We continue with our series on Living Life Dangerously – meaning we choose to live at the centre of our faith, trusting God’s actual and real involvement in our lives.
We are in a sub-series at the moment, looking at the ministry of healing and tonight we are looking at suffering.
Suffering is what we feel when we pray for healing and healing doesn’t come. It is what we experience when we desperately cry out to God and He seems to ignore us.
Suffering is the hardest problem to understand.
Think of the Jesus on the cross. His experience was terrible. He had the most awful physical pain, mental despair and spiritual sense of being alone.
Jesus used the same word as millions of other people. He cried out: ‘My God, Why have You forsaken me?’
I alluded to Job last time, and here is a good example of the crisis of suffering. Everything was going wrong in his life; he lost his family, his possessions, his health and it seemed that God was simply ignoring his pleas.
But, we know something that Job did not.
It comes right at the beginning of the book.
This could be the most important part of the book’s message.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
We hear an interview.
There is the all-powerful God.
Then there is the one who is always an enemy.
Job is going to be a kind of ‘test’.
We see that Job pleases God as a servant and friend.
God allows Satan (the devil) to test Job.
Its all about whether Job will continue to love God and remain loyal to Him.
It could have been so different for Job. If only he had known that he was a ‘test’. Then he would have accepted his troubles. But he was not aware of the event in Heaven’s Court.
And he could not know it. The test required Job to continue to put his faith and trust in God despite his circumstances. It had to be a free choice, unencumbered by prior knowledge or insight into the ultimate outcome.
There is also something important here for us to remember. It is this. In our suffering, we do not know all the facts. God hides some of them from us. Things that we cannot know about affect us. There is eternal importance about some of our experiences. We could accept many troubles with courage if we knew this.
Dr Wheeler Robinson in ‘The Cross of Job’ reminds us that this part of the action was in heaven. Job and his friends knew nothing about it. Their responses come from ignorance.
And our response to suffering (or the apparent absence of God) often is also out of ignorance of the Master’s intention. We do not know the facts – the bigger picture. To blame our situation on on sin or disobedience, our own failure or God’s anger is both to deny the sovereignty of God and the fullness of His grace and love towards us.
God did not abandon Job, indeed quite the opposite. He was proving to Satan that He trusted Job’s love and loyalty. I believe God’s heart ached with Job’s agony. And God’s heart ached with Christ’s agony on the Cross, but He could not intervene for that would weaken His love towards us. He had to trust His Son to finish the work.
Some of life’s events are a great mystery to us. But one day we will understand completely.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Joseph certainly realised this truth when he finally welcomed his brothers in Egypt. He said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20.) There were cruel plots against him. People accused him. Much of Joseph’s life was unjust. Yet God was at work. In Acts 2:23 we see that this happened to Jesus too. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
God always overcomes men’s evil plans. He changes awful situations. He brings good things out of bad things. It always means honour for God in the end. It can be the same for us.
We must never think that following God means no trouble or suffering but one thing is very certain: We must not think that our suffering is God’s punishment.
When God does not heal, when God does not answer our prayers, when we try to live well and all things go wrong – none of this should be seen as God’s punishment.
We do sometimes think like this. We might ask: ‘What have I done to deserve this…?’ All Job’s friends thought like this. But they were all wrong.
You see Job was innocent and he knew that he was innocent. No sin in his life deserved his great suffering. And as a people living under grace, why should God want to purposely ignore us and put us through suffering. Peter tells us that it is God’s will that “none should be lost, but that everyone should come to repentance.”
Sometimes, yes, people do have physical suffering because of their sins. But this is because of the law of ‘cause and effect’. (smoking, alcohol, drugs etc) Nothing can change this law. If you plant, then you expect a harvest. But it is wrong to use this law about suffering. Sometimes we fail God. Sometimes we do not obey him. It is still wrong to suggest that God will punish us with physical illness or punishment of some sort, or that God would ignore our cries for help.
Here is a lesson for us:
God can use the experience of suffering for good
If God seems absent, it does not necessarily mean that He is angry. There are times when He will be absent, but as I read the Scriptures, this is against nations particularly(especially His elect) and sometimes against individuals who purposely rebel against Him.
It is God’s apparent absence which causes our suffering, for we know that He could deal with our illness, pain, trouble. He doesn’t and so we suffer. Why?
I believe that there are two reasons:
- He is growing our trust and dependence on Him (our faith) for things which lie ahead of us. He knows those things, we don’t.
- He is allowing us to see that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It is trust in God beyond the physical and visible.
In a way these two things always go together – they are about trusting God not health, or possessions, or loved ones, or jobs, or governments, or abilities. Both are about the choices we make, to put our trust in God despite everything; or to trust the passing things of the world.
It seems to me that when everything is going well in our lives, we simply take God for granted. When times are tough, we are forced to make a choice – do we turn against God, or do we trust Him more than ever? And if that is the case, perhaps we need the tough times … they are for the testing and upbuilding of our faith.
In James 1: 2-3, the Apostle says, “Count it all joy my brethren when you face trials of many kinds … for these are for the upbuilding of your faith.”
And in verse 13 he says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Here is the ultimate victory – not in the answer to prayer, not in the healing, not in worldly riches … but, having stood the test (of suffering and God’s apparent absence) we show that we love God more than these things, and the reward is the crown of life.
The right response to suffering is childlike faith in God – it is believing in and upon Him irrespective of the circumstances. In bitterness and pain, in struggle and defeat, in life and in death, our trust is in God and God alone!