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How Do You Want to Suffer, With or Without God?

All people born in Adam have no choice about personal suffering (Genesis 2:16-17). It is part of the human condition. Not even Christ could escape it. To be human is to suffer. Knowing this reality about suffering is the bad news, but there is good news too. We can choose the conditions for our suffering. We can experience our trouble with or without God. If you reconcile that human suffering is life-long, then the all-important question is, which option would you choose?

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A Consequence of the Fall

It is so easy to forget how suffering comes with the “human package,” a consequence of the fall of Adam (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21). It is even easier to forget how the Lord wants to walk with us through our suffering. Not knowing God while suffering certainly adds to the complexity of the troubled soul (Psalm 46:1).

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him (Job 23:8-9).

To be caught in the vortex of a spinning tornado and unsure if God is with you is suffering’s most significant victory (Genesis 39:21). Job came to this point in his life. From his perspective, he was lost and without God. To top it off, he had no clue about the Father’s back traffic conversation with the devil in Job 1:7. He did not realize how no amount of praying would bring his problems to a successful conclusion.

  • What do you think about Job’s condition? How does it make you feel?
  • What if you personalized it? If you were Job, what would be going through your mind?

Time to Die

Suppose the Lord was working a more profound and more mysterious plan (Deuteronomy 29:29) in our lives, and suffering was the vehicle He chose to carry out those greater purposes (Genesis 50:20). Job is only one of many people the Lord selected to suffer for His higher purposes (Hebrews 11:32). Our salvation happened because the Lord chose to allow suffering in the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:10).

Praise God there was no alteration or abating to the pain of Jesus until He finished the task (Genesis 3:15; Matthew 26:39; John 19:30). I think most folks are okay with the benefits of the gospel (John 3:16) while praising God for the sacrifice of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:21). The problem is when the practicalization of the gospel comes home to roost in our lives. That’s when the call to suffer becomes our cross to bear (Luke 9:23). It reminds me of Paul, a man who was in the midst of unrelenting suffering (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

In this sense, his suffering was somewhat parallel to Job’s. The Lord used Satan to harass his servant (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul promptly prayed three times for the pain to stop (2 Corinthians 12:8). The Lord essentially said his trouble would not go away, so Paul discontinued his appeals for the cessation of his suffering. He learned how his thorn in the flesh was predetermined by God to buffet him and to teach him how to not rely on himself but to rely on Him who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

The Grace of God

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Rather than relying on his prayers as a method to get God to change His mind, he began to rest upon the grace of God to propel him into a more profound experience and usefulness in God’s kingdom. Rather than a complaining spirit—as it pertained to his suffering, Paul had a boasting spirit. His understanding of the circumstances the Lord was permitting into his life transcended what was happening to him.

It even changed what Paul wanted for his life. He saw a more significant prize through suffering rather than sublunary desires for planet-living (Philippians 3:8). Please understand, I am not here to magnify Paul as though he was something special. Paul was an ordinary man as far as his humanness and temptations were concerned. I hope to amplify the grace of God that speaks to how He can turn pain into power.

We often read the Corinthian text and think Paul was a great man and that he overcame his trials because of his specialness. This kind of thinking would be a travesty because it would marginalize God’s power while magnifying Paul’s abilities (1 Corinthians 1:25; 2 Corinthians 4:7). God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, not the sheer will and courage of any perceived greatness that you may want to attribute to him. Paul could do all things through Christ who strengthened him, not through Paul who strengthened himself (Philippians 4:13).

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From Praying to Complaining

In the middle of the Book of Job, you find another man who could not untangle himself from his misery. By this point in the book, he had a lot of good and evil counsel from his friends, as well as from his introspective turmoil. The singular constant through it all was unshakeable suffering. As he continued to progress through his tribulation, the God he thought he knew appeared to have left him. He vanished, so Job thought.

Then Job answered and said: “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!” (Job 23:1-3).

Before his suffering, Job loved God and walked with Him. He served Him daily, and God was near, active, and reciprocal. Shortly after the trouble came into Job’s life, he separated himself from the God he loved. I am not sure when Job perceived the distance between him and his Lord.

  • In Job 1:20-22, he prayed to God as an act of worship.
  • In Job 23:1-2, he complained out of the emptiness of his soul.

His praying turned into complaining, and his complaining turned into bitterness, and his bitterness separated him from the Lord.

  • Suffering with God = Hope and Empowering Grace
  • Suffering without God = Complaining, Bitterness, Heaviness

Separation from God happens when we lose sight of where God is and what He is up to in our troubles. This kind of over-fixation of suffering leads to its magnification, which will eventually captivate our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). When this happens, the troubled soul becomes a complaining spirit. This tension is where we find Job. The heaviness of his soul lowered him into a dark hole from which he could not escape.

Bitterness Is Self-Punishment

During his troubles, Job lost sight of God, and his soul began to drift from what he believed (Romans 8:31-39). He went from a joy-filled God-centered position to a frustrating perspective of problem-centeredness. His suffering caused a prescribed misery in his life. It is one thing when God brings suffering to us, as he did with Job, but a whole other matter when a person’s sinful response to God’s work further compounds the misery.

Bitterness is a form of self-inflicted misery. It is a way of punishing oneself and others (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness is not a medicine that fosters transformation or brings about a preferred life. It is poison for the soul. Bitterness causes rebellion. Some writers accurately translate the word bitterness in this text as rebellion because bitterness is a form of rebellion against God. You cannot be bitter and be in harmony with God.

Whenever an individual persists with a complaining spirit while refusing to repent of this sin, he willfully separates himself from God. I am not sure how perceptive Job was to what he was doing to himself or his relationship with the Lord, but his wrong attitude affected his soul. Job was right in that he could not find God in his trouble (Job 23:3). The reason for this was his bitter resistance to what God was doing in his life. He was willfully and unwittingly separating himself from God and then complaining because God was not near—a biblical conundrum.

  1. I am hurt.
  2. I complain.
  3. My complaint turns to bitterness.
  4. My bitterness is rebellion.
  5. My rebellion separates me from the Lord.
  6. I can no longer receive help from the only One who can help me.
  7. God never moved, but I did.

Where to Find God

God was in Job’s suffering. He was smack dab in the middle of it, persevering with Job on one hand while battling the devil on the other. Job would later learn this terrifying truth (Job 23:16). In time, a glimmer of hope began to manifest into Job’s mind. He was transitioning from the elusive possibility of a better day without suffering to the soul-wrenching option of experiencing God while in the crucible (Daniel 3:25).

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:10).

If getting away from trouble becomes the focal point of our lives, we may circumvent the beautiful things (Romans 8:28) the Lord wants us to experience, which we can only experience during our troubles. It is within our “Adam-given scope and tendencies” to find the easy way out of trouble (Genesis 3:7-8). Running and hiding make sense, but it is not our best move. If you struggle to persevere through inescapable suffering, I challenge you to find the Lord. He is there. He is with you. He promised never to leave you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). Do you believe this?

Making our way back to God is a slow and laborious process. It requires us to set aside our preferred life for the life the Lord is giving us right now. If we do this, we will experience a new kind of grace. It is overcoming grace, which comes proportionally and simultaneously to the degree that we repent of any complaining and bitterness. This kind of experience with God will not happen until we enter the ring with God (Genesis 32:24).

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Ready to Rumble?

If you are one of the Lord’s struggling children in inescapable trouble, I recommend you have many honest talks with Him. One of the refreshing things about this passage in Job is his honesty. His perspective needed adjusting, but his willingness to not hide his exact thoughts is encouraging. Be honest with God. Do not hide from Him what He already knows about you (Hebrews 4:13).

Denying the truth about yourself will mask the real you, and eventually, you will lose contact with the ugly truth about who you are (Romans 1:18). Self-deception may feel right at this moment, but you will reap a harvest of bitter herbs if you persist in your blindness (Hebrews 3:7-8). You are not like your former life of Gentile thinking.

They (Gentiles) are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18).

Paul’s appeal to the Ephesian Christians was not like the Gentiles, who were susceptible to “futile” thinking (Ephesians 4:17). This kind of mental manipulation is a path you do not want to travel. It is unfortunate enough to be bitter. It is worse when you can no longer perceive this sin (Hebrews 5:11). Job was explicit and articulate about his sin. He laid it out and began the process of wrestling through it with the Lord.

Nothing Is Happening

Initially, you will not feel any change in your soul or circumstance if you do what I suggest. Nevertheless, the Lord will enable you in ways that sheer human will cannot accomplish, and your finite mind cannot perceive. Remember that you move forward by faith, not based on existential feelings. Our temptation is to feel something, which is not necessarily wrong, but feelings are not essential, especially in human suffering when God does a mysterious work in our lives.

I realize the things that I am saying are hard. Perhaps they are too hard for you right now. I understand. My appeal is for you to find a close and trusted friend, a small group leader, or a pastor who can walk with you through these challenges. There are more friends out there than Job’s three buddies. The body of Christ is an invaluable resource when unwanted pain comes into our lives.

If the whirlwind of trouble has captured you, please reach out for help. Pursue Christ and His body. Let these means of grace support you while teaching you how to appropriate His extreme power into your life. It is your choice: you can suffer with God or without God, but one thing is for sure: you will suffer.

Call to Action

  1. What went through your mind when you first read about suffering with or without God? Will you take the time to write out your thoughts or share them with a friend?
  2. As you think about Paul hearing the news that his suffering would never change, how does that set with you? What about when Paul said he would rejoice in his infirmities? Describe what that would be like if it were you—hearing the bad news but rejoicing in God’s power working through you.
  3. Do the things you’ve read here give you hope or bring you further down? Explain your answer, either by writing it out or sharing it with a friend. What does your response reveal about you and your relationship with God?
  4. Are you struggling with bitterness? If so, do you see how it’s a form of self-punishment? What will you do to mature out of a bitter spirit? What’s the upside? What’s the downside if you stay bitter?
  5. Finally, will you go to the last section titled, “Nothing Is Happening,” and think through who you can ask to help you walk through what’s happening in your life? Do not hesitate to contact that person today.

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