Our Staff Job Studies
From Grant Dibden
We had a wonderful time considering several of our staff Job studies during the year. It is such a packed book and we were challenged as we reflected back over the whole book, its themes and big lessons as part of our final study time.
The book of Job explores why God sometimes allows tremendous suffering by those who deserve it least. God seeks to give us knowledge of Himself and to add to that chief blessing many other temporary ones.But Job teaches us that sometimes God must interrupt His normal policy in order to deliver us from trivializing Him as a business partner or loving His gifts more than we love Him as the giver. When God allows inexplicable suffering, when God gives us seemingly strong reasons to give up on Him, when He appears to treat us like an enemy, He is forcing us into a relationship with Him in which He is truly seen to be God and Lord—the only kind of relationship that will save us. The book of Job shows us that, much to our surprise, a great war is being fought in heaven over the saints during such trials. We learn that Satan is under God’s control. Spiritual warfare is real, and we may not know it is happening. We watch as Job struggles and criticizes God but cannot bring himself to give up on Him, and he is vindicated for his faith. We also watch as Job’s friends attempt to comfort him but only add to his pain.
We are sobered as we reflect on our ability to damage people God loves and approves of merely by what we say. Just like Job’s friends, we can sound very spiritual and give advice that is superficially plausible and theologically correct, only to malign deeply a servant of God and hurt them in the process.
A central lesson in Job is that the children of God may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!
The suffering of the children of God is not the firm application of a principle of retributive justice. It is the free application of the principle of sovereign grace. The suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous it is not punitive but curative. Suffering makes a righteous person sensitive to his remaining sinfulness and helps him hate it and renounce it (Job 36:10 cf Psalm 119:71). This is how John Piper challengingly puts it:
“Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually-designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”1
We learn that God is a relational God, and the wisdom of God is not just fear and rules-based like Islam, or western intellectualism, but it is relational and personal. God is enough for us. Just Him and not what benefits we get. The only answer in Job-like suffering, the only thing that can comfort us in inexplicable loss, is not further explanation but a deeper vision of God.
Finally, we learn that these experiences are blessedly temporary and that, having confirmed us in our relationship with him, God never fails to give us exactly what we need.
1Compare 1 peter 1:6,7; Hebrews 12:10,11; 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 and James 1:2-4 for a New Testament take on this.
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Cries of the Soul
By Bruce Clarke, first printed in Compass, Spring 2015
All of us will experience suffering or adversity at some point in our lives. Some fall away when God does not deal with them in a way that they desire. But it is also true that many come to faith when adversity strikes. Adversity can confront our faith in a way that can be decisive. Our western society, with its emphasis on personal happiness, is almost entirely incapable of helping people to live in the midst of suffering. However, the Scriptures offer a depth of comfort and perspective that is transformative.
When Jesus was at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11, He became angry and then wept. Why was Jesus angry and why did He weep, when He had declared and knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead? I think Jesus was angry because death and pain were not part of the original creation. This is why we also cry out, since adversity is something we were not designed to experience. (Romans 8:18-21) And Jesus wept because He entered into the pain of Lazarus’ mourners.
As we reflect on Christ on the Cross, we gain insights into God and His perspective on suffering. In Christ, we see God entering into suffering to alleviate humanity’s agony. At the Cross, God uses evil to defeat evil. Wickedness, pain, suffering and tragedy, which are not part of God’s original design, are being woven into a wise plan. God’s heart of love for us leads to His suffering on the Cross. The more you love someone, the more that person’s grief become yours. Our God is a personal God who loves us so much that his heart is filled with pain over us. The depth of Jesus’ agony is a measure of the depth of God’s love for us. During times of difficulty, we hold on to the sovereignty, justice and love of God.
The more you love someone, the more that person’s grief and pain become yours.
The final judgement is God’s decisive answer to pain, suffering and evil. All the damage that evil has wreaked on creation (Colossians 2:15) is reversed and evil is finally and completely defeated. It is Jesus’ suffering that ends suffering, where evil is turned back on itself and destruction is destroyed. And so, the curse that came upon creation at the fall is lifted in the new heaven and earth. (Revelation 7:16-17) Not only do we escape judgement, but God also restores us to perfection. Jesus offers much more than consolation; he brings restoration to the life for which we were created.
The Scriptures also help us to see the witness of adversity. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
This verse tells us that the gospel is so profound that it must be carried in a jar; otherwise people could put their trust in Paul himself. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul boasts of his weaknesses because Christ is revealed as the glorious King and it is not Paul’s skill or endurance that are important. It is endurance in the midst of adversity, rather than immediate and miraculous deliverance, that reveals the power of God. The moral transformation and the endurance that God can bring into our lives through adversity are not too mundane to be miraculous. So, in our lives, the way we walk through life’s difficulties can reveal to others the suffering Christ who died to put things right, and the resurrected Christ who gives certain hope for the future.
As we go through painful times, the God of all comfort comes alongside us (2 Corinthians 1) and grants us a profound peace, so that we can become conduits of His comfort for others. We will weep and mourn, we will be confused and stretched, but we will also trust and pray as we yield ourseves to Him. And, as we think of all that Christ on the Cross has done, we can thank God out of a deepening sense of our love for Him.
It is in these times that we draw on the rich reserves that have been implanted in us from the Scriptures, which enable us to cope and even to grow in faith. May God be our source of joy and hope so that people will see our glorious God and Saviour and respond in loving praise.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the LORD forever, the LORD himself is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:3-4
Therefore we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; the are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
References: Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Scott J Hafemann, 2 Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary.
*Bruce serves on the National Leadership Team for The Navigators. He and his wife Kathie are part of the Melbourne Navigators staff team.