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We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn,” and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination. – C. S. Lewis
Though living a traumatic childhood was unbearable at times, it made sense that bad things would happen to us. We did not love God. Bad things happen to bad people. It was the trauma after regeneration that was hard to swallow. If bad things happen to bad people, bad things should not happen to people trying to do good. Depending on how twisted that theological misthinking weaves itself into the fabric of your view of God will determine the amount of disappointment you will experience when disappointing things come your way. It nearly killed me.
The patriarch of suffering in the Bible is Job. Though he was not a perfect man, Job did not believe he deserved the devastation that came to his family. He did nothing to deserve what happened to him, and to make matters worse, there was the deafening silence of God. To be in pain is hard enough, but when God won’t speak into the tragedy, the silence pounds against your soul. Have you ever been in that place where the trouble came, and God was silent? Strapped in a straitjacket and dropped into an ocean of suffering is one of the most hopeless experiences in life. Our brother Job was in that place. Listen to how he talked about it later on in his journal.
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him (Job 23:8-9).
Job lived according to the rules because there was a pinch of legalism harboring in his soul, and there is no question that he loved God. He was a man of integrity (Job 1:1). If Job had died in the first chapter of his book, we would testify that he was a good man who loved the Lord. But he did not die, and his story continued to unravel. You can sum up the first part of his experience in six descending steps:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer
Have you ever been in a place where your suffering did not make sense, and the Lord was not forthcoming with a reason? If you have, you likely have had questions formulating in your head. What kind of God runs the world this way? What sort of God governs our lives with seeming cruelty? How should we think about God when a person experiences undeserved suffering? If we are unsure about God and His intent in our suffering, we will mishandle and misunderstand what is happening to us. Suffering became a means of grace to help Job rethink his thoughts about God. You understand Job’s improper view of God when you read verse five.
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:5).
This snapshot of Job’s life is an insightful verse that could be a linchpin that holds one of the book’s central mysteries. When Job considered the possibility of his children sinning against God, he decided to offer sacrifices on their behalf. He did this continually. Job’s actions reflect more on his thoughts about God than his feelings about his children. This verse reveals Job’s pinch of legalism and that legalistic perspective was most definitely the accusation of Satan. Job might not have had enough self-awareness to discern his heart’s motives, but Satan did; God did, too (Hebrews 4:13).
Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land (Job 1:9-10).
Brother Job was a man of spotless character and deep affection for his Lord. The real question is whether or not Job was perfect. We already know the answer. Job was like us. He was a flawed, Adamic man with a former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22), which we see in verse five. With all his faith and God’s grace, he still wanted to maintain partial control over his life. He wanted to do his part to ensure all was well between God and him. Maybe Job’s theology was colored by his culture. I do not know. The land of Uz was not in Israel. He lived in a predominantly pagan land that was religious in appeasing their gods.
Every other deity in his culture believed they had to appease a god. Part of the mentality of a legalist is an “other shoe is going to drop” worldview. They strive to be holy because they have an uncomfortable understanding of how they related to God. Ironically, we know the prosperity gospel folks have this broken theological formula: “If I do well, the Lord will bless me.” What about you? Suppose you’re not a legalist or a prosperity gospel person, but wouldn’t you agree that there are traces in your theology that have an “I must work to please God” mentality? I counsel people like this all the time.
They rarely say it aloud, but the thinking is, “If I do well, the Lord will bless me; if I do not, the Lord will not bless me.” Let me share a few ways how a person thinks this way. Typically, after they find themselves in the crucible of suffering, you’ll hear them complain as they talk about all they did for the Lord. Some of them will go so far as to say, “I tried Christianity, and it did not work for me.” They were covert legalists who were bartering with God, and their suffering unearthed their ill-intent, and they quit God because He did not give them what they expected from following Him.
I suspect we all have doubted God’s intentions for us to some degree. You may not be as righteous as Job, but there is a part of you that does question God’s love for you. If you have not, perhaps the heat in your crucible is not as hot as it needs to be to draw out those yet-to-be-revealed dark motivations for following Jesus. There is a little legalism in all of us because it is part of our fallenness.
Some will argue that you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7), which is correct. If you sow to the flesh, the chances of reaping corruption are high. But may I caution you to put guardrails on that kind of thinking? You do not reap all that you sow. Think about a lifelong habitual sin pattern like anger, worry, fear, or lust that has set up camp in your heart. You don’t want to do it again. It grieves you to find yourself in that rut again. You plead with God to give you victory again, but forever freedom is elusive. Again! Still, God is a merciful God who does not deal with us according to His law. The “if I do this and God will do that” theology reduces the Lord to a formula.
This formulaic view of God will lead us into a deep hole of exhausting work and paranoid fear. One of the most important things we can do when personal suffering comes into our lives is to reexamine how we think about God. How can we ever believe right about God if we do not think about what we think about God when our life goes wrong? So, let me ask: how do you think about God when your life is not going as you hoped? Do not casually dismiss this question. When you’re sitting in the crucible of suffering, the most significant thing you can ponder is your view of God because how you think about Him will set the course that brings you out of your trouble or case-hardens you into an unending dark night of the soul. May these questions assist you in thinking about how you think about God when things go wrong.
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. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22).
Job indeed began to come unhooked from his stellar response to God, which we see at the end of chapter one, but it does not change what a stellar response should be. If we cannot come to where Job was at the end of chapter one, we will complicate our misery. The persistence of his suffering unmoored him from his pitch-perfect response, but we’ll get to that later. For now, I want you to sit where he was sitting in chapter one. Feel his pain, reflect on his suffering theology, and listen to what he thought about God.
Be careful, though. I don’t want you to beat yourself up because you’re not as spiritual as Job was. I was so unlike Job that it took me two years to get out of chapter one. I refused to go any farther until I could muster up something closer to Job’s response than the bitter anguish falling from my lips the day the trouble came. I pleaded with the Lord to help me see what I could not know about myself. I wanted what Job had. My heart was nowhere near worshiping God through my agony. My focus was more on what God gave and took away from me than His blessed name. If He gave me what I wanted, blessed be His holy name. If He did not, I groveled on the floor like a petty, prostrated child. To reach the height of Job’s mature response seemed impossible.
Are you going through something awful? I wish I had an answer for what is happening to you, but I don’t. There is an element of mystery to all of our suffering that is a grade level higher than what mortals can understand. Still, there are four things that I do know when it comes to personal pain, and how you engage and apply these things to your life will proportionally impact how you persevere through suffering. Please read slowly, carefully, and reflectively. Ask the Lord to help you see into the mystery of what is happening to you. He has a word for you, but you must slow down long enough to listen. Perhaps journaling or speaking with a friend about what you’ve read thus far and these four points will help to move you forward in the crucible.
If you are like me, you have some work to do. Do you recall me saying that I spent two years in chapter one? I was not exaggerating. The more I thought about how Job responded to God, the more I realized my Bible college education did not give me what I needed to live well in His world. It would be best if you didn’t punish yourself as you compare yourself to Job. Hearing a lousy diagnosis is hurtful, but it also informs you where you are currently, which is vital if you want to improve. Guard your heart as you reflect upon this chapter.
Pray about those four statements, and will you journal or talk to a friend about anything hindering you from fully living out those truths? If you are not ready to embrace them practically, there is something incorrect about how you think about and relate to the Lord. Again, please don’t take that as negative as it might sound. We’re in surgery mode here. Loving the Lord does not mean getting everything you want. Loving God must mean loving Him regardless. Thus, your aim is to say, “Blessed by the name of the Lord,” without lowering your sightlines to His hands while hoping that as you praise Him, He will gift you with your heart’s desire.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).