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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Test of Suffering

The Question of the Week on Bullets and Butterflies last Saturday was "Why Suffering?" The answer will be expanded on this week's posts here.

"A man's health can be judged by which he takes two at a time
— pills or stairs."
~ Joan Welsh

The Test of Suffering

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?"
So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!"
~ Job 1:8-11 (NKJV)

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD."
~ Job 1:20-21 (NKJV)

It is not only Job, but every one of us who is tested by suffering.

Job came through Round One clean. He was tested. He worshiped. He blessed the LORD rather than cursed Him.

Round Two attacked Job with greater suffering. Still he did not curse the LORD—but he also no longer blessed the LORD. He failed to fall down in worship, but rose up in pride and dared to question God. He said that given the opportunity, he would ask Almighty God to explain his suffering.

Job called God into account.

God's answer? The Almighty's discourse goes on for four chapters of Scripture. It begins thus:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind [tornado], and said:
"Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding."
(Job 38:1-4 NKJV)

Job now responds with humility. He acknowledges his pride with repentance. (And God returns blessing to Job which exceeds the test.)

So it is with each of us. The gap between what we think we are and what we really are is revealed in the test of suffering.

When disaster such as a mighty earthquake or Hurricane Katrina strikes, would we be found among the looters, those who go AWOL, those who search out a hiding place to look out for number one? Or would we be found among those who sacrifice their place in line to one less fortunate, drive themselves tirelessly to help others, cling to hope as we pull living victims from the rubble four weeks later?

If the suffering of indignity, annoyance, or discomfort strikes on any ordinary day of our lives, will we respond with love and patience? Will we strike back with irritation and complaining?

Such is the test of suffering.

Father God, we are not worthy of Your blessings. We are vile when we question You and think we are in a place to call You into account for the suffering on the earth. Please help us rethink pain as Your agent of testing. Please help us see clearly who we really are.

Wednesday: The Discipline of Suffering

Contrasting points-of-view, questions and feedback are invited. Post to "Comments" or e-mail to Copyright 2009, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.
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  1. In my suffering, I am made stronger, and wiser. Then, I am able to share what I learned through my trials, with others going through similar trials.

  2. The gap between what we think we are and what we really are is revealed in the test of suffering.

  3. I have found that suffering can bring a more humble and compassionate spirit to the sufferer but can also open up doors of judgment from those who look on. I suppose there is always that desire to figure out why something is happening. The answers may vary from person to person, or from place to place. I think of the blind man in scripture. The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to cause him to be born blind ~ the one born blind or his parents. Jesus' answer was neither. It was so God's work might be made manifest in him (John 9:2-3). Surely suffering has its many reasons and purposes.

  4. I have to concur with Denise. Although I have to say suffering until the death sounds like a horror unimaginable.

  5. Thinking on this one. I may be way off, but I believe though at times we may be vile for calling God into account and flinging our questions up at Him, in His compassion He understands why we ask.

    I might need to be matured in this area, but I've also loved how David spoke so openly to God, asking, probing...

    Certainly we don't understand His ways, but He always understands ours.
    ~ Wendy

  6. more often...then not, i fail the Lord in my heart response. one thing came to mind when reading God asking Job where he was when He was laying the foundations of the earth. it seems as though each time God asked His servants in the old testament a question, it wasn't because He wanted an answer but instead it was to give them the revelation/reminder of Who He Is.

    but...i will admit that this passage bothers me. need to chew on it.

  7. another thought about this. we need suffering and trials in this world. otherwise, we have no need of God or one another.

  8. Denise ~ I think that's what keeps me going when suffering overwhelms. Even if it doesn't seem to be benefitting me at the moment (and I deep down know it is), I know it will make me ever more compassionate toward others.

    Natasa ~ You've discovered it as well? Thanks for the affirmation.

    Patty ~ Your observation is accurate. It is good reminder that just because God uses suffering to continue to purge us of sin, it doesn't mean suffering is His judgment or condemnation. But it won't matter to those with hearts inclined to condemn. They will always find a reason. They need our prayers and patience.

    T ~ On some level, simply being separated from God's physical presence is suffering until death. I think suffering so pervades our time on earth that it's not a matter of ever being free of suffering, but only how mild or intense it is at any given moment.

  9. To Wendy and Bud ~

    There's a difference between the "why" which calls God into account and the "why" which seeks His understanding so that we're better able to cooperate with Him. God isn't asking us for a perfect response, but He is asking for a humble heart.

    One of the clearest examples is in Luke, in the difference between Zechariah's and Mary's responses to Gabriel's news of a son. Zechariah's situation was acutally less impossible to overcome. A wife's age and previous barrenness was no obstacle to conception in the well known story of Abraham, and other barren women. When he asks Gabriel "how?" he is evidencing doubt in God and is rendered mute as a result.

    Mary's situation—no husband with whom to conceive—was impossible to overcome. A virgin cannot conceive a child without a man. Yet her humble question of "how?" seems to be asking "how do I cooperate with God?" Lack of faith does not seem to be an issue, as evidenced in the words, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)

    For any one of us, in any situation or suffering, should our response to the Lord be any different?

  10. Still thinking, but that answered a few things for me. I'll be praying on this one.

    I crave a humble heart but I'm also blessed/cursed with a questioning one.

    Thanks, Anne.
    ~ Wendy

  11. Wendy, I'd invite you to re-read a post from a few months back:

    Sound of My Groaning

    As I was digging around to find it, I located two others that might also be relevant, if you have time to peek:

    Not Fair

    Complaining and Groaning

  12. this scripture has bothered me for a long time and i think it's why i had the concept of God as carrying a big stick or me being like the mouse in the maze. been chewing and now i have more to chew on with your follow-up comment. thoughts about Job had already welled up within many hours ago. have to confess that a little attitude of resentment wants to surface from within.

  13. will also add that there is already some breaking taking place too within. can't very well confess to sin without repenting of course. i will go read Wendy's latter two post suggestions of yours or any others.

    thanks Anne

  14. Had time to peek. Thoughts congealing. The verse about the Holy Spirit groaning on my behalf really spoke to me. So now I can shut up. :D

    Thanks, Anne...for your mentoring.

  15. Anne, you said up above:

    If the suffering of indignity, annoyance, or discomfort strikes on any ordinary day of our lives, will we respond with love and patience? Will we strike back with irritation and complaining?

    Such is the test of suffering.

    ....this really got under my skin like a thorn. the word......meekness keeps coming to mind. i will just keep chewing and step back.

  16. Patience. Oh Lord, give me patience in the suffering.

    God bless you, Anne.

  17. Bud, I pray that the Lord will extend extra grace to you as you wrestle with all this. On His behalf, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not shrinking back from that wrestling.

  18. Wendy, never a need to "shut up," but only to be still in His peace. And you're welcome. It was good for me to read those posts again myself.

  19. Gwen, the Greek word translated "patience" actually has a more literal meaning of "longsuffering." I pray with these words for you my sister that the Lord's Spirit will fill you with His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, godly goodness, faithfulness, meek gentleness, and temperate self-control with which to face suffering. I pray that He give you blessed assurance of hope in the good He is working.

    I love you dear. ♥


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