Are you finally through with your windy speech?
God never twists justice;
he never fails to do what is right.
Your children must have sinned against God,
and so he punished them as they deserved.
But turn now and plead with Almighty God;
if you are so honest and pure,
then God will come and help you
and restore your household as your reward.
All the wealth you lost will be nothing
compared with what God will give you then.
Look for a moment at ancient wisdom;
consider the truths our ancestors learned.
Our life is short; we know nothing at all;
we pass like shadows across the earth.
But let the ancient wise people teach you;
listen to what they had to say:
“Reeds can’t grow where there is no water;
they are never found outside a swamp.
If the water dries up, they are the first to wither,
while still too small to be cut and used.
Godless people are like those reeds;
their hope is gone, once God is forgotten.
They trust a thread—a spider’s web.
If they lean on a web, will it hold them up?
If they grab for a thread, will it help them stand?”
Evil people sprout like weeds in the sun,
like weeds that spread all through the garden.
Their roots wrap around the stones
and hold fast to every rock.
But then pull them up—
no one will ever know they were there.
Yes, that’s all the joy evil people have;
others now come and take their places.
But God will never abandon the faithful
or ever give help to evil people.
He will let you laugh and shout again,
but he will bring disgrace on those who hate you,
and the homes of the wicked will vanish. (Good News Translation)
These are the words of Bildad, a “friend” of Job. The guy just couldn’t take it anymore. As Job expressed his deep grief, Bildad grew perturbed. Whereas Job needed to be heard, to tell his story with others who would offer listening ears of empathy, Bildad was uncomfortable with all this grief junk and felt he needed to rebuke Job…. Oy vey.
There are various kinds of suffering, and the biblical character of Job experienced them all. One of the most severe kinds of hurt, and the one that gets far more attention than any other in the book of Job, are the short-sighted rebukes from Job’s “friends.”
God had a severe mercy for Job. The friends, however, lived in a black and white world of either/or – either you confess your sin, or you don’t – as if all suffering is connected to personal sin. Bildad’s left-brained linear explanation was expressed this way: God will not reject a blameless man.
For Bildad, personal suffering equals personal sin and God’s disfavor. Bildad could only see a sequential connection, a direct line from sin to calamity. It was simply out of his equation to think otherwise. Since Bildad saw suffering as the direct result of sin, his remedy was to exhort toward confession of sin.
The problem with this view is that we, as the readers, already know this to be a patently false understanding of Job’s suffering. Although Bildad saw the suffering, he did not discern the unseen dimension of good and evil contending behind-the-scenes between God and Satan.
It is only normal to wonder if we have sinned against God whenever finding ourselves in the crucible of suffering. But if we have done patient work to determine there is no personal reason for the pain, perhaps there is something going on that is much bigger than us.
Our task, like Job’s, is to entrust ourselves to God. We might chafe at such counsel because we like to fix things that hurt. Suffering, however, will not last forever; it will eventually pass. And God’s way will always prevail, in the end. So, we must continually keep in mind that permanent faith transcends temporary pain.
There are four types of pain we experience in this life:
- Spiritual pain that arises from within us in our connection, or lack thereof, with the divine.
- Emotional pain that arises from our relationship with others.
- Physical pain that arises from our bodies and from natural forces on this earth.
- Mental pain that arises from cognitive disorders, childhood trauma, and all forms of abuse or neglect.
In all pain, the story we tell ourselves about the reason for the hurt is significant. We have a relationship with our pain. If the story we are telling ourselves is that the pain is all in my head, or that others have it worse than me, we are ignoring or stuffing our pain. If the story is that pain is bad and I must rid myself of it, then we will completely miss what our pain is trying to tell us.
Job was trying to come to grips with his pain. He was facing it, talking about it, expressing his wonderings concerning it, and allowing himself to completely feel all of it.
Conversely, Bildad so tightly held onto his own story about what pain and suffering is that he was unable to be the friend Job needed. And, I might add, at the end of the story, God didn’t look with favor on Bildad’s approach.
So, what will you do with your pain?
What is the story you are telling yourself about your pain?
Who do you trust so that you can talk about your pain?
Where is God in your pain?
How is your current relationship to the pain helping or hindering you?
Where will you turn, in the future, when pain comes upon you?
Loving God, take pity on my life as I seek to embrace you in both good times and bad. I belong to you; therefore, I will not forsake you, no matter how much I do not understand the suffering. Amen.