All people born in Adam have no choice about personal suffering (Genesis 2:16-17). That is the bad news. The good news is we can choose whether we want to experience our problems with or without God.
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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 you through your suffering.
Not knowing God while suffering certainly adds to the complexity of the troubled soul (Psalm 46:1). 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).
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
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. He did not realize how no amount of praying was going to bring his problems to a successful conclusion.
- How does that make you feel?
- What are you thinking?
Suppose the Lord was working a more profound and more mysterious plan (Deuteronomy 29:29) in your life, and suffering was the vehicle He chose to carry out those greater purposes (Genesis 50:20).
When It’s Your Time to Die
Job is only one of many people the Lord selected to suffer for His higher purposes (Hebrews 11:32). Your 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 of practicalization of the gospel comes home to roost in your life. That’s when the call to suffer becomes your 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).
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. Paul said it this way:
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 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).
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. What I hope to amplify is 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).
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 knew appeared to have left him. He vanished, so Job thought. Before his suffering, Job loved God and walked with Him. He served Him daily, and God was near, active, and reciprocal.
Shortly after the suffering came into Job’s life, he began to separate himself from the God that he loved. I am not sure when Job perceived the distance that occurred between him and his Lord. Notice how he frames it at the mid-point of the book.
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 23:1-2
- 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 + God = Hope and Empowering Grace
- Suffering – God = Complaining, Bitterness, Heaviness
Separation from God happens when you lose sight of where God is and what He is up to in your troubles. This kind of over-fixation on suffering leads to its magnification, which will eventually captivate your thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
After this happens, the troubled soul becomes a complaining spirit. This tension is where you find Job. The heaviness of his soul lowered him into a dark hole from which he could not escape.
Bitterness: A Form of Self-Punishment
Job lost sight of God during his troubles, and his soul began to drift from what he believed (Romans 8:31-39). He went from a joy-filled position of God-centeredness to a frustrated perspective of problem-centeredness.
His suffering caused a prescribed misery in his life. It is one thing when God brings suffering to you, 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 not a medicine that helps you change or brings about a preferred life. Bitterness is a form of self-inflicted misery. It is a way of punishing oneself and others (Hebrews 12:15). It is poison for the soul.
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. Bitterness causes rebellion.
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 because of 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.
- I am hurt.
- I complain.
- My complaint turns to bitterness.
- My bitterness is rebellion.
- My rebellion separates me from the Lord.
- I can no longer receive help from the only one who can help me.
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 hand. Job would later learn this terrifying truth (Job 23:16).
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. – Job 23:10
In time, it appears 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).
If getting away from trouble becomes the focal point of your life, you may circumvent the beautiful things (Romans 8:28) the Lord wants you to experience, which you can only experience during your trouble.
It is within your “Adam-given scope and tendencies” to find the easy way out of trouble (Genesis 3:7-8). Running and hiding makes sense at the moment, but it is not your best move.
If you are struggling to persevere through inescapable suffering, my challenge to you is 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 your way back to God is a slow and laborious process. It requires you to set aside your preferred life for the life the Lord is giving you right now. If you do this, you will experience a new kind of grace.
It is overcoming grace, which comes proportionally and simultaneously to the degree you repent of any complaining and bitterness. This kind of experience with God will not happen until you enter into the ring with God (Genesis 32:24).
Are You Ready to Rumble (With the Lord)?
I would 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 the moment, but you will reap a harvest of bitter herbs if you persist in your blindness (Hebrews 3:7-8).
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 to not be 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 your 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.
Initially, if you do this, you will not feel any change in your soul or your circumstance. Nevertheless, the Lord will enable you in ways that sheer human will cannot accomplish. Remember that you move forward by faith, not based on existential feelings.
I realize the things that I am saying are hard. Perhaps they are too hard for you. 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.
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. There are more friends out there than Job’s three buddies. 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.
Also published on Medium.