Job, will you be annoyed if I speak?
I can’t keep quiet any longer.
You have taught many people
and given strength to feeble hands.
When someone stumbled, weak and tired,
your words encouraged him to stand.
Now it’s your turn to be in trouble,
and you are too stunned to face it.
You worshiped God, and your life was blameless;
and so you should have confidence and hope.
Think back now. Name a single case
where someone righteous met with disaster.
I have seen people plow fields of evil
and plant wickedness like seed;
now they harvest wickedness and evil.
Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger.
The wicked roar and growl like lions,
but God silences them and breaks their teeth.
Like lions with nothing to kill and eat,
they die, and all their children are scattered.
Once a message came quietly,
so quietly I could hardly hear it.
Like a nightmare it disturbed my sleep.
I trembled and shuddered;
my whole body shook with fear.
A light breeze touched my face,
and my skin crawled with fright.
I could see something standing there;
I stared, but couldn’t tell what it was.
Then I heard a voice out of the silence:
“Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God
or be pure before his Creator?
God does not trust his heavenly servants;
he finds fault even with his angels.
Do you think he will trust a creature of clay,
a thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth?
We may be alive in the morning,
but die unnoticed before evening comes.
All that we have is taken away;
we die, still lacking wisdom.” (Good News Translation)
The Christian spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul, was written nearly five hundred years ago by St. John of the Cross. The gist of John’s observation is that God sometimes takes the Christian through dry times of hiding himself from the believer.
The pain of wondering where God is and if he will even show up; experiencing unanswered prayer; enduring uncaring and misdirected comments from well-meaning people; all these and more are inevitably part of the Christian spiritual experience.
The dark night of the soul is not to be confused with personal sinfulness. Its origin is not in self, but God.
Whenever one knows with a settled confidence that personal integrity is intact, but trouble abounds, we need not immediately rush to the conclusion that something is wrong with us. It may be the Spirit of God thrusting us into a desert experience to test and approve our faith.
Job’s “friend” Eliphaz offered one of those tired age-old arguments that bad things only happen to bad people. He comes at Job with the inexperience and absurdity of making misguided assumptions. He rhetorically asks: Who that was innocent ever perished? Where were the upright cut off?
The conclusion of Eliphaz, therefore, was bound to be off the mark – believing secret sin must surely be the culprit behind Job’s awful misfortune. Certainly, Eliphaz thinks, Job cannot possibly go through such terrible suffering without having done something to anger God.
Times change; the basic nature of people, not so much. In today’s church and world, the same notions still endure. If I had a quarter for every time I heard crazy comments, like the following, I would be a rich man:
“He’s poor because he is lazy and doesn’t want to work.”
“She keeps having chronic health issues. God is punishing her.”
“The pandemic is God’s judgment on us for not having the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.”
“If you just confess your sin and have faith, you’ll be healed.”
“They’re in big trouble. They obviously did something evil.”
On and on the wrong-headed statements continue, ad nauseum.
The Apostle Peter understood how to view trouble in a healthy way. He said we all suffer – both the good person and the wicked. It’s just a matter of whether we will suffer for doing good and the right thing, or suffer because of saying shallow, illogical, and stupid comments that offend God and hurt others. (1 Peter 3:17-18)
Even Christ suffered. And it wasn’t because of his own sin. It was because of ours. Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.
Jesus suffered; so, the follower of Jesus will suffer. There is a big picture only God sees. Whenever we suffer, there is something going on behind the spiritual scene. We must allow God to do divine work, and then, trust that the Lord bends all human suffering for good and redemptive purposes.
So, let’s change the rhetoric. Instead of jumping to judgment, reflexively hop to grace with comments like these:
- “He has poverty of spirit. He’s blessed and will inherit the kingdom of God.”
- “She’s in chronic pain. God has allowed her the privilege of suffering in solidarity with her Lord.”
- “We’re in a pandemic. Here’s a chance for us to live out of the Ten Commandments.”
- “If we confess the world’s sins of pride, hate, and injustice, perhaps God’s mercy will deliver us.”
- “We’re in a big pickle. No better time than now to grow in grace.”
Where is God? Beside you, quietly and confidently holding you up in your suffering.
Lord God, I entrust myself to you because you know what you are doing. Thank you for the trials of life which humbles my heart to pray. Do your work in me so that my faith is fortified for a lifetime of service in the church and the world, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.