks, we neglect safety precautions, we make mistakes. Much of the world’s suffering is our own fault. Paul tells us, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Gal 6:7 ESV)

But there is a category of suffering that causes those who follow Jesus Christ considerable angst. We call it innocent suffering, or undeserved suffering. This is suffering that has no apparent cause or reason. It is suffering that appears arbitrary. Examples might include disease that just appears (cancer, MS, arthritis), sexual abuse of children, children playing on a school playground caught in the crossfire of a gang gun fight, loss of life and property due to hurricanes or tornadoes. The litany of undeserved suffering could grow quite substantial. Atheists and critics of biblical Christianity use this category of suffering as a major assault on our faith. How could a loving and all-powerful God allow this type of suffering? Either he is not loving, he is not all-powerful, or he doesn’t exist. What is our response? I want to share some thoughts from the realm of ideas and then from an example from the Bible. First, from the realm of ideas.

It is possible (I would say that what I am about to say is in fact true, but for the sake of not being dogmatic, I’ll say possible) that God can be loving and all-powerful and govern a world where undeserved or innocent suffering exists. Now, I am not a trained philosopher, but I do have some mileage under my belt in theology, so here goes. It is possible that God is sovereign over both good and evil, but not in the same way. He is sovereign over good in a way that is active and causative. He is active over good in that he initiates it. He causes it because he is the source of all that is good. When God created, the Bible says that he declared creation “very good.” But when sin entered the world, his very good world became broken and infected with sin, which produced suffering. Creation cries out in agony, longing to be released from the bondage of sin (Rom 8:22-23). Therefore, undeserved and innocent suffering is a reality. However, this does not require that God initiated and caused evil. I maintain that the Bible clearly teaches that God  can be sovereign over evil but that he did not initiate it nor did he cause it. Rather he is sovereign over evil passively and permissively. Passive means that he did not initiate it. It was initiated by someone other than himself (Satan in heaven and Adam and Eve on earth). Permissively means that before it could come into existence, it had to go through him, which keeps him firmly in control, but not culpable for the havoc it creates. In summary, God is sovereign over both good and evil, but not in the same way. A word to describe this is asymmetry. Symmetry requires a point-by-point parallelism. Asymmetry maintains a comparison, but not an exact comparison. Another way to describe this is in the phrase, “the mystery of providence.” Providence means that God is in control, but the way he can be in control over both good and evil is a mystery. So here we have it, the providential mystery of asymmetry! That is a door wide enough for a critic of our faith to drive a truck filled with explosives right into our biblical storehouse and blow it to smithereens. But maybe not. If God is who the Bible portrays him to be, it is possible that this scenario of life is actually reality. Why can’t there be a category that is unknown but possible, especially if that is the world that is presented in the Bible? I am quite taken by the suggestion of D.A. Carson in his book, How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil,where he introduces readers to two propositions:

God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized or mitigated.

Human beings are morally responsible creatures–they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.  (pg 201)

These two statements fall within the bounds of the Bible’s storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and recreation. Over and over, material is given that presents these two statements as fact. While they may appear convenient for the argument I am presenting, the truth is that, taken at face value, this is exactly how God presents His-story!

I’ll present some of the evidence in my next post.

Psalms, Part 2

Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name

The words of this popular Christian song, recorded by Matt Redman and sung by the community of believers, is the equivalent of a Psalm in the culture of Israel. It expresses faith in the LORD even when things are not going well. While it is not a direct parallel, references to the desert place, to darkness closing in, and feeling as though God has taken away that which is meaningful and precious, may give us a glimpse into the ethos of the authors of a major type of psalm, the Lament.

A general characteristic of the Lament is the outpouring of emotion to God during the experience of intense hardship, either spiritual or physical. We are reminded of the writing of Jeremiah as he expressed his sorrow over his suffering and the anticipated suffering of Israel in his book,

Lamentations. As a believer reads a lament, there is a ray of encouragement in the midst of pain because it affirms the value of worship even in the midst of human suffering. At one time or another, all of us can identify with the psalmist who expresses his raw emotion to God. Yet, as our contemporary song exemplifies, the faith of the author shines forth in the end.

A careful study of Psalms of Lament shows what appears as a deliberate structure. While there is occasionally an introductory section invoking the divine name (3, 4, 5, 80) and a plea for God to listen (5, 59, 83), the Lament usually begins by diving right into the source of pain and suffering. Psalm 13 is a classic example.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psa 13:1-2 NIV)

Then there is the presentation of the reason why God should answer the plea, often being the writer’s opinion that it will protect his reputation as a follower of God.

Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psa 13:3-4 NIV)

But the most distinct feature of the Lament is the closing expression of faith and trust in God.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psa 13:5-6 NIV)

When a believer is in the midst of difficulty, psalms of lament give us permission to cry to God: husbands who lose their bride of 60 years, parents who are surprised by the questionable decision of an adult child, those who experience a sudden phasing out of employment, or those who suffer from an illness or accident. When life is at its darkest, cry out to God. God knows what we are thinking anyway; why not enter into the closest fellowship possible with him and unload your deepest emotion? Yes, God gives and takes away, but blessed be his name.

Book of Job, Part 3

Studies in Suffering: The Book of Job

CarsonBookBefore we conclude the survey of the Book of Job, I want to give you a resource on this subject that is worth its weight in gold – D.A.Carson: How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Baker Books, 1990. While Part One may require some careful contemplation, the rest of the work, particularly his section surveying Job, is extremely helpful and provides much more than devotional fodder. While it is certainly not the last work on this subject, this book is a must for every serious student of the Bible (that sounded like an endorsement to appear on a book cover, didn’t it!).

Job has asked for his day in court, and God is about to give it to him. But I wonder if, deep inside his soul, Job was really looking forward to this experience? Job knew and believed that God was sovereign and that he was good. And along the way, Job maintained his faith in God and his willingness to trust him in the midst of his pain.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him! (Job 13:15-16 NIV)

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10 NIV)

Would a man with such mature faith actually accuse God of wrongdoing? Perhaps, but there had to be fear and trembling at the prospect of hearing God’s response. To be sure, the text reveals his deep pain and his passionate quest for relief, which, by the way, is an appropriate pursuit of any healthy person who is suffering. Only mentally unstable people enjoy suffering! But as God ushered Job (so to speak) into the courts of heaven, he seated him in the witness stand. Instead of Job being the questioner of God, God began to question Job. As the trial progresses, the reader can easily imagine Job wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Chapters 38-41 record God asking Job questions that can only be answered in a way that exonerates God from any wrongdoing. God reminds Job that he (Job) is way out over his pay scale by questioning God, who created the stars, the animals, the weather patterns – creation itself. Job asked for answers to the hard questions of life; God gives him reasons to worship. If God is going to teach Job, or those who read his story, anything, it is that Job will know God, not all the answers. Notice how God reminds Job that he is not obligated to conform to Job’s theology.

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? (Job 40:6-9 NIV)

God overwhelms Job with his attributes and his action. He opens his eyes to the awesomeness of who he is. A great gift to Job was the realization that when we really know God, the answers to the questions we once believed so crucial to our survival are not very important at all. When we are overcome with things of the world, there is no comfort in God. But when we are overcome with God, there is comfort in the world, even a world with questions. Actually, that is an answer! But God does not stop with the drama of the heavenly court. The final chapter of Job tells of God’s intense mercy when he restores Job’s health, his family and his material wealth.

I cannot conclude a discussion about suffering and evil without reminding us that God is not aloof of our suffering. In fact, he took the initiative to enter into our fallen world in the person of his Son. In his birth, life and death, every type of pain and suffering became the experience of Jesus. We must also remember that God is in the process of redeeming the world from evil and restoring it (and us) to the new Eden, which we know as the New Heaven and New Earth. This world is not our home, we are only passing through. Along the way, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the joy of the LORD be our strength.

Book of Job, Part 1

Studies in Suffering: The Book of Job

Since the inauguration of the current series of my blogs in September, we have surveyed the story line of the Bible from creation to the birth of the Hebrew nation, to their rebellion and discipline in the exile to Babylon and Persia, and finally to their return from exile. It has been a fascinating review for me that confirms the truth that God is sovereign and has a plan to rescue fallen humanity from sin and to accomplish his original intent for creating in the first place. But we now move from historical chronology to theological and philosophical contemplation. Today I begin a survey of the OT Poetic literature, often called the books of Wisdom—Job, Psalms (some scholars separate Psalms from the Wisdom genre), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. These works address the meaning of life as they contemplate the problems, experiences, beliefs, philosophies and attitudes of God’s people. I will deal with them in the order they appear in the Hebrew Canon. First is Job.

There is probably no subject that raises the interest of believers like pain and suffering. To be certain, there is some pain and suffering that is the direct consequence of foolish or rebellious decisions—such as was noted when we surveyed the discipline of the Lord on Israel. But Job takes the discussion of pain and suffering to a new level—that is, undeserved pain and suffering, or what some have called irrational suffering. The Book of Job tells the story of an extremely pious man, one who would put most of us to shame for his devotion to God. Yet, he suffered unimaginable pain and suffering because of the permissive will of God. (This term needs to be unpacked in order to be understood in the framework of a responsible biblical theology, an unpacking that I will attempt in future posts. I use it here because of the obvious permission God gave Satan to attack Job.) Lest I get ahead of the story, we begin with the opening scene which describes a conversation between God and Satan.

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12 NIV)

Notice that even though God gives permission, there is a limit beyond which Satan may not go (vs. 12). Satan responds with a whirlwind of destructive events resulting in the loss to Job of all he had that was of this world. But his integrity remained when he declared:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:21-1 NIV)

In characteristic devilish persistence, Satan approaches God again with the challenge that if Job lost his health, he would curse God to his face. God again gives Satan permission to attack Job, once more with a definite limitation, and Job is faced with boils and sores from head to foot. Nevertheless he responds the same way. Now, the reader is faced with all sorts of questions and feelings when reading this account. Is humanity simply a pawn in the hand of God? It looks like this is a game to him. God initiated conversation about Job and put the idea of Job’s piety in Satan’s mind, which he undoubtedly knew would raise Satan’s ire. It appears that Job is an innocent victim and that God just stands by and lets this terrible suffering happen.

May I suggest that nothing God ever does is gratuitous and that this book addresses issues that have profound implications on how we understand biblical theology, all the while demonstrating God’s faithfulness to himself and love for us. Complicated ideas and concepts can be discussed very effectively by telling a story. I suggest that by telling this story, Job is given the immense privilege of being known in history as the one chosen to demonstrate how to understand the universal experience of undeserved pain and suffering.

For today, an application from the introductory scenes is that no matter what happens in life, God always sets limits. This may not be of much comfort to those of us who are presently suffering, but for those who are able to think with some measure of objectivity, consider that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. The world is evil, but it is not as evil as it could be. I am much taken at what appear to me as miraculous interventions in many of the pivotal battles in various wars of history. For example, why was Hitler taking a nap at the time of the invasion of the Allies on D-Day? A simple order from him and German tanks and aircraft could have wiped out the entire allied force. But his generals were afraid to wake him from his sleep. Then there is catastrophic death due to disease. Why did the plague stop before wiping out all of humanity? And how did Alexander Flemming just happen to discover penicillin?

“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer,” Fleming would later say, “But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

In both cases, I suggest that God was setting limits on pain and suffering. In similar fashion, I suggest that he sets limits on your pain and suffering. Be assured of his sovereign orchestration of all the events of your life. Suffering does fall within the boundary of God’s sovereignty, but take comfort that there is a boundary. Admittedly, this doesn’t answer some of the deeper questions of suffering. Next time I will begin to address these questions, utilizing the text of the Book of Job as our source for inquiry.

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