Sun Am 16 June 2019 – Justus Swart
Acts 1:8; Ps.34:18; Job. 1:1-22; Job.2:1-10; Job.6:1-4; Romans 8:17; 2 Tim.1:7; Eph.3:16-21. (Heb.12:29).
Sometime last year, God prompted me to go and search for a few scriptures. At that time, Life felt unpredictable and chaotic. It felt like things were not really lining up, everything was out of control. Still God called my attention to “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). I told God that I felt much more powerless than powerful. I asked God honestly where this power was? What is this power that He was talking about? And it became clear that the way that I was looking at my life, the way that I was looking at my hardship, was keeping me from actually having a proper understanding and experiencing of that power.
Suffering is always a very challenging topic to preach on because there not a person that has not gone through their own suffering. Whether it be grief, joblessness, heartbreak, depression, health issues, missed opportunities, etc. We all know what real pain is. No one can tell you that your pain is not real or that what you are going through is nothing to worry about. In the modern age, we try our best to use the might of technology, medicine, therapies and we try and strong-arm life to a state of predictability. We try and bring it back to something we can control, something that we understand, something that we know. However hard we try, one thing remains true: suffering is a part of life. It should therefore not come as a surprise that God chooses to use our suffering to mature us. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18). Being a Christian does not give us access to a secret pathway to avoid difficulty, hardship and suffering. But if we study the scriptures carefully we will see that being a Christian does allow us to transform our suffering if we can only discover its connection to power.
God showed me that I had to deal with three misconceptions that I had about suffering that needed to change and we will use Job to look at these three misconceptions. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil….. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job. 1:1-22). Job was living a good life, devoted to God until Satan (known as the adversary) showed up. Here we look at the very first misconception that I had about suffering I had to deal with, something I had to get rid of in my mind. One tragedy after the next and Job’s perfect life is suddenly turned upside down. Here we see the first misconception: that living a devotional life excludes you from having to go through difficult times. We have this sort of myth that being a good person means good things will happen to you. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Or put in reverse we might start to believe that we are going through a tough time because we have neglected our spiritual life. That is a common one. Yet, here in this story, we see Job in the prime of his life, fiercely devotional, is struck down with the most serious hardship. The Bible told us that Job was blameless, he was an upright man. But Satan challenges God in saying that the only reason Job is so loyal, is because his life is so comfortable. So God allows Satan to take all that Job holds dear. I am sure there are many who have gone through something similar. In these moments, it is really tempting to blame God for the pain that we feel because the emotions overwhelm us. The bible tells us, although we can take our anger and frustration to God, if we make Him the object of our anger and frustrations, we have sinned. But this does not mean that God does not value our devotion, it does not mean that God does not want us to pursue righteousness but we are in error if we think that we can be so good than we can become more than human. That we can be so good at being a Christian that somehow we can escape trials, that we can leave suffering behind us, that we can leave all physical realities behind us, and that we can just live in some sort of ‘spiritual Lalaland’.
“On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?……The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life…. He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job.2:1-10). Job is hit by the second wave of destruction as if the first one was not devastating and painful enough. This time it is targeting his health. Even though Job was true to his integrity after the first wave of disaster happened to him and remained focussed on God, yet he is afflicted now with bodily sores.
I used to think of a devout life, a life passionately given over to God as a sort of cruise liner that is sailing through the waters unaffected by what is going on around in the sea (current, winds, storms). The devout life is more like a lifeboat, bobbing up and down on the waves, feeling everything that is going on underneath it, but it is keeping you afloat, keeping you going. It is keeping your head above the water. A devout life and the practices that we put into our everyday life, seeking after God every day, that is what keeps you going when things are tough. You are not immune to the currents, to the storms, you are not flying on some spiritual high, you feel everything but you are still floating, you are still going, you are not sinking. It is the seeking of God every day even when things are tough, that keeps you going. Just like Peter in the storm, he was walking on the water as long as he kept Jesus in his sight. Being upright, being blameless does not protect us but it does preserve us, it keeps us going.
The second misconception of suffering is that finding answers will heal our pain. The question of why we have to endure suffering still remains the toughest question of all. In this way we have to admit that suffering is mysterious. Why God chooses to use it the way He does. All of us, in our lowest moments, felt that if we can just know why, it will help us, it will make the pain more bearable, it will give some meaning to the madness. We have to know that searching for meaning is perfectly human. It is almost instinctive; we search for meaning in everything that happens around us, that is the way we were created, we are reasoning creatures. Although I cannot answer that question, I can give you this comfort: your suffering is not personal and your suffering is not random. It is somewhere in between these two extremes. God did not pick on Job to punish him, on the contrary, he was talking about him because he was celebrating him! Sometimes we convince ourselves that God is so far away that He is indifferent to the chaos of our lives. But when we look closely we can see that randomness, indifference and meanness are not qualities of God’s nature. These are not part of Who God is.
Then I started noticing a sentence being repeated. “Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Why is it repeated here? While revisiting the scriptures again and again, a word came into my mind: aimless. Satan is aimless; he has no place to be, he has no vision, no cause, nothing directing him, and he has no purpose, he is just going back and forth. God is not random, God is not mean, God is not aimless. But Satan is. God does not want your suffering to be aimless. If there is one sentence that got to summarise what hell is like that is pointless suffering, pointless pain. So now, we are saying God is not picking on us and our suffering is not random. It is something between them.
The third misconception of suffering is that we should do our best to ignore our pain. That somehow our power comes from being able to suppress everything. We have this beautiful sunny disposition; we are good Christians because we are good at looking good. We are happy all the time. Obviously , no one is telling people to bury their pain. It is an unspoken culture, it is something that is happening in the undertones where we value confidence and we value people who have strength. That is not bad but we also have to say that vulnerability is an important part of being in a community. In Church we have perfected the art of saying ‘ I am fine’ while you can have the biggest storm going inside your life. No one will know. Job does not see it like that. Job’s friends come and sit with him for seven days without saying a word. They see that now is not the time for speaking, now is not the time for their opinion. Then Job bears it all to his friends. He does not spare a single detail from them. “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas— no wonder my words have been impetuous. The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshalled against me.” (Job.6:1-4). That is dark!
There is so much pain and you have to do something with it. You are not meant to ignore it, to bottle it up, to bury it. It is like swallowing a grenade, you are just going to hurt yourself. It is likely to make you bitter. This is some of the hard lessons that I have learned is that ignoring our pain makes it ten times worse. Because we have the ability to ignore our pain, does not imply that we have power. Most of the time the first step to healing is to admit that we need healing and have the community and the connection with people around us to share the pain and suffering with them so that we do not have to go through it alone.
But you were not created to suffer, to be in pain. That is not our purpose. We were created to carry the glory of God. ”if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). Our sufferings draw us closer to God and we are being given the power to transform our suffering into something meaningful by holding on to God. Our power does not come from living a good life, or getting answers and being able to know everything nor ignoring our suffering. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim.1:7). We are not timid creature. We do have to fear suffering, we do not have to run from suffering. We have power in us. What kind of power can overcome suffering? “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”. (Eph.3:16-21). You are given the power not to overcome life, nor to force changes onto everything around you but you are given the power to grasp onto the love of God. In every situation that you go through, in every circumstance that you have gone through, when life is tough, when life is good, when you are sick, when you are alone, when you are hurt, when you are struggling there is a power in you that allows you to grab hold of the love of God. This is not a weak, small kind of love. This takes everything out of you. This is not a simple thing that you can give half your attention to. You have to have power to grasp this kind of love. Our God is a consuming fire (ref.Heb.12:29). The suffering we are going through strips everything away that gives us the illusion to power. When we are at our absolute lowest when there is nothing else to hold on to, God throws us a lifeline. He throws us His perfect unfailing love. We cannot grab hold of it ourselves. The only way we can grasp it is when God gives us the power to grasp it. When we go through our suffering, God is calling to us. God says this power is available to you because He put it inside of us. It is not about whether you deserve or not what you are going through. It is not whether you have the answers to why? It is all about discovering the power within us. God says He has a different question and the answer is Jesus, the answer is His Love!
If you are feeling like you are looking up from the bottom of a pit. If you feel like things are just one step away from being unbearable. I want you to know that there is power within you that allows you to grab hold of the love of God!