[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.
Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2666: “The Sorrowful Man’s Question”
Yesterday, while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera—namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was like any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.
I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them, just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.
It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that he did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust him with my all. I trust him to be who he says he is—the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.
It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?
Job the Faithful Sufferer
Job’s suffering was immensely personal. Just as Spurgeon said, he had mighty blows struck against him. If you’ve been listening through the book on the Scripture Sunday podcast you’ve heard his aching laments, not just at the loss but at the lack of comprehension:
If only my grief could be weighed
and my devastation placed with it on the scales.
For then it would outweigh the sand of the seas!
That is why my words are rash.
Surely the arrows of the Almighty have pierced me;
my spirit drinks their poison.
God’s terrors are arrayed against me.
Does a wild donkey bray over fresh grass
or an ox low over its fodder?
Is bland food eaten without salt?
Is there flavor in an egg white?
I refuse to touch them;
they are like contaminated food.
Teach me, and I will be silent.
Help me understand what I did wrong.
How painful honest words can be!
But what does your rebuke prove?
Do you think that you can disprove my words
or that a despairing man’s words are mere wind?
No doubt you would cast lots for a fatherless child
and negotiate a price to sell your friend.
But now, please look at me;
I will not lie to your face.
Reconsider; don’t be unjust.
Reconsider; my righteousness is still the issue.
Is there injustice on my tongue
or can my palate not taste disasterJob: 6:2-7, 24-30 CSB
How much more of a lament will a whole people give when they feel the weight of their communal pain? The psalmist cries out with the voice of his people as they ache under what seems like God having turned his back to them, not knowing why this distance seems to be so:
All this has happened to us,
but we have not forgotten you
or betrayed your covenant.
Our hearts have not turned back;
our steps have not strayed from your path.
But you have crushed us in a haunt of jackals
and have covered us with deepest darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
and spread out our hands to a foreign god,
wouldn’t God have found this out,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Because of you we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping?
Get up! Don’t reject us forever!
Why do you hide
and forget our affliction and oppression?
For we have sunk down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up! Help us!
Redeem us because of your faithful love.Psalm 44:17-26 CSB
I think the struggle for a lot of us in this day is two-fold, though certainly not limited to that. In our personal sufferings, we feel like we need to grin and bear it, lest Christ be dishonored by our crying. In the sufferings we share with others, it seems that many are afraid of sharing and crying out in those lest they be accused of something untoward, whether being “political” or essentially infringing upon some sort of tribalistic defensiveness. I’m speaking very broadly here but that’s on purpose, because these problems, this resistance to lament both personally and in others, is something we all struggle with.
Job was a man who had nothing to lose. He had no pride to retain, no position to defend, because other than his life and his wife, he’d lost everything. Whatever had served to provide him an identity had been stripped away. He wept, he ached and hurt, and he wanted to know: why? Why had God done this? What evil had he committed to deserve this? He acknowledges that God is just and holy, but at the same time he wants to know why. And why shouldn’t he? Don’t we all want to understand why?
But the sad fact is…we don’t get to know. God doesn’t give us that kind of insight, at least not in this life. Paul writes to the Corinthians that “our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17) Paul was certainly speaking in an understated way, for he was a man of no minor sufferings in his life. To a man in the depths of pain, however, it does not seem light. It doesn’t feel momentary. It is a hurt that runs deep, and Job’s pain drove him to actually say that he would have rather died than to continue on in it.
The news right now points at the sufferings felt very deeply by many, focused and amplified by the death of George Floyd. The deep distrust for those who ought to be protectors is bursting out in protest and, tragically, violence and destruction. Evil begets evil. Many Christians are finding themselves tugged into one camp or another, but our testimony must stand apart and yet alongside. We must stand apart from anger, hatred, apathy, or despair, and yet we must stand alongside those who do in ministry and empathy. We don’t encourage it, but we must bring the gospel to bear upon all of it. Everyone, every person regardless of kind or tribe or division real or imagined, will stand before God. The hope of Christ is our only hope, as it is for the one who riots or the one who believes such actions are wrong.
What does that look like?
I don’t think there’s a single, quick answer. There’s a lot of broad answers that Scripture points us to, like “love your neighbor” and even “love your enemy, and do good to those who persecute you.” But it’s up to each of us to lay our lives before the throne and ask, where am I not doing this? Where am I ignoring my neighbor instead of caring for him? Where am I indulging in hatred and despising when I ought to be surrendering that to trust in God’s perfect timing and justice? Where have I justified myself, rather than looking to Christ?
That last part will be addressed in coming episodes. Right now, I want to encourage you to know that lament is not shameful. It is a part of the Christian life that points us to the truth: this world is temporary, but that doesn’t make it not real. The evil of this world will be judged and burned up, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Our cries to the Lord are not falling upon deaf ears, but go up before him and are heard. Perfect justice will come, just as perfect unity with Christ will join his church to him. Let that truth drive us to live and act in hope, and to join our laments and cries to him with the knowledge that they will not be in vain.