It is easy to believe that God is present and caring when things are going well. It is much more difficult to believe that God cares when everything goes wrong. When we need Him most, He seems strangely silent and distant.
After the tragic loss of his wife to cancer, the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote these words:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
(C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed” Harper, San Francisco, 1961.)
Job had similar feelings during his days of affliction, as we will see in chapter 30.
For discussion: What similar experiences have you had, and how did you feel toward God?
Read verses 1-8
Q: To whom is Job referring in these verses?
A: He is referring to whom some would call “losers.” These are worthless fellows who are scoundrels, rogues, rascals, lazy, wicked, and with too much time on their hands. They are the “undisciplined” and “fools” of Proverbs. (cf Proverbs 1:10-19)
Q: Why is he so upset by them?
A: They are saying about him, “See, you’re no better than we are. You’re just as bad off, if not worse. Your efforts to be a good and righteous man have gained you nothing. All your efforts to be good were for naught.”
Application: We can feel distant spiritually when we begin to think we should be better off than others.
Read verses 9-15
Q: What is Job protesting here?
A: Job is protesting that he is a righteous individual and those who are mocking him, demeaning him and apparently victorious over him are wicked. Who does this remind us of? The clear paradox here is that the righteous are being treated as wicked and the wicked are apparently the victors. Compare this with the cross of Christ.
At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.
— Matthew 27:38-44
Application: We can feel distant spiritually when we feel we are being treated as the wicked should be who appear to be better off than us.
Read verses 16-23 & Psalm 22:1-8
Q: Again, what are the comparisons between Job’s experience, the psalmist’s experience, and Christ’s, realizing that Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm (that is, one that refers to the Messiah, the Christ)? How does this reflect on Christ’s suffering?
A: If Christ suffered on the cross and that suffering is foreshadowed in Psalm 22, which seems to parallel Job’s suffering, then we can conclude that Christ’s suffering was identical. As with Job, Jesus experienced God’s silence and apparent absence while on the cross.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
— Matthew 27:46
How does this feeling of rejection or abandonment by God affect people who are suffering?
Do Christians sometimes feel like God has abandoned them, especially when they have sought to be “good Christians”?
How do Christians deal with that feeling that God has either turned against them or is ignoring them?
How do we counsel people who feel this way when they’re suffering?
Point: When we’re suffering or going through any trial or affliction, we turn to God for help. The help we’re really looking for is escape from the pain of affliction, whether it be physical, mental or emotional. But when we seek God for a direct response or intervention, there often appears to be silence. [“Why, God, won’t you answer my prayers?”] That’s the sense of abandonment or rejection. The only thing that will enable us to remain secure in our relationship with God during trials, affliction and suffering is to have our faith so grounded in that relationship that even pain or affliction can’t shake it.
Though He slay me
I will hope in Him.
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
— Job 13:15
Q: Referring to verses 16-23, what is the dominate emotion most people feel when they are in the midst of affliction? How does an afflicted person feel when he or she is in the midst of a trial, and how should the Christian offer counsel?
A: The dominant emotion facing the afflicted person is fear; fear of losing health, fear of losing loved ones, fear of losing control, fear of losing companionship, respect, things of value, status, job, income, time, et cetera. The best counsel a Christian can offer is to try to understand, empathize and sympathize with the person’s fears. The best way to do that is to not leave them alone in their fears. Therefore, the best comfort offered is not through words but through companionship.
For Discussion: Discuss the observation that trees, if grown in an environment where there is no wind, break easily at the first strong gust. How does this relate to Christians and suffering? (The meaning is clear. Trees, especially tall ones like palm trees, must be exposed to wind while growing in order to be able to withstand strong winds when the tree is taller. The fibers of the palm tree are strengthened each time they are exposed to the wind. Therefore, it is the little trials of life that prepare us and strengthen us for the larger, more severe trials in life.)
For Discussion: There is a proverb that says, “You can’t learn to sail a boat in the middle of a storm.” How does this proverb apply to the subject of Christian affliction? (The proverb is stating that one must master the art of sailing a boat when the weather is good, when the wind is calm and seas are smooth. During a storm, it is difficult to keep a boat on course, as the boat is tossed about by the wind and the waves. Also, special skills and tenacity are required in a storm that aren’t required during smooth sailing. Therefore, the basic skills of ship handling must be mastered before the more difficult skills of sailing in a storm are encountered. To the Christian, the meaning is this: Christians need to be constantly involved with God in Bible study, prayer and fellowship so that when everything goes wrong, their faith is strong and ready to endure the trial.)
Application: When Christ experienced God’s silence. (Mt. 27:6) What is often needed most is not a sermon but companionship.
Read verses 24-31
Q: People, even Christians, often become depressed when going through a trial or experiencing grief. Why is it not a good idea to try to talk them out of their depression? Even worse, what’s wrong with telling them they need more faith?
A: Depression is a normal response to facing the issues and dealing with reality. Unless reality is faced, final acceptance of the circumstances will never happen. If acceptance is never achieved, there will be no growth through the trial. Telling people to have more faith doesn’t work because many Christians believe they have maintained good faith and God has nevertheless turned against them.
Application: It is most often an issue of endurance, not a shortage of faith.
For Final Discussion
Researchers have identified six stages of reaction to grief or sudden loss. They are listed below. As time allows, discuss each one, apply each to Job’s situation, and then have others apply them to their own experiences.