Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
– Romans 5:1-5
“The problem of pain is not one you can neatly solve, then file away. It roars to life every time a tornado touches down, every time a neighbor learns bad news … in between birth and death we ask Why?
“For this reason I find myself returning again and again to the book of Job, the Bible’s fullest treatment of the problem of suffering. That, at least, is what I used to think. If you had asked me a decade ago what the book of Job was about, I would have replied without hesitation: Job? Everybody knows what Job is about. It’s the Bible’s most comprehensive look at the problem of pain and suffering.
“I still refer to Job whenever I write about suffering, and without doubt the bulk of the book (chapters 3-37) revolves around the them. Those chapters render no action to speak of, just five prickly men – Job, his three friends, and a mostly silent Elihu – sitting around discussing theories about pain. …
“Job does in fact focus on the problem of suffering, but in a most unexpected way. It brilliantly asks the questions we urgently want answered, then turns aside to propose another way of looking at the problem entirely. Like most of the Old Testament, Job at first frustrates, by refusing the simple answers we think we want, and then oddly satisfies, by pointing us in a new direction marked by flagrant realism and a tantalizing glimpse of hope.”
– Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read (emphasis the author’s)
As far as what the Apostle Paul had to say about suffering: suffering leading to perseverance to character to hope. I had a tough time with that. When my hospital visit started a little over a week ago, I had significant pain, but not horrible. I went to the Urologist, because the pain was more significant than in past kidney stones. I had plenty of hope. The doctor would not discuss it without a CT scan. By the time I was in the lab getting a CT scan, I was persevering, hoping that someone would give me something for the pain – no luck. When they instructed me to go back to the lab waiting room and wait after the scan (a place where I knew no pain medication could be found), character was in short supply, but I tried to address people politely. I found it easier to stand than to sit. That seems to be a common thread among people with kidney stones. This got the lab registration staff nervous. They were probably thinking, ‘This man is in pain, and he’ll probably pass out.’ After an hour of waiting, I was sent back to the doctor’s office. These locations are a long walk from each other, but the ER is even further away. The doctor had me wait for another thirty minutes. On the 1-10 pain scale, I arrived before lunch with a 4, which became a 7 or 8 in the lab waiting area. The doctor saw the look of a pain level of 9 on my face when he finally came into the room upon my second trip to his office that day. He told me to go to the ER for pain management. Because his instructions did not get to the ER, they wanted to redo all the tests that had already been done that day, in that hospital. They also registered me again (first at the doctor, then the lab, then the ER, afterwards over the phone for the Monday surgery for a fourth installment of registration). At this point, I was not exactly polite to the third person that afternoon that asked me the same questions. I did not say any foul language, but my answers were short and clipped. Answering questions while at a high pain level is hard to do calmly, softly and quietly. (By the way, they ask, “Have you been out of the country in the past ___?” I was ‘registered’ four times and each person used a different timeframe – three months, two months, one month, three weeks. Now I am curious as to why ask.) Of course, by this time I had lost all hope of pain relief, but once registered for the third time that day without ever leaving the hospital, the nurse came in to not only put in the IV port, but to give me some medicine. Yay! I must have thanked her ten times. It was roughly half the dose that I needed, but hope had been restored.
No, I think the Apostle Paul is talking about the marathons of suffering, not the sprints. More the life-long persecution, oppression, long-term illness, etc. When the pain is short-lived, you go through the phases quickly, you skip around, and might leave out one altogether. But when you are faced with suffering that is long term and persistent, you either throw away character and hope altogether or you persevere, showing character, and always see hope in the end. When we have hope and peace in our hearts, it’s a lot easier to show God’s love toward others, as Paul points out in this Scripture.
But Yancey says something provocative – that the book of Job is not a book about suffering, or maybe not just a book about suffering. You can’t say Job does not talk about suffering when Yancey says that the ‘five prickly men’ spend 34 chapters discussing pet theories on the subject. There are only 42 chapters in Job in the first place. We will get to what he means in a later post.
When Yancey says that Job is frustrating, I fully agree. When you have 34 chapters of ‘pop psychology’ regarding pain, you run into the temptation to get things out of context. Of course, Leviticus 26 warns the Israelites to follow God’s Law or they will be punished. The punishment is very detailed, and it includes everything that Job was faced with. But the two-chapter preamble to the 34 chapters of prickly men talking tells a different story. Job was not being punished for sin in his life. Yet, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar wouldn’t let it go. Elihu, as Yancey says – quiet at first, comes at the same topic through the back door. It would be so tempting to quote Eliphaz, for example, and get the wrong impression. In his first address to Job in Job 4:7-9, Eliphaz says, “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more.” That is quite interesting. Innocent people do not perish, and all that evil-doers can reap is the evil that they sow. But I have known of evil people who had no bad days for their entire life. They just made bad days, and killed, innocent people. Yes, we’ve all sinned, but this logic of ‘be a good employee and God will see you advance to the top’ was fed to me daily growing up and sadly I believed it until I realized that it was too late to change my nature.
Not part of the quote above, Yancey goes on to state that churches around the world quote from those middle 34 chapters. In fact, the way that many churches speak regarding these chapters, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar would be the heroes of the story if only chapters 3-37 were in print.
Another misconception about Job is that Job is characterized as having patience. Job is far from patient. He wants an audience with God Himself. He wants God to explain why this has happened to him. His only ‘patience’ is that God does not answer Job right away.
Note: 1) I have only talked about physical pain and illness thus far in this post. 2) I wrote the above between waves of pain from kidney stones. 3) I did not intend to write this series while having medical issues. I scheduled this series for roughly this time, due to scheduled travel. I thought I could get ahead on my writing by using a Bible Study series (something that was already organized in my mind) while travelling to Texas for my wife’s family reunion. 4) As a result of my surgery and the required waiting period before the stent could be removed, the trip was cancelled. My wife could have flown down, but she wanted to be with me. 5) That brings us to another kind of suffering.
Have you ever lived a three-day drive from family? I know some of you have. As I am writing this, a huge crowd of my wife’s brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. are gathered, having fun on a lake west of Austin, TX. They may never get that many in one place at one time. They aren’t all there, but there’s a crowd. We are talking nine siblings and off-spring. Our plans were to drive down to Tennessee to pick up our younger son’s oldest boy who is almost 10 and take him with us. So, it wasn’t just a reunion, but it was visiting with grandchildren along the way. When I woke up from the surgery, the doctor came by to tell me that he had broken the news to my wife that I could not travel, but she could. He then said, “I hope you are good at tap dancing. You are in trouble. Your wife didn’t take it well at all.” What the doctor did not know is that my wife had already figured out ‘intellectually’ that God’s plans are better than our plans. She had not fully resolved to a total cancellation emotionally. She was left with WHY?
That’s why Job wanted a private audience with God. He wanted to ask, “Why?”
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.