For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:18)
Some of you took advantage of our adult Sunday school class throughout the autumn. We studied the book of Job, led by Doug Rose. I personally felt it was a great study. Thanks Doug.
There are many who feel that the book of Job is a downer. It’s the story of the man Job, whom God allowed Satan to inflict with all kinds of suffering- the sudden death of his children, the loss of his wealth, and then to top it off, an attack on his health. The story is laid out like a Shakespearean play- Act I: scene 1 – God and Satan in conversation, scene 2- suffering, scene 3- God and Satan in conversation again,… You get the point. The main body of the play involves the conversations between Job and his “well-meaning” but unsympathetic friends, all of who were unaware of the agreement between God and Satan. We are the audience, watching the drama unfold.
But why is the story in the Bible? Are we merely bemused spectators, or is there an important theological message for us? It is part of Scripture, so you know the answer to that. “All Scripture is…profitable…” (2 Tim. 3:16)
But what about suffering? What are we to make of the dreaded diagnosis of cancer, or the loss of a job and foreclosure of our home? What are we to say to parents who lose a teenage son in a car accident? The deeper questions are, where is God in our suffering? Does God notice? Does he care? Is he really there? Have I done something wrong for which he is punishing me? These are important questions which we have all asked or will ask at some point in our lives. We dare not trivialize them.
Job’s three friends thought they had the answers, but they each missed the boat. Their unsympathetic responses were based on some form of “retribution” theology. That is that Job himself was the cause of his distress. For Job, the question was, “in what way? What have I done specifically that God should take out his anger on me?” Have you ever had that question?
I think we as contemporary Americans are really more Epicurean than Christian in our theology. That is, we somehow think that the avoidance of pain and the enjoyment of pleasure in whatever form is the chief end of man. Thus it is natural to think that any form of suffering is a sign of bad luck or divine displeasure, and we conjure up trite fixes that are within our control, when in actuality a great deal of suffering in our lives is beyond both our control and our understanding.
Bill Edgar, in his book, Truth in All its Glory, points out that that the Asian church has a theology of suffering that is missing in the contemporary western church. I suppose that the Asian church has earned it through the crucible in a way that we haven’t. In that respect their understanding is more reflective of our Puritan forefathers in this country as well as those of the early church. Is it possible that God still really loves us in spite of our suffering? After all, he did send his Son to suffer for us.
I in no way want to promote a spirit of masochism, but there is actually a beneficial side to suffering, in that it moves us beyond a superficial expression of faith. For one thing, it can, deepen rather than undermine our faith by giving us a greater appreciation for the depths of suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Suffering can also enhance our sympathy for others who suffer too. (see 2 Cor. 1:3-5) Lastly, suffering can also enhance the validity of our witness. Justyn Martyr, one of the early church patriarchs wrote, “The blood of martyrs is seed”. So it has been through the history of the church. Suffering has often been accompanied by conversions and church growth, because our faith appears less superficial and more genuine.
Of course, suffering is not the end of the story for Job, nor is it for us. Glory is.
Pastor Tom Bridgman