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Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Not to Say to Job - Part 2

I have more to say on the Book of Job.

Going back to his lame-o friends...  Yeah, they needed a good theology lesson.  And here I am centuries later to give it to them.

I think they had issues.  Real issues.  They couldn't handle that God is sovereign and acts according to the counsel of His own will - sans our input or even any obligation to give us an explanation for what He does.

They got it wrong because God was behaving contrary to what their human wisdom/reasoning would expect.  They thought God was there to serve them - that God's job was to act according to the plan.  That plan is: Play fair (according to my understanding of fairness).  Reward and punish within good reason (human reason, that is).  Be powerful, but beholden to my will.  Those are the kinds of things we would expect God to do and be.  Because we are human we so badly mix up our desires for how we want God to act with our understanding of Who He really Is.

He is sovereign.  End of discussion.  He acts and allows and does things we can't begin to fathom or comprehend.  This kind of sovereignty should be awe-inspiring, worship-inducing, knee-bending humility-invoking, fall-flat-on-our-faces before Him, sovereignty.  It should cause us to wonder, to fear, to honour, to find shelter in and to draw even nearer to Him Who owns us.  "We are His people and the sheep of His pasture."

I can just overhear one of Job's friends comforting Job with a platitude such as, "God isn't going to leave you in this place to suffer one minute longer than it takes for you to learn what He has for you."  Such wonderful words, I'm sure, would cause one to love God so much more.  (Hope you can hear the sarcasm in that).

The problem with Job's friends is that they mix nuggets of truth with all-out attacks on him (unjustified of course - they were way off base).  The nuggets of truth give just enough 'nutrition' to the onslaught to make the painful intake of such notions toxic to the soul.  If they were all out crazy nut-cases who spouted junk it would be easy enough to write them off as totally warped, psychologically deficient persons.  But the fact that there are shreds of truth in what they said makes the intake of their words so damaging.  Beware those who mix truth with error - they are worse than the flat-out false teachers!  Because their words have some appeal - it sounds so logical.

More on the Matter of Pain

Let's suppose you lived before anaesthetic.  And let's suppose you needed to have your leg amputated.  I'd rather just die than have to submit to the torture of amputation, frankly.  But you go for the surgery and are in the midst of having your leg sawn off when a dearly beloved friend of yours walks up beside you and says, "I know you are suffering right now.  You will be so thankful for what you're enduring because you will come to know God's presence with you in such a deeper way.  God isn't abandoning you.  Oh yes, I hear you screaming.  There now, settle down, grit your teeth and bear it.  Be patient.  This has a wonderful purpose for you.  Just believe it.  I'm sorry you have to suffer like this.  Maybe if you had washed that wound better you wouldn't be in this place right now.  I hope you'll learn your lesson.  Oh, do be quiet.  It hurts me to see you suffer like this.  I only hope I can learn from your mistakes.  Maybe if I see why you have to lose your leg this way I can make better choices and avoid what you so sadly have to endure.  I'm glad I can learn from you.  See, your suffering isn't wasted."

Can you hear the rage mounting?  Can you see the insult this adds to injury?  Are you guilty of saying some of these things?  Are you guilty of thinking them?

In the last post I mentioned that pain is pain and is very real.  I think we forget that.  We see others suffer and it invokes fear in us.  We are uncomfortable with how God can allow such deep sorrow.  It is a part of life that scares us.  And for the most part, we should try to avoid suffering.  Fear of suffering is actually a healthy and good thing - we should fear getting burned badly enough that we don't touch the fire.  I don't touch fire because I fear suffering.  This is not all bad.

But there are going to be times in our lives and in others' lives that are painful and there is nothing we can do to change that fact.  It is going to be real and painful and we will either recognize that God has His hand in it for whatever reason, or we will fight it with nice sounding platitudes and vapid sentiments.  Sometimes we just feel we can't accept what God allows.  And from that place comes all this human-reasoning that tries to explain why people suffer.

Sometimes we just need to submit ourselves to His almighty hand and know He walks with us, and our friends, IN their suffering.  That He loves them, and us and doesn't owe us an explanation.

Yes, He meets us in our suffering - sometimes in the richest, deepest, most personal ways we ever come to know Him.  We may know Him more than ever before because of it.  We may love Him more because we participate in His sufferings.

Being IN Christ means we will share in His sufferings. 

Jesus was unjustly accused.

Unjustly punished.

Judged.

Scorned.

Rejected.

Physically tortured.

Emotionally abandoned.

Betrayed.


Scripture connects, time and again, suffering with glory.

We don't want to sugar-coat suffering and glorify suffering.  Sometimes it's tempting to do that - to somehow look at the suffering and glory and glorify the suffering.  There's something dark and twisted about that.  There is no glory in suffering.  The glory follows.  There is fruit borne of suffering and there is blessing that comes from it.  But it is equally insulting to those who suffer to glorify their suffering as it is to insinuate they suffer for their own sins.  Ask anyone who is in deep pain if it is glorious and I'm sure they will tell you to take of your rose-coloured glasses and take your thoughts to some journal-that-no-one-shall-read.

So to one who suffers, we don't have all the answers.  And perhaps answers aren't what is needed.  That was the big mistake Job's friends made.  They wanted answers and they spouted them, right, left and center.  Their linear, zero-sum logic thinking led them to be mocked for centuries for their rude, disdainful counsel.  Let's not be like that, okay!?

Sometimes we lay aside the search for answers - theological and practical.  And instead we find the all-sufficient hand of God sustaining and helping and leading and comforting.  When we quit the striving for getting it all neatly packaged sometimes our eyes are opened to the all-encompassing love and grace of God that has been flowing about us unnoticed the whole time.

Maybe it's time Job and Job's friends took their eyes off the situation and began fixing them on Jesus - the author and perfector of faith - no matter how weak, feeble and miniscule that faith may be -

Fixing our eyes on Jesus...

Who for the joy set before Him

Endured the Cross.

Jesus suffered and endured His suffering, and completed the work God the Father had laid out for Him.  He conquered sin, death and the grave.  Jesus suffered like no-one else.  And He endured perfectly.

We cannot fail to recognize that Job endured, and though he wasn't perfect, he turned his eyes heavenward and accepted whatever God deemed right.  He willingly submitted himself to His Creator and meekly received whatever God chose to dish out.

And we would be wise to do likewise.


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