Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Christians Suffer

PART 4

Grantley Morris

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Has the cross of Christ rendered obsolete what Job reveals about suffering?

If you think that’s a peculiar question, you’re not alone. Until recently, I had no idea how profoundly your answer to this question will affect your answer to the question of why Christians suffer.

Some readers might think I should spend quite a while discussing the book of Job. The risk of wasting my time is too high, however. Many an ingenious Christian mind has found ways of reverently transferring what might seem like highly pertinent Scriptures into a new category of once-divinely-inspired writings now labeled Superseded.

The Word of God is emphatic that Christ suffered in our stead (Scriptures). If this means our magnificent Lord suffered on earth so that his followers need never suffer on earth – or if persecution is the only exception – then Christ’s stupendous act has not only split history in two, it has rendered Job virtually obsolete.

As we progress, things will gradually clarify, but we must look to the New Testament to be sure of current spiritual reality. I will mention the book of Job here, only to the limited extent that it raises issues it would be cowardly for us to dodge. After all, no matter how much one tries to diminish it, Job remains an inseparable part of that unique work of God of which we read, “From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures [the Old Testament] . . . Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Size-wise, Job is a significant portion of Holy Writ (Relevant Statistics). And it is devoted to the very enigmas this webpage grapples with. Even the briefest of overviews of Job highlights brilliantly the perplexing dilemmas we Christians face in trying to get our heads around God and suffering. In fact, less than a minute’s mention of the story is enough to ram home that the subject we are tackling is not only puzzling and alarmingly emotive: daring even to hint at a possible reason for Christians suffering is so strewn with dangers as to make dancing on a minefield seem a sensible pastime.

The whole point of the book of Job is that he suffered horrifically, not because he was in any way spiritually lacking, but precisely because he was exceptionally godly. The divinely authorized biography insists that Job was “blameless and upright” and “fears God, and turns away from evil,” (Job 1:1, repeated by God himself in Job 1:8, and yet again in Job 2:3). The Lord was so delighted with Job that on at least two different occasions God boasted about Job to Satan, saying, “For there is no one like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). Even very many generations later, the Lord still rated Job as one of the most godly, spiritually powerful, people ever to have lived (Proof).

Like maliciously telling a man that the love of his life married him only for his money, Satan claimed Job served God only for what God gave him. Take away all the cozy benefits of being faithful to the Lord, declared the Accuser, and Job would turn his back on God.

Suffering brought Job immense glory by proving his love and integrity in a way that nothing else could. You might argue that God already knew Job’s heart, but no one else knew for sure. As underscored by Peter proving manifestly less able to resist denying his Lord than he supposed, not even Job really knew. I believe that, human psychology being what it is, through successfully enduring this test, Job took with him for the rest of his life an increase in his steely resolve to serve God no matter what. In any case, to Job’s eternal glory, every angel and spirit and human who knows the way things unfolded, has undeniable proof of Job’s devotion. For years, an athlete will endure great sacrifice and agonizing training sessions to be hailed as a champion for a moment. Job’s glory is greater in every way.

The other element in the story spotlights the serious danger in getting wrong one’s theology of suffering. Like some of us today, (rather surprising for a book some consider outdated) Job’s friends theorized that genuinely good people don’t suffer. Their sincere belief was that the good Lord protects the truly righteous. Job must therefore have had somehow erred. If they could discover the nature of his slip-up, it would help their friend. Their well-intentioned attempt was so disastrous that they ended up not only tormenting the very person they were hoping to help, but incurring God’s displeasure (Job 42:7-8).

Despite these self-appointed advisers receiving a divine rebuke, I have a lot of time for them. What makes their appalling failure so tragic is that they truly were his friends. Look at their depth of feeling:

    Job 2:11-13 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come on him . . . they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and to comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes from a distance, and didn’t recognize him, they raised their voices, and wept; and they each tore his robe, and sprinkled dust on their heads toward the sky. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.

They were cut to the core over Job’s plight.

These devout people had the highest of motives. Not only were they genuinely empathic and said not a word until Job broached the subject, when they did so, they sincerely believed they were defending the Lord. They knew that the Almighty is good, and they felt sure this means he will not allow an innocent person to suffer. I’ll keep this brief, so here’s just a sample of their wisdom and devotion to God:

    Job 2:11-13 But he saves . . . the needy from the hand of the mighty. So the poor has hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects. Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For he wounds, and binds up. He injures, and his hands make whole.

    In fact, their beliefs are remarkably similar to modern prosperity teaching Other Examples.

Even today, despite reading God’s judgment on Job’s sincere, though mistaken accusers, many a devout Christian is keen to assure us that we need never suffer. They believe Job must somehow have slipped up and brought all his suffering upon himself. Sure that the Bible must somehow have overstated Job’s blamelessness, and that for all of this to finally make sense, they need simply find the dirt on Job, they have grabbed their microscope, poring over the book, hoping to detect Job’s mistake. Here’s what some found Job saying in the midst of his distress:

    Job 3:25 For the thing which I fear comes on me

Average people might simply think, “Yes, what happened to Job is one of the scariest things anyone could imagine.” Nevertheless, when eager to condemn (otherwise known as offering ‘helpful advice’) people get quite creative. They claim the person of whom God spoke in such glowing terms, erred by fearing – and suffered the consequences.

With the highest of motives – keen to honor Christ and rescue distressed Christians – some have assumed the role of a backyard soul-surgeon armed with a rusty scalpel and verses conveniently ripped from their Bible. With the best intentions, they have joined Job’s friends in their quest to find fault with the man God called “blameless and upright” (Job 2:3). But is it wise to side with those who incurred divine anger?

    Job 42:7-8  . . . The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “ My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore, take to yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept him, that I not deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.” (Emphasis mine.)

For a hint at the gravity of their offense, consider merely the monetary cost of the seven bulls and seven rams the Lord required (and if you know anything about Old Testament law, you know all fourteen had to be flawless to be acceptable to God). And, of course, this was just the beginning. The cooling of God’s wrath hinged on them acknowledging their error and humbly entreating the spiritual intervention of the very man of God they had previously tried to advise.

No matter what we have so far said, however, the burning question remains: has Christ’s triumph over sin and Satan so turned everything on its head that it renders most of the book of Job obsolete? Whereas Job was once a spiritual hero, is he now, relative to our Christ-bought authority, an embarrassing weakling we dare not emulate, lest copying him shame our Savior by letting the devil bully us?

On the other hand, what weight should we give to New Testament revelation that Christ suffered as much for generations prior to the cross as for those born later (Scriptures)? In the mind of the eternal Lord Job served, the work of the cross had already been completed, even before the foundation of the world. As emphasized in the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11), and elsewhere, relating to the Holy One has never at any time been through works or animal sacrifices. Salvation has always been solely through faith that God can cleanse us sinners from all unrighteousness. We, living this side of the cross, have a clearer idea of how much securing our forgiveness and cleansing cost the Almighty but, as stressed in the Old Testament as much as the New, we are by no means the only ones to live in that forgiveness.

As to how Christians should view Job, we cannot overlook James, where, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Job is exalted as the Christian’s role model:

    James 5:11 Behold, we call them blessed who endured. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the Lord in the outcome, and how the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Nevertheless, for many Christians, doubt lingers as to whether James somehow got it wrong about Job.

We’ll leave this dangling for the moment. Earlier in this section, I mentioned the possibility of persecution being such an exceptional form of suffering that general principles that apply to other types of suffering might not apply. Let’s ponder this.

Continued: Part 5

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2018, 2019. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

 

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