My wife Amy and I will never forget the response a younger couple had to our suffering when they entered our hospital room just moments after we found out that our baby had died. We were surprised by her visit, but not by her statement to us. The twenty-something year old woman said this: “I can’t believe that God would allow this to happen to you, you are a pastor.” She had a terrible past. She was abused as a child. She had several children out of wedlock. She had even spent some time in prison. By her logic, this should have happened to her.
The words of this young woman stuck with me for several months through this tragedy. I knew as a pastor I needed to find out what God tells us about suffering in the Bible. As I was thinking through what God had to say about suffering, my mind immediately thought about Job. So, I started to study all forty-two chapters of Job, not just the first two chapters and then the last (which is what pastors seem to only focus on).
I learned that suffering Job had three friends. When these three friends heard about his struggles, they came to him to simply sympathize with him and comfort him:
Eliphaz the Temanite
Bildad the Shuhite
Zophar the Naamathite
When they first saw Job, the scene was so bad that they tore their robes, threw dust over their heads and shouted and wept. It was so unthinkable that they sat down on the ground with him for seven days without speaking a word to him.
Each of these three men would eventually give a few speeches to Job. But before we look at what these men said to Job, we must realize that the counselors were basically wrong even though their words were often right:
God said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7-8).
Each of their speeches have a common theme. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all had the same logic:
#1 Sinful people experience trouble.
#2 Innocent people are saved from trouble.
#3 Job is experiencing trouble.
#4 Job is sinful.
There is some truth to this, but it is not complete. You see, the three friends only asked one question. They jumped to the conclusion that Job was suffering because of unrepentant sin in his life. Even though this could have been a possibility, it is not necessarily true. And in this case with Job, it was not true. Job really had no known sin in his life at the time. These friends were too narrow in their thinking about why we suffer.
Suffering is not linked to sin unless it’s a consequence of behavior. Instead of just jumping to one conclusion when something bad happens to us, we must be willing to search deep in our hearts with three other questions.
There are three other questions Job’s friends should have been asking as they were trying to understand why bad things were happening to Job. When we are suffering, we must ask ourselves these questions:
Question #1 – Do I have unrepentant sin in my life? God might be disciplining us. He might be correcting us. We have to see if there is any sin in our life. If the answer is “yes,” then repent. It doesn’t get much simpler than what God says to the people of Israel when they are living in sin and they are experiencing drought, famine, and attacks from other nations.
God says, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me” (Jeremiah 15:19).
What does it mean to repent? It means that you confess your sin to God and you stop your sin. But if you have searched your heart and can find no known sin, then ask another question.
Question #2 – How can I spiritually grow from this? God allows bad things to happen to us to build character in us. If we look ahead to the end of the story, we see that Job grew from this experience. He grew in his knowledge of who God really was. By the end of this story, Job realized that his view of God was so inadequate. Job grew in understanding who God was.
Romans 5:3-4 states that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope.”
Hope really is all about attitude. And our attitudes will dictate how well or not we will go through a trial and how much we will learn from our troubles. Attitude determines so much in our life. Especially when something does not go right. In your current trial, what are you learning?
The most successful people in this life have learned from their tragedies and have become a better person because of it. God always wants us to grow spiritually from everything that happens to us. That is why we must spend time searching deep into our hearts to figure it out. After searching, if you have still not found out why, then ask another question.
Question #3 – How can I glorify God in this situation? Our life is not about being comfortable, but it is about bringing glory to God. This is a hard concept for us to understand at times, because many Christians have turned their faith into what God can do for them in this life instead of what they can do for God in this life. Psalm 46:10 states: “Be still and know that I am God; I’ll be glorified among the nations, I’ll be glorified in the earth.”
Our main goal in this life is to glorify God with our life among the nations. Too often, we focus on the first phrase of the verse to be still. We turn the verse into a devotional verse where we are quiet before God so that God can teach us something for the day. But the verse is much deeper than that. God wants us to pause and take notice that He will be gloried in this earth whether or not we listen. But when we do calm ourselves enough to think about God, we realize that our purpose on this planet is to live in a way that brings honor to our God.
When we go through trials in this life, people watch how we handle it. And when we handle it with grace and wisdom, people are impressed. They are impressed with us and they are impressed with our God.
Question #4 – Can I graciously accept this mystery? Am I willing to accept this suffering even though I do not understand why it is happening? It seems that when something tragic happens in our life, sometimes we go through a process of understanding why it happened.
Immediate: About 25% of the time, when we are going through a tough time, we know immediately why we are going through it. It becomes very clear to us (The percentage is not exact, but it simply shows us that about one out of four times we face a challenge in life, we know why. And most of the time it is because of sin in our life when it is immediate.).
Eventually: There are other times where it takes a little longer, but eventually we discover why it happened to us. This seems to happen about 50% of the time. Wallace Johnson was born in 1902 and helped start the famous Holiday Inn motels chain. This is his story:
“When I was 38 years old I worked in a sawmill. One morning the boss told me I was fired. Depressed and discouraged, I felt like the world had caved in. When I told my wife what had happened, she asked me what I was going to do. I replied, ‘I’m going to mortgage our little home and go into the building business.’ The loan was for $250. My first venture was the construction of two small buildings. Within 5 years I was a multimillionaire! At the time it happened, I didn’t understand why I was fired. Later, I saw it was God’s unerring and wondrous plan to get me into perfect will.”
Just like Wallace Johnson, can you think about a time in your life where something really difficult came into your life and you were confused for a while as to why it happened, but then eventually you discovered why it happened? After you go through these kinds of trials a few times in your life, you gain a better perspective that God is doing something good behind the scenes. As you mature as a believer, these moments can become exciting if you allow them to be.
Heaven: But there are instances where we do not find out this side of heaven and will have to wait until then to truly find out why something happened to us. This might be about 25% of the time. God marks across some of our days, “Will explain later.”
When bad things happen to us and we don’t receive the answer immediately or even eventually, sometimes we might even think that God is somehow angry with us. Job truly believed that God was angry with him. He was scared to approach God because even though he couldn’t think of anything he had done wrong, he was certain that God was angry with him. He acknowledges that he is a mortal and that it is impossible for a mortal human being to be righteous before God. God could convict him of anything He wants to because God is the One who removes mountains (9:5), shakes the earth (9:6), commands the sun not to shine (9:7), and tramples the waves of the sea (9:8).
But God is not angry with you just because you experience trouble. You must be able to overcome those feelings that well up inside that God is against you when something tragic happens. Because we all will eventually experience something tragic in our lives if we live long enough.
Never: There might even be times when we will never know why something happened to us. When we get to heaven, that does not necessarily mean that we will all of a sudden know everything there is to know about everything. That is reserved for God alone. God is the only One who knows everything and that means that there might be some things that we will never know about no matter what. But I think that we will be able to accept it better when we are in heaven and we will have our new minds and can think at an entirely different level.
While we are here on this earth, God is okay with us arguing with Him. Job 13:15 states: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.”
You have the right to argue with God and ask why awful things are happening, but always keep your faith while you are contending with Him. There are over 300 questions in the book of Job. Here is one of the questions Job asked:
“Is it right for You indeed to oppress, to reject the labor of Your hands, and to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked” (Job 10:3).
Job knew this was not true. But he sure felt like it was in the moment. We know that this question is not true. But there are times in our lives when we feel like the wicked are getting away with things they shouldn’t, while we are suffering. People ask these questions:
Why is “so and so” so wealthy and successful in his business even though he doesn’t follow the correct ethics, when I follow good ethics and yet it seems like I am constantly struggling to pay my bills?
Why does “so and so” produce baby after baby and yet she neglects her children and spends hardly any time with them, but I would love to have my own child and I would take such good care of them, but God has kept me without a baby?
Why doesn’t “so and so” who doesn’t take good care of their body get cancer? Instead, I get it and I make sure that I eat healthy and strive to keep my body in good shape?
Why does my wife have to die before all of my other friend’s wives? We had a great marriage. We loved each other. We were faithful to each other for forty years, and yet now she is gone and I am the only one of my friends who is alone.
Why can’t I find true love? Everyone around me seems to be able to but me? Why does it feel like God doesn’t have anyone for me?
In December 1987, Jami Goldman and a friend drove from Arizona to Purgatory to ski. Jami was nineteen years old and a student at Arizona State. On the way back, they took a wrong turn. The road was closed behind them, and no one checked the road to see if anyone was on it. Their car got stuck in a snowbank. It was December 23. “You didn’t know if it was day or night for the first four days because the snowstorm was so bad,” Jami said. Jami developed frostbite in her legs, then gangrene. They had no food, and had to melt snow on the dashboard for water. They finally were found January 2. Goldman’s legs had to be amputated below the knees. Goldman wasn’t athletic before she lost her legs.
“A lot of kids ask, ‘Do you want your legs back?’ I say, No, because I wouldn’t be able to sit here and share my story with you.’ Or, ‘No, I wouldn’t be in the position of a role model and a mentor, providing hope for people with disabilities.’ I feel really fortunate my life has taken this turn.”
She ran in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
How can you look at your life storm as an opportunity? What can you do to make sure that God is using you through this tough time in your life for HIS GLORY?