Suffering and how we see God and then questioning God
my notes for Sundays talk 13th July 2014 at Twerton Fellowship
as is normal I expand on this as I talk.
Job 40 1-5
John 9 1-12
vWhat do you know about God?
vHow do you see God?
vThe book of Job shows us how Job and his friends saw God.
How they thought He acted and responded.
vSome have unwittingly interpreted Job by assuming that a Christian should never ask God “why?” or candidly offer complaints to God, they seem to side with Job’s friends in castigating Job for questioning the Lord.
However Westermann concludes that this is not a biblical concept. Complaining, was a necessary part of the sufferer’s prayer in the Psalms is the right thing to do.
1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your rage.
2 Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me?
4 Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love.
5 For the dead do not remember you.
Who can praise you from the grave?[b]
6 I am worn out from sobbing.
All night I flood my bed with weeping,
drenching it with my tears.
7 My vision is blurred by grief;
my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.
8 Go away, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will answer my prayer.
10 May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified.
May they suddenly turn back in shame.
The Book of Job demonstrates that Job was a real person (not an imaginary hero of a “folktale”) who struggled with his emotions and feelings. Just as many of us do day by day.
vOne extreme is to obliterate the differences between the two portraits of Job so that Job’s apparent statement of faith in 19 25 “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! is made determinative for the whole dialogue and poetic body.
Some see this as the turning point after which the resolution of the conflict is assured by faith. However, this is too simplistic. In reality Job’s confidence of vindication it developed into an overconfident and self-righteous attitude see esp. 31:35-37 [“If only someone would listen to me!
Look, I will sign my name to my defense. Let the Almighty answer me.
Let my accuser write out the charges against me. 36 I would face the accusation proudly. I would wear it like a crown. 37 For I would tell him exactly what I have done.
I would come before him like a prince.] where he demanded that God answer and vindicate him.
The real turning point in Job’s faith was his final response to the Lord (42:1-6). [Then Job replied to the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I-and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.
4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ 5 I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. 6 I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”]
It is possible for us like Job to think we are right and demand that God listens to us so we can question Him. We demand answers.
This is wrong we should and can ask God why as well as ask for understanding, however we should not be demanding it. God is God and we are his Children.
Job realised that he needed to ask for forgiveness, he took back what he had said and asked for forgiveness.
Jeremiah 18 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.”
3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
5 Then the Lord gave me this message: 6 “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.
Its fine to question and query as long as we hold on to our faith in God at all times.
We may not understand all, just a s a child does not understand all.
However like a child we need to trust and hold on to our heavenly parents love and wisdom.
Things happen, death, illness, war etc are part of life, at least for now.
6 A voice said, “Shout!”
I asked, “What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fade
beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
The world is a harsh place, everything dies, everything has it’s time.
vBeing a Christian is easy!
Just thinking about those who say its so easy for you Christians, you have it all nothing goes wrong for you. In fact of course things do go wrong its just that they do not see past our joy of life.
I wonder if this is the point behind this. do I have faith just because its easy to do so and everything is fine, or do I have faith even when things do not go well for me.
Will my faith be shaken by friends saying ignore God, He doesn’t care just give up and go a different way, the way we all have. At least then you know why things are the way they are and your life is not at the whim of a uncaring God
I have been asked while having treatment in hospital, ‘you are a Christian aren’t you? so where is your God in this and why do you still have faith?’
My Answer is that God has shown his love for me in many ways, just because things are not going well does not mean He does not still love me or is near to me. Jesus suffered for doing nothing so often do we.
v How can others help in my suffering or how can I help in there’s?
When you have been suffering what has been most helpful to you?
In the past I know I have made the mistake of trying to find something to say that would be a comfort or help, yet what people who are grieving or struggling need most is someone just to be there, and silence is more than just OK it’s actually the best response. And in the silence, we can be praying quietly ourselves.
Often all the suffer wants is someone there, not judging or giving advice, just someone they can vent at.
One of the reasons why a mother giving birth likes to have someone there, even if the person often things they don’t from what they shout out in labour.
When in pain we say many things, we just want a person to accept us at that time.
Rather than come with our own agendas we need to learn to listen to our hurting friends, respect, believe and support them, giving them space to argue their case with God, without fear of disapproval.
v DO we suffer because?
You can read the collected speeches of each one of Jobs friends and discover a uniquely wrong-headed theme. Eliphaz, for instance, suggests in all his speeches that those who sow evil reap it. However, our experience suggests that this isn’t always true!
Remember the song in the musical The Sound of Music where Maria responds to the Count’s love by suggesting, ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good’. She believed her goodness had merited a reward. Eliphaz would agree with her. He takes the traditional line that because God is in control and is just and fair, he therefore always rewards the righteous and punishes the sinner. So if Job is suffering it is because he must have sinned
2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
Jesus is quite clear here suffering is not based on ours or our parents sinfulness. Things happen and God can use those things to show His power.
Notice He does not say that the wrong others have done is not at fault, if you are injured by another car in a crash then that driver might be at fault. The illness you have might be caused by yours or another’s actions, but it is not punishment for your sins.
It is in how we cope with adversity that our faith in God is shown and Gods power and glory are shown through that.
It is in how we cope and in our recovery and moving on that God is seen by others.
Job’s major difficulty is that he believes that all that has happened to him is God’s doing (Job 6:4). This is a dilemma that we all face. If God is all powerful and all loving why are there personal and natural disasters?
If God is in control of all that happens then he must have a measure of responsibility for all that happens. We cannot let him off the hook.
Different ways of answering the question
- Some have found it helpful to distinguish between the things that God makeshappen and the things that he lets happen. For others there is no distinction – if God lets something bad happen how is that different from making it happen?
- Some argue that God has constructed the world in such a way that bad things happen – some at least as a consequence of bad human choices – and that a world without difficulty would in fact be world in which growth, development, triumph and freedom would be absent.
- Some suggest that God chooses not to determine the future but to leave it open to be influenced by human choice and natural events. But is such a God really the God we meet in the pages of the Bible?
- Perhaps what seem bad things to us are not actually bad if seen from a different perspective – an overweight child may feel that not to have another cake is a tragedy, but it may be in his best interests.
- What we can be sure of is that God’s ultimate desire is for the greater good of his people. He will work to that end – although we may not always understand how he is getting there. When tough times come he knows and understands.
vJob is described twice as ‘blameless and upright’, a man who ‘fears God and shuns evil’ (vs 1,8), with a life of regular praise and worship (v 5), Including praying for his children. That doesn’t appear to change. His response to the suffering that strips away all the supports to his identity and purpose and removes all earthly sources of his joy is to continue to worship God (v 20).
Thousands of years later, VR Edman, fourth President of Wheaton College, was able to say ‘Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.’ That’s not bad advice (though admittedly hard to follow!) for all of us when we encounter suffering. Hang on to what we know of God’s character, and continue, like Job, to praise him.
Do you can you praise God in the difficult times?
vAsk God to help you trust him today and tomorrow, especially when you don’t understand what’s happening to you or he seems distant. Do not forget to praise Him for all He gives you even while you suffer.
vMediation and questions
Lets just spend a few moments thinking about this
How do you see God?
What do you know about God?
What questions do you have for God?
Where has God blessed you lately?
Know that anything you are dealing with is not because of yours or your parents sin.
It might be due to many things, most of which we can not understand
Do you praise God no matter what?
Do you thank Him for your blessings?
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
22 In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.