By: Sarah Norman
Our pastor has posed many questions over the last few weeks for our church to consider. This week, he asked another one. Why? More precise would be, why has all this happened? The world has been rocked by COVID-19 for a little more than a year. Millions across the world have died. Millions more will suffer long term effects. Millions have lost their jobs. Children have lost a year of school that some say they will never be able to catch up from. People have been isolated, suffering from anxiety and depression that has only been escalated. Disparities in our country have been magnified. There is suffering everywhere we look. So why? Why does it happen? Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does a good God allow all this to happen? I honestly don't know if we will ever have a perfect answer this side of Heaven to these questions. But we can look to God's word, specifically in the story of Job, for how to respond to suffering.
Job lived in the land of Uz, around the Saudi Arabian desert. He was not from Israel and most likely lived prior to Abraham. He did not have a Bible, or the Law, or Jesus. But he knew who God was. He lived a righteous life of service and worship. Satan basically made a bet with God that if all the wealth and livestock and children were taken away, Job would no longer be a righteous man, but one who blames God and hates God and goes his own way. So that's what Satan did. He caused all of his livestock and ability to acquire wealth to die. Then he killed all of his children. Job didn't realize it was Satan doing all of this, but believed it to be from God. His response was this: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (1:21). He refused to curse God's name. He understood God had given him all those things so he understood God had a sovereign reason for taking those things away from him. He had a patient faith, knowing God was in control.
So Satan tried again. He went to God for permission to cast physical affliction on Job. He thought that surely Job would curse God if he were sick and dying. His wife came to him and told him he should curse God and die. But his response to her was, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad,” (2:10)? This question is so profound and one that we should consider in our lamenting of all that we as a country have suffered this past year. We are so quick to thank God for the blessings, so quick to worship when life is going good. But when life is hard, when we are scared of losing what we have, we question God's motives, we question His goodness, we forget all He's done for us and often choose to go through those hard times on our own because we think God has abandoned us.
Two years ago, my oldest son became very ill. Looking back through the lens of hindsight, I see how much God was with us during that week and how much God protected my sweet boy. He had a very rare infection that the ER and his doctor didn't catch. The infection was burning him from the inside out. As I watched him grow sicker over about 2 days, I was frightened that when we finally got him checked in to a hospital, he wouldn't come home. I wanted to be angry at God and question Him, but my wonderful husband who is one of the most faithful men I know, pointed me to Jesus and challenged me to have faith in God and trust that God was sovereign and would take care of our little boy, whatever that looked like. Thankfully, once he saw a specialist, he was diagnosed quickly and received the treatment needed quickly and was healed. Had we waited a day, or the hospital waited to begin treatment until the diagnosis were confirmed, the outcome might have been much different. I don't know what my response would have been had the outcome been different. But I know I spent several days doing nothing but praying and reading scripture, calling on God to protect and save my son. I know that in our suffering, the only thing I had, the only thing I could truly lean on and draw comfort in was God.
The suffering we went through was small compared to what so many have gone through this past year. But the truth still remains. God is good. We praise God in the good and the hard. Justin said this week that suffering comes from creations of God that have been twisted and manipulated by and for evil. Our bodies are good things that God created, but because of sin entering the world, we get sick, we get hurt and eventually we die. Weather and God's creation of this earth is good and beautiful and breath taking, but because of sin entering the earth, we have hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and famines that devastate entire states and countries. Sex is a wonderful gift of God created for a husband and wife to enjoy in marriage but because sin entered the world, for millennia sex has been used in power and domination, it's been used to rule over and hurt women and people thought to be inferior. There are countless good things that sinful humankind twisted and turned evil for the purpose of hurting others. But none of that negates God's goodness or his good purposes for the people He created. God created us with freewill and because we had the choice, we chose to rebel. What was God's reaction to his creation's rebellion? His reaction was to make a redemption plan to save the world.
The whole story of Israel is one of longing and suffering and desperation. But God, through the prophets, tells his people to hold on just a little while longer, that redemption is coming. He tells his people to be patient, that the story is not over yet. And then a baby came to earth, a baby that would change history forever. That baby lived a sinless life and grew up to be our redemption. He died in our place, took on all the sins of creation, all the rebellion of creation, took our pain and suffering on Himself. He defeated death and rose again so that even though we may know suffering on this earth, we will not know suffering in our death. If we choose to trust in Jesus and what he did for us, we get eternity with Him, an eternity of no pain, no tears, no suffering.
C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” He wrote this while the love of his life was suffering and dying. He knew pain in a way that many can only imagine. God does not cause suffering arbitrarily. And even harder, we may never know the reason for some of our pain this side of Heaven. But I don't believe there is no purpose in it. James 1:2-5 tells us “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” I don't know the purpose of your suffering or my suffering, but I do believe God tells us throughout his word to look for joy, to find the joy a midst the suffering. That does not mean we have to put on a smile and pretend everything is fine. The book of Job is full of lament. He asked God why, he questioned God just like we would. But he didn't leave it there. He found purpose in his suffering. Job 19:25 says “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” He knew God had not forsaken him. He lost everything he had and still chose to believe God was good. He lamented. He grieved. He was sad and angry. We're allowed to do all those things. Every person deals with suffering differently.
Friend, wherever you are and whatever you're dealing with, know that God is with you. He knows what you're going through. He knows what it's like to suffer. He wants to walk with you and show you how to get to the other side. He wants to help you find the joy in the suffering. It's hard and it's painful and you don't have to pretend that it's not. Jesus did not pretend that his suffering was not difficult. In fact, he asked God to take it from him, but submitted to what God wanted. Trust that God is with you. Be patient in your suffering as Job was, trusting that God is not finished with your story yet. Redemption in the pain will come.