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One thing you learn a lot about as a minister is suffering and death. You're among the first to be called when there is illness and the last person to see the dead as they are buried at their funerals.
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Most people witness or experience this at certain times of their lives with hopefully long intervals between crisis - ministers live with the reality of someone's suffering or death every day, every week, year in and year out. It's no wonder that most preachers love the book of Job and the lessons it teaches not just about Job's character but about the process and effect of suffering itself.

Whether we're ministers who are in the profession of helping people deal with suffering or individuals going through a period of pain in our lives the book of Job has much to say about our condition - before we draw some lessons, a little background.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.
- Job 1:1

We begin by finding a person who is truly a man of God:

  • Blameless - means perfect / complete / mature. This term refers to his piety and respect for God.
  • Upright - referred to his goodness and prosperity.
    • His life was full and good and right.
    • Fearing God demonstrates that he was a religious person, spiritually minded, respectful.
    • Turning away from evil speaks to his moral principles, not a hypocrite or worldly man.

The book goes on the say concerning the strength of his family, his wealth, his land and prestige in the country where he dwelled, ".. he was the greatest man in the East." The writer explains that God allowed Satan to test Job's faith with a series of personal catastrophes:

  • All of his children were killed in a storm.
  • His servants murdered by invaders
  • His animals were all stolen (which represented his wealth)

If this wasn't bad enough, he was struck with a disease that covered his body with oozing sores. Finally his wife rejects him. After this physical, psychological, financial nightmare his three friends come with the intention of comforting him but instead they end up accusing him of being responsible for his own suffering because of secret sin and spend most of their time arguing with him to repent.

Doesn't it seem that our lives are like this sometimes?

You get a call from the police station that your child has been arrested or injured. The doctor tells you that it's a tumor. You fall behind in your bills. The partner you trusted lies to you, leaves you. The company lets you go. A friend says bad things about you. You fail! At whatever - you just fail, your blow it, you mess up. Age reminds you that you don't have it anymore. The one you love dies.

These and a thousand more stories tell of lives broken and ripped apart by disease, cruelty, violence and death, and when these things happen people cry out, "Why me?" and, "Why now?" and, "Why this?" I believe that although we might not resemble Job in our culture and personality, in our suffering we are exactly the same because pain never changes, it's the same for everybody. Because this is a fact of life, Job's book and lessons about suffering ring as true today as back then.

Insight About Suffering

When I look at Job I see that,

Suffering Seems Unfair

The most repeated statement that I have heard people say when they go through a period of suffering is that it is unfair. Job expressed this idea throughout his lament claiming God is not fair in His dealing with him. Usually we see suffering as unfair in several ways:

  1. The timing is wrong. Suffering catches us off guard unprepared or on the verge of enjoying a perceived reward. Sometimes, like Job, it's a series of things that just happen one after another without end.
  2. It seems unfair because of the proportion of suffering verses the amount of good the person has done. "The good die young" is a saying that evokes this feeling. Certainly the sheer amount of tragedies in Job's life seemed out of proportion with his good life and pure character.

Suffering is painful regardless of the amount you experience but to say that it is fair or unfair is to make the mistake that Job's friends made. They thought that what happened to you in this life was the complete act of judgement God performed for how you lived. Job learned what Jesus later revealed, what happens in this life is only part of what eventually happens to us. All people will be judged and punished or rewarded at the end of time when Jesus returns (Matthew 25). Our blessings or sufferings must always be weighed against the final judgement where God will comfort those who suffered, and afflict those who disbelieved and disobeyed.

6For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed-for our testimony to you was believed.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

The thing to keep in mind is that the suffering here will be outweighed by the blessings there; the pleasures here (for unbelievers, disobedient) will seem awfully short-lived when the suffering there begins for an eternity.

Another thing I learned from Job,

Suffering is Temporary

When I say this I don't mean just temporary cause it will be over when we go to heaven. I mean suffering will be temporary here! Sometimes when we're in the dark tunnel of depression and pain we begin to believe that we've always been here and our lives will always remain this way. Job understood that suffering was based in the present and did not represent his entire life experience in the past or future!

The past was good:

Oh that I were as in months gone by, as in the days when God watched over me.
- Job 29: 1

The future had promise:

And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives ... yet from my flesh I shall see God.
- Job19: 25-26

While we go through it, suffering seems eternal, seems like the only thing we've ever known. But a quick review of our past usually reveals that there has been some good back there and the future, although yet unknown, usually brings its mixture of good and bad. We have to have confidence that we will see some good in the future.

It's Not Why But Who.

We tend to ask why we suffer, why me, why now, why this. Sometimes there are answers but most times there are not satisfying ones. People spend a lifetime trying to figure out why.

The largest part of the book of Job describes the debate between Job's friends and Job trying to answer the question "why have these terrible things happened to this supposedly good man?" His friends say its because of sin, Job says he doesn't really know why but it sure seems unfair. In the end God reveals to Job that it isn't about why - it's about who.

In the end Job learns that his faith, regardless of the intensity of suffering, is justified.

In other words - God is worthy of our faith no matter what we suffer to preserve it. No matter how bad it is here, it will be worth it there. Job recognizes God's glory and power and in the end repents of the fact that he may have felt that his suffering was unwarranted. When he clearly saw who was the object of his faith it put the suffering into perspective and he was sorry that he complained.

Suffering's greatest benefit is that more than any other experience in life, it has the ability to draw us nearer to God - and that new closeness to God is always worth the pain. In the end, the suffering of death will be eclipsed by the joy of being with God.

Summary

The story of Job provides us with timeless lessons on dealing with and understanding the common experience of suffering: It teaches us that:

  • When looking at suffering always weigh all the good of a lifetime vs. the bad and realize there is more good than bad.
  • Remember that it may seem like an eternity because there is pain, but when measured against eternity, our suffering is not for very long. Usually doesn't last very long even when measured against our lives here on earth.
  • Suffering doesn't mean God is far away, it usually means that He is closer than ever if we only look for the who instead of the why.

Are you suffering this morning? There is relief in sight.

If your suffering is the spiritual anguish of fear and guilt for sin come and wash all this away in baptism and be saved from death and despair. If your suffering is physical then the elders and the church are ready to pray to God on your behalf so that your may be made well again (James 5:13-15). After Job found out the who instead of the why, the Bible says that God doubled all the blessings that he previously enjoyed.

There is sunshine after the rain, joy after the tears, a blessing after the trail for the one who finds the Lord in the fires of suffering.