The Promise of Suffering
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Job knew the pain and anguish of a world going to war against him unjustly. He was not punished for wrongdoing. He was assaulted for his faithfulness. His life is a case study about the folly of trusting in our own power and goodness, and the perspective that “only the good die young”.
As it appears in scripture, I believe Job, like much of the wisdom Literature of the Bible, has less to offer in terms of establishing specific beliefs and more to offer as counterpoint and corrective. Job takes the foundational theology of Genesis 1 and shows us very graphically and personally why it matters that God commands the universe. In Job, the God Who created the universe turns to man and asks, “so what can you do?”. If Genesis is awe inspiring, Job is humbling.
Job also has a subtle theme about the persecution that rises up around goodness. The perspective Billy Joel writes about is an old, old thought talked about in private by old men and women who have stood face-to-face with death and discovered there are worse things in this world. It is a perspective of grief. Of course, we do not discuss it as a “perspective”. We call it a fact. We treat it as a law of the universe when we are grieving… but the true law of the universe is this: Everyone suffers. The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful, and the Terrible. Everyone. Generally our attempts to avoid suffering only land us in hotter water later.
Paul understood suffering intimately as well. Large parts of several of his letters 1 were devoted to encouraging suffering friends and detailing the peace he was able to find in the midst of suffering. In fact, suffering was a very specific part of Paul’s calling.
“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”” (emphasis mine)
One more promise that God has already kept and continues to keep for us is that we will suffer. We will hurt. We will experience loss. It is not a promise we ask for, but it is a promise that changes us profoundly. Yet this is a promise that has a partner. While God does not promise to take away our suffering in this life, He does not make us go through it alone. He goes through it with us and He sends our brothers and sisters alongside us. Indeed one of the reflections of God’s most important commandments is to provide this reminder of presence and to create a means to redeem suffering.
How are you suffering?
Who suffers with you?