Posts Tagged With: suffering

“You Can Do All Things”: When God Does Not Follow Our Rules

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
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 42:2–6; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Creation gives us a mere glimpse of God’s glory, power, and sovereignty. Photo from PxHere.

“I know that you can do all things.” The believer’s statement of faith accepts God’s omnipotence and sovereignty as part of his life.

Job came to understand this. The book that bears his name is 42 chapters long, but it is easy to summarize in a few brief paragraphs. Job was a faithful and righteous man, and God had blessed him because of his faithfulness. He had a large family and many possessions.

One day, Satan came before God and questioned Job’s faith. He claimed that Job was not really so righteous but merely worshiped God from selfish motives: Take away his wealth, and he will curse God. So, God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had: his sheep, other livestock, and even his children. (See Job 1.) Despite all of this tragedy, Job did not question God:

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21).

In chapter 2, Satan raised the ante:

“Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life’” (Job 2:4–6).

So, Satan inflicted Job with painful sores. This pushed Job to the brink of despair. Even his wife gave up and urged him to “curse God and die.” This began the great temptation, as others began to challenge and question his faith.

Job’s friends accusing him of some secret sin, which they assumed must have been the reason for his suffering. From William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (published in 1826, now in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

For most of the rest of the book (chapters 3-37), Job finds himself in an argument with a group of friends who had come to comfort him in his time of suffering. However, instead of offering true comfort, they tried to offer explanations: “Job, it’s obvious. You have sinned. God is angry at you. You need to admit what you did wrong.” Job would essentially respond, “No! It’s not my fault! God needs to explain Himself to me! God, why are you picking on me?” (Neither of these passages are from the ESV, but are the “Michael E. Lynch Brief Summary Paraphrased Edition.”)

God would finally answer in chapters 38-42. However, He did not directly answer Job’s challenge or his friends’ accusations:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

For the next four chapters, God basically asked Job: “Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Were you there when I created the universe? Can you explain why animals do the things they do? If you can understand what I have done and what I have created, then I will answer you.”

We think we can explain how God works and why He does the things He does. God essentially tells Job—and the rest of us—that we do not know all that we think we know.

One does not follow Christ for too long without realizing that life does not always fulfill our expectations. Financial difficulties may come. We may lose our jobs. We may make financial decisions that backfire on us. Loved ones may die suddenly. We may pray for sick family members who do not recover. Our own health may fail, even though we claim our healing in Jesus’ name. Those who love us may say and do things, perhaps even with the best intentions, to discourage our faith.

Job had been through all of that, and yet he could say, “I know you can do all things,” even though God had chosen not to do everything he expected. When we understand Who God is and how great and powerful He is, we can begin to recognize how small we are and how little we know. We see our current situation: God sees how our choices today will affect the lives of those around us, including generations who have not been born yet. We might see two or three ways to handle a problem; God sees related problems that we have not considered.

God sees our personal weaknesses that we have chosen to ignore. Sometimes, He allows hard times to bring our character defects to light so that we can confess our sins, repent of them, and grow in faith and godliness. God is working in these situations, even if He is not doing the things we expect or want Him to do.

Faith in God recognizes that He is sovereign and all-powerful. However, it also acknowledges that He will not always do everything we want Him to do. Genuine faith recognizes that God is working and in control even we do not see Him working. Even when Satan seems to have the upper hand, God is in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Examining Our Ways in Times of Suffering

“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:40).

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_-_jeremia_treurend_over_de_verwoesting_van_jeruzalem_-_google_art_project

Jeremiah lamenting over Jerusalem, by Rembrandt [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of Advent and the “joy of the season,” we cannot ignore the reality of human suffering. In fact, the holiday season often magnifies pain and suffering. The world and the church call us to celebrate Christmas: there are gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to attend, extra worship services at church, etc. Yet, ordinary life’s hardships do not recognize holidays. This season, people close to me have been affected by house fires, death, illness, financial strain, the threat of losing their homes, etc. These trials can happen at any time during the year, yet the Advent/Christmas season demands our extra attention and prohibits us from devoting ourselves to the challenges of everyday life; not only that, but we are expected to feel joyful and happy despite our circumstances.

Pain and suffering are a central part of our earthly existence. Sometimes, it seems unfair, as if God Himself is unjust. We try to make sense of suffering, but it does not always work: When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, many Christians sought a biblical rationale. Perhaps God was using these events to judge American materialism and hubris. But, why did some godly people have to die? If God was judging America’s sins, was He also judging the first responders who raced into the building to rescue total strangers?

The answers are rarely obvious or simple. Jeremiah wrote the book Lamentations around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BC. A godly prophet, from a priestly family, he had suffered for many years. He was persecuted by his countrymen for warning them that this day would come. Now, he suffered with them. It seemed as if his nation was destroyed, doomed to become a footnote on the pages of history. The covenant and promises of God seemed forgotten. Through it all, Jeremiah wept and mourned over the city he loved.

In near the middle of his lamentations, Jeremiah wrote the words at the top of this post: “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” He had warned that the nation of Judah would suffer for its unfaithfulness to God. Even when all seemed lost, he believed there was still hope. God had not changed. No matter how bad things seemed, God still loved His people:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

God’s love never ceases. Even when things look bleak, He loves us. At times, bad times come to draw us back to Him. God may be shouting to us, as C. S. Lewis wrote.

What is He trying to say? Often, bad things happen to us as a direct result of our sin. Unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the natural consequences of sex outside of marriage. If you run into financial problems, the answer may not be to “rebuke the devouring spirit”: you may be spending your money irresponsibly and selfishly.

Let me emphasize that this is frequently, but not always, the case. Sometimes, we suffer the fallout of other people’s mistakes or other circumstances affect us negatively. However, when we face such suffering, we would be wise to examine our ways. Spend some time in prayer, and ask God:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

Ask honestly, “Is there anything I did to contribute to this situation? Is there anything I can learn from this?” It is true that you may be an innocent victim of circumstances. Or, perhaps, you contributed at least partially to it. Perhaps hardship is entirely the result of your mistakes or sins. Admit it to God (confession), ask for His forgiveness, and seek His wisdom and power to live a better life (repentance).

Many people today say that “All things happen for a reason.” However, God’s reasons are never unreasonable, irrational, or capricious. He has a redemptive purpose when bad things happen to us. He is not seeking to destroy us, but rather, to heal us.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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