Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Why and Who of Suffering

Think about a time when you thought you couldn’t go any further, or you couldn’t make it to the end of whatever you were working on. For some of us, that might be a rather minor experience, such as “I thought I would not be able to finish the paper I was writing” or “I thought I couldn’t continue another day at my job with the conflict that was present.” For others, we may have experienced a time that we thought we couldn’t go on with life, that we didn’t have enough strength –physical or emotional–to continue on, such as the death of a loved one, or the death of a relationship, or even the death of a long-term dream. Paul must have felt something like this when he wrote II Corinthians 1:8 “I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it.” (Italics mine).

We don’t typically think of Paul as being a person that had come to a place emotionally that he felt like he just wanted to “give up,” and that he would never be able to get past his current circumstances. But he did experience those emotions. Job experienced the same emotions and thoughts...that he could not go on living. Job, in Job 6, describes the depth of his pain: “my troubles...heavier than all the sands of the sea;” “poisoned arrows deep within my spirit;” “all God’s terrors are arrayed against me.”  He finalizes his description of his pain with these words: “But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on” (Job 6:11).

Job then tells his friends they have not been helpful to him in his place of difficulty. (Job 6:14, 21) “One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you have accused me without the slightest fear of the Almighty.” and “You, too have proved to be of no help. You have seen my calamity, and you are afraid.”  Then Job states the cry of his heart (Job 7) that echos the cry every person has clamored  who finds themself dealing with suffering: “Why?”. (Job 7:19-21). “Why won’t you leave me alone–even for a moment? Have I sinned? What have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why have you made me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just pardon my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone.”

Job’s friends continue to try to answer his question of “why,” all the while basically telling him he is guilty of some sin and God is punishing him. (Job 8-38). After all this conversation of accusations and Job continued to disagree with them and continued speaking the truth about God’s nature, God himself finally answered Job.

When you have been hurt, or in the pit of despair or struggling with a hopeless difficulty, haven’t you asked “why?”  It seems to be the universal need of all men and women to understand “why.”
When my husband and I recently encountered some difficult circumstances, for weeks our minds struggled and wrestled with “why.”  Almost every still moment that didn’t require focus of my mind, the question would return, along with the endless search for an answer to “why.’

God came to Job (Job 38-41) and spoke about a number of things with Job. But none of it concerned “why.” It was all about “Who” God is.  And that is the state of mind all of us must come to if we want to have peace in the midst of any circumstance that is difficult. We must focus on “Who” is in control, the nature of our God and his eternal love, and his power and wisdom. As we focus on the “Who” we realize that our “why” question really isn’t important...only that God is who he says he is, and will do what he says he will do. Then we will be able to agree with Job and proclaim (Job 42:2-3) “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I. And I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me....(v 6) I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

As long as I have a “Who” (I AM), why doesn’t really matter.

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