September 21, 2020

Responding to the problem of pain – A new look at Job

If you thought that three Michael’s on this blog was confusing, the following post is written by Michael Powell (a Pastor of Michael Bell), edited by Michael Bell, posted by Michael Mercer, on this blog owned by Michael Spencer.

A wise person once wrote the following lyrics in a song called Suffer: “All that you suffer is all that you are.” Now, while this statement may not be entirely true – as we are also defined by experiences of happiness, joy and peace – I’m sure we can all agree that going through some kind of suffering is an inevitability for all of us as humans, and that what we suffer does in fact shape us profoundly. Physically, we feel pain, as our body is designed to protect itself and provide us with signals of potential or actual danger. Through trial and error, we become aware of the limits of our existence. We learn that touching things that are hot or sharp can hurt us, so that we’ll hopefully be less apt to make the same mistake again in the future. At other times, our bodies feel pain to let us know that we’re sick or that something within us demands our attention – like a warning system to let us know something’s wrong or that we should consider modifying our routine behaviour. We also feel emotional pain, which is often related to social interaction. At times, we hurt because we are intentionally or inadvertently excluded or insulted by someone else’s actions or words. Other times, we suffer because we are temporarily or indefinitely separated from a person or people who are important to us. Whatever the case, our experience of physical and emotional pain is universal, and has a direct impact on our personal identities, how we view and relate to others, and how we process and deal with spiritual things. Ultimately, what we suffer personally and collectively influences our understanding of God.

C. S. Lewis, in his book “The Problem of Pain”, wrote this:

If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.

Obviously this wasn’t his conclusion on the matter. In this statement, he was merely pointing out that the human experience of pain coupled with a belief in an all-powerful, loving God is problematic. You’ve probably asked this question yourself: why do bad things happen to good people? This question of suffering – the “why” of human pain – is in many ways mysterious and unanswerable – beyond our understanding.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend a tour that featured one of my favourite speakers and authors Rob Bell. For those of you who don’t know, Rob Bell is the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the author of the book Velvet Elvis, and the person behind the NOOMA video series. Needless to say, I was really excited to meet him. But what’s more, what he shared at the presentation itself was very helpful and insightful to me. At that particular time in my life, I was struggling a lot with the problem of pain, and this is what he said:

When we try to resolve things too quickly…or offer hollow, superficial explanations…it’s not honest and it’s not right and it’s not real. It’s not how life is. I’ve heard people trying to be helpful in the midst of a tragedy or accident or death by saying, ‘That’s just how God planned it,’ while I’m thinking, ‘The god who planned THAT is not a god I want anything to do with.’ Others with far more wisdom and experience than me have tackled the ‘why’ questions of suffering. [But] I’m interested in another question…not ‘Why this?’ but ‘What now?’

So – instead of focusing on and becoming discouraged by the elusive answer to the question of WHY, the encouragement was to shift one’s perspective to consider WHAT to do with that suffering. Instead of desperately trying to make the pieces fit, accepting that sometimes there is no WHY. Sometimes life just happens and you deal with it. But how? HOW should one respond in the midst of suffering, especially during those times when it’s not we ourselves who are in pain, but those around us who are in distress? HOW should we react when there’s trouble in the world that doesn’t affect us directly, or when someone we know is going through a particularly difficult time? To help answer this question, let’s consider together the experience of Job.

From chapters one and two of Job, we learn about the great suffering he endured. At one time he had seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys and a large number of servants (Job 1:2-3); but he lost them all. Raiders from the surrounding region attacked and killed Job’s servants, carrying away his oxen and donkeys (1:14-15). Fire fell from the sky and consumed Job’s sheep and the shepherds (1:16). Another raiding party later attacked and killed the rest of Job’s hired hands and stole all the camels (1:17). A violent wind struck and collapsed the house where all of Job’s children were gathered, leaving none of them alive (1:18-19). And if this wasn’t enough, after all this emotional suffering, he faced extreme physical pain as his entire body was then found to be covered with agonizing sores (2:7).

Personally, I can hardly fathom what it would have been like to be in a similar situation. Some of us have gone through tremendous suffering, but relatively few – if any – of us have faced the degree or scope of pain faced by Job.

Job’s initial reaction to his suffering is found in verse 21 of chapter one:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

I say initial reaction, because as Job continues to process his situation, he confronts the problem of pain head-on, voicing his trouble and confusion out loud. Consider some of these phrases from chapter seven:

My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering. “My days… come to an end without hope… Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul… When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning… If I have sinned, what have I done to you… Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?

I’m sure his words probably don’t sit very well with you. Either because you yourself are going through a comparatively difficult time, and there didn’t seem to be very much hope in Job’s words. Or because you didn’t think Job should be so honest with his suffering and had an urge to share words of your own to help Job understand his situation. Words like: “Everything happens for a reason,” “God has a plan,” “it could be worse,” or “you shouldn’t complain.”

When we see and hear that someone is suffering, we are often tempted to either:

(1) Fix our eyes on something else, thereby ignoring the existence of a problem; or

(2) We try to fix the problem so that suffering is alleviated.

Clearly, the latter approach is preferable – that is, trying to help someone in need. But HOW we do so is crucial. Because sometimes we think we’re helping someone, when in fact we are causing even more damage. Sometimes we incorrectly assume that we have the answers to some of life’s greatest questions and feel compelled to share this with others. Like when Job’s friends gave him what they thought was wise advice. So – let’s consider together a few examples of how those closest to Job dealt with the problem of pain, and why the Lord himself later said that they did not speak what was right (42:7). Hopefully then, when we encounter suffering in the world and in the lives of those around us, we can learn from their mistakes, and then in my opinion, do the one thing they did right.

After so much loss, the few people that remained in Job’s life gathered around him to give him counsel regarding his unfortunate situation. In particular, there were five main people who offered their insight into WHY he was suffering and WHAT he should do about it.

First, there was Job’s wife, who offered this advice to her husband: “Give up.” In her own words from chapter 2, verse 9: “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job himself responded: “You speak foolishly”(2:10). Life is made up of good moments and bad moments, and though we don’t always know why the bad happens, is the solution give up on life itself? When trying to cope with severe emotional or physical pain, as the one who is suffering, it might be tempting for us to conclude that death is a preferable option to agony and affliction. This is essentially what Job claimed in chapter 7. But if you were Job in that moment, would you really want someone to say to you: “Yeah, you’re right…what are you waiting around here for? Die already!” This is not helpful in the least.

Second, we have Job’s friend Eliphaz, who’s advice could be paraphrased as: “Bad things won’t happen to good people like you…at least not for very long.” Perhaps in an ideal world, but as you and I both know, this is wishful thinking at best. The fact that someone is good or godly doesn’t preclude them from suffering. It’s clear from the opening chapter of Job that he was, “blameless and upright…feared God and shunned evil”(1:1), and yet, his suffering was awful. Bad things happen both to supposedly good and allegedly bad people alike. There is no direct, fixed correspondence between the two. Some people suffer for years regardless of their obedience to God. Perhaps eschatologically-speaking, the faithful will experience ultimate peace and relief from their pain in heaven. But again, how is that helpful advice in the moment of one’s anguish or grief that may persist indefinitely? In that case, you might as well offer the advice given by Job’s wife, which we already heard was foolish.

Third, we need to consider the instruction given by Job’s other friend Bildad. His assessment was essentially this: “You’ve done wrong and have brought this on yourself.” According to him, Job must have sinned and is therefore responsible for his own suffering, and shouldn’t complain. Once more, the fault with this line of reasoning is that there is not always exact correspondence between one’s actions and destiny. Granted, this may be the case sometimes, as we often do face negative consequences for mistakes that we make. But is saying “I told you so” or pointing out the obvious really that constructive? Is making someone feel guilty for their own pain helpful, especially if there’s also a chance or likelihood that they aren’t to blame at all? I don’t think so.

Fourth, there’s Job’s friend Zophar, who essentially says: “If you don’t sin and have more faith, everything will be alright.” This view links suffering with sin and faith with triumphing over suffering; basically, combining the advice of Eliphaz and Bildad. That being the case, it remains problematic and unhelpful. Case in point: if you have ever been in a situation where you were really struggling with your faith – no matter how well meaning a person is trying to be – you know that the suggestion to have “more faith” is anything but encouraging. The implication of Zophar’s position is that more faith equals less pain, which just isn’t true.

Fifth, and last to offer Job advice is a young man named Elihu, who eagerly and passionately shared this so-called wisdom: “Suffering is always for a reason, and its purpose is to bring you back to God.” The message here, as proposed by Elihu, is that pain in life is meant to teach us a lesson. That all human suffering is intended to draw us back into fellowship with God. That agony, anguish, sorrow and grief are restorative and have a specific purpose. But would you honestly – with integrity – say something like this to someone going through tremendous affliction? Did God “plan” each and every natural disaster? Did the Lord have a “purpose” for the holocausts at Auschwitz, Treblinka and the other death camps of World War II? We must be very careful if ever we feel compelled to link meaning with personal circumstances or world events. Who are we to infer or deduce the WHY of human suffering? After Elihu spoke, the first words we hear the Lord say before questioning Job are these: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”(38:2)? As I said a couple weeks ago when we were considering Jeremiah 27 and 28, if we’re not absolutely sure something is from God, sometimes it’s better to keep our mouths shut. And even if we are 100 percent convinced that we’re speaking the truth, we might be wrong. How, then, is what we say going to help someone in need? Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all, and let our actions do the speaking.

To be fair, Job’s friends didn’t get it all wrong. Consider what it says at the end of chapter 2:

When Job’s three friends.. heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Sitting on the ground in silence. Coming down to the level of the one in pain. Being present. Not offering platitudes. Not presenting unsolicited advice. Willing oneself to leave the comfort of one’s own health, security and preconceived ideas to join the other in suffering. During times of grief and mourning, our Jewish brothers and sisters have a practice called “sitting shiva,” where those closest relatives to the deceased gather together in a home for seven days and sit on chairs that are low to the ground or on the floor itself. Mourners tear their garments, aren’t supposed to shave or bathe, and don’t even open the Bible…unless it’s a passage that specifically deals with lament, like the book of Lamentations or Job. And though this time of sitting on the ground together may not necessarily be altogether silent, mere presence can be more beneficial than a thousand words. I’m convinced that we can learn a lot from this, that there was much wisdom in what Job’s friends did first, and that we can and should do the same (or something similar).

Conclusion

When others around us are suffering, let’s do what we can to be there for them, to stand beside or sit with those in pain. As best as you can, be Incarnational – there, “in the flesh.” One of the greatest comforts of the Christian life is knowing that God himself can relate to our struggles in the person of Jesus Christ. He too lost close friends and family, experiencing tremendous emotional pain. And he was no stranger to physical suffering either. But what’s more, he suffers still, and deeply. Jesus, though raised from the dead, was raised wounded (see John 20), and to this day bears the heartache and hurt of humankind – continuing to suffer with those in pain. Accordingly, as a follower of Jesus, one is similarly called to “bear each other’s burdens”(Galatians 6:2). To be willing to suffer alongside those in need. Like Job’s friends did for seven days before they spoke. Now – plainly, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t speak to someone who’s going through a difficult trial. By all means, pay a visit, pick up your phone, write a message. You don’t want silence to come across as avoidance or indifference. But think before you speak. Choose your words wisely. And if you don’t know what to say, that may be just as well. “Let your words be few”(Ecclesiastes 5:2), “be quick to listen and slow to speak”(Galatians 1:19). Do however much is at your disposal to be present with those who are suffering. And though the problem of pain may remain to us a mystery, we can all be assured and provide assurance by our presence with others that none of us face the challenges of life alone.

As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Michael, Michael, Michael and Michael.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Sure you don’t want to be called ‘Michael’? It’ll avoid confusion.”
      — Paraphrase of a famous Monty Python skit

  2. I am a former ministry leader struggling with a chronic pain condition and depression exacerbated by a necessary move away from a city I loved to a small isolated town many miles away (and as different from my old home as night is from day). I have been rejected by more than one local evangelical church community because once they figured out they couldn’t “fix” me to their satisfaction, they didn’t want me around to harsh their mellow and tarnish their “victory in Jesus” shine (nothing like a pastor telling you “you need to just get over it” when you’re trying to explain that you’ve reached the limits of your despair to the point of self-destruction). It was as though I became a constant reminder of their own personal failures to be a Savior (as strange as that sounds), and in time I realized sadly that I had been eased out of the community without anyone telling me.

    I believe it’s simple human nature to abhor and avoid real suffering, and to do whatever one can get away with to comfortably distance oneself from those who obviously suffer. Perhaps its a consequence of fear (that they might be next in line for some unexplained suffering and don’t want to think about it), or lack of belief that they really can do anything meaningful, or an unwillingness to take on any responsibility for alleviating the suffering, or they’re so self-focused that they worry that anything they might do will be judged as not good enough, therefore it’s easier to do nothing than to be exposed to such scrutiny….I’ve experienced all these reactions. And, too often the efforts made to ease a person’s suffering, though sincere, are still rooted in making the person witnessing the suffering (not the actual sufferer) feel better.

    I really appreciate you shining a light on this topic and on these portions of Scripture which I clung to so tightly while in the pit. I wish churches would teach them more often; they would validate the suffering that goes on, concealed or visible, in every congregation.

    (To switch to a lighter thought….if any more Michaels get involved with this blog, the name will need to be changed from “InternetMonk” to “InternetMike”). 🙂

    • Sarah,

      I’ve been guilty of doing this to other Christians and I wanted to tell you I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

      I was trying to understand why I do this and my best answer is that the control freak in me has to fix everything and when it doesn’t work I abandon ship. Also, the Christian culture I grew up in always made it seem that the omnipotent, all-powerfull, all loving God will fix all your problems if you pray and have enough faith. When that doesn’t happen I dare not question this theory. I just block the problem (and the person wih the problem) from my mind in order to keep this doctrine intact.

      Once again on behalf of those who have done this to you, I’m sorry.

    • It was good to read your story, Sarah … because I have lived (am living) much of that same story. We are an inconvenient blemish that just doesn’t go away. “Aren’t you over that yet?” “Wow, are you still suffering … hasn’t it been years?” Sigh….

      I would welcome you to join what I have come to call the Purple Martyrdom, if you are interested, sister.

      …and love that “iMike” idea ;^)

    • dawn claypot says

      To Sara m. I get it , I too suffer from chronic pain as well as depression/who wouldn’t be . despite years of attempts through “many means/medically . I fought the good fight,while twisting in the wind .at some point I just wanted everyone to SHUT UP….”in Jesus name, and just be with me. so ,,,,,,, the sitting sheva is as real as it gets… We as frail humans DON”T get suffering and it’s twisting of even the most dedicated of christians , WE SHOULD JUST BE HUMBLE and admitt it. However we still gotta give even “THAT” to GOD. as those who’ve been on the side of the suffering at the hands of the niave well meaning christians…after all I would of been spouting the same platitudes until I really had a face to face experience with relentless .suffering. NOW I can look with new eyes into others with a greater compassion and am not as quick to spout……..and when we allow God in despite our suffering ,HE changes US and that’s the stuff he uses to touch the world. Micheal Micheal AND Micheal this is the first time I found your ministry ,,,THANKYOU for truth that touches the suffering GOD BLESS!!!!!!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sarah —

      All I can say is what I posted on Christian Monist after reading his post about his disaster as a missionary and the rejection he got from other Christians once he got back. The messed-up returning veteran.

      It was a YouTube link. To “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” by Blue Oyster Cult.

  3. This is a very helpful concise summary of Job. Thanks for writing this, I will probably refer back to this often. Do you recommend that it is advised to people in suffering to read the book of Job to help them wrestle through the meaning in their suffering?

  4. Thank you to the triade of Michael’s. I have cancer right now but it’s some other pressing problems in relationships that cause me great pain this night. As I read your intriguing words they covered me with Warmth and Wisdom. I kept remembering the C.S. Lewis quote: “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Depression and darkness have been way too real to me but Col 1:13 reverberates as I read your thoughts: Delivered from the domain of darkness not the domain of pain. Am I more taken by being rescued from darkness than demanding rescue from my pain?

  5. I think the message of Job’s suffering can be compared to that of Jacob’s wrestling match with God at Peniel. Maybe sometimes the only answer is to keep clinging desperately to God, even while He’s beating the crap out of you.

    • Good one.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But beware of taking it to the point of the hazing in Animal House, where the pledge has to answer every time he’s beaten “Thank You, Sir — May I Have Another?” THAT just becomes sick — the whipped dog crawling back to his abuser.

  6. Wonderful! Thank you, all you Michaels!

  7. Thank for sharing. A relatively brief but very helpful response to a difficult and complex part of human existence.

  8. donald todd says

    The fall brought about death and its attendant problems, such as pain and suffering. I found that I believe in original sin being introduced to the members of the human race as a result of our primeval parents making an evil decision.

    Our weaknesses are a result of the fall, a choice made by others, but which is attendant on us. My own history says that if I had faced the choice faced by Adam, I might not have done any better. I needed Someone to redeem me.

    I have a crucifix and the Person represented on that rack of torture accepted the pain and death that the repair of that original evil and its successive imitations would cost..

    Peter and John rejoiced that they suffered for the Name. That particular suffering was not inflicted by God but by others working out their own purposes.

    Paul noted that he hoped to make up in his own body the sufferings still to be undergone for the sake of the body of Christ. Paul’s end, like that of Peter, was brought about by the government. In this particular instance, they imitated their Lord, Peter by crucifixion, Paul by beheading. Like Adam, they could have chosen to avoid the initial pain but they imitated their Lord by embracing their sufferings and death for His sake. God did not demand their deaths. Their adherence to Him made what was inevitable – death – occur in a certain way at a certain time.

    If, as Peter, John, and Paul think, we are able to participate in the sufferings still to be undergone, perhaps our sufferings are to be received in the light that Peter, James and John revealed. The sufferings won’t be undone and the pain won’t be less, but those pains might serve a higher purpose, uniting the suffering person to the Person Who suffered for the sake of their redemption. If I am reading Paul correctly, he hoped to pour out his life for the sake of the people the Lord entrusted to him.

    If I must go through suffering (and have done so repeatedly under different circumstances at different times), making it a participation with Christ with some good in mind that perhaps only He can see, one cannot hope for a better outcome. However, like the cross or the beheading, it does not make it less painful.

    Everything in this life comes to an end. My parents are dead. My wife’s parents are dead. I have a lot of dead relatives and friends. I have no hope of making it through this life alive, but do have a hope to be received into the company of the just in the next life. If I can offer my own sufferings for the sake of the body of Christ, and let Him decide who or how it will be used, that might be a greater good than I will ever know.

  9. If there is a sixth insight, I think it comes from Job himself:

    “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end, he will stand upon the earth.” – Job 19:25, WEB.

    Suffering is a problem of existence. Evangelicals don’t like such topics, but rather are attracted to the “wisdom” of Job’s friends: do this, and God will do this; don’t do this and God will or will not do this or that. It’s how the faith-prosperity teachers make their money.

    There is nothing causal about grace. This scares us, because it means God can’t be shoved in the box that the enlightenment created for Him, where the effects of God can be calculated and limited. As Immanuel Kant taught, grace undercuts the autonomous power of man; religion minus grace is a “reasonable” religion. I think the hidden message behind the counsel of Job’s friends is one of sheer terror: if this happened to Job, what prevents it from happening to me? They turned on Job with blame in hope of finding a way to put God back in the box.

    What Job declares is utterly profound: a message of redemption where all hope of redemption was lost. We need to live life in light of the cross, but also the empty tomb. I think then we won’t shink in fear of suffering, but bear that message of undying hope.

    • “They turned on Job with blame in hope of finding a way to put God back in the box.”

      Excellent, dumb ox. I agree. Your entire post is right on.

      (I LOVE the book of Job.)

  10. Thank you Michael, Michael and Michael. WIse words from God’s Word.

    I think the strong individualism of American culture (and of human ego in general) works against a good understanding of pain and suffering. We often want to account for everything on an individual basis, so, as it was for Job’s friends, suffering is seen as about what we’ve done or haven’t done or who we have been. What becomes lost in this line of thought is the very biblical concept of living in a world that suffers generally and universally from the effects of the Fall, as well as the redemptive presence of Christ in that fallen world. All of creation fell, and our pain and suffering is part of living in this wretchedly fallen and broken and sinful world, regardless of the particulars of our individual situation. The good news is that we serve a God who came here voluntarily and suffered as we suffer, was tempted as we are tempted, and by doing so became our redeemer. And that same Savior continues to abide with us and provide for us when we suffer.

    I had a friend who was a third generation missionary in Pakistan and drowned in a lake saving two children from a deadly underwater current. I don’t believe for a second it was God’s will that he die, or that it was God’s punishment. I believe he died because of the brokenness of the created order in general. Same goes for my bout with a deadly disease at age five, and many other incidents. Christ’s suffering, presence and resurrection redeem our suffering, and just as he makes us into new creations, so He can make our suffering into something that brings Him the glory and honor and praise for that redemption.

  11. God is most glorifed in us when we are suffering is He not?

    What a witness to the lost when we embrace suffering and dont buck against it!

  12. Thank you for this. I’ve just recently been reading through Job with these things in mind, not trying so much to figure out the “why?” of suffering but rather how to respond to someone who is suffering, and how I would want friends to respond to me while in a painful situation. It is very interesting to take cues from Job’s friends in where they did Job right and where they did Job wrong (which started when they opened their mouths).

    What I’m struggling with though is about how to respond to some of the gems of wisdom that Job’s friends drop from time to time….sentences that, when standing alone, we would all say “amen” to. But when spoken to Job you feel the arrogance and lack of compassion in the delivery. What do you think…. how do we interpret the friends?

  13. I like that statement about getting down to the level of another’s pain and just being present with them. A former pastor I worked with I think exhibited this well and I respected him a lot for it even though I disagreed with on most theological issues. Faced with a woman in an emergency room who out of distress fell weeping onto the floor into a fetal position, this pastor got down on the floor with her, put his arm around her and just lay there quietly with her. The world went on around the two of them and eventually she calmed down and was able to get up and talk with the pastor. If that’s not getting down to the level of another’s pain, I don’t know what is.

  14. Michael,

    Thank you for a heart-felt and compassionate look at Job. And I very much appreciate your suggestions on how to deal someone who is in the throws of significant suffering.

    But I think you have made two errors in your analysis of Job. And because of these errors I think your advice on how to deal with someone who is suffering unrighteously is deficient.

    First are your thoughts about the words of Elihu.

    “… Elihu, who eagerly and passionately shared this so-called wisdom: “Suffering is always for a reason, and its purpose is to bring you back to God.” The message here, as proposed by Elihu, is that pain in life is meant to teach us a lesson. That all human suffering is intended to draw us back into fellowship with God.”

    First, I cannot find anything in the text that implies that Elihu’s words lacked wisdom. While Job pointed out the foolishness of his wife’s comments, no one, including God, said anything about Elihu’s words. And since God was critical of the other three friends and their lack of wisdom, by leaving Elihu out it appears He agreed if what Elihu said.

    And also concerning Elihu I find nothing in the text to indicate that he believed suffering’s purpose was always to bring you back to God. It might be there but it is not clear that was what he was saying.

    The second issue I have with your advice is found in how God dealt with Job in the middle of his severe suffering. He (God) didn’t seem all that compassionate. He began, what seems clear to be, His corrective narrative by asking questions. Each of them seemed to be to change Job’s world view into a Theological perspective. There questions concluded with a change in Job’s mind that led him to repentant and to realize he was not God.

    It seems clear to me that the whole of Job was to teach us that our hearts have in their innermost recesses a deep commitment to a belief that we are the center of everything. But God simply points out to Job that his suffering is not about him. God doesn’t bother to tell Job why he was suffering. He (God) doesn’t have to tell him. God is God and Job is a man and subject to receive anything that God wants to throw at him.

    So what do you say to person who is suffering unrighteously? You must help to trust in the goodness of God in spite of our pain. He is ALWAYS good. But He has plans to glorify Himself in ways that we cannot see or understand this side of the Kingdom.

    More on the subject at http://www.unveilinglory.com/

    Blessings

    • Rick wrote, ” And since God was critical of the other three friends and their lack of wisdom, by leaving Elihu out it appears He agreed if what Elihu said.”

      I have wondered about that too, Rick.

  15. The absurdity of all the consequences of sin. Just all the absurdity. Thankfully, we can look to the Cross and know that one of these days the Triune God in his power and majesty will do away with sin, corruption, and death and finally wipe away every tear among his redeemed.

  16. At times the truths of suffering and sovereignty avoid each other in my brain. I know they work together but it’s hard to embrace at times, usually moments when our focus is temporal and close. I find the two truths come closer together as my perspective moves from this uncomfortable moment to a wider perspective on life.

  17. I’m new at this //// someone e mail me to tell me if my comments are getting through to whoever there supposed to.. is this tweeting,blogging,face booking ???? I”M new to the cyberland so get back to me so I can get in the “game thx,claypot

  18. “Instead of desperately trying to make the pieces fit, accepting that sometimes there is no WHY.”

    Why should I accept that Christianity cannot tell me why bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow babies die of cancer? Why does He let earthquakes kill tens of thousands?

    Why did a mother in her 40s die on Valentine’s day after a two-day illness and leave behind a husband and an 8-year-old daughter?

    I’m a Christian, but I find no comfort in Christian theology when it comes to the problem of pain. Would not the humans who comfort and care for us in our times of trouble be just as effective if they were Islamic or Buddhist or atheist?

  19. Jjoe, I don’t think we KNOW why tragic things happen in the world. If we believe the Bible and we believe the stories about Jesus healing the sick and even raising the dead at times, I think it tells us that God WANTS health and life, but the world is filled with disease and death anyway. Even Jesus did not escape suffering and death. BUT…his resurrection tells us that death is NOT the end of the story. This life is only a chapter in our lives. Sometimes these chapters are written in ways I don’t like at all, BUT, we all do have to die.

    I guess as Christians the best we can do for those who are suffering is to cry with them and yes, to lament to God with them. God will understand our anger, our pain. Sometimes I feel that perhaps we convince ourselves to feel this way or otherwise we just could not tolerate life at all. That is the “doubt” that sometimes overtakes me. In the end, I just have to fall back on Jesus’ life and words. If we believe him, then we know that this life will be “worth” all the pain we had to experience. I need to hang onto that. Sometimes it is all that I and others have.

  20. one thing that I’ve often found interesting about Job’s friends is the Biblical “truth” of what they are saying. When you read through their speeches many of their points are directly corelated in Proverbs and Eccl. It seems as though much of what they are saying is possibly what they themselves had been taught.

    This brings two thoughts to mind. Number 1 is that people have always stunk at dealing with pain. It is not something new to our ” modern American evangelicalism”. People have always given bad advice, had dumb reasoning, selfish motives and limited vision.

    Number 2 is that true scripture wrongly used or presented is harmful. When Satan tempted Jesus, the scripture he used was just as true as the scripture Jesus battled him with. Jobs friends did not quote scripture directly, but they used the principles found there. Yet their use of these principles was way off and their presentation was lame.

    To quote a friend who has been in a wheelchair since ’73, “People are quick to pray for the cripple to be healed, but not so quick to ask the cripple how they can help.”

  21. Did God “plan” each and every natural disaster? Did the Lord have a “purpose” for the holocausts at Auschwitz, Treblinka and the other death camps of World War II?

    I have to disagree with you on this one point.

    Although suffering may not have a moral meaning or be meant as a rebuke to it’s victims I believe it does have a purpose.

    I see a common element is literature Being used by God in life. The purpose of a villain or a negative situation in a story is to serve as a contrast to the Hero or positive situations. If a story has nothing but good and positive characters or situations then the reader will never really understand just how good they are. If a man were born in a perfect, home lived a perfect life and never suffered a single ting of pain he would never know just how fortunate he is.

    Similarly I see things like the Holocaust, hurricanes even 9/11 to be the strong negatives that show the utter depravity that we live in. Yes pricking ourselves on a thorn shows us pain but it pales in comparison to a broken arm or the flu. But simultaneously you have to consider how good is it when that pain is finally reprieved? How much sweeter does it feel to walk after you have been crippled for eight years? To finally be able to settle down after broken heart after broken heart?

    And as Christians and people in general don’t we grieve when we hear or see or experience other people’s pain? Do we not have a wrenching gut when we see a photo or description of the holocaust? And how much more thankful then are we for our own situation no matter how great or poor it may be?

    While we or those around us may not experience the reprieve at the end of the turmoil in this life how much sweeter will heaven then be? And how much greater will our appreciations of this great and glorious God we worship be after seeing the wretched depravity of this life?

    And it’s with that confidence that I say that God has a plan, that God has a purpose for ever pain and sorrow we suffer. It might not be as direct as leading us to Christ. It might not be as plain as reprimanding us for doing wrong or not having enough faith. But there is a purpose. If God is Just, and if God is All powerful, and if God is good, then he wouldn’t let things happen without a reason. And I can’t see a single thing in my life. Or in the news, or in the history books or anywhere else. Where something happened without rhyme or reason.

    The words ‘God has a plan and a Purpose.’ might not be the right words to comfort a suffering friend. But they are no less true.

    That’s all I really had to say.

  22. Christopher Lake says

    As another person wrote above, pain and suffering are ultimately parts of life in a fallen world. Sometimes, yes, in very direct ways, our sin, or someone else’s, actually causes or exacerbates our pain and suffering– sometimes, yes, but many times, no.

    It is so easy to offer speculative reasons as to “why” a person is suffering at a particular time, but we must remember that much of the time, our reasons are just that– speculative, and not necessarily accurate or even appropriate.

    Increasingly, rather than looking for iron-clad reasons as to *why* I am suffering, I seek to trust that *through* suffering, God is conforming me to the character of Christ. This is one way in which I have found that Reformed and Catholic Christians often think very much alike.

  23. Thank you for all the comments that this post has received. The topic of SUFFERING is extremely difficult to wrestle with and – in my opinion – ultimately impossible to subdue. For the most part, I think we all want to believe that everything happens for a reason – especially the bad – because it offers us some stability and hope in a chaotic world. But there’s a fine (and problematic) line between saying that God “allowed” something to happen and that God “made” it happen. I have no doubts that we can learn a lot about ourselves, each other and God when we face painful circumstances. But I have learned to hesitate (even refrain from) trying to assign purpose to everything we experience in this life. Sometimes we trip and fall because we’re clumsy…no other “divine” reason. One issue for future consideration is how we understand the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, because I’m convinced that our misunderstanding of each of these concepts feeds the “problem of pain.”

    peace,
    MP