A Word about Suffering

I’m not an expert on suffering. My life’s suffering has been minimal. My mom died a couple of years ago, and I’ve had the flu and bronchitis, but generally I’ve had a pretty non-eventful life. This post is not written from the perspective of an expert, but rather a fellow traveler seeking to understand what God wants to teach us in our circumstances.

Now Job is an expert in suffering. Following a heavenly conversation between God and Satan (Job’s accuser), God gave permission for Satan to bring suffering into Job’s life. By the end of chapter 2, Job had lost most everything he owned, had to face the death of his children, became ridden with boils, and was encouraged by his wife to curse God and die.

Few people on earth have ever suffered as Job.

The next 35 chapters of the book are basically a dialogue between Job and his friends about the reasons for Job’s suffering. These dialogues include lament, complaint, disappointment, and argument. It is normal in times of pain and suffering to complain and wonder why. But our complaints are not always profitable. Think about the wasted days of conversations between Job and his unhelpful friends. They didn’t change Job’s mind, and Job didn’t change theirs.

So how do we respond to suffering and pain?

Dr. Donna Gibbs, in her excellent book Becoming Resilient, suggests that we draw a large circle. Inside the circle, we should imagine key words like comfort, peace, forgiveness, hope, and love that reflect our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our circle contains the deepest and most important aspects of our faith. But too often, because of fear or frustration or doubt or worry or sorrow, we leave our sufferings outside the circle representing our faith in Jesus. She writes,

“Until we muster the courage to bring our suffering into the circle, into our relationship with Christ, we will miss the opportunity to experience great relief.”

Donna Gibbs, Becoming Resilient, 165. 

What is profitable in our suffering is to bring our pains and difficulties directly to God. He alone can comfort and heal.

I love how God responds to Job and his friends at the conclusion of the book.

God’s response to Job and his three friends is poignant and powerful. It is direct and quite confrontational. For the better part of four chapters (Job 28-41), God peppers Job with question after question after question. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” And on and on. 

Do you know that God never answers Job or his friends regarding the reason for Job’s suffering? I think God’s response is instructive for two important reasons.

First, When God speaks, we need to become silent and listen. Too often all that can be heard regarding our suffering is our complaints, our opinions, and the opinions of others. Too often, we don’t pause to listen to God. We need to hear God speak by silencing our voices and reading the pages of Scripture. We need to listen for the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit in our situations. According to C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” We might actually learn more about God in our pains if we will be silent and listen to him.

Second, We need to see God and not merely seek answers. The book of Job is a beautiful picture of the divine authorship of the Bible. No human author would spend 37 chapters building a story around a singular question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and leave the question unanswered. If the book of Job had only human authorship, then the author would have written a response from God into Job’s question. But when God arrives, he questions Job. He silences the complaints of Job. He critiques the false statements of Job’s friends. In essence, God’s monologues to Job say, “Job, I’m enough.”

What we need more than anything else is to remember that God is enough.

Do you believe that God is enough even when you are suffering?

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