What we want for our people (Outcome): To give our people tools to navigate seasons of suffering and to have a good theology of suffering.
Satan Takes Job’s Property and Children
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants[a] with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. Job 1:13-20 (ESV)
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 7:11 (ESV)
We often take the scriptures in the NT about the suffering church, or the suffering saints and we apply them to our own suffering. This can be helpful but some things we hear in the NT about the persecuted church cannot and should not be translated directly to the normal suffering of everyday life.
Persecution for being a Christian is a distinct kind of suffering that we consider an honour because we share it with Christ.
In this campaign, The Uninvited Guest, we are tackling the topic of suffering. Suffering is a part of life but not a part of life that we willing invite, he is a guest at the table. What do we do with this uninvited guest?
Historical Context for this week: Job is part of the wisdom literature in the OT that explores the question, “Is God wise and just?” As we enter into this book we see a cosmic drama unfold whereby Satan accuses Job before God of being conditional in his love for God. He says that Job is only righteous because God has been so good to him. He wants to put this to the test and God allows it. Job loses everything he has in one day. Including cattle, servants and even his own children. His initial reaction is commendable. He falls to his knees and worships the Lord. However, as the suffering continues and he loses his health, the questions of God’s goodness begin to arise. How could a loving and just God allow this to happen when Job had done nothing wrong?
What is suffering and what is my response?
Navigating pain and suffering is an entirely different concept than understanding pain and suffering. Navigating literally means to direct the course of a ship using instruments and maps. Sometimes pain and suffering can feel like a ship passing through uncharted territory. Maps and instruments help us to travel ‘through’ to the other side of the suffering.
How does one keep an even ‘keel’ during a storm? Through their knowledge of God’s faithful nature, words from God that act like anchors when everything is unstable, support from trusted friends and the body of Christ.
Throughout this series we will look at Who is God in our suffering, where is God in our suffering and what is God saying to us in our suffering, as well as how should we respond when others around us are suffering.
So, let’s define suffering. The dictionary definition of suffering is ‘the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship’.
Sources of suffering
- Suffering because of our own decisions (and by the way God’s grace and mercy abounds in those circumstances too)
- Suffering because of someone else’s decisions (where you have little control over the situation)
- Suffering for following Jesus (the suffering of the saints)
- Suffering which is not the result of yours or other’s decisions (e.g terminal illness, natural disaster)
- Suffering because of the natural ageing process
- Suffering because of the enemy’s attack on your life
- Watching someone else suffer as a source of suffering
The contexts of suffering are many and varied such as relationships, workplaces, homes, communities and nations. We can suffer in our bodies, minds, souls and emotions. We can suffer through losses, like loss of health, finances, relationships, control, security or people when they die. Suffering is universal. It is a fact of life in a broken world, affecting everyone. Our expectation shouldn’t be that we will always suffer but that in our lifetime suffering will occur. It cannot be avoided. CS Lewis says:
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
In a world where we are all desperately trying to feel good, suffering doesn’t seem to fit in. It sticks out, makes an entrance uninvited and doesn’t make sense. And the fall of man means we live on an imperfect earth where imperfect things happen. In fact it is the search for meaning and the effort to make sense of suffering that can lead us down a path of more suffering and confusion.
So how are we supposed to respond to suffering? The book of Job perhaps sheds light on some better ways to respond than we might have in the past.
Job did not restrain himself from anguish and he expressed it in words before God.
Laments rise to the heavens as a strange combination of complaint, grief, questions, confusion, desire for rescue, and expectation of divine faithfulness.Kelly M Kapic
This process allows us to vent safely, all the feelings we truly have to a God who understands and cares.
When we don’t allow for lament it can be unhealthy for our souls. As we desperately try to respond in a correct and righteous manner, we ignore and supress the real emotions we are experiencing. Who has ever tried to positive talk their way out of pain? It may have some benefits but it can’t take the suffering away and by not acknowledging our true feelings we are saying ‘God can’t handle this’ or He ‘can’t help me with this.’
God can handle every emotion you experience. Emotion is not sin, it is an indicator to us that something needs to be attended to. Just like physical pain is an indicator that something needs attending to.
If we don’t allow God into our pain, we will never know His true response to it and so will be tempted to think Him uncaring and unloving. When you allow God to get involved, you will find Him faithful.
Some would say that to lament is to despair, but it is the opposite. To Lament is to reach out for help and for hope, to make a move forward in our pain thus pushing back the despair that comes when we are completely inactive.
Lament rejects passivity in the midst of suffering and so inverts despair.Kelly M Kapic
What did Job’s lament sound like? It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t polished, it was absolutely desperate (words of groaning, screaming and anguish).
Even King David throughout the book of Psalms shows us the power of lament. His brutal honesty towards the Lord turned out to be the very thing that turned him around to praise. Most Psalms of lament have a turning point where perspective is shifted from the pain and onto God. At the bottom of the bucket of lament, you will find praise and hope.
When it comes to approaching God, you can come as you are. You can come with your questions, fears, confusion and even your anger. Just like God did with Job, he honours the wrestle as long as we wrestle with Him.
Connect Group Resources:
- When suffering strikes suddenly (like with Job) an emotions wheel/diagram can be helpful to put into words what we are going through. https://feelingswheel.com/
- N.T. Wright videos on Suffering:
Is there a link between suffering and joy?
How Christians should respond to suffering.
Connect Group Discussion Questions:
GATHER: (ensure that these questions centre around community)
- Share if you’re comfortable, a time of great suffering and what helped you at that time?
- Considering what the book of Job says about the cause of his suffering (he didn’t cause it), what might need to change in our language when talking to others about their suffering?
- How important is it to differentiate between suffering as a result of the fall, suffering because of our own mistakes and suffering because we follow Jesus in a depraved world?
GROW: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on personal growth and maturity)
- What is my current attitude to suffering and how might it need to change?
- What are some of the ways and places that we can make space for lament?
- Job’s is not the only lament in the Bible. Brainstorm together some of the others we can turn to (eg. Lamentations, Psalms).
GO: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on going and spreading the good news)
- Is there someone in your world who is currently suffering? How can you practically support them, if they aren’t ready for “we live in a fallen world” explanation?
- How can we support each other to keep stepping out and bringing people to Christ?