–September of 1999
Job’s Real Pain
I’ve been pondering over the pages of Job lately. The portrait that is painted of Job in the first five verses of chapter one is of rare beauty. Job’s faith is expressed as perfect and complete. His family was the envy of every parent. His fortune was the largest in the East, and his fame was world renowned. Job’s life is portrayed on a canvas of perfect tranquility.
In the course of time, Satan was allowed to paint his own gruesome scene into Job’s life. In successive strokes of calamity, Job’s peaceful world was turned into utter chaos. The first blow to fall was the loss of his financial empire. It was the second blow, however, that took away his greatest treasure—ten wonderful children. Job was staggered by these vicious blows, but he was still able to hold his head up and declare his faith in God. All Job had to say was “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Satan was given permission to test Job further, but this time he could touch him physically. Job was smitten with a type of leprosy known as elephantiasis. Massive ulcerous sores covered his body. His limbs were so swollen he became disfigured and unrecognizable. He was forced to sit as an outcast on the rubbish heap. His wife counseled him to curse God and die, while his friends could only sit and watch in stunned silence.
In the beginning of his affliction, Job defended God by acknowledging that we must accept the bad as well as the good from His hand. In contemporary expression, Job understood that trouble eventually knocks at everyone’s door. As days turned to weeks and months, Job began to feel that trouble had not only knocked, but literally had banged the door down and rushed in with violent disregard. The loss of all in one swift stroke left him reeling under the intolerable burden of sorrow and suffering. The constant itching and pain of his sores, and the nausea and other side effects of his illness finally began to take its emotional and spiritual toll on Job. He sank beneath the billows of despair and depression. He cursed the day of his birth. He felt that God was unfair and had “shot him through with arrows.” Job became so weary and bewildered by his suffering that he finally began to feel that God had only blessed him with so much in order that He could “take it away and harm him.”
As the story progresses, you see that Job’s real pain was far more than physical or emotional. It was the pain of failing to understand why God was letting this happen to a man who was indeed “blameless.” Job had been living right, and he knew it. So why was God letting all this suffering fall on him?
As I thought of Job, I thought about the many people who will read the words that I have written and will identify with the story. Moms and dads, church leaders and pastors, young couples and senior saints, lonely singles and lively teenagers from all walks of life have an affinity with Job’s “real pain.” I thought of a precious young couple with whom I went to school whose fifteen-year-old son recently died mysteriously in his sleep. I thought of a missionary friend whose wife walked out on him and left him with five children to raise. I thought of a pastor who was carelessly voted out of his church and left to pick up the pieces of his shattered future and heal the wounds of his embittered children. I thought of a senior saint forced into a lonely nursing home. I thought of a faithful administrator suffering the terrible pains of burnout and deep depression from having given all to advance God’s kingdom. I thought of a young wife left alone with two small children after the tragic death of her husband. I thought of a young teenage girl trying hard to live for God in a godless environment, who brutally lost her virginity to a wicked stepfather’s incestuous behavior.
Like Job, each of these people have journeyed down the treacherous path of pain and to the dark places of sorrow and suffering and can’t understand why. Perhaps each of us can identify with Job. None of us are strangers to discouragement and despair. We, too, battle with the painful question: Why? The real question is not why, but how do we respond? Do we just give up and quit? Do we become bitter and turn our backs on both God and man? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO! The great lesson learned from the book of Job is that we have a heavenly Father who can and does bring triumph out of trial and blessing out of brokenness. Job teaches us that God has a way of using suffering in our lives to make us better. Someone has said that it is doubtful that God can use any man greatly until He has hurt him deeply. Suffering has a way of seasoning and sanctifying the soul like nothing else we will ever experience in life. The tragic marriage and personal suffering of Hannah Whitehall Smith became the seedbed out of which grew unbelievably rich and blessed devotional writings. J.B. Phillips, who is well known for his beautiful translation of the New Testament, lived in a constant struggle against depression. His biographers wrote of him, “He knew anxiety and depression from which there was only temporary release. For a period of fifty years he had to cope with psychological disturbance and dark depression. And while he never lost his faith in God, he never ceased to struggle against mental pain.” William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, came to a point more than once in his ministry that he was so drained and dried out that he wanted to quit and get some respectable job that would keep him and his wife Catherine going. William Booth, however, is remembered by the Salvationists as a tower of strength, a man of abounding energy and unrelenting in his warfare against sin. Behind the scenes, though, we see a glimpse of his humanity and his being subject, as we all are, to depression in the face of exhaustion and hardship.
The secret to all of these people’s successful lives and the secret to your success is simply in “going on” when life is difficult. They kept their faith in Him who knows what’s best.
Are you under great stress and facing deep suffering? Are you under great pressure beyond your ability to endure? Are you discouraged? Are you asking questions that seem to have no good answer? You are in good company. The great saints who have gone before you did too.
Life will afflict all of us with trouble and pain. We will all be tempted to turn and run or to give up and quit. Life will tumble in someday for all of us; but when it does, just keep holding on and keep going on. Victory and unspeakable blessing will be yours in the end.