|The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration
Contact the author, Duncan Heaster
Digression 7: Suffering
To sufferers the gospel really is good news. Everyone is there at some time and longs to be reclaimed from the suffering pit. Comforters are impotent to heal suffering, but in the pit helping, they are part of the safety net with God in that place. God blesses them both and His face shines there. Even in the exhaustion of suffering our reward is in heaven. We can “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad”, Matthew 5. Future joy is the reward for God dependent long sufferers.
Those Who Cause Suffering are Worse Off
Tormentors using inhuman behaviour are always worse off than their prisoners, for the tormented are free to make a personal decision on how to respond. A good spiritual response can transform an evil circumstance from darkness to light. We can also “see” Him, like Daniel’s 3 friends did, when all else fails. “Look up, for I am here with you”. There must be anticipation of joy and crown in “suffering before the joy”, and “cross before the crown”. Whatever the suffering, we are often not soon rescued from suffering and cross, but He will be there with us.
Long Suffering with God
We feel abandoned in long suffering, and for a time, like Job, unable to cast faithlessness aside. We may even be tempted to deny God. Job said, “I go to the east … I go to the west… when He is at work in the north… when He turns south, I catch no glimpse of Him”. So it is that God decides the length and the intensity of our suffering. If we will, He guides us into the protection of the Most Holy “hiding place”, Psalm 32, where the body of Christ was there before us. In not abandoning God, suffering can have a meaning for us if we look forward and up, knowing that the answer “no” is only for a season, 1 Peter 1:6-9. Our understanding of suffering is a valuable opportunity to grow faith, for in Scripture long sufferers are regarded with great integrity, as good fruit, Galatians 5. We can be “made perfect through suffering”. Christ was perfected by learning “obedience by the things he suffered”. No darkness or gate of hell is too great for the transforming power of God when evil is turned into good, with a 4th Christ like man in the fire. Bitterness, transformed by God into sweetness of the soul builds understanding and improves our relationship with Him. If we become more like Him, in our relationship with others that is all He asks of us.
Disappointment clouds the forward view, and we need a fresh outlook of faith and hope to help us to look forward and up, otherwise the human condition is unsupportable. Psalm 62:5, “My soul, waits in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him”. It is more than optimism, rather a living there with faith, courage and a determination that something good is ahead. God can use infirmity as He did with Jacob bringing perfectness. He is always there, watching and aiding the going forward process, even in the “no” answer.
God did make His way plain before David, John Baptist and Stephen, as He did for Jesus Christ. They made profound moral judgments, even saying, “Forgive them” of their tormentors. We will also suffer, as we can bear it, growing in wisdom, according to His purpose and His will. Our solutions are not God’s wise and far seeing solutions and if we invite God to be in our suffering, He will work individually with each one of us. So, blessed is the man who does not need to know the answers to every question.
Will it be disappointment WITHOUT God, or disappointment WITH God? Scripture never belittles anguish or despair and disappointment, for it is a sign that we hunger for the end. You cannot struggle with God, to your advantage, but to accept the continuity in our suffering will bring us blessings, as outlined in the Psalms and Job. We may never know God’s reasons, but we cannot risk rejecting the suffering. Suffering is a dark complex path to tread, forgiving the unforgivable and asking blessing upon the evil. Then we are like God, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
Get Close to God
Prayers are effective when there is a close relationship with God, whatever the outcome. “Pray without ceasing” is impossible, so “without ceasing” must mean that closeness with Him, walking with Him, in a Holy Place where He knows our request list before we ask. To struggle and reach that place is a bonus for Him, and the comfort of His presence over rides the suffering as we are held tightly in His hand. Then suffering is like a broadcasted message from God.
God does not guarantee peaceful deaths or swift end suffering, but He does offer us ways to overcome circumstance and apprehension. He has provided the after life of the Kingdom. But we still cry, “When will the oppression cease?” He answers, “Be patient I am ever near”, but “not yet”. We do not know when the “yet” will be, but our trust builds in the pit. “Letting go and letting God” works towards our release from the pit. Learning that is His offering to us in our suffering pit.
Overwhelming gifts and great blessings from God do not ensure there will be no suffering. Without a security with God, riches are useless as they are to the evil man. They were useless for Solomon, and he fell into great evil. It is often a tragic dilemma, getting what one wants, or not getting what one wants. God’s people continued to cry in disappointment at His hiddenness, never hearing His answer that their repentance would restore them to Him. Our covenant also includes obedience, “I will sanctify my name”, Ezekiel 36:22. God’s mysterious ways began in Eden and ended with Paul’s message to the Gentiles. There were some “who were dead to trespasses and sins and were now quickened to receive the gospel”. This revealed mystery, in Ephesians 2, re emphasised the penitence and restitution focus.
Reconcile with God
With an unknown future, listening to God does give hope. After the failures of the past, God was not silent, renewing hope again, when He sent His son. Jesus gave answers. He reassured his listeners, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. But mostly they disregarded his claims to be king or saviour. He demonstrated the leading notion that sins forgiven are the great Kingdom preparation. No one else can truly assess my forgiveness. Only God knows. The people knew about walking lame men and seeing blind men, but the prime message of the re connection with God’s forgiveness escaped them. With no hope or faith, they misunderstood and suffered faithlessness.
Doubters were not inspired by “My kingdom is from another place” and dismissed God’s son, and in their misunderstanding they crucified that son. God did not intervene to prevent that, but that event opened the Most Holy Place for every man to walk with God. The cross was not a failure, for it paved the way for others. Some raise questions and others scoff, like, why do wicked people and depravity and poverty and injustice prevail, and why does He not send His son? Because that is the Way of God for now.
Jesus renewed the intimacy with God, destroyed in Eden, demonstrating that Way for us. If Jesus had disabled his enemies without his suffering, he could not now be one with us to redeem us. That renews our own belief that good will triumph. God has a loving concern for us, hating our evil ways, with merciful forgiveness and sharing the pain of our suffering in the good. As well, He gives us instructions in how to grow a church of believers as a new dwelling place for Him.
God was and is always present in the most unlikely places. We see Him in the face of His church. The temple is no longer a physical structure, but in “the body of Christ”. Paul reminds us, “don’t you know that you yourself are God’s Temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” It is impossible now to destroy this Godly edifice. God can do His own work perfectly, but in recruiting inadequate workers like us He teaches us more about Himself. Support those who Jesus loves, and we support Jesus, and others see Jesus in us, even though in our inadequacy we are a cost to God for we hardly represent Him with integrity.
Aligning ourselves to a group with a set of doctrines does not satisfy God’s requirement for the individual commitment to Him. No sect can do that. God expects more of us individually in our difficulties, for the hard things can in turn glorify Him. We can feel safe when He says, “I am here”. It is not where God is when we are hurting so much, but where we are. God endorsed Job, (not Elihu) when Job demonstrated his steadfastness. One person does make a difference. The faith response of a single man counts very much to God. That individual response was/is God’s reward, and we are blessed.
God’s Measure not Ours
Goodness was in God’s creation plan before sin, so after the sin God introduced a return, with choices of good over evil to which we can commit or not. Life does appear difficult. Job argued unfairness. But God does not follow Job’s rules of fairness. Job could “curse God and die” .It is not our measure to understand how God teaches us. Justice is in God’s hands and our own outcomes depend on our relationship with Him. The spiritual realities are greater than the physical pain, but God is no enemy in that pain for He knows that best.
Out of the darkness, Jesus Christ shone as a bright light. But his death and resurrection did not take away unfairness. Loving God does mean the hard task of asking for blessing upon detractors. That brings blessings revolving back to us. God does not answer or defend the charge of unfairness, Job 38-41. He gave a lesson on how He manages the physical and moral universe, and how Job could not do that. Job then understood, and every trace of resentment then disappeared. Casting ourselves on the Lord when we do not know the answers will eventually vindicate us and we will be more content.
We cannot understand the answers about our suffering and the workings of the universe, and God does not try us. In another life we may understand but for now because we do not have that measure, we are entrapped in time and space and other mysteries which are not revealed. We cannot foresee and our perception is warped, but we may not call God unfair. We do not understand the success of evil, the unfair events, or unrighteousness overcoming righteousness and the sadness of it all. So we remain unsatisfied, yet trusting Him.
Abraham’s (stars) and Job’s (the universe) testing encouraged their faith in the unknown, and they truly walked in His image. God encourages our recovery to reflect His purpose, to be satisfied that we cannot grasp it all. He reassures us, “The word is near you”. Abraham and Job knew that they knew not. That ungrasped condition can reassure us that God is in charge of it all. Our lack of wisdom leads us to better bring ourselves, in our incompleteness, to His feet and say “take me” for in my flesh and in my sin, I am nothing. “Before the beginning of time”, before Creation, (difficult for us to fathom), God knew of our need for redemption. He did not hastily think up a contingency plan when sin came in. That plan was made ready for us.
Tragedy, Darkness and Triumph
God’s record encourages us in His will, but there is still His apparent deafness. He has “hedged us in”, Job 23, but even “All things work together for good” is not true now. The recorded worthies did hang on to the divine connection receiving strength from the unseen world of unfulfilled promises. Doubting times helped their faith to slip in. We can fertilize faith in the dark times and faith truly flourishes. Terrible uncertainty, toughened by testing, can be a growing of firmer faith, and though it is a hard faith to grow, it cannot be shaken. When God seems absent He may be closest, for He is also acquainted with grief. At His son’s death everyone’s disappointment set in. Even God seemed dead and immobile. But there was that Son alive again. “He is risen”. So tragedy, darkness and then triumph seem to be the pattern, if only we can arrive triumphant. “All things work together for good “, is the toughest and longest coming, but the best miracle.
When the “word became flesh”, Jesus brought the physical and the spiritual worlds together. We can also be like him where He in us, and we are in Him. We, made in “the image of God”, are enhanced with His gifts, “He descended… with gifts”. God responds to our doubts, fears, disappointments and faithfulness, Psalm 22, reassuring us that He will be there and not abandon the afflicted when our ”bones are out of joint”. He was for the arthritic Jacob, who cried out for God to be with Him in his sharpest trials.
God supports us working back to the positive from extremity, but we cannot ignore Him. None of the worthies ignored Him and we too have good or bad choices concerning God. Hiddenness does not mean that God is the enemy, with no concern for us. All God’s faithful servants are encouraged in their limited vision when they see a distorted reality, and God reassures them and enhances their understanding. We also compare the natural and the supernatural worlds and can see He understands and helps us as we waver. We are not insignificant and our shattered personal dreams are small considerations in the big picture.
Later, choosing cheerfulness means a sort of daylight with peaceful serenity. Until the depression lifts and we reach that essential state, God promises us rest in His hand. Those worthies saw God’s indication to them that they were special and they moved on in His name. To put oneself prayerfully in His care can always bring God to the discussion table. All is possible with Him, depending on the larger perspective. Our understanding of God helps the choices we make in our suffering towards healing.
The Physical and the Spiritual World
It does not happen for all of us that we get a Job like glimpse of the supernatural. We have a hard road to travel when God does not immediately reveal an answer. Some died terrible deaths but were delivered in hope “unto death for Jesus’ sake”. They see a sort of supernatural or spiritual vision. In these deaths there is meaning for us. We can also see the presence of God with hope in the future. When this life is hard to grasp and full of unresolved misery forward is the only way. If we have not that hope, we have no hope.
We understand the ability of God to conquer evil and restore the heavens and the earth to the original perfection with demonstrations of His love and power. If we do not believe that, it is not a failure on God’s behalf, rather it indicates that we have moved away from God.
But still we are called, not to look back at our ungodly history, or to our miserable present, but to see beyond these calamities, to a distant place when we shall see God, face to face, like Job declared, “in my flesh I will see God”. Our experience with this world makes it difficult to visualize the future world, for any burst of happiness is only an infrequent token, an earnest of what is to come. We can never fully appreciate the future, but we trust also in God’s provision, that it will be a worthwhile portent for us. The struggle and anguish with disappointment is endlessly consoled in Scripture and suffering is always embroidered with the word “temporary”. The eternal place to arrive is the Ideal of Creation. “I saw a new heavens and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.
If we believe God exists, and is not silent, then the question of suffering rests firmly on our faith. In faith the just shall live. We need to be perfectly clear that where God is, there need be no fear. Then, living with the certainty of God and always looking up to Him, might mean living with the disappointment also, but without fear. Adversity and suffering can try to claim us, but we can be immune when God surrounds us with His wall. We will not be harmed, for we are His, and He is in us. So “Look outward and be distressed, look inward and be depressed, look upward and be at rest”. Quite so.