A Study of Lament: The Innocent Who Suffer

{read the rest of the series by clicking here}

Proverbs makes it sound like everything will always go well for the righteous. The book of Job calls that mindset into question with the introduction of innocent suffering. Job knows he is righteous and doesn’t deserve this suffering, but his friends don’t believe him. We, the readers, get a behind-the-scenes look that tells us what is really going on, and because of that we can see that Job’s suffering is Satan’s doing, not a result of our sin. But it tells us much more than that. It tells us that innocent suffering, like that brought on by judgment, is designed to bring us closer to Him.

As Job suffers, his friends try to offer him counsel (lesson number one for those talking to the hurting: sometimes it’s better to be silent). Their counsel becomes repetitive: confess your sin and everything will be well again. In his book, How Long?, D.A. Carson points out that if we look deeper, they were asking Job to confess nonexistent sin just to get his wealth back. They make God into intellectual theology instead of the personal being Job knows He is.
Meanwhile, Job’s wife is telling him that he should just curse God and die. In other words, if God brought this upon you, He’s not worth serving.
Job fights against these pressures, tenaciously clinging to what he knows to be true.
We sometimes think Job’s response is wrong, because he questioned God. God says otherwise: “[Job’s friends] have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). He knew who God was. Job was convinced of God’s justice, but was confused, and so in anguish he cried out to know God more. His attitude was sometimes prideful, but he always spoke rightly of God. How could Job do that in the midst of such pain?

He knows God is sovereign (3:23) and has brought this upon him: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10). He says this not to say that God does evil, rather, it is an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty even in the darkest of times. Job didn’t know what was going on between God and Satan, but he did know that God was in charge, and that God wasn’t guilty.
How do I know this?
Because if he thought God was guilty, he would have turned from God when there was mystery, but he never doubts God. Job wants to know why, but even when he’s begging God for answers he clings to who he knows God is. He’s tenacious, even audacious, in his asking as he waits for God to answer.
And God does answer.
He says that man can’t understand it. He could have told Job everything – how this was because God was proving Satan wrong – how then the suffering was an honor to Job. But He doesn’t. He just shows Job that He is much bigger and more powerful than Job.

God never promises answers. At first that seems cruel and unfair. But He gives us something far greater than an answer – Himself.
We can ask God “why.” Jesus did it. Jesus suffered – God even suffers to some degree, as shown in His laments in the prophets. He understands our pain, and He knows how best to help us through it. He speaks to us in it.
There’s never a promise that we won’t feel pain or won’t deal with deep suffering or seasons of no joy. But in His faithfulness, we will never walk through it alone, and in those times we will be closer to Him than we were before.

Suffering makes us worship God for who God is, not for our own gain. I read an article recently about how if we love God for what He gives us, then our relationship with Him is like we are prostitutes. We don’t actually want Him, only His gifts. Suffering takes away all the things we were relying on and leaves us with only Him. It forces us to ask ourselves if we want Him most or if we are only worshiping Him because it makes us feel good or because we receive blessing for it. Job comes to the point where he says “though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” Can you say that? If God took everything you rely on from you, if you had no answers, if it seemed He was being unjust to you – could you say that you would still hope in Him, and that everything He does is right and just? Or would you turn your back on Him like Job’s wife wanted him to do?
When we grieve, it is because something good is gone. Turning our hearts to God doesn’t deny the goodness in what was, but puts it in its proper place and leaves room for us to be filled with the greatness of God. God in His goodness takes away our crutches – our addiction to the things of this world – and leaves us with something far greater, all we ever needed to begin with – Himself. If we had no suffering, we would love the world too much. There is pain as our hearts turn from our idols to Him, but the end is sweet.

To those facing innocent suffering: wait patiently for the Lord. When we are frantically searching and moaning for what is gone (though it may feel not that something is “gone” but that something unwanted is “here”), we close Him off. Lewis notes in A Grief Observed that our cries overwhelm His words.
Remember who He is and delight in Him even when everything else is gone. You may need a friend to help you remember when life is very dark. But you will find He is enough. I don’t think we even realize how worthy and beautiful and awesome He is, even when we only have Him. Heaven will be glorious, completely worth all our groaning (Romans 8:20-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

“Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”
– Job 2:20-22.

Bitter Sweet
Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.
– George Herbert

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