I’ve studied the book of Job (the “o” in “Job” is long as in “stove”) numerous times. But, until recently, I haven’t had the courage to read it devotionally (daily readings) since 2013 when my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life.
Of all 66 books that comprise the Bible, no book is more perplexing and disturbing as Job when considering the age old mystery, “Why do seemingly good people suffer?”
I have screamed at the heavens standing next to my son’s grave.
Job stood next to ten graves.
It was after burying all ten of his children Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She sometimes gets a bad rap. But I have felt her rage and resolution. Consequently, she sounds quite normal to me.
The first two chapters of Job are hard to read. Even though I knew well the story, I still wept as I began daily readings. I can feel Job’s and his wife’s acute pain. What is even harder to accept is this:
Job’s suffering was God’s idea.
It was God who asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”
Of course, Satan was, as he incessantly does, attacking the character and faith of God’s children, accusing God of favoritism and special treatment. “Of course Job loves you – his life is good,” Satan hissed. “But let me have him for just a few minutes and he’ll curse you to your face.”
So God gave Satan permission (Satan can do only what God allows him to do) to hurt Job.
There’s no way I can dive into the deep end of what the Bible says about God and his relationship to human suffering here. It’s the No. 1 argument for atheism. And rightly so. I have studied the topic at length since my son – who, at 14 years of age, committed his life to global missions – took his own life after suffering from debilitating depression.
Job begged God to let him die (cf. Job 6:8-9). So did I. Which is why I spent 10 days in a Psychiactric Ward.
I get it.
I have no cheap, hollow bumper-sticker cliches for you here.
Despite what some round-the-clock “Smile, Jesus Loves You” people may say, pain is very much a part of the Christian life. You need to search no further than what’s recorded in scripture and secular ancient – and modern – history to know this to be true. (For crying out loud, an entire Old Testament book is titled, “Lamentations.”)
In defense of God’s relationship to human suffering (I am well aware he doesn’t need me to defend him), he pulls no punches where this fallen, corrupt world is concerned.
David wrote, “The righteous person faces many troubles…”
Jesus, himself, on the night before his execution, said, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows…”
But, don’t stop reading there. The other half of David’s and Jesus’s words are as follows:
God not once answers Job’s deepest question, “Why?”
He hasn’t answered mine either.
Job was rightfully hurt and angry and demanded a face-to-face meeting with God. In chapter 38, God honors that request. And it scares the you-know-what out of Job.
Wanting to put God on trial, God shows up and a plot-twist ensues: Job is the one on trial.
There are explanations for human suffering sprinkled throughout scripture: the testing and strengthening of our faith; God may use pain to get our attention; judgment and natural consequences of sin, etc.
But these explanations don’t make the pain any less painful.
One theologian wrote about the overriding theme of the book of Job,
“When there is no rational or even theological explanations for disaster or suffering, trust God.”
Even as I now type that statement everything within me wants to mock and say with dripping sarcasm, “Sure – I’ll do that.”
But, what alternatives does the world or atheism give me?
What i’ve discovered Christ gives us in our suffering is hope.
“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,…” (12:1-2)
Translation: Jesus says to us, “I saw the eternal joy on the other side of my temporary pain. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you do the same.”
Indeed, we do not have a Savior who, from his safe ivory tower in heaven, offers empty cheers, “Come on! It’s not so bad!” Nothing could be further from what is true. The Bible records:
My son was merely 10 years old when, with tears in his eyes, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this.” It hangs in our home today. Jordan titled it, “When we hurt, God hurts.”
Christ doesn’t “wait for us on the other side of our pain”. He is with us in our pain – carrying us through it.
Jesus whispers to us in our pain, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”
I began this post with the startling messianic prophecy written by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (53:10)
The 20th century beloved pastor, A.W. Tozer, once said,
“I doubt God can use a man greatly until he has first hurt him deeply.”
That’s an unsettling statement. But, I must confess, I see this pattern throughout scripture.
The purpose of this post is to simply encourage those who are suffering.
I can’t offer satisfying reasons or answers to human suffering. But, I can offer you hope that it will not always be this way.
The maddening pain of human suffering, for me, is only resolved by the truth given me in scripture:
Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
No other worldview offers me that hope.
Paul, who suffered greatly, encourages his readers:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
According to God: I’ll see my son again; he’s more alive than he’s ever been; and he is in the presence of the risen Christ, forever free of debilitating depression.
And, because of what Christ gave twenty centuries ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem – a reunion is coming.
Oh to hold my son in my arms once again – completely free from my own often crushing depression. To quote the popular song, “I can only imagine.”
Because of the suffering – and triumph – of Christ, I choose to stand with Job and say,
“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)
Satan again loses his haughty, myopic bet with God.
I love you, my precious son.
For Jordan Watts.
Love and hope to all who are suffering, Nick (see Side Note immediately below)
(Side note: beginning with chapter 4, Job’s “friends” spend over 30 chapters attempting to explain Job’s suffering based on their mere human logic, intellect and reason. In the final chapter of the book God basically calls them all idiots, indicting them: “You have not spoken the truth about me.” Job’s prayer for them is the only thing that kept them from God’s severe judgment. Our well-meaning “friends”, feeling they must offer an explanation when suffering takes place, can easily fall into the same category as Job’s friends.)