One of the most surprising parts of the Bible for people who are reading it for the first time, is how often the words Glory and Suffering show up in the same breath.
Obviously, it’s common sense that those two words don’t belong together. Glory involves power and resources that we use to avoid suffering, suffering involves weakness and death and misery.
We know that there’s no glory in suffering, and so we do everything we can to avoid suffering.
And more and more we are avoiding glory.
Wonder And Suffering
It’s challenging because I’ve lived a relatively charmed life. I’ve never been in the hospital, I’ve had good health, a stable family and good friends.
But I’m writing it because I’ve been in lots of hospital rooms and funeral homes and cancer wards. I’ve learned some wisdom from being in the house of mourning, and I know that there are ways that suffering can either make us bitter or better people, and so at the risk of clipping the wrong wire in disarming this bomb, I’d like to venture a couple of observations I’ve had over the years.
Did you ever wonder why we are so much more shocked and undone by suffering these days? Our ancestors suffered much greater loss than modern people. In medieval Europe around one of every five children died before their first birthday, and only 50% of all children survived to the age of ten.The average family buried half of their children, and these are children who died at home, not tucked away in some sanitary hospital. Life for our ancestors was filled with far more suffering than us today. But we have thousands of diaries and journals and letters that show us how much better they handled their grief than do we.
Dr. Brand was a medical doctor who spent much of his life in third world countries working with leprosy patients and the world’s poorest people. And when, after years of medical missionary care, he returned to the U.S.A. he said:
“In the United States…I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it.”
The God of the Storm King
Remember the story of Job? Some think it’s the first book written in the Bible. It’s the story of a happily married father of 10, who’s got everything he ever wanted….until he doesn’t.
In the course of a few days and one chapter, Job loses his entire family and fortune to a storm, and then Job’s “friends” invite themselves over to help him make sense of his great misfortune.
For almost 40 chapters, Job is sitting in ashes, mourning his family and arguing with his friends. Finally Job begins to ask God the question that his friends already presume to know the answer to, “Why?!! Why did you allow this to happen?”
And in some of the most beautiful chapters of the entire Bible, God shows up because of that question…and yet He never answers it.
He does something much better than answer the question. He reveals Himself. And that is enough.
But notice how God reveals Himself, in a storm. The word is literally a “Storm-wind” Remember how Job had lost everything? In a storm! Remember Job was worried about this from the beginning. He said if God did appear to him, “He would crush me with a storm” (Job 9:17)
If I was grading God on His pastoral skills here, he would have failed. He takes Job’s greatest fear and shows up in it.
God comes in the most fierce, overwhelming, majestic form possible—as the Storm King. Job and the readers of the Old Testament would expect that God in this form would immediately destroy him.But he does not.
Instead God restores him.
In my experience, suffering always makes our world shrink. We close in on ourselves and begin to catalog all the way that life has failed us. I get that, I do that. And we must be very patient with ourselves and each other when this is happening.
However, when suffering leaves us there, it is the kind of suffering that can make us bitter, because it’s the kind of suffering that can’t see past itself.
The holocaust survivor Victor Frankyl after being freed from Auschwitz said that he learned that we can go through anything if we have a vision for why our suffering matters.
I love the way G.K. Chesterton talks about this:
Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
One of the reasons that suffering is harder today is because our world has become so disenchanted. We can’t imagine how redemption can come from our pain, because we are blind to anything past what we see.
But Christians, the people of the resurrection, believe in wonder. We believe that God does what only God can do with our suffering, even if we don’t get to see it, or know exactly how it will happen.
Think about it, God’s glory is revealed at Job’s greatest moment of suffering and he finds that it doesn’t remove his suffering, but it transforms how he suffers.
I’ve seen this time and time again, people go through suffering can find that it moves them toward God not away from Him. I’ve seen people come out on the other side with greater joy and expanded souls. Because the great theme of the entire Bible is how God brings us into joy not just despite suffering, but through it,
What’s interesting about the book of Job, is that there actually was a reason behind Job’s great suffering. One that only the reader knows, but never Job. And God could’ve told Job about it.
He could’ve told him about the bet that Satan had made with God, he could’ve mentioned how much God had staked on him.
God could’ve even told Job about what would happen through His story. He could’ve said “because of you people who are suffering for thousands of years will find comfort and hope.”
But God doesn’t. He only shows up in his pain. He shows up in his storm, as a storm, but bigger than his storm.
And Job finds that is enough.
For Job, wonder was the cure.