So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
– Job 2:7-13
“Because I began my career as a magazine journalist telling other people’s stories, early in my twenties I ran smack into the problem of suffering. While tracking down various article leads, I would find myself by the bed of someone blindsided by tragedy. A teenager mauled by a grizzly bear as he tried to rescue his girlfriend, a father who died while sheltering his children…
“Every single person I interviewed told me that the tragedy they had undergone pushed them to the wall with God. Sadly, each person also gave a devastating indictment of the church: Christians, they said, made matters worse. One by one, Christians visited their hospital rooms with pet theories: God is punishing you; No, not God, it’s Satan!; No, it’s God, who hand-picked you to give him glory; It’s neither God nor Satan, you just happened to get in the way of an angry mother bear.
“As one survivor told me, ‘The theories about pain confused me, and none of them helped. Mainly, I wanted assurance and comfort, from God and from God’s people. In almost every case the Christians brought more pain and little comfort.’”
– Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read
As I promised in an earlier post (actually a month ago in A Loss for Words), I was going to come back to Philip Yancey’s book soon. I have six basic quotes from his chapter on the book of Job. Yancey talks about often going to the book of Job whenever there is a concern regarding suffering and pain, but once he really sat down and studied the book as a whole, a different theme emerged.
We will save that for another post. For now, let’s examine ourselves when it comes to pain and suffering.
First, what is our reaction toward our own pain? Sure, some can handle pain better than others. I have recently mentioned that my wife’s super power is her unbelievable threshold for pain. I might be on the floor writhing in pain, and with the same pain she debates whether she’ll take an aspirin or just drink a little tea. But in either case, we will pray. We will calmly ask God for strength. We will never shout, “Why are You putting me through this?” Yet, note in the Scripture that in all that Job had complained about in the early stages of his pain, he had not sinned.
Pain and suffering does not end with physical pain. I went about twenty years in my career before I lost my job for the first time. I was out of work for exactly one year to the day. The site where I was working closed, putting over 200 people out of work in one day, most with such special skills that few employers were interested in hiring them. I got a lot of interest compared to most, just no offers. I did a little substitute teaching, but that stopped after a while and after I wasn’t getting anymore unemployment either. If my wife wasn’t working, there would have been no income at all for those last six months. Note to anyone going through that: When you have not gotten more than a few hundred dollars in income for a year and you cash in your before-tax savings plan to put food on the table, you are punished in many ways. There is a 10% penalty for early withdrawal. You then must pay taxes even on that 10% penalty upon the next April 15. Then when you fill out the paperwork to get financial aid for your older son to go to college, they will tell you that you earned too much according to your tax return. I earned nothing! Okay, almost nothing. But the combination of unemployment (in the state that gives the least in the nation), $300 or so in substitute teaching and the biggy – cashing in the IRA, my 1040 form said that I made too much for financial assistance for my son. The sad truth is that we would have probably qualified if they took the 10% penalty into account. Now that is a different kind of pain.
At times, I prayed to ask God, “Why?” And yes, I even visited the ‘advice’ of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar upon myself. I self-flagellated to search for my own sins. I found plenty, but nothing that deserved this, of course, me being the judge of me. I did not know that God had a plan for me in a totally different direction. He wanted me to wander in my personal wilderness to learn more, experience more, and ‘be for others’ more. Then, I’d be ready for what He was grooming me to do.
Now, let’s look at how others treat your suffering. Have you ever been guilty of what Job’s three friends did? It seems that the Christians that Yancey was referring to in his book were reading right out of Job. Have you ever told someone that they needed to confess that hidden sin? Have you ever told a friend that they were too self-righteous? Have you told someone to curse God and die?
Relatives suggested that we were sinners during my long layoff. My mother accused me of not trying to find a job. I was lazy and mooching off government programs, according to her. The next time we came for a visit, I brought three crates of files from the car. The files showed over 1500 resumes and cover letters (my copy of each at the time, over 2000 by the time I got a job offer) and sorted by the ones that wrote back with a TNT (Thanks, but No Thanks) letter, and those that just ignored the resume. My mother, never to be wrong, told me that I wasn’t doing it right, therefore, I was still lazy. In her imaginary world, anyone could snap their fingers and get a job if they had a master’s degree in engineering. She had never heard of “overqualified.” She suggested that there was a local job opening for a garbage collector. What did the Yancey survivor say? “more pain and little comfort.”
When I had been out of work for a few months that first time, I would see people in the grocery store that I had worked with. I would say hello and wave from the far side of the aisle. They looked up to see me, did a 180 turn and ran (yes, ran pushing a shopping cart) to the next aisle. I said, “Hello.” I did not say, “Unclean, unclean, I am a leper. Unclean.” But most of my former friends treated me that way. There were a lot of us out of work, at least sixty went to the resource center to look for work once a week (me, every day). The others were treated like lepers as well. People were afraid that unemployment was contagious.
In the following posts, we’ll look at the misconceptions regarding Job. I had read Job countless times in my life, but Yancey’s review made the tough lessons become clearer. I hope that I can do it justice.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.