Category: Job

Suffering is Real. So is God.

“Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward.”  
~Job 5:7

As surely as the wind blows in Amarillo. As surely as the Cowboys lose to the Eagles in December with a playoff berth on the line. All people are born to trouble. It just happens. It’s a fact. Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble.”

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”
~Psalm 130:1-2

This Psalm of Ascents does two things to the problem of suffering and pain. First, it gives human suffering dignity.

This is an anguished prayer. And by bringing the pain and suffering out into the open like this, by making the pain public, the psalmist gives dignity to suffering. The psalm doesn’t treat suffering like it’s something to be embarrassed about or something we’ve got to hush up or lock up in a closet somewhere so nobody can see it. The writer owns it. I cry to you. Hear my voice. Be attentive to my cry. I am suffering. Me!

And it doesn’t treat suffering like it’s a mystery or a puzzle to be figured out and explained. The pain and suffering is just proclaimed. Boom! Here it is! The depths, acknowledged and expressed. It’s in the open.

And if that’s all this psalm did, that would be huge by itself. Giving dignity to human suffering? Nobody does that. Our culture does not respect people in pain. Our society says everybody should be constantly happy and healthy. And, if you’re not, well, something’s wrong with you. You’re a problem that has to be solved. Everybody you know will try to fix you. And when they can’t fix you, they’ll forget about you.

The problem is that we want to cover up our suffering. We want to ignore it. But that’s not the reality. Suffering is real. It happens to everybody. Psalm 130 knows that and dignifies it by talking about it. This cry comes from deep, dark place; and it’s real. Christians respond to suffering as reality, we don’t deny it as an illusion.

If we ever wanted to ignore suffering, we certainly can’t do it right now. The virus pandemic, the racial injustice, and the economic disasters won’t let us. All the sickness and death, all the disparity and violence, all the poverty and loss — it’s all real. And we don’t avoid it out of fear; we face it in faith.

And we don’t pretend like there are easy answers. No cliches here about what went wrong and how to fix it. No quick Band-Aid to cover it up so nobody has to see it. Psalm 130 is like the whole Bible, really. You never read in the Bible that there’s a quick fix to suffering: take a vacation, pick up a new hobby, go get a massage. Human suffering is held up and proclaimed as the real experience of all people. It’s given great dignity.

And it’s given to God.

All this deep, dark suffering is lifted to God, which means God is taken seriously. God is real. The name of God is used eight times in the eight verses of Psalm 130. It’s not a religious formality, God is at the very center of the whole thing. God is described in this psalm as a personal redeemer: he is personal, so you can have a real relationship with him and he is a redeemer, which means you can expect to receive help from him. Even in the middle of suffering, there is great meaning to your life because there is salvation for your life.

Psalm 130 tells us God forgives sin. It tells us God is full of steadfast love and abundant redemption for us. The psalm says God is not indifferent toward you or apathetic about what’s happening with you. He acts decidedly and positively toward his people. He’s not rejecting. He’s not condemning. He’s not silent, still, absent, missing in action, or not paying attention. And he’s not stingy. He’s not doling out just enough so that you can barely survive each day. He comes to us and he gives us everything.

The presupposition behind the Scriptures is that God’s child is in distress and God’s intent is to help the person out. He is on my side, remember? Psalm 124. He is my help.

We know this about our Father and that’s why we bring our pain to him. That’s why we can face it and live through it. Our God is in control of it and he’s the only one who can do anything about it. And he will. He does.

That’s why we bring our suffering to God in prayer. We don’t write letters to the editor, gripe and complain at the beauty shop, or look for relief in alcohol or drugs or Facebook. We bring it to God. We immerse it in God. Your suffering is real. And our God is real. That’s where we find our hope.

Go Mavs.


Totally in Control

God caused the great tragedies to Job and his family, right? You know that, right? God did it. Scripture is plain that God had been protecting Job from evil and suffering. The devil couldn’t do anything bad to Job because God had put this fence around him. Satan knows if he’s going to inflict disaster on Job, God has to act. God has to remove his protection. And he asks God to do just that.

“Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has!” the devil says to God in Job 1:11. And God agrees to hand the keys over to Satan. “Very well then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (1:12)

God is definitely responsible for what happens to Job. God had to act to allow all the death and destruction to happen. The devil and God and Job himself all acknowledge that God is in control of everything happening to this faithful servant. God gave the devil the power and the permission to torment this righteous man. But God never for a second gave up control. He places strict limits on the devil. Satan doesn’t lay a finger on Job himself because he can’t. God’s not allowing it. Later on, God allowed even some physical suffering for Job but told the tormenter he couldn’t kill him. And he didn’t. Because he couldn’t. God was totally in control.

Please note that suffering for Job began only when God allowed it. And the trouble for Job ended the moment God decided to end it. God was always totally in control of Job’s whole situation.

I think it should be a great comfort to us to know that God is in control of our suffering. God reigns supreme over all of your troubles. He’s totally in charge of what’s happening to you right now. Now, if God were a malicious tyrant, that would be scary. But he’s not. He loves you, remember?

So… if he loves me, why does he allow me to suffer so much?

Well, God has a goal for his people. He has an eternal plan for you. His plan for all of us is communion with him. And our earthly happiness isn’t necessarily a part of that goal. God is much more interested in our faith than our pleasure. He’s committed to sharing holy community with us forever. That’s his intent. That’s what he’s doing. And if God is totally sovereign over everything — if nothing happens without God’s permission — then every single thing that happens serves his goal. And if our temporary pains and struggles serve God’s eternal goals, then he uses it.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” ~Romans 8:28-29

We’re all being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. That’s the purpose, that’s the goal. We’re being changed, we’re being saved. And God uses everything that happens to us — all things — for this goal of holiness, for this purpose of being made into the image of Christ.

Romans 8 doesn’t say, “Yes, you may have lost your job, but you’re going to get an even better one soon because all things work out for good.” It doesn’t say, “Don’t be upset that your girlfriend broke up with you; God must have an even better girl, your future wife, waiting for you just around the corner!” When we interpret “works for the good” that way, it’s very narrow and often materialistic. It’s a worldly application. From God’s perspective, “good” has to be defined spiritually, eternally. The ultimate “good” is your saving relationship with him. So Romans 8 doesn’t say every difficult experience is going to lead to something good in this life. The “good” God may have in mind might involve the next life entirely. God uses suffering to build Christian character to conform us to Christ and to prepare us for that final glory. Knowing our God is in control of our sufferings and that he uses those sufferings should shape our view of those sufferings more into God’s perspective.

“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

Hope tells us that our suffering is not in vain. It’s not pointless. God is in total control of everything happening to you right now and he’s using it to his glory and to his eternal purposes for you and for his world.



Just Listen

Just ListenAfter seven days of mourning, things aren’t getting any better for Job. And so he lauches into another round of lamentations. Job 3 is some kind of tirade. It’s a doozie. Rated R for strong language and disturbing imagery. Job curses his own existence. He says in a dozen different ways, “I wish I were dead.” He doesn’t understand what God is doing. So he asks “Why?” Over and over again, “Why, God, why?”

“I want to die.”

And then one of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, decides somebody needs to say something. He tells Job in Job 4:1, “Let me say a word here. I can’t help it. I can’t keep from speaking.”

And Eliphaz spends two whole chapters trying to explain to Job what’s happening to him and why. “Job,” he says, “This is God’s will.” And he tries to spin everything theologically. He tries to make sense of it. He even accuses Job at one point: “Maybe you need to look at your own life. Maybe you’re doing something, or not doing something, that’s causing these bad things to happen. ” He gives Job advice about his prayers. Eliphaz says, “If I were you, Job, I’d think about praying more like this.”

All three of Job’s good friends start weighing in on the situation, speaking from the outside, giving advice, preaching to Job.

And this is exactly the opposite of what Job needed from his friends during his hour of great sorrow.

Hey, we’ve all had the experience of fumbling for the right words in the presence of tremendous suffering. We’ve all visited a family at a funeral home and been embarrassed because we didn’t say anything. Or we’ve felt awful because what we did say was so woefully inadequate. We take food to the home of a grieving husband or mother and we have no confidence in the things we say. We’ll see a griever at church for the first time and actually avoid speaking to him because we don’t know what to say.

Please understand this: You don’t have to say anything!

You don’t need to say a word. Just be there. Just be present. Just listen. Just sit in silence with the mourner and listen.

I know we feel like we have to say something because silence is so awkward for us. We’re uncomfortable with silence. And if we’re not saying something, we feel like we’re not doing anything. It’s like we’re not helping.

The very best thing you can do is just listen.

If the sufferer needs to cry, cry with him. If the mourner needs to complain about a family member or another specific part of his great trial, put your arm around him and nod. If the griever needs to curse his situation or shake his fist at God, sit right there beside him and let him.

Just listen.

The presence of God is experienced by his people through his people. The Church of God is a powerful tool by which our Father is present in this world and among his children. Our God invites us to speak and he promises us that he will be near. He will listen to us and he will comfort us in our lament. He will hear our cry. And he will console us and reassure us in our troubles.

And we can better be that loving and faithful witness and presence to others if we’ll just be there. And listen.