Tag Archive: Suffering


Understanding Job

scotland-1645868I’ve been reading through the book of Job. It’s been awhile since I read it. I think I’ve avoided it because it seems hard to understand. It’s the kind of book whose meaning scholars debate endlessly. But after going through some of the most difficult years of my life, and trying to process the grief, pain, and loss, I found myself drawn to Job’s story. So I started reading.

What I’ve found is that Job really isn’t that hard to understand. I completely relate to him (even though I haven’t experienced quite the same level of suffering that he did). I get him. His response to suffering makes sense to me, because I’ve thought similar things myself. Why is this happening? God, where are You, and what are You doing? What have I done to deserve this? When will the pain stop?

I get Job’s friends, too. There’s a part of me that feels like every time something bad happens it must be my fault. I did something to deserve it. That’s essentially the message Job’s friends tell him. You brought this on yourself. God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, so if you are suffering this badly—well, you do the math.

What I’ve realized is that I couldn’t really understand Job until I went through some major life crises of my own. Until you’ve walked through the fire and the flood you can’t relate to those who have. My wife was saying the other day that she feels like grief is its own sense. Trying to explain what it’s like to someone who hasn’t experienced it on a deep level is like trying to explain color to someone who can’t see. There’s just no way to communicate it. It must be felt.

Another thing I’ve noticed while reading through Job is that I keep wanting to get to the part where God answers Job. Quick, give me the answers so I can hurry up and finish the test! But that part doesn’t come until the very end. The book of Job is pretty long, and most of it is his anguished dialog with his friends while he is in the depths of pain and despair. That’s what the experience of suffering is like in real life. You can’t rush through it or skip to the end. It’s a long process of agonizing pain, doubt, and fear. There are no shortcuts through it or detours around it.

And some of us will never get a direct answer from God. If you read the end of Job’s story, even though God does speak to him out of the storm, He never actually answers Job’s questions about why he is suffering. He simply reminds Job that He is God, and Job is not. I know that scholars far more knowledgeable than me have offered complex interpretations of the meaning of Job’s suffering. But looking at his story from the perspective of someone who has gone through suffering, maybe the simplest meaning is that sometimes there isn’t a neat, tidy answer to all our questions. Sometimes we may never know, at least this side of heaven, why God allowed us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The point of Job’s story isn’t to give us a satisfactory answer for our suffering. It’s to remind us that God remains God even when we’re experiencing the deepest pain, even when we feel like He has abandoned us, and to give us hope that He has the solution to our suffering.

See, there’s a difference between an answer for our suffering and a solution to our suffering. I’m not sure that Job ever really got an answer. But he got a solution. In the end, God healed his sickness, restored his family and his fortune, and blessed his latter years even more than the former. Those of us who have experienced suffering in this life have the promise that one day, Jesus will come back to this earth to make things right. He can’t undo all the pain we have experienced—and we shouldn’t want Him to. That pain has shaped our characters and taught us to rely on God. But He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes, to create a world where there will never again be death or mourning or crying or pain, and to give us life eternal in this new world, life with Him and with all those who love Him.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I may not get an answer to all my questions about why I am suffering. But I will get a solution for every pain I’ve felt, every tear I’ve shed. And that’s enough for me to keep trusting Him.

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Jesus ContemplativeFerguson, Missouri. A police officer shoots and kills an unarmed man. The city erupts in protests and riots. The police respond with surprising force and cruelty. The media breathlessly reports on every little twist and turn in the case. Opinions fly back and forth in a heated discussion across America. The investigation continues for several months. The grand jury finally reaches its decision, and then comes the announcement: no charges will be brought against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown.

Some call it justice. Some call it injustice. Often it seems that people take sides based on which eyewitnesses they choose to believe are telling the truth. The facts are difficult to discern, and this side of heaven we will never see true justice delivered.

Ferguson should serve as a reminder for us that this world is broken, that we are broken, that justice here is often elusive and fleeting, and that nothing but the parousia of Jesus can set things right. It was promised of Him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory” (Matt. 12:20).

Justice has not yet been led to victory. We, in our brokenness, have perverted justice. Many who took sides with Officer Wilson have acted as though the death of a young man is somehow a good thing. Many who took sides with Michael Brown have acted as though wanton destruction is somehow an acceptable response to the tragedy of his death.

God sees it differently. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Gen. 6:5, 6). None of what happened in Ferguson makes God happy. The evil in this world, in men’s hearts, fills His heart with sorrow.

When Jesus lived on earth, He experienced the sting of death when His friend Lazarus died. He responded by weeping (John 11:35). I can’t imagine that His response is any different today when He sees the suffering and death that His children experience all around the world, every single day. How His heart must break for the horrible consequences of sin.

Jesus weeps for Ferguson. He weeps with the family of a young man whose life was cut short by needless violence. He weeps with another family whose lives have also been forever changed by the choices that were made on that fateful day in August. He weeps over the blind rage, hatred, and senseless destruction that have followed in the wake of the shooting, instigated by angry protesters, exacerbated by overzealous police officers, and fomented nationwide by ideologues on both sides looking to score political points. And he weeps over each one of us who allows this story to water the root of bitterness in our hearts till it springs up into hatred toward our fellow man.

Jesus is not celebrating the triumph of justice today, because there is no triumph of justice. There will be no triumph of justice until death itself has been defeated. Until that day let us join together and do all within our power to work for peace, justice, and mercy. Let us resist the forces of anger, hatred, and violence. And let us also mourn the pain and suffering that death causes, for as followers of Jesus we ought to weep just as He wept (1 John 2:6).