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Freedom mixed with future uncertainty can be terrifying. Humans are frail souls, and we need constraints, structures, and security, even if it’s not good for us. For example, the Hebrews wanted to return to Egypt, where it was excruciatingly painful for them. They knew what they would get if they returned. To walk with God is to walk on the wild side (Mark 1:12-13). Walking with God through this world’s wilderness is frightening and freeing, both terrifying and exhilarating, all at the same time. Ultimately, this unsettling tension boils down to how we think about God, specifically His goodness: “Will He do good for me?” More to the point, “How shall He define ‘good’ for me?”
When unexplained and undeserved suffering comes into our lives, will we still trust or blast the Lord? When God is silent, and there is no apparent benefit to holding on to Him by faith, will we continue to follow Him or walk away, choosing the certainty of Egypt over the uncertainty of wilderness wandering? Can a believer lose everything dear to him and still have a robust God-centered confidence and great love for God? To answer these questions in the affirmative requires a high view of God. A vain attempt to lower Him, at least in our minds, will never provide what we want from Him.
When we suffer, it is much easier to lower your view of God than to lift your faith higher. – John Walton
There are some types of suffering where lifting your faith to a high view of God can be the most challenging thing you will ever do. An elevated view of God means He is perfect in every way, and everything He does is correct and without argument. It affirms that the Lord can do what He wants to do when He wants to do it, how He wants to do it, and that what He does is perfect and unassailable. God is God, and we are not—an uncomfortable thought when you’re in the throes of suffering, but to suffer well, you must recognize who He is and resist any vain attempts to change Him.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him (Job 23:13-15).
Job thought about these things, and it brought dread into his soul. Similarly, when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), lifting your faith to a high view of God is challenging and scary. It is far easier to bring God down to our human understanding, where we can challenge, correct, and even disobey Him. We create a god in our image, not His. To lift Him up to His throne and to worship Him on His throne requires a submission that may cost our lives (Matthew 16:24). A high view of God is a call to let Him be God regardless of what comes our way. It is a complete surrender of one’s life. The fear of the Lord is not to be afraid of Him but of ourselves. It is a simultaneous recognition of who we are and who He is while discerning the ginormous difference between those opposites.
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42).
This type of respect for God brings humility to the soul, motivating us to relinquish our rights to our lives, which is the highest call of humankind: to let God be God and to be okay with how He runs the universe. More precisely, the real issue is whether we will be okay with how He runs our lives. Of course, the truth is that God will be God whether we let Him or not. I’m using the word let in an extremely loose sense. We have no ultimate control over our lives. Those who think they are somebody will be reduced to nothing, but the humble spirit recognizes that he is nothing. God will exalt this person in due time (1 Corinthians 1:2).
And (Job) 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.” In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22).
After Job met God, the humbling process began, requiring the crucible of suffering to assist in realigning his thoughts about God and himself. It is rare to have a first response like what Job did when your world blows up in your face. Perhaps you did; I did not. To worship and bless the Lord during acute suffering is not typically something from fallen and fragile people. Our first response is usually more like bringing Him down to our level so we can challenge Him. A non-sovereign god is a challengeable god (Isaiah 55:8-9). If the Lord was not Lord but more like us, what He brings to our lives would be open for debate. I remember the first time I argued with God this way. It was when my suffering was beyond my ability to manage it—the first clue that I was not self-reliant (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). When my pain was not as intense, I was okay with Him being God. I never considered going toe-to-toe with the Lord during the good times.
After my sufferings went beyond the breaking point, my desperation increased, and I began to lose my sense of divine propriety. Rather than responding like Job, I sounded more like Job’s wife (Job 2:9). I did this by unwittingly trying to wrestle His divine attributes away from Him. Our culture does this regularly; they despise the God of the Bible because He interferes with their agendas. As my story unfolded, I recognized that God was in my way. Rather than Him being sovereign, I wanted to be sovereign, but to do that, I had to redefine who God is. I wanted to be the authority about what was right. The logic implied that after I humanized Him, I could decide who would be in control. Of course, that presents a problem when you think about who you’re trying to challenge and change. Soak in this shortlist of some of His attributes.
These are only ten attributes. Are you able to see the irony? Why would anyone want to change someone like this? How foolish and dark does a heart have to be to want to have any other being ruling over them? Being okay with God as the sole owner of these qualities and complete Sovereign of our lives is the most humble, wisest, and safest thing we could ever do. To fully release ourselves to His sovereign care and control requires us to elevate our faith above our suffering—what we can see—and any attempts to manage our lives outside of His plans. We do not need faith in our futile self-sufficient sputterings. We need a faith that transcends human ability and contrivance—what we cannot see (2 Corinthians 4:18). We must learn to trust God, a faith that saves us from ourselves (2 Corinthians 12:10).
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12).
Typically, people are cool with God until personal suffering comes into their lives. It’s not that we’re any safer or better off during the good times; we’re just less aware of our surroundings, especially the spiritual forces who would find no greater pleasure than to usher in our demise. Then, when the Lord lets down whatever protective hedge (Job 1:10) He has around us, we become unsettled about who He is, what He may allow into our lives, and how things will turn out for us. The scary possibility of what God might do is why it is easier to lower our view of Him than to have faith in Him. A lower sightline allows for perverse and twisted permission to accuse Him of wrongdoing or unfairness when things go against our plans. If the trouble is disappointing enough, the languishing soul may choose to walk away from God altogether.
At the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, that is when faith is needed most. – John Walton
Have you ever lowered your view of God during an elevated crisis? Consider the attribute list again. Which ones have been the most difficult for you to embrace when your suffering was the most acute? I have listed the attributes below, but this time, I want to share with you how I lowered my view of God during personal suffering, permitting myself to argue with Him as I tried to call the shots. You may find this exercise challenging but refreshing as you reacquaint yourself with the true and living God; specifically, as you connect these attributes to any current trial you’re going through. You’ll see that I have placed questions beside each attribute. It’s okay to ask God questions; we call it prayer. If you’re a humble learner, perhaps the questions will stir others that you might want to take before the Lord.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments (Job 23:3-4).
You can make an ever-so-slight turn with these statements and questions, but the outcomes of those distinctions are worlds apart. You can say these things in such a way that you’re bringing the Lord down to your level so you can challenge Him. Alternatively, you could ask as a humble learner because you don’t know why things are as they are. You sincerely want to know why so you can learn, change, and grow. The question for you is, what kind of inquirer are you? Do you bring arguments before the Lord as one who has lowered Him to your level, or do you see Him high and lifted up, and you’re bowing before Him, seeking to understand His sovereign plans for you?
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer
Your crucible of suffering provides you with your most accurate litmus test to examine what you think about God, others, and life. Do not miss that Job’s first response to his suffering (Job 1:20-22) was not to God but to others. He was letting others know what he thought about God. Today, he is speaking to you and me. What do others learn about your faith when suffering comes into your life? What do they hear from you? You always put your beliefs before others, whatever your faith may be. In the first chapter of Job, his friends saw a man who trusted God. His suffering revealed his faith, as the heat in our lives will do, drawing out what’s in our hearts. His friends could draw two conclusions about Job’s faith in God.
The first is that nothing ever happens to us outside God’s control. Job truly believed the Lord gives and takes away, and he accepted these outcomes—at that moment. Job’s response included all primary and secondary causes—the suffering that came from the hand of the Lord, Satan and his demons, friends, or any other circumstance. All suffering, no matter where it comes from, is permitted by the Lord. This truth does not mean you must like what God allows into your life. However, no matter how cruel our trouble is, we must not choose the wrong path when those bad things come our way. Our sinfulness or sinlessness during our suffering will reveal our faith, and if we choose unwisely, the best course of action is heartfelt life-altering repentance, leading to worship.
The second conclusion we can make about Job is that faith means trusting God when there is no apparent reason to do so. When you experience unexplained or undeserved suffering, you can have a higher view of yourself than God. Or you can think that your love and your justice are better than God’s love and justice. You can do this with any attribute of God. It can be a natural temptation to sit in judgment of God when life is not going your way. Whenever your heart is acting out of faithlessness, you will seek to take control of the situation, even if it means making accusations against the Lord or hurting those who are interfering with what you are trying to control.
Ultimately, the battle is between faith and fear. When trouble comes, people are afraid. The Lord is always calling us to have faith (to trust). The difficulty in trusting the Lord is in proportion to the fear of what we perceive our losses to be. As you sense something in your life being wrestled away, the more you will fight, even if that tussle is against God. This response is not what Job was willing to do. He was not going to war. He was going to trust. The Lord gave, and the Lord took away. He chose to worship God at that moment. If you are not like Job, name the thing you are afraid of losing. It is that thing that is sabotaging your faith.
I lost my wife, children, home, property, job, and reputation during a dark season. These lost things were easy to identify. I did not want to lose them, but I could not control the outcome, so I became angry with God and others. Maybe the thing you are afraid of losing is less discernible, though I doubt it. Most of us know something we do not want to lose; when something challenges it, we can become angry, fearful, and faithless. This intersection is where you will have to make a life-altering decision. Will you be honest about the real motives of your heart? If you cannot or will not do this, you will always live a life oscillating between anger and fear. You might start with fear, and as the thing you want continues to slip through your hands, you may resort to anger as a manipulative mechanism to regain control of that thing you’re afraid of losing.
The first step in transcending your trouble is to be honest with what is going on in your heart. Because I did not respond like Job, it took a while for me to be honest with God and others. I had to own my sin by naming my fear. I also had to recognize how anger was complicating matters. Only then did I begin a process of repenting of this fear of loss while trusting the Lord. Mercifully, the anger started to subside, too. If you can relate to these matters, I strongly encourage you not to walk this journey alone. Bring trusted friends into this battle for your soul. The mortification of sin does not happen at a point in time. It is a journey suited for a community.
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).