Suffering, the Blind Man and Job

Continuing the topic of suffering, especially when the “innocent” suffer, we might as well as cover its range.  One of the most famous examples of “innocent” suffering is, of course, Job.

Had Job known, he probably would not have appreciated that God singles him out to Satan in the first two chapters of his book, however the interchange there between God and Satan is important for a number of reasons.  The first item of note is that God Himself twice proclaims Job’s blamelessness:

Then Jehovah said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” … [This statement is repeated] And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.”  [1:8; 2:3]

Please remember that this is God’s assessment of this man’s blamelessness, therefore it establishes that Job is not a “bad” man who has brought judgment upon himself.  It echoes the disciples asking of Jesus about the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [John 9:2] and Jesus’ reply, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” [v 3].  The story goes on to identify how the man born blind has clearer vision in regard to Who Jesus is than what the spiritually blind Jewish leaders can see.  What these stories illustrate therefore sets into caricature the accusations of Job’s “friends” who keep demanding that he fess up as to why such terrible events have been visited upon him.

The second aspect in these chapters is that rather than a contest being between two equals, God and Satan, with God having the slight edge, instead God clearly initiates here, and then Satan responds and basically has to receive permission before he can act.   Jehovah of Covenant is the One Who is definitely in control; the plan He has established from before the world was created moves according to His governance; He is very much aware of even an individual’s life; and ultimately, “The Buck Stops Here” (the phrase US President Harry S Truman made famous, which indicates that the president – here God – has to make the final decisions and bear their ultimate responsibility for what happens).

On one hand, this is comforting by demonstrating that the time will never be where God turns around one day and is startled by something which Satan snuck in.  Satan’s rebellion does not initiate, but rather can only respond to what God makes available.

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Jesus declares that suffering is not always a result of something negative, but can in fact be a platform upon which a greater task is accomplished.  With Job’s initial chapters, one has the sense that there is something going on here that is not merely being done in a corner, as so often we think of our lives.  Rather the stage on which the drama is played out is being observed by creation – or at least by the spiritual universe, including the angels, the devils, and us.  As we subsequently see with the blind man, Job also has a most significant role to play, although in his case, Jehovah never tells him why the ordeal is necessary – on this earth he would never know what the role is about (next week we will talk more about it).  God’s concluding message to him is simply, “Trust Me – you know Me, and I know what I am doing.”

It is quite a reversal of thought to think of suffering not as a penalty, but rather that our neighbors, or maybe the universe, are watching, which now God will use to reveal His glory through our lives.  There was once a word of prophecy given to missionary couple at their commissioning service, “You will have great suffering, and then you will have great joy.”  In India, after a number of fruitless years working at their mission station, as they rounded a curve in their car, another car went too wide and crashed head-on with them.  The man and his wife survived, but their three children did not.  By themselves in their hospital beds, each remembered the prophecy.  They realized that God was about to act in His Glory, and they began to praise Him in the midst of their sorrow.  After their recovery, they returned to their mission station and one of the first things they did was to hold a memorial service for their children.  For most Indians, the death of a child is devastating.  Many came because they wanted to know what this couple had that could give them the ability to celebrate the death of their children.  And the prophecy indeed came true – they experienced great joy as many people became believers.

Of course, the most classic example of innocent suffering is the Cross of Jesus.  We cannot possibly understand the sorrow of the Father as He watches His beloved only Son die, nor the full weight of the suffering that occurs on that Cross outside of Jerusalem.  It seems as though Satan is winning.  Yet even here all goes according to a plan long before laid out, where God uses something as unjust as the Cross for the platform upon which eternal life is built.  Especially here all creation watches the drama of salvation being revealed in all of the intensity of God’s Love.

Suffering is not fun, especially when it seems to come out of nowhere.  Yet as Job, as the man born blind, and as Jesus on the Cross powerfully demonstrate, there are times where suffering provides the ideal stage by which God can reveal the greatness of His Glory – but especially of His Love.

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