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Suffering and Job.

If you thought for a moment that I’d given up blogging for Lent, well, no. I came down with a rotten case of the flu, and sleep took priority. A smidge better today. In any case, today you get to see what I write like when I let the illness talk a little.

Illness is one of those situations were mean-spirited skeptics like to poke fun at those Christians who believe that God heals such things. If they can pull off a passable Edward G. Robinson-style, “Where’s your Messiah now?” this would be the time to trot it out. Because where is Jesus when we’re unwell? If we believe he heals, where’s some of that healing?

Christian attitudes range from those cessationists who don’t believe Jesus heals anymore (or only does it through doctors or folk remedies), to faith-healers like Smith Wigglesworth who teach that every disease can be taken away if we’d just ask God in faith. They have God reduced to a formula: Never, or always. They don’t take anything else into consideration. Essentially that’s what skeptics do when they mock the idea of healing. They likewise reduce God to a pair of absolutes: Either he heals every single time, to their satisfaction, or he’s not there.

We Christians understand (well, most of us, anyway) that God has free will. If he wants to heal the sick, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t; and we have to trust him enough to be okay with that. He has his reasons.

Now, I’ll be blunt: In the book of Job, God’s reasons for Job’s illness suck. What it comes down to is that Job was faithful; Satan said he wasn’t, and that if you took away his stuff and his kids and his health, he wouldn’t be; God said, “Fine. Take his stuff and his kids and his health; just not him.” Which Satan did. And God’s right; Job was faithful. Hugely annoyed at God—he wanted answers, dammit!—but faithful. And he spent the bulk of the book listening to his friends give him all the usual platitudes that we give someone when they’re suffering:

  • Don’t complain to God. He’s God; you’re not. Shut up and take it.
  • God’s disciplining you. Toughing you up. You’ll come out of it stronger.
  • God doesn’t do this to good people. You must’ve sinned somehow. Or your kids did, and you’re suffering the fallout. Repent.
  • Your claims of righteousness are phony and prideful. We’re all rotten sinners. We all deserve worse. Suck it up.
  • God’s exposing some secret hypocrisy. Repent.
  • We’re nothing compared with God. We’re scum and vermin. He owes us nothing. You’re lucky he pays attention to us at all.

You can tell when someone’s never seriously read or studied Job by the fact that their advice is almost the same as that of Job’s useless friends.

God never did explain to Job why he suffered. We know, ’cause the writer of the book was kind enough to include it. And we can easily deduce that one reason for Job’s sufferings was so that someone years later would write a book about him and use it to discuss suffering. Even so, God never explained himself. He doesn’t need to. Job just had to have faith in God regardless of circumstances—which, you’ll notice, Job did.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,

and he will stand upon the earth at last.

And after my body has decayed,

yet in my body I will see God!

I will see him for myself.

Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.

I am overwhelmed at the thought!

—Job, Job 19.25-27 NLT

Never in the book did Job go the direction of, “Well, maybe I was wrong all along and there isn’t a God,” or even, “God, you owed me health and prosperity, and you took all that stuff away, and how dare you.” Job didn’t have the immature relationship with God that demanded things of him. He had a realistic one. When Job’s wife, who it seems went the direction of, “Curse God and die,” urged her husband to do likewise, his response was, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Jb 2.10 NLT)

Job’s relationship with God was not conditional on whether God gave him what he wanted. It was, like marriage vows, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness or health, as long as we both shall live—which, thanks to resurrection, is forever. Be angry at God all you like; be upset with him, disappointed in him, frustrated with him, impatient with him. But, like Job, don’t ditch him. Trust him.

I have been instantaneously healed from sickness before. I know God can do it. I’m very appreciative of him when he does it. And sometimes I yell at him when I’m in pain and he’s not coming through for me as fast as I want. But I follow him whether he heals me or not. My relationship with him is not conditional. No Christian’s should be. Even if he sends me to hell (which I don’t expect him to, but I’m of course reminded of Paul offering to go there if it means the Jews will be saved, Ro 9.3) I follow God through Jesus. I trust his ways, even if they aren’t always to my obvious benefit. That’s how far faith has to go. Has to.

If you can’t do that—if there’s anything in your life where your thinking is, “Anything but this, God,” perhaps you ought to rethink your commitment to Jesus. Hope you come out of it choosing faith.