Four Things You Must Know About Your Suffering

Four Things You Must Know About Your Suffering

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The suffering God permitted into my life after becoming a Christian was surprising and devastating. Before God saved me, I thought that becoming a Christian insulated me from disappointment, which was a compelling reason to trust Christ. I anticipated my new religion to be an enjoyable experience because suffering would not be part of it. I was ignorant. I did not realize that Christianity and suffering are synonyms, never discerning how suffering is the primary context where God produces the most abundant fruit in our lives. Though it’s counterintuitive to the natural man’s thinking, suffering is the perfect place to find God’s power working through our weaknesses.

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Good Man, Bad Things

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:

  1. I was trying to do good.
  2. Trouble came into my life.
  3. I did not deserve the trouble.
  4. I began to fall apart.
  5. None of it made sense.
  6. No one was there to comfort me—not even the Lord.

A Little Legalism In Us

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.

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If I Do, You Will Do

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 missed my daily Bible study, and something terrible happened to me. There is a direct correlation between my lack of devotion and the trouble in my life. I should have done better.”
  • “My child is not walking with the Lord, and I was not a good parent. If I had been a better parent, the Lord would have motivated my child to love and follow Him.”
  • “I am stuck in a habitual sin. I live under this ominous cloud of expecting God to do something terrible to my family or me. I know the Lord is going to get me for this.”
  • “We fornicated while dating, and now we have a miserable marriage. The Lord is punishing us. We are receiving the fruit of our actions. You reap what you sow, you know?”
  • “If I ‘go to church,’ my children will be okay. There is a good chance the Lord will bless us with good kids if we keep them in church.”

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.

A Formulaic Lord

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.

  • When your spouse does not change, what do you think about God? What do you expect God to do? Do you accuse Him if He does not respond the way you wish?
  • When your child remains in sin, what do you think about God? Are you impatient with Him, or do you over-examine how you reared your child, thinking, “if only I had done [fill in the blank]?”
  • How do you think about God when your dream does not come true? Do you believe you missed God’s will, or are you resting, knowing that you make your plans, but God orders your steps?
  • How do you think about God when your (fill in the blank) does not happen? Perhaps it would help to think about your last significant disappointment, focusing specifically on how you thought about God while the problem was occurring.

Listen to Job

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.

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Time to Self-examine

  1. You must not connect your suffering to a formula. The “If I do good, and good will happen to me, and if I do bad, then bad things will happen to me” is awful theology. Will you be honest with yourself? Take as much time as you need to think through our collective Adamic tendency to barter with God. Job used part of his sacrificial ritual to sway the omnipotent hand of God, hoping His hand would protect him and his family.
  2. Perhaps you need to revisit your definition of the word good. The Lord loves you beyond your ability to entirely understand His love for you. His intentions toward you are perfect, loving, just, and unassailable. Surgery is ultimately good, and sometimes our embedded problems are so entangled in our psyches that a suffering-sending God is the only way to save ourselves from ourselves.
  3. We say that God can do what He pleases when He pleases, how He pleases, to whom He pleases, and the hearty “Amens” ring to the rafters. Then God turns His sights on us. One of the most critical things that must happen during times of suffering is for your theology to become practical. Submitting your will to Him is the trailhead that leads to maturity. God is a radical God, and He might do radical things.
  4. This final point is the litmus test. Everything should move you into a more profound worship experience with the Lord. Revisit those last verses in chapter one. Job was worshiping God, and his suffering could not rob him of that experience. If you’re not progressing forward (or stumbling) as you move down the path, there is something amiss.

Call to Action

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.

  1. Will you love the Lord regardless of what you are not receiving from Him? My question requires a yes or no response, but you might want to turn it into an essay question.
  2. Will you rest in the mystery of His will (Deuteronomy 29:29)? What does that mystery mean to you? What do you believe God’s will is for your life and current situation?
  3. What does it mean to be governed by His grace while being released from serving a formulaic God? What is the process for finding more pleasure in God’s grace that does not require you to please Him as a self-protective measure, always wondering where you stand with Him?
  4. What hinders you from fully enjoying God regardless of the outcome? That hindrance, whatever it may be, could be your idol. Either God will manage your life or something else will. We will know who has complete control over us by how we respond to our losses. It’s natural to experience temporary disappointment and even despair during disappointments, but if God is truly sovereign over us, we will be back to blessing His holy name quickly.

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