The book of Job is one of the greatest literary pieces of all time. It is sometimes classified as a tragedy. Though he was faithful in his service to God, the great patriarch of Uz suffered a series of devastating, rapid-fire blows—instigated by Satan, but allowed by God. A messenger brought Job the news of an initial loss, and “while he was yet speaking” another courier would arrive with yet a further revelation of heartache, e.g., financial adversity and family tragedy. Three times in the first chapter one reads: “While he was yet speaking . . .”
In a very small measure, our family has experienced something of that emotion in the past several days. I say “small measure” because our tragedies have not rivaled Job’s, though they’ve been acute to us. Nor would I venture to compare my patience with that of the magnificent Old Testament character (James 5:11).
A week ago this past Thursday, my wife, Betty, together with her mother and brother, Gene, enjoyed a pleasant evening, visiting with one another. About 8:00 p.m., Gene left to go to his own home. Some two to three hours later he was dead. Apparently, not feeling well, he lay down across his bed to rest and died in his sleep. It was a considerable shock to all of us in the family. He had been at worship service on Wednesday evening and had led the closing prayer. In his home, his Bible was found open, and there was an array of study books around—bearing silent testimony to his interest in things eternal.
Two days following Gene’s death, another brother-in-law—residing in Tennessee—was driving into Nashville to pick up his son at work. Apparently, en route he suffered a stroke. His car veered off the road and crashed. After several days in a deep coma, he died on a Friday morning. My heart goes out to Diane and her three sons. Jimmy had been a loving husband to my sister, and he enjoyed a close relationship with his three sons.
Now you know what I mean by, “While he was yet speaking . . .”
Within the past several years, we’ve had considerable hardship and heartache in our extended family. Some must wonder: “How has this affected your faith in God? Aren’t you angry that he would let this happen to you?”
Let me offer some thoughts that come to my mind in response to these questions.
First, yes, I am angry—but not at God. I am angry at Satan, who murdered the human race (John 8:44). I am distressed that Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator and brought upon us these troubles (Romans 5:12). The reckless wantonness of society as a whole angers me. More than anything, though, I am displeased with myself—that I have not lived up to the best that I can be (Romans 7:24). Human suffering is a reminder of my own fallibility. I must recognize then that, as painful as it is, there is value in my wounds.
Second, bad things happen in life regardless of our level of faith. If I were to renounce my belief in God, would all my earthly woes disappear? Of course not. Are atheists immune to disease and death? How would I better myself by becoming faithless? We simply must recognize that we live in a hard world; it is an environment that has been cursed by the effects of violating the Creator’s plan. Disease, disaster, and death will come to us all. We cannot stop these calamities. It is how we address them that matters.
More than my perplexity over human suffering is my amazement that the Lord has granted humanity—wretched race that we are—such mercy and grace. We are undeserving entirely of the favor he has bestowed upon us. Think about it: the gift of his precious Son as an atonement for our sins. How baffling it is that the vast majority of the human family cares almost nothing about it! Even many professing Christians evidence precious little gratitude—as reflected in their listless spiritual lives. How could we possibly complain to God?
Fourth, it is in times such as these that we must draw closer than ever to our heavenly Father. He is the God of comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). To whom else shall we go? We can commune with him. He hears our pleas for strength. He is touched by our pain. O God, “Put thou my tears into thy bottle” (Psalm 56:8).
Fifth, my faith in God is not grounded in the circumstances of life—be they favorable to me or adverse. Rather, my confidence is grounded in the overwhelming evidence that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who fervently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). There is too much evidence for God’s existence not to believe; and there is too much testimony of his love for me to let life’s heartaches assault my faith. I must believe that there is a Heavenly plan that is far greater than what I can fathom presently.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
When hardships come, therefore, let us not yield to despair. Rather, let us move closer to God than ever before. As Churchill said in that famous speech of so few words, delivered during the dark hours of World War II: “Never, never, never give up!”