November 6, 2006
Meditation Commentary Job 1:18-22
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped to tell thee. Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Suffering is a gift. Does that sound absurd? Think about it for a moment. How could we possibly grow if we could not feel pain? All the greatest lessons come through discomfort. How could we learn patience, or self-control, or even love and forgiveness if not for the denial of life as we would wish it to be? Unused muscles degenerate until they are sagging, useless flesh. But muscles that are worked and stretched and pushed to the limits become hard and strong and powerful. Our patience is strongest when it is tried every day, because we learn to trust God’s providence. Our self-control becomes hard as steel when temptation bombards us and we learn to bow our heads and pray for God’s deliverance. Our love becomes powerful when we are faced with the unlovable, and we learn to look past what our eyes can see and let God love the world through us.
The hardest part of all this, though, is our inability to see the strength that suffering breeds in us. In a series of terrible calamities like the ones that devastated Job, it may very well be impossible to see any good for the pain at all. In fact, the book of Job never gives a reason, in human terms, for Job’s torments, save that God simply decided, in response to a challenge from Satan, to send disaster. And when God finally answers Job out of the storm, He says nothing about even this explanation. He simply points Job to the wonders and terrors of His creation—eagles, oxen, horses, and then behemoth, and leviathan—and, though he still does not understand, Job is silenced. “I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
In the end, of course, Job is restored twofold for everything he had lost. A happy ending; but his question is never answered, not in any temporal way. God never tells Job why he had to suffer such anguish; He merely reminds Job of who He is, and Job bows his head in submission and repentance. In the same way, much of the pain we suffer is never explained to us, and often we are not even restored in such a dramatic way as Job. Is this, then, the answer to the question of pain? We will never be told the answer, and we also have no assurance that we will be restored for what we have lost?
In one sense, yes; and in another, no. The answer is yes because God is God, He is sovereign and all-powerful, His ways are not our ways, and it may be that even in heaven we will not understand why He has acted in certain ways. But the answer is also no, and for the same reason: God is God. He is love, and He is fully wise. He sends us nothing that is more than we can bear, and He loves His children and is near to those who cry out to Him (Psalm 34:4, 18). There are times when He must not, and will not, answer in the way we desperately want Him to—remember that He did not take the cup even from Jesus—and that is the arena where suffering gives birth to strength. But even when we cannot see any good being wrought in us, God knows what He is doing, and He has not stopped loving us. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm, to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). He does not always prosper us in the ways we would like; but the word still stands. He has not forgotten us, and He will not abandon us. If we can take hold of that promise, then even in the darkest, coldest, most agonizing moments we can still say,
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”