In light of the truth, that God’s nature is that of Jesus Christ, of absolute love and devotion—let us look at the words “Oh that thou wouldst hide me in the grave!” Job appeals to his creator, whom his sufferings compel him to regard as displeased with him, though he knows not why. He prays to forget him for a time, that the desire of the maker to look again upon the creature he had made may awake within him, and make the heart of the parent remember and long after the face of the child; then will he rise in joy, to plead with confidence the cause of his righteousness. For God is closer to the man than is anything God has made: what can be closer than the making and the made? The whole existence of a creature is a unit, an entirety of claim upon his creator: just therefore, let him do with me as he will—even to seating me in the ashes, and seeing me scrape myself with a potsherd! Not the less but ever the more will I bring forward my claim. Is it not the sweetest music ear of maker can her? Except the word of perfect son, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!” We, imperfect sons, shall learn to say the same words, too: that we may grow capable and say them, and so enter into our birthright, become partakers of the divine nature in its divinest element, that Son came to us—died for the slaying of our selfishness, the destruction of our mean hollow pride. We are his father’s debtors for our needs, our rights, our claims, and he will have us pay the uttermost farthing. So true is the father, he will even compel us, through misery if needful, to put in our claims, for he knows we have eternal need of these things: without the essential rights of his being, who can live?
Taking Suffering Personally
by Stephen Carney
“Job appeals to his creator, whom his suffering compel him to regard as displeased with him, though he knows not why.”
I sat with a couple, who were faithful members of my congregation, as they explained to me that she had cancer. Later, the husband asked me, “What are we doing wrong?” I knew he, like so many others over the years, was equating this present suffering as punishment for something they must have done wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, sometimes we do things that cause us or others harm. A risky sexual lifestyle may have consequences that involve a disease, but still that is not God's displeasure, but rather the consequences of our actions. I once visited a man in the hospital who had been diagnosed with lung cancer and he was asking me, “Why did God do this to me?” I said to him, “Bob, I don't think that God did this.” He said, “What do you mean?” I replied, “Bob, how long have you smoked?” “All my life, since I was a kid.” he replied. “Do you think your smoking might have brought this on and maybe it wasn't God after all?” He said, “I suppose you're right.” I went on to explain that it is natural for us to think that when something bad happens to us that we have either done something wrong or are being punished by God. Yet Jesus says, “...for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matt. 5.45. Godly people can be swept away by a flood or lose everything in a tornado the same as evil people. God doesn't single us out.
Consequences and trials can be impersonal. Originally the word “suffer” meant simply to undergo. We attach feelings and emotions to the word and personalize it. It becomes “my suffering,” or “my struggle.” This adds our personal pain to the trial. We take what has happened so personally; knowing we have failed in the past, we conclude that this is now our punishment for past sins or failures. We get this from our upbringing. When we were children, if we broke the rules we were punished. Maybe we had to stand in the corner for talking in class or were given a time out for fighting with our siblings. Some of us who are older even remember being spanked for our bad behavior. So it is natural to think, when bad things come our way, that it is a punishment and God is displeased. But we have misunderstood God and our circumstances.
When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden or they would die, death wasn't a punishment, but a consequence. It was typical in the Old Testament for the ancients to call consequences “punishments.” As God set all the laws upon which the universe functions, it was easy to understand that those consequences would be considered punishments. When a person broke the laws that God set in place then, the consequences that followed were also considered sent by the hand of God. God has set the natural laws, as well as the the ten commandments, not as arbitrary rules that he will get mad about if you don't keep them, and therefore punish you, but rather as safety guidelines. They are meant to keep us safe. I have used this illustration before, but it serves my point well. If you tell your child not to touch the hot stove, and your child touches the stove and gets burned, was thatburning your punishment for the child touching the stove? You would say, “Of course not.” But you gave the rules and turned the stove on. You made the stove hot. So if your child would say to you, “Mommy/daddy why did you burn me so for touching the stove.” You might reply, “I told you not to touch the stove or you would get burnt. You must follow the rules to be safe.” The same situation was in place when God said, “The day you eat of that tree you will surely die.” Or even when he says, “Do not worship other gods.” Little do we moderns know of the consequences that came about when people were swept up in worship practices that cause them to offer up their children in sacrifices or other practices that affected their crops or families. I remember being in Haiti and hearing the story of how the Haitians wanted their freedom from the French. So they prayed to the voodoo gods to help them drive the French out. When they succeeded in this, they cut down all the trees and burned them in praise of the voodoo gods. Haiti has very few trees, they have suffered because of this, not because God directly punished them for their worship of the voodoo gods, but because that worship had it's own consequences, or even penalty if you like. Recently, in Haiti a large area that they had reforested was wiped out by a hurricane. It has been difficult to get back what was lost. So goes our experience in life.
We do things or do nothing and sometimes we experience pain. While we can do things that cause us problems, many of us find ourselves just caught up in the storm. I am sure that in Nazi Germany, there were many plain soldiers who were fighting for what they believed was a just cause. But as Lewis alludes to in The Screwtape Letters, God can have a person fighting on the wrong side for all the right reasons. In just the other way, a person can fight on the right side for all the wrong reasons. Job had done nothing wrong, but devastation still came. Just as it came to innocent victims in war times, in terrorist attacks. You can be driving down the road at the wrong time and get hit by a drunk driver. It could have been anybody, but it happened to be you. Then we say, “Why God? Why did this happen to me?”
My conclusion is this: I wish I could encourage people not to take suffering too personally, but I fear it is too late for that. Most do, and even if you know better you can't erase feeling that it is a punishment. The only cure, then, is what MacDonald wrote: that the Father is calling us to come to him. To come to his heart and to begin to do his will. It matters not what we have been through if we do not learn in those times that our greatest need is to call out to our Father. “God is closer to the man than is anything God has made.” And he will wait till we learn that suffering, whether by our own making or not, has but one purpose: to cause us to run into the arms of the Father, crawl upon his lap and allow him to “wipe every tear from our eyes.” “So true is the father, he will even compel us, through misery if needful, to put in our claims, for he knows we have eternal need of these things: without the essential rights of his being, who can live?”