Where is God When---Things Go Wrong
Where is God When Things Go Wrong
June 11, 2006
They have done survey after survey through the years about what is the one thing keeping you from following Christ, and repeatedly the answer is suffering. This idea of suffering is one that repeatedly comes up when you talk to people about your faith. “God loves you.” “Well what about all the suffering in the world?” “Why did He let my grandma die a painful death through cancer?”
It seems like the world is full of suffering, and it’s on the increase. Just recently another earthquake hit the Indonesian area and thousands are dead in the same area of the world where the tsunami hit in 2004 where hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
The genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan continues with thousands upon thousands of people suffering and dieing.
All you have to do is watch the nightly news to get a new story about suffering in our world. It can be overwhelming…especially when it hits home and becomes personal.
What do you do when life suddenly takes an unexpected turn? You were counting on that job, but then at the last minute it falls through.
The doctor’s test results are back and he uses the dreaded “C” word, “I’m sorry, but it’s Cancer.”
You find a used pregnancy test that shows positive in the trash and when you confront your daughter you find out she’s pregnant. What do you do?
You know we all have these unspoken scripts about how our lives are going to play out. One day we’ll get married, have successful careers, have children, live in a nice house, our children will find a wonderful Christian for their spouse and have wonderful careers and wonderful children…you know how it goes. But then life happens. What then?
What happens when we are confronted with suffering in our lives? And why does it seem like God is silent when we need Him the most?
What do we do when suffering hits? What do we do when our marriage is crumbling around our feet? What do we do when tragedy strikes and we lose everything? And It seems like when we pray our words just shoot off into the stratosphere without connecting with God’s ears let alone His heart. We feel alone…isolated…like there’s no help to be found.
We live in a world with very real problems and we need to have very real answers. Jesus came not just to provide access to Heaven, but for His Kingdom to break through into our everyday lives. So that when times of suffering hit us, or when things go wrong in the life of someone near us we do not have to despair, but rather we have hope to offer.
I want to look at the book of Job today. I have to confess that for years I stayed away from the book of Job. When things are going relatively well in your life, you find yourself avoiding this book like the plague! It’s kind of like how when you are watching your favorite tv program and then it goes to commercial and you see the pictures of the starving children with calls for you support and you immediately turn the channel. You know you don’t want to kill your excitement buzz just before you find out what happened to Michael’s son Walt on Lost! This book is a reminder that things can go wrong for seemingly no reason, and it can be confusing and depressing, but life demands that we have the kind of answers that God’s inspired Word provides for us…even the difficult parts.
Background on Job
In Chapter One we are introduced to Job who the Bible says is a good man who honors and fears the Lord. He is a man of tremendous wealth and influence, as well as a life filled with children and loved ones. In the Second chapter we see Satan coming before the Lord to antagonize and bring accusation (Accuser of the Brethren). God says have you considered Job who is a good man? Satan begins to attack Job’s credibility saying that “of course he is good, he has nothing to fear with you blessing and protecting him all the time.” He then asks permission to attack Job to which God responds yes, but places limits.
I. Why is this happening?
A. False Reasoning
1. Personal Sin?
When things go horribly wrong in our lives the first thing we do is look for meaning. We ask why and in doing so, many of us come to the conclusion that we are suffering because we deserve it. We reap what we sow; you made your bed so lie in it. We think we deserve it, we’re being punished. “Well my husband wouldn’t have had an affair on me if I wasn’t such a bad wife.” “Perhaps my child wouldn’t have been hit by a drunk driver if I hadn’t driven while I was drunk in high school.” If you embrace this type of answer then hope is choked off within you and it will lead you to despair.
And this is the type of explanation for Job’s situation that his friends come with when they come to visit him. No one has suffered like Job except perhaps the Lord Himself. Job lost everything. He loses his business and all his wealth, he loses the respect of those around him and is taunted by old and young alike; He loses his health to the point where he’s in constant agony; and here his friends come with the very helpful accusation of “you have sinned”
Job 22:5-11 (NLT) “It is because of your wickedness! Your guilt has no limit! “For example, you must have lent money to your friend and then kept the clothing he gave you as a pledge. Yes, you stripped him to the bone. You must have refused water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. After all, you think the land belongs to the powerful and that those who are privileged have a right to it! You must have sent widows away without helping them and crushed the strength of orphans. That is why you are surrounded by traps and sudden fears. That is why you cannot see in the darkness, and waves of water cover you.” There’s nothing more comforting to a person that is suffering for someone to come along and suggest that it is their own fault.
The problems with these accusations are that they are completely false! Job was a good man, a compassionate man. We learn this in the opening verse of Job. Job 1:1 (NLT) There was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.
Job 1:8 (NLT) Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” God thinks Job is a good man!
The story of Job is a refute to those that think bad things always happen as a result of a person doing bad things. The formulaic thinking that says a person is suffering because of their own wickedness. And conversely, the person who is doing well and succeeding must be a good person…
Now the book of proverbs does offer us certain principles like in Proverbs 10:3 (NIV) “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.” And Proverbs 14:11 (NIV) “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.” These are general principles in life. Yes we do often reap what we sew…if you smoke 2 pack of cigarettes a day for 35 years you may get emphysema, if you steal from your employer you may get fired, if you constantly berate your fiancé or spouse they may leave you, if you are a controlling critical parent your child may not want anything to do with you. These principles need to be applied under the leadership of the Holy Spirit through discernment. They are not mechanical rules that apply no matter the circumstance. Life teaches us so many exceptions to the idea that the wicked never prosper and the righteous never suffer.
Job teaches us that Bad times do not necessarily equal the disfavor of God on our lives.
2. The Goodness of God?
Perhaps the answer then lies in the fact that God is not good? After all, why would God allow this tragedy to befall Job? Why would God give permission for this kind of thing to happen? Have you ever had something happen that so shook you to the core of your being that it messed with your theology? Something that made you look upward and shout “How could You have let this happen?!” “What ‘good’ is there in this?!...I trusted You!”
In chapter 9 Job visits this idea Job 9:21-23 (NIV) “Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life. It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.”
The facts of things are that we live in a world that is broken and does not work right, and bad things DO happen to good people. The difference is the end of the story. We can peek ahead and see the end of Job’s story and we can also peek ahead and look at the end of our story in Revelation. There is justice in the universe, there will be recompense upon the wicked, God will wipe the tears from eyes of the righteous. But there is not only the promise of heaven, but God’s promises and blessings for us in this life are still true! Though it is often misquoted and misused, like the former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay did recently when convicted, Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
The answer to this question lies in Jesus Christ. We have only to look at the ultimate suffering of our savior who left heaven and put on flesh and blood so He could walk in our shoes, experience what we experience, suffer like no one else, and ultimately pay our penalty so that we could be with Him forever…no the answer is not that God is not good; though our pain may choke that truth from our souls at the moment.
3. God’s existence?
Well maybe God doesn’t exist. That’s the fool’s explanation. Psalm 14:1 (NIV) The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The person who says there is no God is not some clear-eyed rational thinker who pushes past theories and grasps the truth according to the Bible. The person who says there is no God is suffering from a condition known as repression. Romans 1:18 (NIV) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” Repression is a psychological defense mechanism where someone ignores and pushes down truth because it is too terrible to deal with. The atheist who ignores all the evidence of the existence of God is terrified of the thought that you can’t live life any way that you want to; that you can’t live without someone holding you to account for your actions. So they suppress the truth in their hearts and pretend the evidence points in a different direction.
B. True Reasons
1. Refiner’s fire
If those are the falsehoods in dealing with the pain of suffering when things go wrong in our lives, then what are the true ways to approach it? How do we wrap our minds and hearts around suffering in a way that is accurate and healthy? You want to understand suffering, Christian? Suffering is about you being tested. Job thought it was a testing of God. Job wanted to plead his case and make God answer for his suffering: Job 23:1-5 (NIV) “Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.”
“God explain this!” “Tell me why you won’t heal me! Why you won’t answer me!” Have you ever been so desperate for the voice of God to bring answers to you, and it seems like all you have is silence?
Job didn’t have the benefit of reading chapters 1 & 2. He didn’t have the benefit of seeing God bragging about him saying how proud he was. He didn’t see that the enemy who despised him was betting on his failure and God being wrong. Wouldn’t it be nice to see behind the scenes sometimes?!?... just to get a glimpse of our own chapters 1 & 2! While we may not get to see exactly what is going on, God has given us His Word and even this story as a backstage pass. In looking at the story of Job, Joseph, David, Abraham and others we get to see behind the scenes in Job’s life as well as get an idea of our own chapters 1 & 2; and we discover that it isn’t God on trial but it’s Job…it’s you it’s me. As Christians, we WILL be tested.
God flips it around in Chapter 38 Job 38:1-3 (NIV) “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” God is the tester not man. We find this in the NT with Jesus, the Pharisees try to trap him with questions and tests and in turn they find themselves tested. We are always the ones tested, and God is always the test giver.
Suffering is a crossroads for us; it’s a choice: The path of pride or humility. Child sick, marriage failing, life isn’t working out according to my script. Will we rip the reins of our lives out of the hands of God and say “I gave you a chance, but you’re screwing it up!” and begin to march down the path of self-determination, or will you humble yourself before God? When your job is at stake, which course will you choose…obedience or what you think is best…after all this is the real world, and God will understand I am just trying to provide for my family? When your marriage is breaking, will you choose the path of humility? Suffering is a test…a test of which path you will walk.
It is a revelation of our limits. Job was shown his limits
Job 38:4 (NIV) “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Job 38:12 (NIV) “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,
Job 38:16-18 (NIV) “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
Job 38:31 (NIV) “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
God is saying, “Job you are limited in your knowledge, You are limited in your years, You are limited in power.” “Job you cannot possibly fathom my ways, people you cannot possibly fathom what God is up to when you are in pain! It is not possible to comprehend the purposes of God and how God is going to bring good from your circumstance. It falls to us to kneel before God and confess “I am not your judge, you are my judge. God you are infinite, and I am small, You are omnipotent, and I am weak…You are God.”
II. What is being tested here?
So what is being tested here? The charge by Satan in chapter 1 “does Job fear God for nothing?” “He loves you and serves you because of all the good things you give him. He has health, wealth, a beautiful family, men’s respect. Take all that away and Job will curse your Name!”
That’s what Job is about! The testing of motives, when you are suffering what do you really want in life? Nothing clarifies things like pain. What MUST you have to have a full and satisfying life? You say you are a follower of Christ…What are you aiming your life towards? What are you placing value upon in your life? And if it is all taken away, who are you then? C.S. Lewis once said the pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf and dieing world. Pain is the great catalyst for change in our lives. How do we learn to trust God more except that He allow things that we depend upon apart from Himself to be taken away?
Illustration – Malachi 3:3 says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."
This verse puzzled some people in a bible study and someone offered to check into it further.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work.
As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.
The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"
He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy -- WHEN I SEE MY IMAGE IN IT"
In our culture we have been trained to chase everything but God. In the end of the book of Job, he discovers that the only thing he MUST have is God. He discovers that God is enough. He’s enough! He is the answer to every question! He is the fulfillment of every dream! He Himself is enough!
In chapter 42 Job finally answers God: Job 42:1-5 (NIV) Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
Job has found maturity as a believer; in v5 listen to the change in Job’s life: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” This is the place where God wants us to get to. The place of refinement to where God Himself is all we want. It is a hard place to grow into.
(Depending on Time)
The rest of the book of Job is perhaps the most well known part of Job…it’s the happy ending. In fact it’s almost too good to be true. It’s a little too Hollywood. If Job had ended at 42:5 it would be good for me. So why this ending? Why the friends repenting to Job, the restoration of relationships, wealth and possessions, the restoration of family so that he had double what he had had before, and Job lived happily ever after…blah blah blah? The main message and moral of the story had been accomplished, God is enough!…why this cherry on top?
Many people who have suffered through things wind up giving up on God being a meaningful part of their lives. They still believe in God, still want to follow Him, but as for enjoying Him this side of heaven, it ceases to be a hope of theirs. Following Christ becomes about grinning and bearing life to escape Hell and make it to heaven. God becomes this disappointing person in their life. “I’m just going to lower my expectations” and any hope of God breaking through into their life is gone. And that’s just the way it works. No.
God’s love extends into our everyday lives and He enjoys blessing us. We are the apple of His eye, the treasure of His heart. We know that even as earthly parents we will subject our children to things that will bring some amount of suffering to them on their level, and we do it for their benefit…so they will grow into responsible adults able to sustain healthy relationships. But we also love to give them gifts; love to create warm memories that they will carry with them; love to provide a loving supportive home for them to have a strong foundation.
Suffering is a test. A test of our motives, a test in our obedience, and a test in the belief and hope that God is going to continue to break into our earthly lives today and in days to come with His goodness and blessing. Not just in the by and by, pie in sky heavenly kind of way. But a tenacious hope in the goodness of our God in this life, right now! That is what the end of the book of Job is about.
unemployed, financial troubles. Parent’s praying for their children…
Trouble connecting with God because of personal pain in your life…Worship songs fall like ashes from your mouth. Feeling guilty about our pain. “Starving children in Ethiopia…”
We miss God’s intended purpose by thinking we should not be feeling what we are feeling.
What I want them to walk away with: though trials seem more than you can bare and faith too much to ask for, cling to the hope of the promises of God’s Word and character.
How should we Respond?
Job’s response? – praise and trust
In the middle of it, sometimes it doesn’t matter why... How do you handle it?
As a Church
I’m on a mission of relevancy. I don’t want to go on some tirade about the misdirection of the church, but I have seen us missing lots of opportunities to connect people with the Lord and bring hope to their lives through the relevancy of the Word of God when applied to their lives.
Rich’s advice: I don’t think it really matters if you go vertical or horizontal. What really matters is that you be extremely relevant. Make sure that you bring each of the points home all the way; let people know why what you are saying matters to them and to their world; make sure you put yourself in the shoes of the listener – how does what you are saying relate to a homemaker, someone with teenagers, to people who are financially pressed, to high capacity, well-educated people, to singles, to retirees, etc. So long as you are thoroughly biblical and thoroughly relevant, you will be fine.
Now if you have ever been in a situation where things go horribly wrong in your life, you are already wrestling with doubts about why this has happened in your life the last thing you need is for people or the church to look at you and say “this has happened to you because you have sinned.” It is not the way the Lord handled things and it is not the way we should handle things. He met people at the point of their pain, offered hope and compassion, and then dealt with the area of sin in their lives. John chapter four is a wonderful picture of this.
Job 1:7 (NLT) “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. And Satan answered the Lord, “I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT) Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.
Who and Where? (this not a bible study)
Job – righteous (not sinless), wealthy, man of great influence
Satan – still has access to the Lord somehow. Accuser of the Brethren.
God – reveals His omnipotence as Satan has to ask permission, sets limits. Allows suffering in the lives of His children.