I have experienced real, intense suffering only twice in my life, reacting totally differently toward God each time.
After my dad’s death, I prayed to God, asking Him “why” my dad had to go when he – and I – were so young. If God only would have allowed, we could have had many more years together, filled with roaming the country on family vacations, walking down the aisle at my wedding, and hunting for lizards in the backyard with my children. Despite my shattered heart and tear-stained face, I never shook my fists at God and expected He’d really explain His reasons for taking my dad. Instead, His peace and joy overwhelmed me.
Those Fruits of the Spirit were nowhere to be seen eight years later as I struggled with post-partum depression. My head spinning as to why I felt like hiding in a cave when all of my other new-mom friends sat on cloud nine, I shouted for God to tell me “why” He purposed for me to suffer — this time demanding an answer from Him, which of course never came to my restless and angry soul. In this instance, I acted like Job.
We all know that Job has a stellar reputation – and deservedly so. God allowed Satan to afflict this blameless man by obliterating his economic livelihood, killing each of his children, and covering him with painful sores all over his body. Throughout the misery, Job never cursed God or stopped believing in Him (which warrants a round of applause, really).
However, Job’s response missed the mark of perfection in a big way. Throughout the book of Job, we watch him growing more and more confused about the purpose of his trials. With pride blossoming in his heart, Job longed to prove his innocence and believed God owed it to him to explain “why” he had to endure such pain.
Job reacted with arrogance because he had wrong theology.
The thought of the day held that if one behaved upright and good, he or she would receive blessings. However, if one did evil and sinned, he or she would experience cursing. Because of this false belief, Job – one of the Godliest men around – didn’t understand why he suffered when he hadn’t done anything wrong. How could God act so unfairly?
Like Job, we so easily believe this false theology today. We are ignorant to the fact that the Bible promises us that we’ll face trials in this fallen world, regardless of our personal inequities or lack thereof.
While our own sins have consequences and can sometimes bring about suffering and the Lord’s discipline, we shouldn’t believe that our past behavior produces all our hardships. We often experience difficulties simply because God has supernatural purposes within them – purposes to make His name famous and to make our faith more perfect (James 1:4).
Job also reacted with arrogance because he had a wrong view of God.
Job put himself on the same level with the Lord, thinking he had the ability to understand God’s ways and the right to slam his hand on the table demanding an answer from Him (Job 13:3).
God stood against Job’s foolishness by painting a picture of His sovereignty, speaking to the heart of Job’s claims by questioning if Job really had the audacity to condemn Him, the living God, so that he might selfishly receive justification (Job 40:8).
Humbled, Job recognized his smallness before the Lord and turned from his wrong ways, saying, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). God honored his repentance, blessing Job’s later years with children, good health, and prosperity.
How do you respond to suffering?
Do you bow at God’s feet, or do you throw your arms up in protest against Him like Job? Or are you like me and have done both in the past?
The difference between these reactions lies in trust. When grieving my father, I had a right theology and a right view of God, believing the Lord had purposes in the trial and holding humble faith in His sovereignty. However, in the face of depression I saw Him as cruel for making me suffer undeservedly, and I disregarded His identity as our great God.
From these two experiences, I learned that we must think about our motivations for asking God “why” we suffer. Do we ask the Lord “why” with a reverent view of Him and with faith, seeking His wisdom and expressing our pain — or do we ask out of pride, distrust, and foolishness?
God provides us with a peace beyond our comprehension when we run from our indignant mindset toward trusting Him. He cares for His sheep and longs to listen to us, love us, and lead us while we trudge along in the valleys. We just need to trust Him with our whole hearts, even when it feels hard.
We see in Job that God welcomes our repentance and our humility, forgetting our past mistakes and bad attitudes. We can move forward, experiencing His comfort and receiving His blessings, just like Job did at the end.