Do We Suffer for God or Does God Suffer for Us?
In the past 30+ days I have performed two funerals in Laconia. Funerals are never easy of course, but I think the younger the deceased the harder it is to swallow. All of us expect to die but we expect it when we are old and are blindsided if it comes early. For the first funeral, the funeral of the younger, I shared some hope from Job’s experience of loss that I think needful for us all. When we think of the earthquake in Italy, the tornadoes in Indiana or the funeral services that take place here at Wilkinson-Beane funeral home every week, we all need to hear the lesson(s) of Job’s life.
I believe the book of Job in the Bible is the oldest and most helpful resource for dealing with death and suffering in the world today. In the opening verses of the book we read: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger. Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” (Job 1:6-12).
In the verses that follow Job loses everything. Raiders come and carry off all of his enormous possessions; they slay his many workers, and last all of his children, 10 in all, die when the house they were partying in collapses upon them. This all happened for Job in the course of one afternoon.
I believe the book of Job tells us a number of very important things about death and suffering. Perhaps the most important thing it tells us is that the God of the Bible is not a God who exists to make us suffer. Instead the God of the Bible ultimately suffers so that we can have eternal existence. How so?
Job’s story was penned as an opposition to the view of the gods of the day. The peoples of the Ancient Near East believed that the gods used humans to relieve their suffering. They believed that in order for the gods to live in leisure (which was largely how they conceptualized ‘eternal life’- endless leisure), their human minions had to do the grunt work for them. Human beings were the god’s slaves and ditch diggers. They did the work the gods did not want to do. For this reason manual labor was often seen as cursed work that should be reserved for slaves, and unemployment was seen as “a piece of singular good fortune” (Hardy, Fabric of this World, 1990). It was this view of the gods that allowed slavery to be promoted as an acceptable practice in those days.
Into this Ancient view of the gods pops the story of Job. From beginning to end Job proves to be a radical re-writing of the way of the world. In the story of Job God is not the one bringing suffering to mankind. God is not the one finding relief in someone else’s suffering. Rather God is the one showering blessings onto Job. Satan himself said, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land?” (v.10).
Notice also that it was not God’s idea to harm Job. God was not up in Heaven saying, “Hey guys watch this …” According to this passage God was limiting suffering. God was corralling suffering. God was even preventing suffering. God allowed bad things to happen to Job, yes, but He did not allow everything bad that could happen to happen. This was a boldly different view of God than was commonly preached in those days.
It is comforting to know that God was not causing Job’s suffering, but the real bomb of awakening comes when we fit Job’s story into the overall Biblical storyline.
For all the good said of Job in the opening verses, Job was not a perfect person. Job was sinful like the rest of us. For this reason we cannot say ‘Job did not deserve to suffer’. If Job had done nothing wrong then Job would not deserve to suffer. But Job did do wrong even though he had some noble qualities that even God recognized (see v.3). One day, however, there would come to Earth a perfect man from Heaven who did not deserve to suffer. One day Jesus Christ would descend from Heaven- but not for the reason you would think. Jesus Christ deserved no suffering and yet the Gospel tells us that when Jesus came to Earth He came to intentionally suffer for us. The Gospel says that Jesus did not come to Earth to finally make people suffer for all the bad they had done. He did not come to lash out in anger for all the injustices they had committed (although He could have!). Instead out of HIs love for mankind Jesus Christ descended from Heaven to take upon Himself all the bad the world had done and ultimately suffer for them.
The God of the Bible is not a god who remains remote while his minions suffer for Him. Instead the God of the Bible is one who intentionally comes down to suffer for us so that one-day we won’t have to.
Funerals are hard no matter what the circumstances surrounding them. But they are infinitely easier knowing we serve a God who came to suffer for us and not to make us suffer for Him.
In excitement for sharing this Gospel every week in Laconia~ shaun