“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S Lewis, The Problem of Pain.
Ever feel like life isn’t fair, maybe that someone is out to get you. I am pretty sure that Job felt this way. He is known as the Biblical figure of suffering. But I think the book is more about how we should suffer more than why we do.
Most of the book of Job is an argument between himself and his friends. Because of the length of the some of the conversations, you can lose sight of what is happening and almost miss a radical change in chapter 32. This is very important and provides a shift or transition before God speaks in chapter 38. After Job and his friends finally stop arguing – not because of agreement, but the conversation stops – we see a new character enter the scene. Someone who has been listening the whole time; someone who has become angry. Elihu has held his tongue because he was a younger man than Job and his friends, but he becomes angry with Job for his self-righteousness and at his friends because they continued to accuse Job and could not answer him. Finally after all the talking ceases he speaks. Listen to the wisdom of this young man:
And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. Job 32:6-9
Elihu continues and says these words in chapter 33.
“Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword. Job 33:8-18
Elihu eloquently states his view on suffering in chapter 36:6-15. I will not quote all of it, except for the last verse – “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.” (vs. 15)
So what does all of this tell us – there is a lot here, but I want to focus on four things I believe we can learn about suffering.
1) Sometimes we have to ignore our friends. Now, I am not saying this in the strictest sense. I am talking about specific circumstances where our friends cannot seem to help us or when they try, they really are in left field. In the last chapter of Job, God shows his anger with Job’s friends because they have not spoken what is right about Him. To come back in right standing with God, Job has to pray for them. I point this out to say, there are times when we must not listen to counsel from friends. Job’s friends were well-intentioned, but they did not know what they were talking about. This is a fine line here, but there are trials we face where we must move forward in action and words with what we know is right no matter who agrees with us. This can be dangerous, but if you cannot stand alone in what you believe, then you likely do not actually believe it.
2) Wisdom can come from unusual places. Here we are in the middle of the great debate with Job and his friends, and then young Elihu comes forth and speaks great wisdom, demonstrating error in both Job’s friends and in what Job has said as well. It is the spirit in a man, not his age (or position for that matter). I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 9.
“There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.” Ecclesiastes 9:14-16
We should always be looking for wisdom, it is usually easy to spot, but many times does not come from a grey-headed professor. It is interesting as you read the chapters after Elihu speaks in chapters 38-42 God speaks. God says some of the same things that Elihu mentions, which could mean that this young man’s speeches were preparation for what was coming.
3) Pain is for our benefit. This is a hard one. But just as pain helps us physically (letting us know there is a problem); mental, emotional, and spiritual pain is beneficial as well. As C. S. Lewis says in his book, The Problem of Pain, God shouts at us in our pain to rouse a deaf world. God is getting our attention, there is something He wants us to pay attention to.
“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.” Job 36:15
This is hard to imagine, but God delivers us by our affliction. He opens our ears by our adversity. Many times when I am in a difficult situation, I am aware God is trying to get my attention – and He has it! But often I pray for God to teach me quickly so I can move on and get out the pain! But here is the beauty (though not so comforting) of it, God is actually using the pain to move you forward. If it stops prematurely you will likely not go as far as He needs you to go. There is no greater teacher than pain and affliction, and it is the best way to move us through difficult areas of our soul. Some may have a hard time with this, but it is true throughout scripture.
4) Contending with God.
“Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” Job 33:13-14
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’” Job 38: 1-3
“And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’” Job 40:1-2
Elihu advises Job to stop contending with God. The thing is, when God does speak He tells Job he darkens counsel with words without knowledge. He calls Job a faultfinder in chapter 40. He tells Job he will answer God’s questions. So, God does not answer Job’s questions about his suffering; he gives Job questions to answer. God never addresses the suffering of Job, and did not have to. If you are wanting to contend with God, you had better be prepared to answer Him and walk away with a limp.
“And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” Genesis 32:24-28
I think there are times we should contend or wrestle with God. But I also think many mediocre Christians want to contend with Him over small issues. I personally think that is a bad idea. Mediocre Christians do not need to contend with God – He will break them in two. Only strong Christians should attempt this. Why? Because you will walk away with a blessing but also a limp for the rest of your life. Most people are not into that. Jacob was blessed by God because he was an overcomer, not a complainer.
Suffering many times turns us into complainers. We want to contend with God and tell Him how he is wrong. We really do not want a limp or a conversation, just for the pain to go away and our life to change. If you contend with God, you will have to answer Him, and your life will be changed forever.
“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.”