When things do not go according to your plans and the losses keep mounting, it’s only a short step from walking away from God and caring friends who can persevere with you and your suffering.
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Each of us will lose everyone and everything that is in our lives. Except for Christ, there is nothing we will gain that we will not lose. From a Christian worldview, this news does not have to be spiritually debilitating.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8
The loss of all things happens incrementally throughout our lives, until the very end when we lose the last of all that we possess, which is life itself. Though this is a dark way to introduce a chapter, it may do some of us some good to re-enter reality, particularly those who hold too tightly to what they cannot control.
The central question to interact with is how are you responding to the slow and incremental death of all things. What kind of death is currently happening in your life? How are you losing your grip on the things you cherish? What losses are you accumulating?
Sin is the tsunami that eventually runs over everything. Because of the law of “cause and effect,” there is no other option. Adam sinned against the Ruler of the universe and because of his offense, death entered into our experience (Romans 5:12).
I am not only talking about the finality of death but the deteriorating effect of death that comes into our lives. Marriages that began well, slowly die if they drift from the rejuvenating power of the gospel. Families split apart because of sin. Relationships break down because of a lack of gospel-intentionality.
Death has many shades from which nobody escapes; the impact is on all of us. When that which once was, is no longer yours, how do you respond? This fact is the ultimate, unavoidable, and inevitable question that forces you to look in the mirror to accurately examine the authenticity of your faith.
Sometimes we can want something so badly that we unwittingly embark on a process of blinding ourselves to how much power that thing has over us. This “blind spot” is what was happening to Job.
It would be essential to interject here that Job was an extremely good man. After you juxtapose his legitimate goodness to how blind he became, you can get a sense of how the power of sin had captivated his mind.
The incredibly righteous Job was swirling down the drain of life, grabbing at the air, while his friends were giving him bad advice. After thirty-seven chapters of fruitless groping at the darkness with his friends, Job had wholly given in to the justification of his actions, even by blaming God.
There are times in our lives when we can want something so much that we turn to blaming God for not giving it to us. And like Job, our blame is not always obvious. I have done this a few times while caught in unmitigated suffering.
For the longest time with Job, it seemed more like it was just a battle between friends, who disputed theological ideas. Job’s friends were making some poor observations, and he became sinfully angry.
Whenever we choose anger in response to those who disappoint us, there is something more profound that is going wrong in our lives. Sinful reactions are an indication that something is amiss with our experience with the Lord.
People accused Jesus of many things that were not true, but He never resorted to sinful anger to make His points. The reason Job became sinful was because there was something more meaningful to him than finding shalom from God’s sovereign care.
The Lord affirmed this when He asked Job, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8) Job’s mind had become so twisted that he was willing to blame God to access what he wanted.
- Reality: The reality is Job lost some things he loved.
- Reaction: His reaction became sinful anger, even to the point of twisted justifications.
- Reason: The reason was that Job was afraid.
When you are dealing with an angry person, and you want to know what is driving the individual, open the door to his heart. There you will find your answer. The number one thing that churns sinful anger in the soul is fear, and that is what was driving Job.
He was afraid.
He was afraid of losing what meant most to him. The truth is that he had already lost most of those things he loved, e.g., family, wealth, and health. But all was not lost, and he was going to fight to the bitter end to keep from losing the final paltry remnants of his life.
And the last thing left on Job’s ledger was his (self) righteousness. Though he had lost everything else, he was not going to give up the rightness of his position, even if it meant a “perspective change” on how he viewed the Lord.
Suffering–which easily tempts us to fear–can cause us to change our thinking about life, God, and others. Job did this. He was losing touch with reality as evidenced by his growing inability to no longer see what he needed to see.
Fearfulness is the one motive of the heart that we do not want to openly and honestly discuss. We had instead create and perpetuate drama in our lives than deal honestly with our fears in the context of our community.
An unwillingness to deal with our fearful motives that are creating a war in our hearts (James 4:1-3) will never bring you to the Lord’s solution. Ongoing fear will perpetuate anger, which will alienate the sufferer from God and his community.
This kind of stubbornness creates a dilemma for those who desire to care for the hurting person. Once you put your finger on their fear—the fear of what they do not want to lose—they may bite your finger and sever the relationship.
This tension has been my biggest dilemma when caring for others. At some point, you have to identify their fear and try to help them walk through what is controlling them. If the fear is too deep and their love for what they are losing is too captivating, they will retaliate with anger.
As a wife told me one time, “I don’t care about Christ and his suffering, I just want my husband to love me.” Her fear of not being loved the way she wanted her husband to love her altered how she thought about God and me. And she did not hold back her anger as I tried to reorient her thinking to a higher plane and different kind of trust in the Lord.
Though Job’s friends offered partially poor counsel—the only kind humans can give—Job became arrogant and angry, and retaliated by spewing self-justifications for his actions.
Job was not being wise, but selfish. He wanted what he wanted, and he would find no consolation in anything else. And if anyone challenged his thinking, there would be retribution because Job was not a humble man. He was going to have what he wanted, and there were no other considerations.
His stubborn refusal is why the Lord stepped into the situation. Job could talk others down; he could put them in their place. His combination of theological knowledge, the gift of argumentation, and selfish motives were formidable. Job was too smart to be assailable.
Then there was the Lord.
Job ran his mouth just long enough to call down the thunder of the Lord on his self-righteous and angry whining. Though he could blow others off by his pedantic verbosity, he was not going to move God.
The Lord made sure of this by stacking the cards against Job. You can read His speech in Job 38-41. When we refuse to listen to the appeals of others, there is no other place for the Christian to go, but to the court of the Lord.
How am I to trust God when God does not act the way I think He should?
Job was engaging God through the lens of justice rather than the lens of wisdom. He was more concerned with fairness than sovereign wisdom. When this happens, there is a good chance a person will shipwreck his religion, life, and relationships.
Wisdom is the ability to look behind what is happening on the surface of your life and to trust that God is working out His wise and good plans for you, even if it makes no sense.
Job interest in justice hid his need for wisdom. We are like this too. When someone hurts us or disappoints us, how quick are we to retaliate with anger because we want justice? The reasoning goes like this: sin must be punished, and if he has done wrong, I must give him a piece of my mind.
Or, she hurt my feelings; she did not give me what I hoped for, and now I am going to pout until she gives me what I need. Pouting is anger turned inward, which usually leads to manipulation, or anger turned outward.
It is so easy to play the “justice card” when things are not going our way while missing the “wisdom card,” that speaks of a loving and sovereign Lord, who is always working for our good (Romans 8:28).
Whatever is under your suffering is under the Lord’s control. He is in complete charge of our lives. Though the reality of death’s shadow, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, is accurate and powerful, there is one thing that is stronger (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. – Job 41:11
If you have a God who is wise enough and powerful enough to be mad at because He is not stopping the suffering in your life, isn’t it also true that you have a God who is wise enough and powerful enough to have reasons for allowing it, even though you cannot understand?
You do not live in a gospel-less world. One of the reasons we become so miserable and angry when suffering comes is because we assume we are supposed to understand how God should be working in our lives. The gospel is more counter-intuitive than you ever imagined.
Only the Lord can use sin sinlessly. Look at the cross to remind yourself of this truth. A real and loving God will not elevate your wishes for what you think needs to be done when suffering is the best way to accomplish what needs to be done.
Similarly, a wise, courageous, and loving friend will not cave to the sufferer but will love the friend, which may mean drawing out the “disguised fears” that perpetuate the suffering that the person so desperately wants to end.
Call to Action
If you believe the Lord should have kept your suffering from you, then you have a small god. If you think your friends should not press into your life to help you work through your disappointments, you have a small view of friendships.
A small God and small friendships have this one thing in common: it allows you to be in control. You can keep your fears hidden while justifying your actions with arguments if you keep your friends and your God pushed away from the actual motives of your heart.
- Are you self-aware enough to see how your fears are motivating you not to trust the Lord and to drift from the community?
It is rare for a person not to be self-aware of their fears. In most cases, they are aware but are unwilling to be transparent about what is going on in their lives. I am not sure how self-aware Job was about his hidden fears.
It would be an argument from silence to speculate about how dialed-in he was to his heart motives. Perhaps you are like this, in that you are not fully aware how fear has gripped your heart as you think about your suffering. One of the easiest ways to diagnose how fear has captivated your heart is how you respond to your suffering.
- When you think about what you may be losing, how do you respond?
- Do you become angry at God and others?
- When someone begins to address your fears, do you sin by lying, or worrying, or becoming angry? If you can openly talk about your fears, while seeking help from your friends to trust the Lord, you are heading in the right direction. If you cannot do this, blindness has already begun to dull your mind.
Also published on Medium.