Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where is God When Bad Things Happen? Finding Understanding through Job, Part 2 – Facing Tragic Loss

Part 2 – Facing Tragic Loss

Time and time again, I can’t help but return to Job when I experience suffering or when I see or hear of the suffering of others.  Corresponding to the extensive suffering he endured, the literal meaning of Job’s name in the Hebrew language is “persecuted”.  The story of Job, the man who was persecuted, begins this way:

The Art of William Blake
JOB 1:1-5 (NAS)

1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “ Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. 

Job was quite the upstanding man!  He was known to be “blameless, upright, fearing God”, one who turned away from evil, the “greatest of all men of the east”, and he had widespread possessions under his name.  That’s quite an impressive resume for Job.  He was what we would call a really good person and blessed beyond measure.  Job regularly offered sacrifices on his children’s behalf, just in case they had sinned in any way against God.  Because he was such a “good person”, it naturally seems to us that he would only have what we call “good things” happen to him.  But this earthly life has no such guarantees.  A really good person can go through some really terrible circumstances.  Being good or bad doesn’t have anything to do with it. 

When did Job’s troubles start?  Let’s find out.

The Art of William Blake
JOB 1:6-12 (NAS)

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10  Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11  But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” 12 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.

I always find verse six quite intriguing.  It says that the sons of God “came to present themselves before the Lord”.  The heavenly beings regularly present themselves before God and check in with Him.  These sons of God include Satan.  He also presents himself before God and answers to God for what he’s been up to and where he’s been hanging out and doing his thing.  God asked Satan (the Adversary) a rhetorical question, “From where do you come?”  I wholeheartedly believe that God knows exactly where the Adversary has been and what he has been up to.  God is not asking because He is unaware of the facts.  He is asking the Adversary to give an account for himself.

God goes on to ask the Adversary if he has noticed how Job is a man of great character and faith, “Have you taken notice of my Job?  Isn’t he awesome?”  The Adversary suggests to God that Job only loves and worships Him because He protects Job and does not allow any harm to come to him.  Ah, isn’t this interesting?  Isn’t this part of the lies that the Adversary profusely spreads around mankind today? 

“If God really loves you, He wouldn’t let bad things happen to you?” 
“Bad things only happen to bad people.  You must be bad.”
“If you don’t love God before you die, He’s going let me torture you forever.”
“See!  God is not protecting you. He must be mad at you and giving you what you deserve.”
“God will not give you more than you can bear.”
“God doesn’t really love you because He let your loved one die.”
“I’m more powerful than God and He has no control over me. His hands are tied.”
“God can’t stop me.”
“In the end, I’m going to have more souls to my name than God will have to His.”
“ROAR!  I can do whatever I want with you and this world!  I rule!"

LIES and MORE LIES!  The Adversary is superb at lying and promoting lies.  He goes to great lengths to spread his lies, and his lies have power on this earth.

“He was a man killer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, for truth is not in him.  Whenever he may be speaking a lie, he is speaking of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it.”  (John 8:44, CLNT)

The Adversary suggested Job only loved God because of God’s protection over Him.  God knows the Adversary is dead wrong in his estimation of Job.  God is intimately familiar with every single detail of each one of us, inside and out, because He created every single detail of us.  God is fully aware of the extent of Job’s character and faith; the Adversary is not.  The Adversary’s insight of each one of us is limited.  It is obvious, by his dialogue with God, that he does not know Job like God knows Job.  For reasons we cannot truly know God proceeds to give the Adversary permission to bring evil upon Job’s life.  With that permission, He also sets boundaries on what the Adversary may not do against Job.  The Adversary is told that he may not touch Job, but everything else of Job’s life is at his disposal.  Essentially, God just put forth His hand to touch all that Job has.  Knowing the boundaries, the Adversary leaves the presence of God and goes to do his desire of evil and destruction upon Job’s life.  This is what he does:

JOB 1:13-22 (NAS)

13 Now on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you."  20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 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.”  22  Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. 

The Art of William Blake

The Adversary brought about a horrible, evil devastation upon Job’s life.  It was more than one could bear.  To the human eye, destruction was caused by the Sabeans, a fire from heaven, the Chaldeans, and a great wind.  Using the means of people and earthly catastrophes, the Adversary killed all ten of Job’s sons and daughters, most of his servants, and did away with all his livestock.  God did not perform this destructive work; the Adversary did, with God’s permission.  God was well aware of the devastation the Adversary would bring upon Job, and He did not prevent it or intervene.  God’s hands were not tied and unable to stop it. Through the Adversary, God put forth his hands to touch all Job had.  He could have intervened with the Adversary’s work, if such an intervention had been in accordance with His plans and purposes.  If God had intended for Job’s children to remain alive, He could have easily held back the hand of the Adversary and prevented their deaths.  However, God had greater purposes that we can only speculate about.  

What was Job’s immediate reaction to this tragic and colossal loss in his life?

He tore his robe, shaved his head, fell to the ground, worshipped, and blessed God.  Something most of us probably couldn’t do.  As Job worshipped, he acknowledged he was born having nothing at all and would be taking nothing with him when he died.  He recognized all he has ever had has ultimately come from God. “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.”  Job painfully and worshipfully made the declaration that God had given all to him, and God could also take it all away.  The Adversary’s initial attack left Job with a handful of servants, the agony of his immense loss, and his nagging wife.  My guess is the Adversary didn’t touch her knowing she would be a source of aggravating hurt to his wounds.  In his greatest agony and loss, Job did not sin, nor did he accuse or curse God.  This chaffed the Adversary and proved his estimation of Job wrong.  His goal was to bring Job to curse God and turn away from Him, and that did not happen. 

Do you realize that is one of the Adversary’s goals for each and every person on this earth?  He desires to drive us to despair and cause us to curse and shake our fist at God and turn away from Him.  The Adversary knows that if we have no faith and no hope in God, he can have us hopeless, faithless, and as easy prey for more of his destructive schemes and lies.  The Adversary knows that if he can bring us to raise our fists up to God in anger and resentment, our wrists will be in the perfect position for him to shackle them with deceptions and hold us in bondage.  If you are angry, bitter, hopeless, and faithless, know that it is the perfected lies of the Adversary of God keeping you that way.

What happened to Job was not outside God’s sovereignty.  It was not outside God’s will.  It was not outside God’s power to stop it.  What happened to Job was in God’s will.  When God mentioned Job to the Adversary, God knew what would happen next.  God is not ignorant, and He is no fool.  He created the Adversary and knows him inside and out—the same way He knows each one of us.  It is way beyond our human comprehension why Job had to endure such huge and tragic loss at the hands of the Adversary and ultimately, the hands of God.  It is way beyond our understanding why God ordained for it to be that way.  In an earthly, human sense, it makes absolutely no sense at all.  It seems totally senseless.  However, our earthly, human sense is extremely finite and shortsighted.  We see so little while foolishly believing we know so much.  We are told that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25) and that the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

Humanly speaking, death is one of the worst things that could ever happen to us or to a loved one.  We are afraid of death because it is unknown to us, and we are scared of whatever pain or suffering may come just before it happens.  We also want nothing to do with the agonizing sorrow we feel upon the death and loss of a loved one.  Yet, to God, death is only a very temporary situation.  In God’s view and ultimate plan, death is not the end, and it is not horrible.  God transcends the state of death.  He clearly revealed that to us through Jesus Christ.  And through God and Christ, death is defeated once and for all. There will come a day when we will rejoice as “the last enemy is being abolished: death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).  (In the future, I’ll discuss the subject of death in more detail.) 

If you have faced the death of a loved one, I am truly sorry for your loss and the pain you have felt.  Experiencing the death of a loved one is a painful portion most of us receive in this earthly life.  What I write here is not meant to be insensitive or callous whatsoever.  Far from it!  What I write here is actually to comfort and assure you that God is sovereign and in control.  Death cannot come to anyone in this world if it is not time for them to die.  The day we were born and the day we die are ordained by God alone.  God orchestrates the places where and the time when we are to have an effect in this world and when we are to leave it.  The circumstances by which both life and death come about are as diverse as snowflakes, but they are not outside of God’s sovereignty.  While we may see an “accident” that brought about someone’s life or death, with God there are no accidents.  God is involved in both processes of life and death and everything else that happens in between.

“The God Who makes the world and all that is in it, He, the Lord inherent of heaven and earth, is not dwelling in temples made by hands, neither is He attended by human hands, as if requiring anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all…not far from each one of us is He inherent, for in Him we are living and moving and are…”  (Acts 17:24-28, CLNT)

In God, we live, move, and are.  When we face tragic loss, God is still God.   God is in control.  God is in charge.  God is completely aware.  He cares.  He loves.  He comforts.  When we face tragic loss, we can turn to Jesus Christ, our Savior and the best and most faithful friend God has given to us.  He has experienced death and been resurrected by God.  He has known the overwhelming sting of death along with a resurrected life after death.  When we face tragic loss, we can find comfort through Him and through others who God has brought alongside to be part of our lives. 

Our country recently went through the human tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Connecticut.  Our hearts broke as we learned of all these little children and adults whose lives ended so violently.  Most who heard or read of this awful incident struggled with trying to understand why in the world it happened.  I struggled too.  A friend of ours sent an email seeking help to make sense of the senseless, and here is part of what I wrote back to her.  I wrote it to help and encourage myself as much as I wrote it for her.

This is a horrible earthly tragedy that has taken place.  It is incomprehensible to us how it could possibly happen.  I also thought of my children when they were those ages and imagined what if (my son) had been killed that way while he sat in his kindergarten classroom.  Oh the agony!  I ponder these things so that I can imagine what these parents, family, and friends are feeling.
I know that what those children experienced for a few seconds before they were killed had to be the scariest, most awful thing.  But it was only for a few seconds and now they are asleep and without a care of this world.  It is those people left behind to endure their loss that I am so very sorry for.  It is for their pain and their long road to find healing that I am sorry for.  I am also so very sorry for the family of that young man who was chosen to be a vessel of dishonor. 
God did create evil and chose to make it part of this world.  The Adversary goes about wreaking his havoc.  God does not have tell him what to do, but God will put up boundaries for him.  The story of Job is my best resource for understanding the relationship between the Adversary and God.  How God puts up with the Adversary’s evil ways and schemes is truly beyond me.  There are days in which there is no way for us to comprehend why and it seems almost impossible to accept. 
… we can take comfort that those children and adults who died are not suffering whatsoever.  Their presence on this earth will be terribly missed by those who cared for them, but it is obvious that their time here on earth was done.  If they were still meant to be here, then they would still be here.  Their souls are peacefully asleep without any cares or sorrows or fears.  And one GLORIOUS day, Christ is going to wake them up and they will see Him face to face and rejoice.  And that great glory of the presence of Christ and, ultimately, also of God will be a million times more powerful and long lasting than the few seconds of suffering they endured at the very end of their earthly life. 
This human life of ours is such a little blip in time in the context of God.  The life *AND* death of those precious children and adults have made a great impact on this earth and in the lives of many people.  Everyone who lived through the tragedy or read about it and felt the touch of it has now been changed in one way or another.  That has put them on a certain course for the choices they will make in the future and how they view their relationships with others or appreciate their loved ones a little more.  The life those children and adults lived here and the death they faced are both equally important for the impact that they have had on others.
I guess for me, it is very humanly hard to understand how … God seems to give and take away.  Whether it happens through shooters or murderers or accidents or the act of abortion, it is beyond my full understanding.  It hurts my heart.  But there is also this part of my thinking that realizes that God’s ultimate redemption and heavenly life with Him in the future is so much grander in scope than this little life here on earth.  He has that in His sights and as a goal that is soon to be completed and a done deal, while we tend to humanly focus on the here and now as lengthy and it being what is most important.
I’m not sure if any of this helps.  But those are some of my thoughts and maybe some of them will encourage you.  I believe it is good and perfectly fine to ache and struggle with this tragedy.  It helps us to sympathize for those who have been personally touched and are intensely hurting and to have compassion upon them.  And it brings us to call out to God on their behalf, and even if they do not know us, we are sharing their burden, and consequently, we will also share in their comfort.”

Brielle & Kyrie Jackson - The Rescuing Hug 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.  For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us…”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, NAS)

May we continue to set our hope on God—our life, our breath, our source of all.  May we not allow the perverse lies of the Adversary to make or keep us angry, bitter, hopeless, or faithless, even in the midst of the most painful, heartbreaking loss.

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  1. Thank you for this excellent post. It is profoundly encouraging. Your discussion about the seeming senselessness of human tragedy brought to mind my favorite passage from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe:

    "So little do we see before us in the world, and so much reason have we to depend cheerfully upon the great Maker of the world, that He does not leave His creatures so absolutely destitute, but that, in the worst circumstances, they have always something to be thankful for, and sometimes are nearer their deliverance than they imagine; nay, are even brought to their deliverance by means by which they seem to be brought to their destruction."

    We indeed see so little before us, but regardless of our circumstances, we have so much to be thankful for. At times when all seems lost, you never know what good thing awaits you just around the corner!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. That is an excellent quote from Robinson Crusoe. I truly appreciate you sharing it with me. The last sentence is quite profound.

    2. Thank you Mary Ann. You are but one voice, but your voice is very important. In another post, you rhetorically question your own efforts fighting against an evil and what difference you can make. I believe your work here makes a difference in ways you’ll probably never know in this life. Keep up the good work.

    3. Thank you so much for the encouragement. I sincerely appreciate it.


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