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Friday, July 17, 2009

Hope

One of the overwhelmingly frequent seen reactions to reading the Biblical story of Job, especially from people who have themselves suffered, is loss of hope. It is fatalism. It is this beleaguered sense that there is no way out. This is not the only reaction to Job I have come across in literature, but it is a popular one. Archibald MacLeish and Elie Weisel both present Job from a beaten down perspective.

Job’s initial cries, recorded in Job 3, are from a weary, defeated man. ‘Let the day perish in which I was born. … Let that day be darkness! … Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it. … Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. … Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? … I am not at ease, not am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (3:3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 26).

I had a professor who described conditions like Job’s as being “lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.” The quip is glib but the story is real, both for Job and for many who have read Job. Sometimes life deals terrible blows – blows that are seemingly impossible to overcome.

And yet …

I was reminded in a Bible study that another man in the Bible suffered terribly and without hope and for no reason. Jesus. He plaintively cried out, “My God, my God, why have forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)? Jesus maintained his reverence for God even as he desperately reached out to God, only to receive silence for Heaven. God turned Jesus’ tragedy for good. In his death, there is salvation for all.

Maybe God accomplished much for the good of many in Job’s story. It is not as clear to me, but I think it possible. The voice of Job’s sorrow that is heard in chapter 3 and throughout the dialogues is not the only voice. The reaction of anger aimed at Heaven or satirizing God (in MacLeish’s J.B.) is not the only reaction. There has to be more. I have felt this as I have read Job most intently and intensely than every before, and I have felt is I have talked to others about Job.

Maybe our hope is God’s sovereignty. I share two stories to illustrate.

Recently, a man went for gastric bypass surgery. He was supposed to be in the hospital less than a week. Everything that could have gone wrong did, and six weeks later, he is still in the hospital and fighting for his life. Before this surgery, his faith was somewhere between indifference toward God, and a chip on the shoulder toward either God or the church. During the early days of his hospitalization, when it was clear things weren’t right, the man became angry.

He and his wife were both angry at the hospital. They know UNC is a teaching hospital, but they did not want students practicing on him. The man was becoming bitter. Then things got worse and he began to really fear for his life. Around that time, the pastor of his wife who is a woman of faith came to visit. It came out that as a kid, this man has accepted Jesus. His “faith” had been dormant (or it never existed) for 50 years. Now, staring at death, this man told the pastor he wanted to accept Jesus.
When I visited, I rejoiced with him, his wife (whose anger was completely gone), and his sister. I asked them what they would rather have: (a) a surgery that went by the book, no complications, and no “come-to-Jesus” moment, or what they got, (b) all the complications but also the salvation of his soul. Of course they all chose option b. Then his wife said, “Isn’t neat how it seems like God has always been in control? We’ve been through a lot, but God always knew he’d get us here.”

What struck me about her comment was it was similar to something my sister Christy said recently. She was pushing my son 2-year-old son around my parents’ neighborhood in stroller. She said she would go wherever Henry wanted to go. He had no idea where he was or where he wanted to go, so he just randomly called out and pointed. When he got tired of that and just trusted Christy, she got him home just like she always knew she would.

Christy said God is like that. He lets us make choices, but he knows where he wants us to arrive. When we stop going our way and go God’s way, we get there – just like God always knew we would. Another interesting point Christy observed is that things were harder on her when the two-year-old was calling the shots because she had to be with him and protect him from himself.

Maybe it’s harder on God than on us when we mess up because He loves us and stays with us even in our wanderings. Maybe Job wasn’t hit the hardest in the story of Job. Maybe God suffered even more because he had to watch His beloved Job go through it. People praise Job for staying engaged with God. Let’s praise God for sticking with Job and for sticking with us. Is there hope? In the end, Job is restored to prominence and health. In the end, Jesus rises from death. In the end, God gets us home.

7 comments:

  1. "God suffered"? Hmmm. is this the same God that created all things seen and unseen?

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  2. Why does God's omniscience or omnipotence preclude God suffering? Do you think God feels no pain? Pain is more than just physical suffering - it can be emotional or relational suffering. I wish you'd elaborate rather than just insinuate that it is absurd to suppose God suffers.

    Do you think God suffered great emotional pain when Jesus was on the cross? I certainly do. And, yes, I think it hurt God to watch Job go through all the Hell he went through.

    Do you disagree?

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  3. It is hard to imagine God the father suffering or experiencing pain. Jesus certainly did, but he suffered in his humanity. I can't prove it or offer a verse in support of my thesis, but I don't think God suffers in the same sense as we understand suffering. Suffering and pain are human by definition and are the result of the fall. We look forward to that day in heaven when there will be no more suffering and pain, do we not?

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  4. So do you think God experiences emotion? Does God experience sorrow, sadness? In the Old Testament, on several occassions, God's wrath (and accompanying anger) are evident. God declares that God is a jealous God. If God (1) loves, and (2) experiences emotions, then when those God loves suffer, God suffers with them. It's part of His expression of love. It's called empathy. It's called solidarity. Sure, God is holy and other and all-powerful. But all-powerful does not mean God never hurts; of course God's heart breaks.

    "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused" (Hosea 11:8).

    Look carefully at those words. "My heart recoils withint me. My compassion grows warm and tender. That's directly out of the Bible. Hosea chapter 11, verse 8. God feels emotions. Anyone who feels emotions hurts.

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  5. I think the verse demonstrates that God loves. I'm not at all sure it necessarily follows that he suffers. If he did he would be constantly in pain because more than a billion persons on earth are constantly "messing up." I would look at the verse as God using anthropomorphic language to offer sympathy.

    When we get to heaven there will be no more tears, or sorrow, or suffering, Rev 21:4. If we aren't going to suffer in heaven, it follows that God isn't either. God never changes (Heb 13:8) so it follows that he didn't suffer in Job's lifetime either. :)

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  6. Interesting conversation! I would like to add the following:
    Genesis 6:6 (NIV) The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

    candy

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