Sunday, June 16, 2013

Finding Meaning within Pain and Perplexity

I think that we become most tormented when we can’t understand our experience of pain and loss when it seems to contradict Scripture. For instance, I love to read about the missionaries. They are my heroes! However, they had experienced enormous loss – children, spouses and even their own lives. Why? They had committed their entire lives to their God and His service, and yet they experienced such loss, despite God’s promise to work all things to their good.

From our point of view, this just shouldn’t be! It seems to violate all of God’s promises, and the apparent contradiction sends us spiraling down into a spiritual vertigo. Job experienced this vertigo. He had lost everything, even though he had given his entire life to his Lord. He was convinced that what he had experienced wasn’t fair, and that God was at fault. Although he never cursed God, he certainly was not lacking in indictments against Him.

And, in a limited sense, Job was right. Although God might not have directly caused Job’s misfortunes, He purposely allowed them to happen! Job therefore was certain that God’s Word had failed, and that God had failed him.

Eventually, Job repented of his accusations against God. Why? It wasn’t that God had given Job a detailed and reasonable explanation of everything God had done. Job never received an explanation for his loss and suffering, but he received something else that sufficed. God revealed to him that his indictments were products of ignorance. He showed Job that Job lacked the wisdom and understanding to make such indictments:

·         Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone (Job 38:1-6)

Of course, Job could not answer any of these questions. He had been like a first-grader complaining that his math teacher couldn’t teach math. However, God dramatically showed him that he lacked the necessary intelligence and experience to make such charges. Job got the message and repented:

·         “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

Often we become too confident about our level of knowledge. We become convinced that we know more than we actually do know and therefore judge God.

While wisdom and knowledge have an exalted role according to Scripture, we often rely upon our own wisdom more than we should. We are warned against this:

·         Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Contrary to this, we are often told to trust in ourselves and our judgments. However, Scripture cautions against this advice. Job had trusted in his own understanding, but this only deepened his woes. He finally came to the realization that his self-trust had cut him off from his only hope – God.

There are some things that we can’t understand. Scripture warns us of this – that we only see in part. I must admit that I too am troubled about the way God does things and the things He allows to occur. Our beloved nephew just took his own life after battling paranoia for years. He was a believer. Why did God allow this to happen? This troubles me!

Our pastor-friend’s son took his life. His wife died after many painful years of battling cancer, and now the pastor also battles against the same foe. Another pastor-friend died a long and painful death. Both of these men had been men of exemplary character. God, why? If You allowed such torment to befall these godly men, what hope do I have? You want me to trust You, but how can I in light of what I see?

This had been Job dilemma. How could he love and trust God after what had happened to him? He was convinced that he no longer could! However, he subsequently repented of his attitude. What made the difference? It wasn’t that it all suddenly made sense to him. We see no evidence of this! Instead, he came to see that he couldn’t trust his own very limited and juvenile judgments. This understanding once again opened the door to trusting God, once he saw that he could not trust in his own understanding.

Just recently, my knee went bad, and then my back went out. In desperation, I went to the chiropractor, who broke my rib. I subsequently went through a Job-like crisis. I asked, “God, can I really trust You? Will you let me down as you did my pastor-friends?”

Leaning to my own understanding, it seems that God had let me down. But perhaps it was my own understanding that had let me down. I recalled God’s humbling counsel to Job:

·         “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:16-18)

Truly, there is so much that I do not know! “Lord, humble me and leave me not in the grips of my own feeble and fearful understanding.”

Nevertheless, I think that there is understanding to be had. Our Lord will never allow us to have enough wisdom and understanding so that we need not cry out to Him for more. We will always need to depend upon Him for understanding, and we must. He therefore hides from us the extent of His grace – His responsiveness to our prayers. He did this with Abraham!

Abraham had been granted an exclusive audience with the Lord, who explained that He was about to destroy Sodom because of its great sins. Abraham interceded on behalf of his nephew Lot who lived in Sodom with his family. Finally, he got the Lord to agree that He would not destroy Sodom if there were as few as ten righteous people in the city. However:

·         Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord.  He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. (Gen. 19:27-28)

We have absolutely no indication that Abraham ever knew that the Lord had rescued Lot and his daughters. Consequently, he never tried to find them. Instead, it seems that Abraham was so stricken by this loss that he had to relocate elsewhere, away from any reminder of his great “loss.”

We are not ready to truly fathom the depth of our Lord’s grace. We cannot handle it. While bleeding to death from a grievous chainsaw injury, I had the most incredible pre-salvation encounter with God. I was utterly filled with His love, joy and peace. I was in ecstasy through the knowledge of His omnipotence and the certainty that He would never leave me. I was miraculously rescued and spent four days recuperating in the hospital. On the second day, my surgeon informed me that I had to begin exercising my hand or I’d loose mobility. However, I blew-off his advice, convinced that God was omnipotent, and therefore, it didn’t matter what I’d do in regards to my recovery.

Consequently, I never regained full mobility. Although I correctly understood that God is omnipotent, I lacked the maturity to correctly apply this knowledge and suffered loss as a result. I leaned on my own limited understanding instead of the word of the expert.

I was not ready for God’s truth. Can we teach a first-grader trigonometry before she learns addition and subtraction? Trig is ridiculous – even dangerous - for those unprepared for it. So too is a comprehensive understanding of God’s ways. Instead, we need to learn from Job and repent in dust and ashes, acknowledging that we speak “of things [we] did not understand, things too wonderful for [us] to know.”

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