There are four parts to Job’s entire process that I both relate to and have (and am) going through.
1. “Curse God and die . . .” is the natural response of the flesh that wants comfort and enjoyment above all else. When the flesh fails and pain becomes the state of being, the immediate response of my flesh is anger at God, then escape at any cost.
This is the point where so many commit suicide. When I focus completely and only on the flesh, on my highest possible good being ‘enjoyment’ and ‘fun,’ suicide seems like the highest possible good. All this proves is that my sights are not set high enough.
These times are among the worst moments of life. When despair and a deep black oppression brought on by the certainty of tens of thousands of days of pain ahead descends like a black cloud shutting out all other sources of thought, hope, light and life.
2. Job’s initial response was that of bitter acceptance based on self-righteousness . . . “Why me? I don’t deserve this. I am a good person.” This is a much healthier outlook than suicide but it is still far from the right place.
This is a position that has both a defense and an attack. This position attacks God . . . “What kind of Creator are you? You are treating me unfairly, You must be the one at fault.” The defense of the self is based upon the same lines of thinking . . . “I have always been a good person, I don’t deserve this. I have never done anything wrong. This sort of pain should be reserved for criminals or politicians.”
While this position will save your physical life, it is not a position that will release the life of God within your soul. Acceptance with bitterness and complaining is like drinking a six pack of beer to escape pain in the evening. Eventually alcoholism becomes the central problem. This is why so many people are so bitter toward God.
3.The third choice is when the pain of what is, is accepted without any conditions, complaints, prayer, attempts at relationship, or any doings with God whatsoever. Job chapter 40: 4-5 “I am insignificant, what can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; even twice, and I will add no more.” Complete defeated stoicism.
This is better than acceptance with bitterness in the sense that it at least allows for a little quietness of heart . . . Uncontrollable anger does not plague me when I am sitting in this particular corner with my nose to the wall. The anguish of the unanswerable why questions have become quiet here in this place of isolated, numbing blindness. The place of non-caring being . . . There is still no possibility for life, love, or the joy of God to be loosed in my spirit.
Job 42: 1-6 says, “Then Job answered the Lord and said, I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I do not understand. Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask thee, and do thou instruct me. I have heard thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees thee, therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”
This at last is God’s ordained position for those who suffer constantly.
An acceptance based on relationship with God.
Lamentations chapter 3:39 says, “Why should any living mortal, or any man offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord. We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.”
This is the coldest corner in my dungeon that has the smallest door that opens up into the widest wildest space in the universe. That of wonderful inner life and communion with God . . . “I will speak, you will listen.”
When Job says, “Therefore I retract.” He meant everything. He retracts everything he ever thought, dreamed, felt, or imagined about God and pain and indeed, about life itself.
Now God and God alone is on the throne of Job’s inner temple, and Job has become his priest. Job now chose to live the rest of his days dwelling in God’s presence, ready to yield to anything just for the unbelievable privilege of relationship with God.
This sums up the totality of God’s will for our lives. There is nothing else but this.
Early in this process of pain and suffering I felt that I wanted heaven more than anything on earth and that ‘To die is gain.’ I faced the constant temptation to turn to death, to think of death as the ‘ultimate healing.’ I used to long for death as the place of painlessness and ultimate comfort.
I now renounce that position . . .
I now choose to join Job in the temple. I retract . . . I repent . . .
I will not sit with my nose to the wall anymore, with my face in the dust and my mouth closed.
I stand, with my golden water pitcher in hand, next to the altar of praise in my heart and pour out the water of Jesus’ presence back to the Father within me.
I now choose to know God . . . At any cost . . . No matter how difficult or painful . . .
I am so excited about the prospect of His Presence. I know now that no matter what, He will always be immediate in my spirit and that my inner life will be rich simply because of His faithfulness. There is a huge chance that I will be groaning and weeping in pain for the next twenty two thousand days but I still feel a peace with that.
This too is His path.
This too is His will.
This too is His glory for my life.
I want to be filled with His love and His life based on His terms alone. I bring nothing to the inner table of His presence . . .
He brings it all.
Broken . . . Cracked . . . Hurting . . . Lonely . . . I choose Jesus.
On His terms . . . These terms include nothing less than a complete unity of my spirit and soul with Him.
It only takes the smallest sip of this silent living water to wash away the dusty taste of non-being, the filthy, rotten deathly taste of despair. There is nothing so refreshing, nothing so wet to my parched soul . . . The psalmist says, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” Yet as satisfying as this water is to my suffering soul I still can’t pin it down. I still can’t describe it.
It comforts me to know that people far more advanced in their faith and relationship with God can’t describe it either.
The TV reporter Dan Rather once interviewed Mother Theresa and asked her, “What do you say when you pray?” Theresa answered with little hesitation. “I don’t say anything, I just listen.” Dan Rather, derisive, then asked her “OK, then what does HE say?” She replied quickly, “He doesn’t say anything, He just listens also, and if you can’t understand that then I can’t explain it to you.”
This is a unity of the soul and God that can’t be explained, only yielded to. This is a high path that cannot be pointed out, only followed step by step.
Out on the face of the ocean there are no paths marking the sea-lanes. The wise mariner consults his sextant and sets his course by the stars. The psalmist says, “Thy way was in the sea, and thy paths in the mighty waters, and thy footprints may not be known.” Psalm 79:19
This way, though well trodden by the feet of millions of God’s children before, during, and after my puny lifetime, is a complete mystery to me. I am so grateful for water. So grateful for His leading . . .
Unrelenting pain is such a necessary risk for God to take. He must reduce us, yet in the process he risks the perception that He doesn’t care about us, that we will think He is not there for us, that He will not answer our prayers for healing because He doesn’t care enough.
This is why most of the Bible is devoted to lengthy descriptions of God’s love for us. I love psalm 136. Twenty-six Divine redundant verses of, “His loving-kindness is everlasting” interspersed with recitations of his works of deliverance on Israel’s behalf.
Another psalm of lasting beauty and power is Psalm 103 . . . “As high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west (who can measure that infinite distance?) so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a Father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
Lord grant us the faith Lord to see beyond . . . Grant me the faith to see the process, and to see your love lavished upon me in every moment . . .
One of the central ideas, one of the staples of truth that sustains me as I groan and groan, is my certainty that all this has a purpose. That God in His infinite love really is deriving infinite joy from my faith and that something wonderfully good is happening deep in my spirit through constant suffering.
I had an argument today with a dear friend about this. Does God want to heal me, or not? Does God want me to suffer, or does he want to heal me? It was a painful, divisive argument. Painful because of the divisiveness and relationship bending but more so because of the implications of a yes answer.
What if God really does want to heal me but can’t because of me? What if I don’t have enough faith; or the ‘right kind’ of faith? What if, although I am ‘naming it and claiming it,’ I fall short of the faith that will release healing?
This is a very painful idea to me.
If this is true then it truly leaves me in the outer darkness. I find myself disqualified from healing and then disqualified from God himself.
How can I be sure that I have enough faith for salvation since I don’t have enough faith for healing? If I am to be disqualified in this realm at least I should be allowed to enjoy this life a little.
Early on in this trial I believed this ‘name it claim it’ theology. When healing didn’t occur, deep feelings of rejection and self-condemnation almost overwhelmed me. ‘Obviously the fault is mine . . .’ etc.
Maybe I am only attempting to justify myself by seeking meaning in the pain. Maybe he is right. Maybe . . . Maybe God doesn’t love me enough to heal me . . . Maybe I’m being punished for my sin . . .
This theology releases nothing but confusion and bitterness in me. If this is true, where does that leave me but outside the camp? Completely rejected and all alone, abandoned by every one, even God himself.
My only hope is to go through, not around the pain . . . My only refuge is to somehow ‘fit’ God into the picture of my life as it has become; a useless-hurting-rusting-broken-washing machine exposed in the rain.
To see His glorious face shining upon me with unutterable love even though I have become what I now am. What am I good for now? Not much . . .
Even my good friends, in the name of trying to help (as I obsess over the agony) are growing weary of my gloom and are starting to draw away. I think they are becoming depressed themselves just hanging out with me. Today my friend said, “Let’s just give it a rest. Let’s stop thinking so deeply and just live.” I wish I could. When I try to ‘just live’ I find that I cannot. Each breath carries with it the unbearable burden of pain and I must turn, I must struggle, I must DEAL with it.
This is why I have been seeking a way, through the theology of suffering, to see God’s infinite purpose in this.
There are few books about this, especially in America. There is almost no devotional literature written to, and from, the chronically ill in modern times. There are reams of material about suffering coming out of the past. The saints of God who didn’t have the advantages of Tylenol and the excellent medical techniques for reducing pain we now have. People in the past dealt with pain on a daily basis (like I am) simply because they were alive in an era before vaccines, or anti-biotics.
I recommend to everyone I know Jeanne Guyon’s book ‘Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.’ Written hundreds of years ago it still is a best seller for those who are desirous of leaving the comforting glow of their TV sets and setting forth on a journey to discover Christ in a deeper manner.
There is a chapter in her book called Abandonment and suffering, which is especially meaningful to me as my precious self becomes reduced more and more every day. She takes one more step than I do in the idea of the reduction of the self. She claims the self must become abandoned, then annihilated . . . Suffering is the only pathway of God’s grace.
TV preachers prepare to be challenged.
“There is a possibility that you might make a mistake concerning your abandonment to the Lord. You may abandon yourself hoping and expecting always to be caressed and loved and spiritually blessed by Him. You who have given yourself to the Lord during some pleasant season, please take note of this. If you gave yourself to him to be blessed and to be loved, you cannot suddenly turn around and take back your life at another season . . . when you are being crucified!
Nor will you find comfort from man when you have been put on the cross. Any comfort that comes to you when you are knowing the cross comes to you from the Lord.
You must learn to love the cross. He who does not love the cross does not love the things of God. (Mt. 16:23) It is impossible for you to truly love the Lord without loving the cross. The believer who loves the cross finds that even the bitterest things that come his way are sweet. The scripture says, ‘To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet’ (Prov. 27:7)
How much do you desire to hunger after God? You will hunger after God, and find him, in the same proportion that you hunger after the cross.
Here is a true spiritual principle that the Lord will not deny: God gives us the cross, and then the cross gives us God. You may be certain there will come to you an inward spiritual advancement when there is also in your life a real progress in knowing the experience of the cross. Abandonment to Christ and the experience of the cross go hand in hand.
Then how will you treat suffering? Or, to put it in another way, how do you respond to the Lords working of the cross in your life?
You respond this way. As soon as anything comes to you in the form of suffering, at that very moment a natural resistance will well up somewhere inside you. When that moment comes, immediately resign yourself to God. Accept the matter. In that moment give yourself up to him as a sacrifice.
By doing this, you will eventually make a wonderful discovery. It is this: When the cross does arrive in your life, it will not be nearly as burdensome as you first feared. Receive it from God, no matter what it is. The burden is far lighter this way.
Why is the cross so much lighter when accepted in this way? Because you will have desired the cross, and you will have accustomed yourself to receiving everything from the hand of the Lord. Do not misunderstand these words. I have not described to you a way to get out of the cross. Even though you completely abandon yourself to the Lord and completely resign yourself to suffering, this will not prevent you from feeling the weight of that cross. If you have not felt the cross, then you have not suffered. Feeling the pain of suffering is one of the principal parts of suffering. Pain is an inescapable aspect of the cross. Without it, there has been no cross at all. Suffering is woven into the nature of the cross. Pain is at the center of knowing suffering. Please remember that your Lord chose to endure the most extreme violence the cross could offer.
Sometimes you may bear the cross in weakness; at other times you may bear the cross in strength. But whether you bear it in weakness or in strength, bear it! Both weakness and strength should be the same to us since we bear the cross in the will of God.”
This quote serves to illustrate the difference in attitude that different eras have had toward suffering. Madame Guyon and her generation considered suffering to be a perfectly normal blessing from God. Sent by God in order to release His life in our souls. “God gives us the cross, then the cross gives us God.” When I say things like this to my friends I get a lot of resistance. “No, God isn’t like that, He loves you. This is not His will for you, His will is for healing.”
I have found this to be untrue.
God is not locked in Aladdin’s lamp waiting for me to rub the lamp and then grant my three wishes, Health, wealth, and long life. It is I who wait in the bottle for him . . .
I exist for His pleasure, not He for mine. I am certain He is deriving infinite pleasure from my faith in the midst of this fire, and that I am gaining an infinite reward but still I wait at His table. Still in His Sovereignty I groan. And as a happy side effect am growing to know Him and love Him more, and more, and more every day.
I believe that all of us have a specific destiny, a potential for meaning. To put it another way, all of us must find the expression of God’s meaning in and for our lives. Maybe this meaning is, like a stillborn baby, to express a sense of the mortality of man.
Maybe a person’s entire life is to be boiled down to one conversation, or act of kindness to the next Billy Graham. An act that has immense eternal significance. A life that to the person living it seems meaningless.
In God’s great economy a missionary might spend twenty years laboring to make only one convert, struggling with despair and feelings of failure, yet that one convert will, after the faithful missionary is long gone, reach his nation for Jesus.
There is no way that I can know, or gauge, the meaning of my life. Maybe the entire meaning of my life is to be summed up in this writing. Perhaps you who are reading this are also in an agony of chronic pain and despair and somehow you will take heart and reach deep inside and find Jesus in a new, fresh way.
Maybe you will arise from the ashes of your ruined life and continue on in this wonderful journey toward spiritual wholeness that we all must (and will) walk all the way through.
I think only God himself can know the true meaning of a person.
Only He can even understand exactly what a person is.
Perhaps all this pain has been given me only for His own benefit. Maybe I am a spectacle with only one purpose in this life . . . To give God joy . . . I don’t know . . . I am coming to the place where I don’t care. It doesn’t concern me what the ‘meaning of my life’ is. These concerns are far beyond me.
It is my privilege and joy simply to be allowed to follow Him like a puppy dog completely subject to His bidding. Does it please Him that I await at the door while He dines? Very well, I’ll wait. Does it please Him to walk with me in the park after dinner? Then I will walk.
I am crazy in love with Him and my life is entirely His to spend as He pleases. Who am I that I should complain in the light of His Love? Praise God for His indescribable gift of Himself. His Holy Spirit living and moving deep in my soul.
The fact that I have this love burning way down past all the surface storms and passions, down below in the depths of my being deeper than where the darkest evil lurks in me is enough for me. He is there, below it all, like an underwater volcano in the depths. He eternally erupts within me. This simple fact makes my life something precious and worthwhile. Worthwhile even as I weep and choke. Worthwhile even in the harshest moments . . .
I once took my wife to see one of the greatest mimes in the world, the Frenchman Marcel Marceau. He was performing at a theater in San Francisco.
One of his skits struck me to the core of my being. (It seems all true art strikes there.)
He began in the middle of the stage. He was ‘miming’ a man in a factory, working an assembly line. With an incredibly tortured, yet resigned look on his face he was rushing to keep up with the machine. Getting a little behind, then through stress and frantic rushing, catching up again. Gyrating wildly yet in the same repetitive motions imposed by an assembly line he was sweating and cursing, compelled to keep the pace.
There was not a shred of peace, or joy in any part of his expression. There was nothing human or redeeming in his actions. He was like a piston, or a drive shaft completely integrated into the machine.
Finally the longed for whistle announcing quitting time.
He sagged to a stop, fatigue and meaninglessness written all over his face. He punched out, rode home on the bus with strangers, no one speaking or interacting on the bus and arrived at his own cheerless, empty flat.
Alone, he did the necessary chores. Mechanically cooking, eating, cleaning, then came the highlight of this crippled working man’s day.
He climbed upstairs to his attic and rummaged around for a moment, found his treasure chest. An old trunk full of momentos and memories.
For the first time his face unclenched from the mask of tightness and pain. Breathing deeply of the dusty smells from the trunk, carefully lifting out each treasure and by inflections of the face and body revealing what each one was, signs of life began to appear on his countenance. Here is an old dress, there a baseball glove, a picture of a long lost, long separated love . . . A child’s old broken toy and so forth. Happy smiles and sighs of longing accompanied each item, and he would spend a few minutes in sweet reminiscing and inner peace as the memory of what once was, overcame the reality of what now is.
At this point he completely surrendered to the fantasy world and after cranking up an old Victrola record player, began dancing an old party dress. For a few precious life-giving minutes, the fantasy became real for him. With exaggerated movements and gallant gestures he revisited the site of his greatest happiness, the long gone past. There was such a striking contrast in this human being with human feelings and longings juxtaposed against the factory worker cut off from all true reality during the day.
Finally the record player wound down and he realized he was only holding an old dress, not the longed for love of his life.
Slumping, he carefully replaced his treasures in the trunk . . . To be brought out the next evening for a repeat performance no doubt. Then went to bed.
In the gray, gray morning he rose and went back to the factory. Raw from sleep he began to thrash about in time to the rhythm of the machine, desperately keeping time to its demands. It was very clear that this was the totality of this man’s life, that every day he lived the cycle of the machine and the memories, and that the pace at the machine was only possible because of the memories and the fantasy life each evening.
This was a long, heavy-duty drama and my wife was sound asleep long before it was over.
I sat entranced by Marceau’s genius and thunderstruck by the message. Something almost prophetic within me told me that this skit had deep meaning for my life. This was years before chronic pain entered in to establish its horrid lordship over my flesh. It was as if part of me stored this entire performance away in the dendrites of my mind for a time in the future that I would need its inspiration. Full of the enjoyment of painlessness I quickly forgot this night and climbed mountains and laughed and loved being alive for years on end.
It was only a few months ago that I even remembered.
I was working and groaning, suffering heavily as I drove and forced to keep pace with the job I have. “I Gotta do 14-17 stops an hour or else . . .’ No time to stop and talk with anyone . . . No time to breathe or think, just . . . Go . . .
From the desperate churnings of my brain trying to make sense, trying to come to terms with awful nausea and pain, out popped this memory of Marceau.
Immediately I recognized myself in the factory frantically running to keep time with the machine, forced into movements resembling nothing human beings were really created for
At first this memory just made me feel worse. “OK so I am reduced to the agony of repetitive pain and suffering, each day carefully doling out its portion of monotonous nausea and torment, I have become that man through pain, so what?”
I began praying and asking the Lord to reveal to me anything good or helpful about this memory as the conviction from the Holy Spirit continued to grow in me that there was something there for me, something encouraging and life giving.
The climbing of the stairs is the key . . .
When this burned out factory worker wanted life, he climbed the stairs to his attic. He went up, first and foremost in his mind and spirit he went up to the upper story . . .
This is essential for you and I.
God is showing me how to go up to my attic . . . The inner attic room where HE dwells.
Not in order to commune with the nothingness of old memories of what once was . . . Not to long for the past and the good things it once held but to climb into my own heart of hearts and there to meet with and commune constantly with Him.
AS I WORK AND GROAN
His desire is for this ‘upper story life’ to be the center of my life.
Real life does not consist of the machine and the herky-jerky motions of pain. Real life is found only there . . . Here, in the silence . . .
Waiting patiently for his grace to meet me.
To not wait for the evenings when at last I can sit and for a moment escape the hustle of work and motion in order to at last commune with God but to carry the trunk full of treasure around with me and to live there in the promises of God as a lifestyle.
I cannot point the way to this room for you. I can’t give you a road map. I can barely find it within my own being let alone try and help you navigate the depths of your own heart. But I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you seek him you will find him.
I beseech you, give Him a chance. Don’t just fling out a few half-hearted prayers and when communion doesn’t instantly appear in your heart give up. I completely understand how pain can both drive you to, and away from God.
Please draw near to Him. I am so blessed to be allowed to hurt like this that my inner life can take on such richness. Literally nothing else on earth could have ever brought me here to the place of my greatest desiring. Nothing else could have ever induced me to lay aside myself and the pleasures of this life long enough to become His friend.
Even now I long for healing but I can truly, truly say, “Thank you God for pain.”
The above was written in 1998. My health is way better now. Surgery has helped in so many ways. I’m presently just sort of hemmed in by my painful neck and vague dizziness from the permanent nerve damage from all those years of stenosis of the spine. I still have a sense of closeness to Jesus but now I’m more normal in that, like most Christians, I have to make a concerted effort to seek intimacy with Jesus. So I have gone from a more or less enforced intimacy to a chosen intimacy. But I’m choosing!
Life goes on and it is good but I’m still waiting impatiently for heaven.
Comforting Thoughts When Distressed or Depressed
(Keep following the main link at the end of each page)