In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Suffering. It is easy to believe in a gracious God when everything is good. But what about in the midst of suffering? In the loss of loved ones? The loss of a job, property, your life-savings, or economic collapse? What about when your health is crumbling? That’s when the rubber hits the road. Do you still believe at that moment? Those are the moments of truth, of testing, to see what is true. Though, if we are to be honest, in our day our unparalleled good-life—in terms of being relatively free from the basic suffering of previous generations because of unprecedented wealth, a stable and cheap food supply, better nutrition, better medicine, better health, longer life—our ease of life means that we are constantly tempted to unbelief by our comfort. (Rev. 3:15-19) And if not unbelief, than certainly boredom with God, what previous generations would have called acedia or sloth, a disinterest in holy things. In that case a little suffering is good for the soul. For it drives you to your Lord. It turns you from your preoccupation with yourself and how well “actualized” you are, or how you can’t figure out why you are numb to life, bored. Suffering actually brings things into focus. It causes you to cry out to the Lord. It exposes your heart and whether there is any faith in the Lord left there. As your physical hardship or struggles with temptation force you to turn to Him.
You and I marvel at Job. How he lost everything. We gape at God. How dare He take Job’s ease of life away! How could God allow Satan to destroy him economically and even take his family, his kids, let alone allow his health to be destroyed? How could all this happen and yet he still had faith? How?
I don’t know. You know why I don’t know? Because in our human judgement such anger at God seems so justified. But then in reality, in our human way of thinking, belief in God at all seems so irrational, so passe these days. Haven’t you noticed that the temptation of our age is not to doubt God’s goodness toward us, but to doubt that He’s even there! Or whether He is there or not we are tempted to be completely disinterested in Him. That is our inward struggle. Our temptation which leads to suffering.
But so often there is no causal link between specific actions you commit and things that happen to you. It appears simply random. Inexplicable. You and I must face the fact that, yes, I am a sinner. And we must rest in our salvation in Christ Jesus. For that is all you have in face of suffering. Jesus is your shield and great reward. When you suffer and know not why, turn to Him.
For faith recognizes that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. (Job 1:21) I know not the Lord’s purposes in this. But blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21) Moreover, faith does not look yourself, or to your circumstances for evidence of God’s favour. Faith does not look to your feelings, or to your material blessings. These things come and go. Faith looks to the promise of God in Christ Jesus. For you and me it is the promise of the Son of God come to save. Who has accomplished our salvation. And gathered you into His Church by His Gospel.
Job was called and gathered into the Church. He was enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Not by his own strength. His belief in the midst of suffering was a miracle, just as your faith in Jesus Christ in the midst of boredom, ennui, and too much stuff or whatever temptations or physical things you may be suffering is also a miracle.
What is more miraculous for Job is that while he suffered so much, as so often happens when there is suffering, his well meaning friends descended on him in chapter 2 to accuse him for 30 chapters. “What did you do wrong!? God doesn’t just let this happen to people unless they have sinned.” You know this thinking. It is natural to you, for you are born with it. When things are good you may occasionally think to thank God. But as soon as things go wrong, “God what did I do to deserve this?” And either you throw it at God in self-righteousness, “What? How have I failed you? Show me!” Or you turn inward and beat yourself up. “Lord, what have I done?” And you see guilty phantoms in every corner of your life. Every sin or possible failing you are aware of gets magnified a hundred-fold in a search to explain why you are suffering. But neither reaction comes from faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, in a sense, Job did get new life. After a period of testing Job had a resurrection of sorts. What was taken by Satan was restored by God double. (Job 42:10-17) But that was not Job’s hope. His hope was in the One who gives and takes, who holds all power, power over devil, even over life and death. The One who saves.
And Jesus has come. Salvation is accomplished. You can not by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit has worked it in you by the word of the Gospel, by His gifts given with water, wine, and word. And that is the power that overcomes death, the devil, this world, and the boredom and unbelief so prevalent in our day. Not you. Jesus and His promise. His gifts.
In +Jesus’ names, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON