A healthy spirit conquers adversity,
but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?
PROVERBS 18:14 (THE MESSAGE)
If we live long enough – broken bodies, damaged relationships or tattered dreams will eventually lead us through the valley of suffering. Many of us who sojourn through that misty lowland find that our perspectives on life, God and suffering are shattered along the way. What we believe as we descend into that valley is often not what we believe when we finally emerge.
Consider the story of Job for example. Job’s story was probably the first portion of the Bible to be written and it reveals the drama of one man’s traumatic journey through suffering. Despite his horrific loss of family, fortune and health, Job entered the valley with a noble perspective on suffering. He didn’t resign himself to bitterness. He didn’t succumb to his wife’s advice to “curse God and die.” Initially, his perspective was firmly intact:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
God’s name be ever blessed.
JOB 1:21 (THE MESSAGE)
But as his suffering wore on without resolution Job started asking questions – questions that revealed the growing stress cracks in his perspective on life.
Job was widely revered as one of the godliest men in the land. He walked with God daily and trusted God to take care of him. So when the circumstances of his life continued to go from bad to worse, Job didn’t know what to make of it. How could a good God allow such terrible suffering to continue? Why wasn’t God taking care of him? He cried out …
Let up on me, will you?
Can’t you even let me spit in peace?
Even suppose I’d sinned—how would that hurt you?
You’re responsible for every human being.
Don’t you have better things to do than pick on me?
JOB 7:19-20 (THE MESSAGE)
For chapter upon chapter we can read Job’s questions regarding what he had believed about life, righteousness, relationships, justice, mercy, wisdom – and yes, even his relationship with God. Job’s perspective on life and the reason for his suffering was completely shattered. Try as he might he could not make his beliefs about suffering line up with his experience. What a devastating blow! He easily could have become callous and hardened toward God – prolonged suffering and unanswered questions can do that to a person.
But interspersed among Job’s wrestling with the questions, we also see the rock-solid elements of a perspective that held up under the pressure. Listen to the precious nuggets he shouted out across the valley of suffering:
God’s wisdom is so deep, God’s power so immense,
who could take him on and come out in one piece?
JOB 9:4 (THE MESSAGE)
Because even if he killed me,
I’d keep on hoping.
JOB 13:15 (THE MESSAGE)
Still, I know that God lives—
the One who gives me back my life—
and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth.
JOB 19:25 (THE MESSAGE)
No matter how dim his view of what he experienced on earth, Job had one perspective that never shattered – Job knew that God was God and he revered and feared God’s awesome power and authority. Despite all he did not understand – Job knew without a doubt that God was the only one who could redeem him.
God honored Job’s perspective. In time, God delivered him from his suffering and blessed him beyond what he could have imagined. And in a stunning twist of perspective we can see that Job’s experience of suffering was more of an expression of God’s confidence in Job than His contempt.
Job had no idea that his response to suffering made him a key player in a heavenly battle but God has revealed the whole story – the reason for Job’s suffering – to us. Perhaps that is one reason God gave us the book of Job so early in history. Perhaps God knew how much we needed a glimpse behind the scenes – a grander perspective in the valley of suffering so that we could say with Job …
‘Who is this that questions
my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things
I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
JOB 42:3 (NLT)
On the Journey with You,
Dave & Jan Dravecky