One of the greatest difficulties in life is coping with suffering when it touches you and the people you love. Popular opinion says: “If you really love God and do your best to serve Him, your life will be free from suffering.” This notion has circulated for thousands of years, but it is dead wrong! Sometimes the opposite is true. Some of the greatest heroes in the Bible endured tremendous suffering. The same is true today. Some of God’s most precious people suffer the most.
Suffering can touch our lives at four different levels which often overlap. (1) Our physical health can be taken from us, temporarily or permanently. (2) Our most important relationships in life may be lost, dam-aged, or destroyed. (3) Our emotional health can be attacked by stress, depression, or a host of other problems. (4) Our spiritual lives may be shaken as we fight spiritual battles.
Many of you are burdened with suffering today. If your life has been free from suffering, fasten your seat belt because suffering visits each of us at some time during our life. Suffering can show up any time, anywhere, with anybody. Like the products we buy at Wal-Mart, suffering comes in all sizes and varieties, big and small. Some suffering lasts a short time while other sufferings never quit.
If you are burdened with suffering or troubles, the real life story of the Old Testament man Job offers you hope. Job was a righteous man who served God with his whole heart. He endured suffering at every point in his life — his possessions were destroyed, his children were killed, and his health was ruined. Job didn’t understand his suffering and anguish. His wife didn’t understand his suffering and she offered bad advice. His friends didn’t understand his suffering and they turned on him. Job ended up devastated at every point of his being — emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually.
Like Job, his wife and friends, we struggle with the question: “Why am I or the people I love suffering?” We want to know why. That’s why the age-old book of Job still speaks to us today. Job addresses the question: “Why does God allow His people to suffer?” I want to answer this question by looking at the characters in Job’s story. Each character offered a reason why Job was suffering or a response on how he should react, but God alone offered the real answers.
I. Satan: Suffering causes people to forsake God.
Satan made Job suffer. Satan destroyed Job’s possessions. Satan killed Job’s children. Satan ruined Job’s health. Satan wants to afflict our lives with suffering too. Satan is causing some of us to suffer tremendously today. Satan is at the root of all our suffering, directly or indirectly. Satan always has evil intentions in mind for us. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Satan wants to destroy our faith. Satan wants to ruin our relationship with God. Satan wants to break up our families. Satan wants to wreck our relationship with our friends. Satan wants to destroy our health. Satan wants to cause us problems at work and at school. Satan wants to ruin our reputations.
Satan attacked Job for a spiritual purpose. Satan wanted Job to turn his back on God. Satan works the same way with us today. Satan wants us to doubt God’s love for us. As “the father of lies,” Satan will lie to us about God (John 8:44). When we are hurting, Satan whispers lies to us to get us to doubt God: “If God really loved you, you would not be suffering like this.” It is easy to fall into Satan’s trap when we’re suffering. We begin to feel abandoned by God. We get frustrated with God. We begin to doubt God’s love for us. We get angry with God. We drift away from God as our emotions overwhelm us.
The process of drifting away from God happens gradually. We quit reading our Bible on a regular basis. Then we even quit praying on a daily basis. Little by little we fall away from weekly church attendance. We drift away from our Christian friends. Our thought life and language begin to change. God has less and less a place in our lives so that we are eventually living as if we never became Christians. This is why Satan afflicts us with suffering.
Underline this fact. Satan had to ask God if he could attack Job, and God set a limit on what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12; Job 2:6). When we suffer, we must remember that (1) God is still in control of our lives, whether we can sense it or not. (2) God is aware of every time Satan tries to bring suffering into our lives. Satan can’t touch us unless God allows it.
Suffering tests our faith in God. Suffering reveals the quality of our faith. Suffering deepens our faith. When we’re suffering, our relationship with God is our greatest refuge. Don’t let Satan push you away from God or cause you to waver in your faith in God. Let God be your refuge when you suffer.
II. Job’s wife: Suffering is a reason to give up on life.
Job’s wife frequently gets a bad rap, but let’s not be too hard on her. She has just lost all her children, and she hurts as she sees her husband in incredible pain. She only speaks once in the story — in Job 2:9. She didn’t understand why Job was suffering. She loved her husband and hurt with him. When she saw Job in excruciating agony scraping his oozing sores with a piece of broken pottery, it was more than she could handle. She told him to give up, “Curse God and die.” Like Dr. Kevorkian, Job’s wife thought, incorrectly, suicide was the answer to severe suffering.
When prolonged, unexplainable suffering smacks us in the face, we are tempted to give up. Many in our society today say, “Give up.” Some of our loved ones may encourage us to give up. In our darkest moments, life seems like it isn’t worth living. You’d be surprised at how many people here today have thought about taking their own lives.
Job’s wife told him to end it all, to curse God and die. But Job told her, “You are talking like a foolish woman” (Job 2:10). Job understood that his life was in God’s hands; his life wasn’t his to take. No matter how bad things get, no matter how bad you hurt, you are foolish if you think the answer is to give up and end the life God has given you. God has a plan for your life. God can work out His plan for your life even in the midst of suffering. Remember what Isaiah 53:3 says about Jesus Christ, the Son of God: “He was … a Man of Sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” God worked out His perfect plan for Jesus’ life through suffering, not by avoiding suffering.
Don’t ever get so depressed that you contemplate suicide. God gave you life for a reason. You may not understand God’s plan for your life while you’re suffering. But trust God anyhow, for God does some of His best work on our souls in the midst of human pain. Allow God to work in your life in the midst of your pain. Seek God’s presence in the midst of your pain. In some unexplainable way, we can come to know Christ more fully in the midst of our suffering, testifies the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10.
III. Job’s Friends: Suffering is punishment for sin.
At first Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, grieved with him in silence for seven days. For a full week they did what friends should do with a hurting friend; they shared his pain. But then they turned on Job. Of course, they tried to persuade Job that his suffering was due to some terrible sin he committed, and they tried to convince him to repent of his sin.
Eliphaz told Job, he was suffering because of his sin (Job 4, Job 5, Job 15, Job 22). Bildad told Job he would not admit he has sinned, so he is still suffering (Job 8, Job 18, Job 25). Zophar told Job that he deserved more suffering due to his sin (Job 11, Job 20). The three friends had good intentions but they inflicted more pain on Job with their false accusations. Job’s three friends didn’t understand the mind of God or the mysterious reasons for suffering.
We all have friends like Job’s three friends. They say: If you ever need me, just call. But when trouble hits, we can’t really count on them. Some friends offer self-righteous advice which is worse than no advice at all, but they don’t share our pain with us. They don’t help us through our suffering. What we really need is a friend to share our suffering with us.
In Job 2:3 God stressed that Job was afflicted with suffering “without any reason.” This verse explodes the myth that suffering is always the result of sin. God makes it plain and simple: Suffering is not always the direct result of sin. Suffering is not always our fault. Job’s sufferings make no sense to us because we think that bad things aren’t supposed to happen to good people. That’s the great irony of Job: Sometimes bad things happen to good people who are living in a right relationship with God. God’s purposes for suffering are beyond our understanding.
IV. Elihu: Suffering is punishment for pride.
When the three friends were unable to convince Job that his sin had brought about his sufferings, they finally stopped speaking (Job 32:1). Then the young man Elihu confronted Job. He had been silent for seven days and decided to speak. He said Job was a good man who had allowed himself to become proud. So God was causing him to suffer to humble him. It is true that God can use suffering to humble us and purify our faith. But there is no hint in the story that God intended Job to suffer to humble him.
Job remained silent this time. Job must have thought, it’s no use confronting this arrogant, self-righteous fool. Sometimes silence has great power. You can’t change an arrogant fool’s mind.
Like Job’s friends, many Christians make foolish comments in trying to help hurting people. I have heard well meaning Christians say things like: (1) You are suffering because you have unconfessed sin in your life. While sinful choices can cause suffering, suffering is not always the result of personal sin. Jesus suffered during the last days of His life, but He never sinned.
(2) Another foolish comment I’ve heard Christians make is: God is not answering your prayers for healing because you do not have enough faith. The Bible shows us that God sometimes chooses not to heal despite great faith and fervent prayer. God didn’t answer Jesus’ threefold prayer in Gethsemane to remove the cross from Him. God didn’t answer the apostle Paul’s threefold prayer to remove his thorn in the flesh. God sometimes has a higher purpose in mind for suffering that we can’t comprehend at the time. God uses suffering to develop our faith and mold our character. We can only get to Easter through Good Friday. We can only experience God’s strength through our weakness.
V. Job: Suffering sometimes has no explanation.
The reason for Job’s sufferings were a mystery to everyone in Job’s life. Job’s wife didn’t understand. His friends didn’t understand. Job didn’t understand why he was suffering. Job didn’t struggle with the pain of his suffering as much as with the question (Job 9:28-35): Why? Sixteen times Job asked, “Why am I suffering?” “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Job allowed the question “Why Lord?” to cause him to doubt God’s goodness.
As Job asked the question “Why, God?” he couldn’t find God in the midst of his pain (Job 23:1-9). Job was so overwhelmed with his pain that he couldn’t feel God’s presence. Job felt abandoned by God. Job’s inability to find God in the midst of his pain was his biggest struggle. It was far more painful than the physical and emotional pain he was feeling.
During his horrific suffering, Job’s faith was severely tested. Job wavered at times spiritually, but he endured the test of faith because he trusted in God even when life made no sense. Job had a courageous faith in God. He learned to trust in God even when he didn’t understand. Sometimes we simply have to say: God, I’m putting my life in your hands. I’ve done everything I know to do. You take control.
The most difficult spiritual truth in the book of Job is: God sometimes allows His people to suffer without explanation. As finite human beings, we can’t always understand why God lets us suffer. Yet we know that God is all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful.
Sometimes God’s actions are beyond our understanding. We can’t always understand how God is working in our lives (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 2:16). Unless God chooses to explain Himself — and many times He does not we will not understand His purpose in allowing us to suffer. Some of our questions will remain unanswered on this side of eternity.
Many people wrongly believe that being a Christian exempts them from suffering. Then they question God’s goodness and love when they suffer trials. Faith in God does not prevent trials; faith in God gives us a refuge in the midst of trials. Our all-powerful God could rescue us from every problem, but sometimes He allows us to go through problems for reasons beyond our understanding. Even if we can’t discover the reason for our suffering on this side of eternity, we must trust in God (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is in control, even when we can’t sense it.
VI. God: Suffering teaches us to trust in God for who He is, not for what He does.
After 37 chapters of silence, God finally answered Job in Job 38. God spoke to Job out of a mighty storm to impress Job with His infinite power. Job wanted to know the answers but God refused to give Job the answers (Job 38:1-3). Instead of giving him the answers he wanted, God assured Job that He was in control and that He alone knew the reason for Job’s suffering. God taught Job that: It is better to know God than to know all the answers. That can be hard to accept when we want to know all the answers. Job didn’t need to know why he was suffering. He needed to know who — who was in control, who loved him, and who would be with him in his suffering. Job needed a new understanding of God.
Rather than tell Job the reason for his suffering, God assured Job of his love, wisdom, and power. Job learned the hard lesson that when everything is stripped away from our lives, all we have is God. And God is enough! No matter how bad life gets, God’s love and His grace are enough. God gives us His presence, His word, and His people to help us in our trials. And that’s enough!
Like Job, suffering tests our faith. Suffering can strengthen our faith or suffering can shatter our faith. We will have to make the choice: Suffering will either drive us into God’s arms or suffering will cause us to walk away from God. Make the right choice. Trust in God’s infinite wisdom. Trust in God’s perfect love for you. Seek God’s presence in the midst of your pain. Our Lord, who still bears the scars of crucifixion, stands with arms open wide to comfort you with His loving presence.

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