God's Purposes For Suffering
January 31, 2019
The sovereignty of God is a hard thing to understand. How can we know the supremacy of God’s control unless the Lord show us how little control we have? The same is true of God’s mercy. How can we know the true nature of God’s mercy unless He first reveals the extent of our pity and guilt? The point is that, there are certain things about God that can only be learned certain ways. God is supremely in charge of all things, but for us to learn this important lesson, we need to realize the limitations of our control. This means that God will often teach about His sovereignty and transcendent control by taking control away from us. He will put us in situations that absolutely cripple our understanding and ability to progress on our own. This may seem like a harsh lesson, but it is a necessary lesson. How can we submit to God’s authority if we don’t understand the extent of it? How can we receive God’s blessings to be exalted if we don’t first humble ourselves in submission? Likewise, how can we value the merciful nature of God if we don’t see the truth of our pity? The manner in which we learn these things about God is difficult, but these things are the very means by which we receive the goodness of God too. This is what the Bible teaches, and this is what we have to trust of Him. The magnitude of difficulty concerning these types of life-lessons is put on clear display through the testimony of Job. In Job 3:1-26 the Bible documents the words of Job when he finally had it within himself to verbally respond to the things that were happening in his life. The Bible testifies that Job’s sons and daughters were all killed by a “natural disaster” on the same day that all of Job’s riches were taken and destroyed by marauders. Shortly after, Job’s body was covered in boils so that he could not really stand and was nearly unrecognizable. All of this happened by the hand of the devil, but was ultimately provoked by God Himself. Job didn’t know any of this. To Job, life suddenly took a sharp turn for the absolute worse. Suddenly, all of the things that were good in his life seemed so distant because of the pain that he was suffering in the moment, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Job had no idea that God sent the devil to test him. Job had no idea that God had a purpose for all of the suffering he was experiencing. Job had no understanding of what God was doing or why. Job had no clue as to what God was going to do to produce something good in the end. Job just had to deal with things as they were, and Job 3:1-26 provides his candid response to God’s work. The scriptures begin by stating that Job cursed his own life and existence. Though the devil wanted Job to curse God, he didn’t. Instead, he cursed himself. The way Job refers to his own life and preparedness for death makes it seem as if Job was suicidal. This is not true. Instead, Job’s intense sorrow and depression actually show Job’s understanding about the truth of this life. There are many things that Job stated in Job 3:1-26 about the vanity of this life in his suffering that are parallel to some of the things that Solomon said about this life when he was abounding in wealth and prosperity. The pain Job experienced might have provoked him to say some depressing and morbid things, but that is only because the true value of life in this world is depressing and morbid without understanding the purpose and promise of the Lord God Almighty. Job felt his life was a disgrace. He said that he wished he had never been born. He said that he wished that he was a stillborn baby. He said that it would have been better for him to have not grown into the man that suffered as he did in the moment. Here, it is important to recognize the truth of human nature. When life brings difficulties and tragedies, it is easy and natural for the human psyche to question existence and purpose. It becomes easy to forget about all of the good things that God has done. As people, we often let the difficulties of this life outweigh the value of good things God has done previously. It becomes too easy to focus on the pain of the moment rather than the joy God previously provided, which should stimulate the hope of our restoration in Him. Job, like any other human being, suffered from this issue. Job allowed the depth of his suffering, which was unusually great, to consume his mind and emotional capacity. As people, we need to understand that this is just the way things are. Job’s response wasn’t the right response or the wrong response. It was just the normal human response. The one who is not suffering can’t look at Job to criticize his pain and the way he felt about it. The one who is suffering can’t help but focus on the weight of the suffering because it’s the weight that has to be carried in the moment. The testimony of Job 3:1-26 explains that Job felt that all of his worst nightmares had come true. The things that he greatly feared had come upon him. The things that he felt were a threat at any time, had become the reality of his life all at once. Job admitted that he was not at ease. His heart was not quiet. He did not have rest in his mind or his soul. Job was troubled and rightly so. Those who experience hardships without understanding the work of the Lord and His purposes are expected to feel this way. It is the knowledge of who God is and His purposes that provides some sort of solace or silver lining to life’s darkest moments. As people, we can’t expect the pain, uneasiness, or unrest to just go away. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, we need to remember the truth. Though Job’s venting and emotional outburst was intense, it was seasoned with his understanding of the truth. While Job was expressing his desire to have not been born, he explained why he felt that way. Job knew that in death, there is rest. Job admitted that the wicked cease to inflict the righteous in death. The weary are put to rest in death. The harsh criticisms of others are silenced in death. The prisoners are set free in death. Both the small and great experience the same benefits in death. Again, Job didn’t say these things to express his desire to die. Job’s point was that, in death, there is benefit. His gripe was that he was not dead. He longed for rest, for peace, for silence, and for the benefits that death brings which would deliver him from the suffering of this life. Here, it is critical to remember the full context of this book. Remember that Job was considered a blameless and upright man. He was a man that had faith in the Lord. He was a man whose life was dedicated to the spiritual increase of others. Job spent his time and money seeking the spiritual well-being of his kids, offering sacrifices for their sins. Job knew God. Job knew the righteousness, holiness, and transcendence of God. Job also understood sin and the effects of it. Job knew that sin needed to be dealt with. Knowing these things about Job, it is clear to see that Job’s perspective in Job 3:1-26 could more simply be explained by the words of the Apostle Paul from Philippians 1:21: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” There, the Apostle Paul spoke about the reality of this life and the difficulties of it. Writing from prison, Paul understood that life for the Christian in this world is predicated on suffering to some degree like Jesus did. Jesus died to His flesh unto the point of physical death. Every breath that Jesus took was for the purpose of providing spiritual profit for someone else, and Jesus suffered greatly in that purpose. Jesus’ suffering led Him to be wrongly accused, unjustly tried and convicted, tortured, mocked, and then cursed by being hung on a tree in the crucifixion. That was the purpose and plan of the Father for Jesus, and the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah showing that those were always the Father’s plans and purposes. That is the reality of this life. For the Christian, life on this planet is still about death – death to self. We are called to die to the flesh and wrestle with the internal desires we have to rebel against God’s spiritual and eternal purposes for us. Our existence is not predicated on the circumstances of life on this planet. God’s purpose for us transcends this life and is satisfied in eternal life, which requires death. The Spirit of God in us knows this, but the flesh of our minds rejects this. The flesh of our minds denies this and fights to stay connected to this place in spite of God’s eternal promises. This is why death brings gain to those who trust in the Lord. Death provides rest from the wrestling within ourselves to do the will of God in spite of our personal ambitions. Death provides release from the wicked influences of sin. Death provides the fulfillment of our true purpose in the presence of the Lord. While Job didn’t understand how God would fulfill His eternal promises, Job had a basic understanding of God’s eternal goodness. In other words, the suffering that Job experienced caused him to intensely desire his release from the miserable and morbid things of this life, knowing that true blessings are in the presence of God. Job asked some serious questions that can be summarized in this way: Why does God have me in this place right now? The point of Job’s testimony is to answer that question. Job asked a legitimate question and God was prepared to provide a substantial and detailed answer. However, because God is sovereign and wise, He is not bound to answer Job’s question on Job’s terms, nor in Job’s time. God would provide a suitable and profitable answer in His time. The point is, Job knew God, but not fully. God was teaching Job about Himself while also exalting His own name through the manner of teaching. Job didn’t understand the extent of God’s sovereign control and transcendency. Knowing that life on this earth was futile, Job couldn’t understand how God’s glory could transcend the difficulties of this life to provide eternal value, even from this place! There was only one way Job could learn about God’s control, and that was by having God strip him of control to show how God’s hand directs to better places than Job could have himself. There was only one way Job could have learned about God’s mercy, and that was by recognizing how pitiful he really was, absent all of the coverings of his previous circumstances. There was only one way Job could understand the faithfulness of God, and that was by experiencing the time that God takes to do that which He promises despite the appearance of circumstances or our attitudes towards those circumstances. Why did God have Job suffer the way that he did? God was going to teach Job things about Himself, which according to John 17:3, is the essence of eternal life; and God is smart enough to know that these are the only ways we can learn these powerful truths about the Creator of all things. It would take time, but Job would learn these things to be true.