One of the reasons why our suffering can become unusually difficult is because we often look at our situation through the single lens of God’s fairness and justice. We are told that righteousness and justice are the very foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14), but that is not always evident when we look at our world or at our own difficulties. Perhaps we are not tempted to curse God and die like Job’s wife counseled her husband, but it is hard not to question God’s fairness especially when we suffer. Is it really worth serving him and trying to be an upright person? There seems to be plenty of people in this world who do not love God and yet they look like they are healthy and flourishing. Does he really care for me?
In my last read through of the book of Job, I zeroed in on a truth I had not before noticed. It wasn’t a truth found in the raging argument between Job and his friends, who essentially threw Job under the bus of God’s retributive justice. Their singular theme was that people suffer because they have done something wrong and are being punished for it by a God of justice. Their counsel, was pretty simple: “Job, fess up and repent and God will have mercy and restore your health and prosperity.” (11:14; 22:21-23)
Neither was my attention caught by a truth found in the argument of the younger man, Elihu, who also suggested that God was just but that Job’s suffering was remedial. In other words, God uses suffering to wake us up, to save us from walking the wrong path, to correct us, and to lead us to repentance. (36:16)
All of these arguments were not wrong in themselves, but were wrong in their application to Job’s situation. Neither these men nor Job were privy to the context of Job’s suffering that was introduced to us at the beginning of the book. They did not know what took place in the secret chambers of God’s wisdom. Hmmm… could it be that we also fail to accurately assess a situation because we do not know what lies beneath or behind it — the wisdom of God?
The truth that caught my attention was found in Job 28, often called the Great Interlude. The entire chapter is about wisdom (the book of Job is considered wisdom literature) and is the entry-way that leads to God’s appearance in chapters 38-41. And guess what? When God does show up, he does not defend his justice but displays his wisdom!
Application: Let us not believe that my cancer or your suffering have been allowed by God as a punishment for some sin that we’ve committed, or else you and I would have died a long time ago. God is not our enemy, but we do have one. In the book of Job he is called the Accuser, and he wants us to curse God and die, or to question the fairness of God, or his care for us.
We have a choice here and I choose to trust God for his great wisdom. “Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and unfathomable his ways!” (Rom 11:33) Yes, I believe that God is just and fair, but I also believe that his judgments are unsearchable. How can I even begin (like Job and company) to challenge the way God runs the universe or ask why he has allowed something to enter my life that seems to run contrary to his love, mercy, and justice? In the face of his unfathomable wisdom, I have no place to stand; no footing from which to argue. Instead, I must fall down and worship, like Job eventually did (42:1-6), and submit myself to his unfathomable wisdom.
This is not a pathway of resignation nor is it merely the passive acceptance of things over which I have no control. Submission to the unfathomable wisdom of God is based upon the reality of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. My place to stand* is based upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the establishment of an eternal relationship with the God of the universe. I may never know or comprehend all that is happening to me, but I believe that Jesus is my Redemer and God is my Father. Therefore I trust that nothing will ever come into my life that has not first passed through his Fatherly hand.
Thus we need to understand our suffering and hardshp through the bi-focal lens of God’s unfathomable wisdom and his great love for us in Christ.
Though darkness hides his lovely face, I trust in his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the whelming flood, when all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. (Edward Mote, 1834)
*It should be noticed that Job also had a place to stand; a place that grounded him in the face of all he did not know or understand. See Job 16 and 19.