What is Your Response to Suffering?
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word (Psalms 119:67).
Job's dialogue with his friends had provided no comfort and no answers; only more questions. Suddenly, God appears on the scene! The One who has the answers has arrived! But instead, He only brings more questions.
God never explained to Job the origin or reasons for his suffering. He rather moved the focus from now to the future. "Now that this calamity has happened, what will you do? What will your response be?"
The book of Job reinforces the pattern followed by Jesus (see Luke 13:1-5 and John 9:1-3). He moved the focus on suffering from determining the cause or reason to determining our response. "Suppose ye that these Galilaeans are sinners above all Galilaeans because they have suffered such things?", Jesus questioned the crowd. The cause wasn't important - it was the response of the people upon seeing such suffering which was important. "Don't you realize," Jesus said, "that you also will perish unless you leave your evil ways and turn to God?" (Luke 13:2-3).
In John, chapter 9, when questioned by the disciples as to why a man was born blind, because of his sins or his parents' sins, Jesus responded "Neither...but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." (John 9:3). Again, the reasons or cause for suffering was not important - it was the response which was important - "that the works of God might be made manifest."
This echoes the statement made by David in the Psalm. "Before I was afflicted I went astray," David said. Instead of questioning why he was afflicted, he focused on what his response to the affliction would be. David continues, "But now have I kept thy word." (Psalm 119:67). Davids' affliction, whatever it may have been, drew him close to God and caused him to keep God's word.
Likewise, Paul grieved over his thorn in the flesh. Whatever this affliction was, whether a physical ailment or battle with temptation, caused Paul to seek the Lord three times that it be removed. Paul learned however not to focus on the affliction or even on the "why", but instead to focus on his response. Listen to his words, "And (Jesus) said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). What a response!
The same sun that melts wax hardens clay. We all serve the same God who never changes. Suffering may melt the hearts of some, but harden the hearts of others. What will your response be?
In the apostle Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he reflects back on the harsh statements made in his first letter, "I am no longer sorry that I sent that letter to you, though I was very sorry for a time, realizing how painful it would be to you. But it hurt only for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain turned you to God." (2 Corinthians 7:8-9 TLB).
"The pain turned you to God...." This brief but powerful statement describes the role of suffering. When times of difficult trial hit us, let us not focus our attention on the reasons or causes, for we see they are not that important. What is important is what will our response be?
Philip Yancey writes, "God does not, in the comfortable surroundings of heaven, turn a deaf ear to the sounds of suffering on this groaning planet. He joined us, choosing to live among an oppressed people in circumstances of poverty and great affliction. He too was an innocent victim of cruel, senseless torture. At that moment of black despair, the Son of God cried out, much like all people, "God, why have you forsaken me?"
"Jesus, the Son of God on earth, embodied all that I have been trying to say about pain. Like Job, an innocent sufferer who preceded him, he did not receive an answer to the questions of cause: "Why?...why?" he called out from the cross, and heard nothing but the silence of God. Even so, he responded with faithfulness, turning his attention to the good that his suffering could produce: "...for the joy set before him (Christ) endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). What joy? The transformation, or redemption, of humanity."
Lord, when we are tested with difficult trials, help us not to question "why?", but to instead focus on our response. Help us not to blame You, but instead to turn to You, a very present help in times of trouble.