Focal Passage: Job 30:26-31, 42:1-6
I am writing this article right after visiting a precious church member who seems to be nearing the end of a years-long battle with cancer. It wasn’t too long ago that I sat with this lady and discussed the next steps of her treatment confident that it would be effective.
In the same room, in place of a comfy chair, she now inhabits a hospital bed, hardly able to talk, waiting to meet Jesus face-to-face. We prayed through Psalm 23 grateful for the promises of God. Yesterday, I started this article with a much different mindset than I have now.
Suffering should not be approached as some ethereal idea to consider philosophically. Suffering is a universal reality that will confront all people in one way or another. After leaving a tearful husband by the bedside of his dying wife, I can’t help but write with a renewed sense of sober-mindedness (I Peter 1:13). I could give you a list of the reasons we suffer or explain the positive outcomes of enduring suffering faithfully but that wouldn’t seem fit for my own pastoral circumstances.
I believe considering how we respond to suffering will help us understand deeper why we suffer. So here’s the question. What is a biblical response suffering? There’s no better example that we can examine for an answer than Job.
If you don’t know Job’s story read the first few chapters of the book that bears his name. It is safe to say that guy suffered greatly. The last statement in verse 10 of Job 2 is incredible. It says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” In response to unbelievable loss Job prayed some dark prayers.
In chapter 3, Job wished he was never born. In chapter 7, Job claims he has no hope. In chapter 10, Job’s plea is that God would remember him. In chapter 21, Job claims the wicked prosper. In chapter 23, Job says that darkness has covered him. The list could go on and on. Remember, in all of it Job never sinned by what he said.
In fact, we should take note of what God said to Job’s friends, Job 42:7 reads, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” After Job’s repentance and confession in Job 42:1-6, the Lord commends His servant for what he said. I don’t believe the Lord was pleased only by Job’s words in chapter 42. Linking chapter 42 to what was said of Job 40 chapters earlier, I believe God was pleased with Job’s words throughout the entire book, including the kinds of prayers I mentioned earlier.
Why? Suffering leads us toward authenticity in our relationship with God. Difficulty minimizes the temptation to conflate religious activity with relationship. God was pleased with Job because Job never stopped praying and Job prayed with honesty. If we allow it, suffering can cause us to grow closer to God as it draws us out of the meaningless rituals that can easily replace authentic relationship. Oftentimes, suffering is not an expression of God’s judgement or displeasure but is an invitation from the Lord to grow in intimacy with Him. So, if you’re suffering and struggling tell God how you feel. He can handle it and we see from Job’s story that He honors honesty. B&R — Bosak is pastor of First Baptist Church, Savannah.