How we respond to God during moments or prolonged seasons of suffering says a lot about what we believe is true of him.
Not what is true of God. But what we believe is true of God. I confess that I’ve responded to suffering in a multitude of ways, many of which have revealed wrong thinking about who God is.
Self-pity and anger demonstrate that I believe God exists to serve me.
Fear demonstrates that I believe God has taken an absence from lavishing his love on me.
Doubt demonstrates that I believe God is not actually able to rule all events in perfect wisdom.
Do any of those resonate with you?
In beginning the book of Job the other day, I was struck by the way this “blameless and upright” man (Job 1:1) responded to the afflictions that so rapidly advanced upon his seemingly secure and ideal life.
First, God permitted Satan to strike dead his thousands upon thousands of livestock (his livelihood). Satan was also permitted to kill Job’s daughters and sons (his family honor and beloved ones for whom he prayed and sacrificed). All ten of them. Dead from “a great wind [that] came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house” (1:19).
Second, God permitted Satan to strike Job with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (1:7). Disease from head to toe.
How in the world would you have responded to such sudden tragedies?
Remember that how we respond to suffering says a lot about what we believe is true of God. So how did Job respond to his unfortunate – no, horrendous – circumstances? Let us learn from Job’s words. First, this, when Job lost his livelihood and his children:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (1:20-22)
Next, this, when Job was afflicted with sores:
And [Job] took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (2:8-10)
So what does Job believe is true about God to prompt him to respond in these ways? Three things:
Job knows the God is to be feared (1:1,8). He knows with all of his heart and mind that God is holy and powerful and righteous – and that he (Job) is none of these things on his own. Job knows that he is more like the broken pottery with which he scraped his own sores.
Job knows that God is providential and holds all authority (1:21). Job trusts that God is good in all of his decisions to sovereignly rule creation, including Job’s very life. He knows that God is the one who gives and takes away in his authoritative care. Even the permission God extended to Satan to afflict Job was not without his ultimate approval and absolute control (1:12).
Job knows that God is sovereign and is to be submitted to (1:20). Despite his deep pain and grief, Job worships God and declares who God is (2:10). The holiness and wisdom of God humbles Job to his rightful place as a created being who gives nothing of his own, but who receives all things – both good and evil – from the hand of the Lord.
Job responded in a way that what is true of God was what he believed was actually true. What faith! What trust! Seeing God as he truly is humbles us to recognize our place as dependent beings on the grace and mercy of our Lord. This understanding of God shapes how we will respond to all the circumstances of our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And how much more have we seen God as he truly is in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ? “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). This Jesus is the one who came, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to demonstrate the very power and glory of our God.
Take some time today to open the Word and meditate on what is true of God, seen in the person and work of his Son, Jesus. Ask him to set his truth in your heart and sanctify you by it (John 17:17) so that you may trust him at all times and know what is absolutely true of him.