Member Question – I was once asked the following: “How do you encourage someone toward the Lord when they are angry at God for past difficulties? They are mad because God did not protect them or deliver them from their problems.
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“When Job questioned God, the Lord responded with answers like, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’
“This kind of response allowed Job to see because he was not able to make a proper judgment of what had happened to him. Then Job put his hand over his mouth and said,
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.
“I believe Scripture teaches that God owes us nothing. Yet He has given us everything in Christ, and if we start with that premise, our hearts are humbled. Is this the wrong direction to take with someone who has suffered repeated hurtful things at the hands of others?
“We have spent weeks on God’s love towards her that is in Christ, yet she still holds such anger against God. I know you said it takes a long time for hurting individuals to work through their issues. I so long to see my friend set free from the torment.”
You are on the right track with her, so don’t deviate from where you want to go. She needs to know about the love of God, and she needs to move forward in her thinking and living. Eventually. And, as you have surmised, it will be a long time before you can get her to that place in her experience.
Of course, you cannot predict when she will arrive. To be honest with you, she may never come to that better place. It’s not your call. Only the Lord holds this kind of information (Deuteronomy 29:29). Her future life is in His mind, and He will not share those intentions with you (Hebrews 4:12-13). His desire for you is to faithfully serve her as she wrestles through the torturous torment of what has happened to her.
Be sure that you don’t put time limits on her. Counseling can have limitations, especially if there is a prescribed number of sessions. You cannot mandate change or write out a timeline for specific expectations that must be met.
When the Storm Comes
You may be surprised to know that many Christians are angry at God, though I suspect most of them would never admit it. I would not recommend for anyone to openly talk about their anger at God, just as they should not talk about their anger with anyone–if talking about their anger is all they are going to do.
In your situation with your friend, admitting her struggle with the Sovereign Lord is a positive. The fact she will go there with you is what any angry person should do. It is helpful for compassionate and competent friends to know the internal turmoil of others. For this, I am grateful you have this opportunity with her.
I’m sure she is aware of the sovereignty of God, to some degree. She is probably aware of His omnipotent ability and His presence everywhere. When she factors these things into her thinking, it is reasonable for her to ponder, “Where was God when all this crazy stuff went down in my life?” I’ve thought similarly.
April 08, 1988 was the day my wife of nine years decided to leave me with our two young children. They never returned. More than three decades later I’m still affected by what began on that day. A dark cloud rolled over my life and never left. During the early years, I spent a considerable amount of time reading the Book of Job. He became my constant companion.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes. – Job 3:23-26
Job said the thing he had feared had come upon him. I’m not sure if that has ever happened to you. It did for me. What she is going through cannot be thoroughly explained or understood unless you have been in her place and experienced a comparable pain. This perspective does not disqualify you from helping her, but I do want to call attention to the complicatedness of her situation.
To be honest, she does not fully understand the complexity of what has happened to her. How could she? Who can know the mind of the Lord? This reality is part of her problem. She does not fully understand her trouble or her God. Nobody can, not entirely.
There is an element of faith we are called to walk, and when things like what happened to her come, it can disrupt our faith in proportion to the size of the trouble. Her problems are mountainous, which means her ability to trust God will be proportionally challenging.
Ideal, but Not a Template
God’s counsel to Job was perfect because God is perfect. He knew what Job needed during that “counseling season,” which lasted for forty-two chapters. Please remember that we are not aware of the actual counseling time from the beginning of Job’s ordeal to the end.
The part of the Lord’s counsel which you have pinpointed is appropriate for your friend at some juncture in the process. I do not know when that time will be. Yes, it is a goal to aim for, but it may not be the right thing to say now. I remember a couple of times when someone gave me Romans 8:28 as part of their counsel.
That passage presents beautiful counsel to the afflicted, but my heart was not in the place to receive it. In fact, my response to “and you know how all things work together for good” was along these lines:
Has it ever occurred to you that I might not want all things to work together for good? What I want is my family back. I’m not interested in what the Lord is trying to do in my life.
My friend gave good counsel to me, but it was the wrong time. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a sick friend who was telling me how some people are so “blessed” by her suffering. She understands what they are trying to say and she also understands how difficult it is to speak into an unchangeable situation like hers. She added, somewhat humorously, but truthfully,
I don’t want to be the poster girl for sickness so others can be grateful for their health or be encouraged by my illness. I’d rather they find another way to be grateful and encouraged.
She realizes her attitude is wrong, but she is also trying to be honest about what is going on in her thought life. I’m not trying to change my friend. I’m trying to be a friend to my friend. I want to walk with her and her husband through her unchangeable situation.
We are at the place where I can call attention to her attitude when it needs adjusting, and she receives my corrections with grace, but I can’t change her or her situation, and I don’t try to. Your friend is being honest with what she is thinking, and she is sharing those things with you. In that, you can find encouragement.
Counseling Is Conditional
The Book of Job is not a one-size-fits-all template for how you do things or how things will always conclude for troubled souls. The book was a unique historical moment between a man and his Creator. Not all counseling situations will play out that way, though it would be nice if they did. You said,
I believe Scripture teaches that God owes us nothing–yet He has given us everything in Christ, and if we start with that premise, our hearts are humbled.
This worldview is correct, but the big operative word here is “if.” “If our hearts are humble” is the key. Job eventually had a humble heart, and his humility set the stage for how he responded to the strong and hard counsel given to him, which began like this:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? – Job 38:1-2
I do not know your friend or where she is as far as being humble (or proud). That is not a judgment I can make. However, you must try to discern where she is at this point in her journey with the Lord. If there is resistance to God, for whatever reason, tread carefully. Let me put it this way: if she is not in chapter 38, where the Lord began to counsel Job, it’s not the time for you to advise her the way He counseled Job.
Counseling is conditional on the heart of the person you’re counseling. The Lord knew Job was ready to gird up his loins and receive some stern and direct counsel. It worked, and Job experienced transformation.
As you know, the Lord grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). We do not. We see this gift given to Job as we read his book. People are different, and each person needs counseling according to who they are and where they are, not who we think they should be or according to other people we know or even historical figures we find in the Bible.
I know you know this and I’m preaching to the choir, but a good reminder does not hurt. Your friend needs your love through care and discernment. Sometimes she needs your admonition. Most of all she needs your friendship.
I do not know how the “42 chapters” of trouble will play out for her. She may never come to the place of seeing what Job saw or responding the way Job did (Job 42:5-6, 10).
She may always be angry with the Lord. Maybe in fifteen years or so she will make some significant changes. These possibilities are in the Lord’s mind. They are His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). You will need to become comfortable with this mystery while guarding your heart against thinking how you believe things should be is how things will be (James 4:13-17; Matthew 6:34).
Be Patient Above All Things
Patience will be your primary need as you serve her (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Soul care is some of the most laborious work there is, especially when the individuals we love don’t seem to want to change–or when they are stuck, and though they would like to change, they just can’t.
One thing that makes our work difficult is not being the ones who control the change process. We are the Lord’s water boys and girls, faithfully watering and sowing while asking the Father to provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). In this way, it is similar to parenting or any other relationship.
For now, you keep on plowing. Keep sowing. Be patient. Be encouraged. Live with the future expectation of the Lord restoring your friend (Psalm 23:3). It may come while you are working with her. It may not.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. – Job 42:10
If she has any theological moorings at all, she probably knows the Lord is good, and He was there in her suffering, and He is working a good plan for her life now. I had limited awareness of this truth when my pain was most acute.
But there was nothing I could do to change my thinking or my hurt. It was something I had to experience through painful perseverance. No matter how many times I cried, my pain and my circumstance never changed. Finally, out of sheer desperate torment, I blurted out my anger to the Lord. I don’t recommend this, but it does happen.
If you or any other person had shown up during that time, there would have been nothing you could do for me, other than be my praying, caring, persevering friend. I could not change. I was stuck.
That was a long time ago. The residual effect of that suffering lingers today but in a different way. The good Lord turned my captivity from bitter hopelessness to a ministry that helps people like your friend. I’m glad you are there for her, and in some small way, I can serve her through you. That, my friend, is what makes all my suffering worth it.
Also published on Medium.