Monday, March 11, 2013

Where Is God When Bad Things Happen? Finding Understanding through Job - Part 3, Afflicted Beyond What We Can Bear

This is a continuation to the previous posts:
Part 3 – Afflicted Beyond What We Can Bear

When people are going through terrible suffering, their friends might thoughtlessly quote to them the cliché “The Bible says God will not give you more than you can handle”.  This is actually not a scriptural statement whatsoever; it is based on misunderstood and misquoted verses.  The verses of 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 speak on the subject of temptation, not about trials of enduring suffering.  Most contrary to the popular cliché, the apostle Paul stated that we do face afflictions that may bring us to despair and feel beyond our strength to endure, even to the point of making us feel like we may die.  

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; 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 1:8-10)

There are moments in this earthly life when we will face trials and sufferings which may feel like they are more than we can possibly bear.  The affliction may be so intense and overwhelming to our body and soul that being dead might seem like a better option to us.  Why?  Why does God bring such circumstances into our lives?  Why doesn’t He keep us from enduring such suffering?  Why doesn’t He stop it?  Paul stated, “…we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead”  When things are running smoothly and happily in our lives, we have a great tendency to become complacent and sure of our own selves, plans, and abilities.  We place a great trust in our own selves and forget that we are God’s and that “He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’…” (Acts 17:25-28). 

All comes from God.  Everything we have comes out of God and through Christ—even our faith to believe.  In Him we live, move, and exist.

Job endured such despairing affliction, and he wished he had never been born and that he could simply die instead of enduring the suffering any longer.  This is what happened:

The Art of William Blake

1Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.

The spiritual beings check in with God on a regular basis and must answer to Him for where they have been and what they have been doing.  God knows where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing, but He still requires them to give an account for themselves.

2The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” 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. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.”

Once again, God speaks highly about Job’s integrity, and the Adversary taunts God and proposes that Job will surely curse God if he is allowed to physically affect him.  “…all that a man has he will give for his life.”  The Adversary recognizes how humans have a prevailing instinct and desire to preserve themselves and their earthly lives, and that we will do just about anything to do so.  The earthly life is tangible to us.  It seems the most real to us and so long lasting.  In God’s timing and plans, however, our earthly life is really a very short lasting and temporary state of our being.

As we are granted insight into the discussions between the Adversary and God, it is not told to us that God gave the Adversary exact instructions on what evil to bring Job.  The Adversary is very good at what he does best—chaos, destruction, ruin; he needs no suggestions.  However, in both discussions, it is revealed to us that the Adversary was given boundaries which were not to be crossed.  God had not ordained for Job’s life to be over yet, and He specifically told the Adversary to spare Job’s life.  The Adversary does not have any power over our lives where God prevents access.  

Psalm 139 states that God knows our first day and our last.  It says that God has ordained each and every day of our earthly existence: 

13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.  15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

God is our Creator and gives us life and breath each and every day, and our life cannot come to an end until He has ordained for it to be so.  Death may come in the form of evil from the Adversary, human sickness, human accidents, or human tragedy.  But death may not overtake any one of us unless God has ordained for it to be our last day on this earth.  And so it was with Job.  “The Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” 


Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.

(Many mainstream Bible translations erroneously substitute the word “evil” in Job 2:10 with “adversity” or “calamity”.  However, the original Hebrew word used there is “ra” which literally means evil.)

While Job sat grieving among the ashes of his possessions and his children, the Adversary brought further pain and evil upon Job by giving him awful sores all over his body.  As if the excruciating, emotional pain of his losses was not enough, Job now also faced physically debilitating pain.  In that agony, and while his wife taunted him, Job shares the depths of his heart and says to her:  “Woman, you are being foolish telling me I should curse God.  How can I accept good things from God and not also accept evil?”  Job testifies he believes in and accepts the complete and utter sovereignty of God.  Job reveals to us that he knows evil cannot touch his life unless God grants the access.  He knows good cannot come into his life unless God also grants it.  With a simple statement, and by his actions of not sinning or cursing God, Job essentially declares:  “I know that ultimately all is of God, and that no matter what happens to me in this earthly life, He is God of all, He is good, and He knows best.”

Three of Job’s friends hear about all the evil that has come upon Job, and they all come to keep him company and offer their support, comfort, and words of advice.  The first seven days and nights of their silent company turns out to be the greatest comfort Job’s friends provide the whole time they are with him.


12 When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. 13 Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Job’s appearance was so bad that his friends did not even recognize him!  After seven days and nights, Job broke the silence and spoke first.


1 Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said, “Let the day perish on which I was to be born, And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’ “May that day be darkness; Let not God above care for it, Nor light shine on it. “Let darkness and black gloom claim it; Let a cloud settle on it; Let the blackness of the day terrify it. “As for that night, let darkness seize it; Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; Let it not come into the number of the months. “Behold, let that night be barren; Let no joyful shout enter it. “Let those curse it who curse the day, Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan. “Let the stars of its twilight be darkened; Let it wait for light but have none, And let it not see the breaking dawn; 10 Because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb, Or hide trouble from my eyes. 11 “Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire? 12 “Why did the knees receive me, And why the breasts, that I should suck? 13 “For now I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept then, I would have been at rest, 14 With kings and with counselors of the earth, Who rebuilt ruins for themselves; 15 Or with princes who had gold, Who were filling their houses with silver. 16 “Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, As infants that never saw light. 17 “There the wicked cease from raging, And there the weary are at rest. 18 “The prisoners are at ease together; They do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. 19 “The small and the great are there, And the slave is free from his master. 20 “Why is light given to him who suffers, And life to the bitter of soul, 21 Who long for death, but there is none, And dig for it more than for hidden treasures, 22 Who rejoice greatly, And exult when they find the grave? 23 “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, And whom God has hedged in? 24 “For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, And my cries pour out like water. 25 “For what I fear comes upon me, And what I dread befalls me. 26 “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

I share here all of Job’s initial words because he faced such despairing and immense loss, he wished he had never been born and was dead.  Job had his greatest fears, his utmost dread, come to reality!  When he spoke, after that whole week of silence among his friends, he did not curse God.  He cursed the day he was born and his very life.  He wished he had never been born because his affliction felt like more than he could possibly bear.  I do believe it was more than he could humanly bear.  By looking at Job, it is obvious that contrary to the popular cliché, there are times when God brings circumstances into our lives that are more than we can bear (2 Corinthians 1: 8-10) and when we feel that we are going to die or we want to die.  People today face such intense suffering.  Earthly tragedies are extremely bitter to the soul.  Our souls can ache so profoundly we begin wishing we were dead in order to escape the pain and get relief from its overbearing weight.

The Art of William Blake

Following Job’s heart-wrenching speech, his friends open their mouths and begin offering words of admonishment and advice.  A very small amount of what his friends say may prove helpful and much more of what they say is outright hurtful and judgmental.  Such is the reality of going through suffering and the words of friends who are “trying to help us” through it.  Sometimes, in an attempt to make someone feel better, we unintentionally hurt them more than we help them.  We don’t know what to say, and in our effort to say anything, we speak foolishly and compound the hurt of those who are already hurting.  Job’s friends propose he has done something wrong which deserves correction from God.  They advise Job to admit his wrongdoings and repent in order that God may bring relief and peace to him.  If they had only known God had been bragging to the Adversary about Job’s great faith and character!  What happened to Job had to do with his great integrity, not his lack of it. 

When someone is going through hardship, never assume it has to do with their character, lack of faith, sin in their life, or anything else.  Make no assumptions about the trials and miseries of others.  We cannot truly know why they are going through those circumstances.  Only God knows all the reasons.  He is the designer and orchestrator of each person’s life.  He is the molder of each human vessel.  We should also never make any assumptions about circumstances appearing perfect and rosy in someone’s life.  Likelihood is that we are not seeing the entire picture. 

“…your Father Who is in the heavens, for He causes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and makes it rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  God brings sun and rain upon the just and unjust.  Depending on the extremity of sunshine or rain, it can be a good thing or a bad thing for the human race.  People who do good things and people who do bad things face and endure sun and rain and the trials and joys of this earthly life.

Job eventually ends up telling his friends (in Job 16) that they are a sorry lot of comforters because the things they are repeatedly suggesting are only causing him additional anguish and frustration.  Yet, even these so called friends of Job are the friends that God gave him in his life and to accompany him during this terrible suffering.

When I am in turmoil, I initially want to run and tell those whom I trust and love what is wrong and seek comfort from them.  I long for the people who care about me to sympathize with me and offer their support.  However, over the years, it has frequently happened that when I have shared my heartaches with others, I have not felt as consoled as I hoped for.  It does not necessarily have anything to do with the person(s) offering their help; I believe they do try to offer the best comfort they can at the time.  However, I’ve discovered in my deepest pain, human sympathies and words sometimes come across as shallow.  They are shallow in the sense that human words of comfort only scratch the surface of a sorrow that may be so deep, only God can possibly reach it, touch it, and make us feel wholly comforted.  The best human reassurance I have ever felt has come from people who have gone through a similar circumstance and seem to be able to genuinely empathize with the pain I am experiencing.  Ultimately, in my most agonizing of pains, it has been through reaching and crying out to God and waiting on His touch that the greatest comfort and healing has taken place. 

The worst things we can do for someone afflicted beyond what they can bear is to become their judge and jury pronouncing judgments over them, offer only a conditional love, or outright abandon them. 

The greatest comfort we can offer to another person afflicted beyond what they can bear is love, compassion, and empathy—a graceful perspective, a listening ear, arms to hug and hold them, a shoulder to cry on, reassurance of friendship, love, and help, and to simply be near without judgment or condemnation. 

The worst thing we can do for ourselves when we are afflicted beyond what we can bear is to give up all hope and resign ourselves to never ending misery. 

God will bring an ultimate comfort and healing in His perfect timing.  He may accomplish that in any multitude of ways through Christ, through people, and some other ways we can’t possibly imagine.  I am aware that many times we cannot see past our current affliction.  The pain is blinding and inescapable.  However, this human life is in constant motion and so is God.  Life is not static and neither is God.  We can resign and surrender ourselves to remain in  life long misery, or we can reach out to God for the strength to go on and be victorious over each of our trials.  Be aware that the feelings of giving up come straight from the Adversary, his lies, and his influence.  There is nothing he’d love and enjoy more than to have us give up on this life.  The Adversary wants us defeated, faithless, and hopeless.  After all, his goal is to convince us of lies, create chaos in our lives, and destroy us. 

In 2004, I faced an emotional affliction that was more than I could bear.  The pain from it lasted for a very long time, and there were moments I felt as if God was so far away and so silent I was tempted to give up all hope for my shattered heart to be healed and put back together again.  I was tempted to give up all hope and tempted to turn my back on God and walk away from Him.  Faithfully and lovingly, God reassured me that giving up Hope (Him) was most definitely not going to be my answer in finding any comfort, relief, or healing. 

“The same God who brings the hurricanes in your life is the only one who can bring out the rainbows and the sun afterwards! After the hurricane has come and gone, He’s the only one who can put together what the storm has scattered; the only one who can truly make the wrongs all right again. He is the only one who can mend what is broken, heal what is hurting, and bring joy to sorrow’s door.  He is the only ONE! There is no other. To whom will you compare Him? If you were to try, He would not be the God who He really is. Our finite human minds cannot contain the fullness, the greatness, or the power of God. He is the only ONE! There is no other.  Jump!  I dare us to jump, right into the arms of God, our complete Hope for today, tomorrow, and for eternity.”  

“Trust in Hope, He never fails.”  

To be continued in an upcoming post: Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?  Finding Understanding through Job - Part 4

Related posts:

Helpful books:
Being Okay With Not Being Okay by Clyde Pilkington, Jr. 

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