“Has not man a hard service on earth,
and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
and come to their end without hope.” – Job 7:1-6
You would be hard pressed to find a person in scripture who comes to mind faster than Job when you think about suffering. God takes this blameless and upright man, and strips him of everything: his possessions, his family and friends, his reputation, his health. We are privy to the conversation between God and Satan, and understand why it is happening, but Job is given no reasoning for his tragic misfortune.
Most of us accept suffering as part of the human condition. It is an expected and unavoidable component of this world, and no one makes it through life unscathed. While the acceptance of this reality is good, we often misunderstand the “what” and “why” behind it. In a special edition of Ringside: In the Ring, Dr. John Pless notes “the way we view suffering in our culture is that suffering is an evil to be overcome…We typically equate suffering with evil, and then the next move is to end the suffering.” We see this play out in our story as Job’s friends attempt to link his tragedies to some sin he has committed, which he need only confess to and atone for to avoid any further troubles. To be sure, suffering is a facet of this sinful, fallen world, and was not part of God’s original design for mankind. Yet, to view suffering as an evil that exists outside of God’s control and despite his love leads to a flawed perception of the truth. “[When suffering is] seen from the point of view of God’s providence, we confess this also as a work of God,” says Dr. Pless. God brings suffering upon us.
“Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered;
I call for help, but there is no justice.
He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass,
and he has set darkness upon my paths.
He has stripped from me my glory
and taken the crown from my head.
He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me
and counts me as his adversary.” – Job 19:7-11
“All these things you’re suffering, God has preordained beforehand, because He knows what it’s going to take to save you from yourself,” says Dr. Pless. “So, my new definition of sanctification is what God is doing in your life to save you from yourself. I think these times of suffering then, when we can’t take things for granted anymore, that’s one way that God is arming us and driving us back to the sole sufficiency of Christ Jesus.”
We do not suffer despite God’s love, but because of it; our suffering is not an evil to be eradicated, but a means of driving us to repentance and salvation. This frees us to accept and even appreciate the difficult moments in life, as we recognize that no matter how brutal things get, God is still in control, and forgiveness is still yours through Christ.
This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s special episode of Ringside: In the Ring. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, and guest Dr. John Pless, as they duke it out over suffering and sanctification, demythologizing those who hear God’s word, and preaching while the world is ending on the full Ringside Preachers episode, “Mankind – Not God – Needs Demythologizing: In the Ring with John Pless”
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