I find that there is nothing worse than someone trying to give you simple answers to life’s hardest struggles.
Think of a time that was the hardest of times for you
In those moments when you were going through the hardest of times…
When you were screaming out to God in agony and depth of pain…
Were you after someone to knock on your door, ignore your pain, and attempt to give you a theory behind why you were going through what you were going through?
Were you after that?
Or were you after a platitude like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle”?
In life hardest times, when the shit hits the fan, and there are no simple answers.
What you need isn’t someone who gives you their two pence on your pain.
You need something more than that.
Sometimes those simple pseudo answers are the most condescending of them all.
A “scripture pill” where someone gives you a memory verse because what’s in front of them is too overwhelming.
A pill shoved into your mouth because they can’t deal with your pain, and they just want to shove it under the carpet.
They don’t want to be present in it.
The reality is sometimes life isn’t simple.
Sometimes there is no quick fix answer.
Sometimes we never know the reason why we grow through what we go through
We are left in a place. Left with no answers. In the hardest of times.
We live in a world addicted to knowing everything.
Now learning and perusing answers is not wrong- in fact, I would argue that that is part of our creative potential that God has put into us.
But when knowing becomes an addiction- where you have to know everything or else…The result is that you will never rest, you will never be at peace.
And this is especially true when we suffer.
When we take our addiction to knowing and then apply it to our pursuit of trying to work out the suffering we have gone through- we can become angry, we can become cynical, we can become people who are never at peace.
Here we have this book in the Bible called Job.
It’s part of a collection of books called the wisdom literature.
Part of this library is Proverbs, then Ecclestiaies, then Job
Proverb gives us a simple cause and effect universe, that says do x and then and then y will happen.
Proverbs is wisdom we can tap into, and it’s wisdom that is, generally speaking, pretty consistent. It’s Basic. It’s Simple. Do this, and then this will happen. That’s why it’s there- there’s a lot of truth in Proverbs.
But we forget the other two books in the wisdom literature.
We have Ecclestiaies that comes along and says “sometimes there is a glitch in the system; sometimes the strict ordering of cause and effect has hiccups, and as such life is a little bit more complicated than what it appears to be”.
And then you have Job.
A lot of Hebrew scholars think Job is an existential thought experiment written to the Hebrew people who knew all to well about suffering.
An existential thought experiment exploring the question about God’s running of the universe in the middle of suffering.
It explores this phenomenon through a story of a righteous man who- as it pertains to the story- has done nothing wrong.
But everything bad happens to him.
And in the middle of his pain, his grief, his loss, Job’s friends insist that Job must have done something wrong to deserve what he got.
They had a view of the universe of a strict rule of retributive justice: if something bad happened to you, then you did something wrong.
That was their worldview. For them, Job must have done something wrong, because they couldn’t conceive of his suffering any other way
But that’s the point: He hadn’t done anything wrong.
That’s the point.
He didn’t deserve this.
But then is God in the wrong?
The answer is also no.
Life is a little bit more complex.
The book of Job was not written to give us clear cut answers for our suffering.
And if you come to this book expecting clear cut answers than you will be disappointed.
Because when Job finally cracks and questions God like a lawyer might question someone on the stand, God responds- but He doesn’t answer his question about his suffering.
Instead, God gives Job over 60 questions to him.
And these questions all relate to the minute running’s of this vast universe- from the small to the big.
It’s a masterpiece of a response on God’s behalf.
And as a result, Job is humbled.
The universe is infinitely complex- beyond any reason or comprehension to make sense of it in its totality- and in the end, Job sees that.
Job comes with questions to his suffering, but instead, God invites him into a vision of complexity, so to invite Job towards a humble posture towards reality and the running of the universe.
To lead him to a humble place in the midst of not knowing all the answers
And in the end, Job exclaims “My ears have heard you, but now I see you”
And finally, in his humility, he is lead to peace.
He realises that he doesn’t have to figure it all out
He doesn’t have to know all the answers.
And he is then at peace.
He never get’s the answers he wants.
He gets something else.
He gets peace in the midst of not knowing.
God doesn’t explain his justice, defend his justice, he doesn’t even talk about His justice.
And Job recognises that there is more going on in the universe than we can imagine, to the point we go “I don’t get it. I will instead trust”.
Now some people have turned to the Heavenly scene at the beginning of the book for answers.
Let me tell you: that’s not what it’s designed for.
It was designed to set up the thought experiment:
The point is simply that God in his decision making takes seriously an opposing point of view to Job’s gracefulness, and so the thought experiment is set up.
We aren’t to think that everytime something bad happens to us it’s because God actually goes “Oh Bob is going great and he loves me, but the accuser thinks he only loves me because I am blessing Him, well I’ll show Him!”
That’s not how it’s meant to be read.
That’s how people have read it, but that’s not how it’s meant to be read.
This scene sets up the thought experiment. That’s all.
Other people have instead turned to the friends of Job to get answers on their suffering.
Likewise, let me tell you: that’s not what those conversations are there for.
They are there to show you just how bad their thought patterns were.
They were thinking rigidly about justice, and the point is that justice isn’t that straight forward sometimes.
The book doesn’t answer the question as to why you are suffering.
But, like Job meeting God, once we meet God in the whirlwind we are invited to trust….
We recognise that there is so much more going on in the universe than we can imagine, to the point you just go “I don’t get it, I’ll trust instead”
Now let me be clear: the fact that the universe is complicated is not the answer to suffering.
I am not saying that because the universe is complex you just can’t understand the reason why God allowed your suffering and you just got to deal with it because God is either busy or doesn’t have time to explain it you to.
That’s not what I am saying.
The whole point of God in the whirlwind is not to answer the question of suffering.
It’s the bring us to a place of humility (That reality is so vast!) that we trust (instead of painstakingly trying to work it all out).
And that’s the wisdom of the book that I believe we are to learn:
Wisdom is reaching a place of humility & trust before God in the midst of suffering, which in turn brings peace.
You stop trying to figure it all out, you stop pouring all your emotional energy into working out why you went through a bad time, and you trust instead.
Trust won’t give you the answers, it will transcend the need for them.
Trust will bring you to a place where you learn that knowing everything, including your suffering, just won’t cut it.
You release yourself from that burden; but not in an anti-rational way, but in a transrational way.
Trust steps in where knowledge fails.
Sometimes there are no explanations to be had.
Instead, we are called to trust instead of trying to figure it all out.
To stop the game, and be at peace in a posture of humble trust.
It’s interesting, the Hebrew word for faith has an image of being held. Think of a trust fall…
It’s not called a cognitive ‘I have all the answers coherently sorted out so now I can fall’ belief fall
It’s called a trust fall.
We don’t have all the answers, and we certainly don’t have all our shit together, and we might even be angry at God.
Trust, then, is beyond knowing the answers.
And it’s okay: we can trust instead.
Trust doesn’t have it all figured out.
Trust goes “sometimes I just don’t know, but I am going to fall into you anyway”
Let’s ask the tough question for all of us (myself included)
What does not trusting in God in our suffering functionally & positively do for us?
The tough answer is nothing.
We just feel like crap 24/7, we are constantly bitter with God and others, and, if we never learn to trust, we end our life deeply cynical.
Is that the life we want?
Now can we be angry at God, scream at God, lament before God, and even have part of your journey where cynicism is present?
You bet we can!
For better or for worst, that’s part of the journey.
That’s a normal response to suffering.
Look at Job. Just read the psalms (Especially Psalm 88). Look at Jesus crying out on the cross!
Such things are part of the journey towards deeper trust.
We do have to wrestle with God, wrestle with our emotions, wrestle with our questions, wrestle with God like Job even did.
After all, the book of Job doesn’t open up at the end of the book- it takes a lot of chapters to get to where Job got.
In our suffering, there is a journey towards trust to be had- trust doesn’t happen overnight, and I certainly don’t think we are going to trust God in our suffering even because of this message.
It takes time. All I am saying is that taking the journey is worth it.
(If there was an overall point to the message that would be it: take the journey of trust that leads to peace)
And as we engage with God in our pain we will meet God there- like Job did in the whirlwind.
Not in a fluffy light hearted way, but in a deep way.
Trusting God is a journey, and yet it’s because of that journey we slowly become formed as people who are actually capable of this kind of trust.
The kind that says “My ears have heard you, but now I see you”
We start out like Job, wrestling, screaming, and finally taking our pain to God- and as we do that we are actually on the right track.
But though it starts there, it doesn’t end there.
Now can we be angry at God, scream at God, lament before God and even have part of your journey where cynicism is present?
Yes- but to live there forever? That’s a sign we aren’t journeying forward. That tells us that we are stuck.
And sometimes we will be stuck because we aren’t perfect.
But God doesn’t want you to be stuck forever; and trust me, you don’t want to be stuck forever either!
We are called to start the journey. And it will start messy, but we are called to walk it all the way to the far side that’s called humility & trust before God.
And it will start messy, but we are called to walk it all the way to the far side that’s called humility & trust before God.
Like I said- What does not trusting in God in our suffering functionally & positively do for us?
We start there, but God calls us to journey towards the place where we met God in the whirlwind and say
“My ears have heard you, but now I see you”
In the end, we don’t get answers, we are told to trust.
Trust goes beyond knowing.
Trust goes beyond trying to get all the answers.
Trust isn’t against trying to figure things out, but it does provide us a posture towards life.
And such a posture towards God is a place of humility.
And it becomes a place of peace.
Because you stop being angry and say instead “I don’t know, but you know…And that’s all that matters”
Does that mean we can’t pray for God to alleviate suffering or intervene?
Of course not. I pray that God would step in all the time!
Does that mean there aren’t moments of pure coherent clarity that make sense of our moments (When we clearly see the hand of God)?
Of course not. There are those moments and they are amazing.
Does that mean we can’t search for reasons behind why certain things happen?
Of course not. There are plenty of contexts & situations where searching the answers to our questions is perfectly fine, normal, and even right.
This message isn’t designed to cancel out those truths, but to exist alongside those truths. A bit like how this book exists alongside the neat and easy cause-and-effect Book of Proverbs
And the truth is that there will be times nothing makes sense, and in those times we will be called to trust God in the midst of unknowing.
And this posture of trust & humility will lead us to peace. A type of care-free peace, one that’s perfectly modelled in Jesus.
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
life is messy, it can seem like suffering is absurd, meaningless, no rhythm. After all, Jesus ended on a cross.
But The bigger story is to trust in God in suffering. For to humbly trust will lead us to peace- because we stop trying to agonisingly figure it all out.
To humbly trust will lead us to live more like Jesus calls us to live in His sermon on the mount. A life of peace even when we don’t have all the answers. To not worry, to trust, and then to live likewise.
Now Job doesn’t talk about a bigger picture to suffering other than that the world is complex- and the point of that complexity wasn’t to give an answer but to humble us towards trust in the midst of suffering.
But as Christian’s we have a perspective that’s worth keeping in mind:
We have a Jesus, the One and Truly Innocent Sufferer.
The true & better Job,
For Jesus meets God in the whirlwind storm of the cross- and Jesus Himself questions: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.
And He becomes for us the one who, in the midst of His suffering, saves us through His innocent death, and through His suffering brings to us and the world resurrecting power.
In Jesus- the true & better Job- we can see our story of suffering in light of His.
But like Jesus the cross, suffering won’t have the final say- resurrection will.
Now will Jesus’ suffering gives us comfort in our suffering? Sometimes, sometimes not.
But we trust anyway.
And will the resurrection of Jesus comfort us in the middle of pain? Sometimes, sometimes not.
But we trust anyway.
I’ll end with this quote from Anne Rice.
Anne Rice is a famous American author who wrote such books like “Interview With A Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned”.
She had a very strong atheistic worldview for a lot of her life, and was acutely aware of the suffering of the world. It was the idea of suffering that held her back from faith for so long. In one of her books she describes what she calls her moment of surrender. In this moment she came to faith in Jesus. I think her words capture the spirit of Job well after meeting God in the whirlwind. Anne Rice said this:
“In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from Him for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. I didn’t have to know why good people suffered agony or died in pain. He knew. And it was his knowing that overwhelmed me
May we journey towards trust. That we let the God of the Whirlwind- the One who knows all things more than we ever do- overwhelm us with His sense of knowing, to the point that we are humbled, to where we simply trust, and may that eventually lead us to peace.