In this whole series on the book of Job, I have touched on several key points from the book which I thought were important to mention. Now these aren’t the only lessons we can take away from Job, and I probably didn’t do a perfect job in explaining all of them. Therefore, I highly encourage you to read through the book yourself, and if you have any questions, please ask me. I would love to discuss them with you. But for now I want to conclude this blog series with one final point.
II Chronicles 32:1
“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.”
Why? Why is it that this happens? Why do we find so very often that right when we are being so faithful to God, something bad happens?
Let me share with you a story from one of the most heartbreaking times of suffering in human history.
The War the World Forgot
Back in October 2013, our team here in West Africa underwent a 2-day seminar in which we received a firsthand account of the Rwanda tragedies in the 1990s. This was probably a more sobering experience than when I first saw “The Passion of the Christ” and contained more tears than my last visit to a Holocaust Museum. The missionaries who went through this ordeal described in excruciating detail (with pictures, just to add to the pain) the horrors of the mass death and chaotic heartbreak that surrounded this phenomenal tragedy (which is still ongoing in other parts of Africa, by the way).
To me, the most crucial part of the entire seminar was the very last story one of the missionaries shared with us – almost as a side note in the midst of all his information on undeserved death and misery. He related to us while trying control his emotions how he found one of his friends in a refugee camp – a man with a master’s degree and who had formerly held a prestigious job in the church – caring for his family. When the missionary asked what his friend needed most, his friend replied, “We could use a cooking pan. All we have is a raincoat in which we set our cornmeal to soak overnight. Then in the morning, my wife chews on the damp cornmeal and feeds it to myself and my children.” At this, the missionary broke down and cried at having to see his friend in such an unfathomably humbled state. But this Rwandan man put his hand on the missionary’s shoulder and asked the missionary to follow him. As they came to the top of a hill, the missionary’s friend pointed in several different directions within the refugee camp. “In each of these spots,” he said with sincere joy in his voice, “there is a church that has risen up amongst people groups who have never had a church before.”
This man, by anyone’s standards, would have been justified to complain against God. His life of faithfulness to Him was suddenly turned upside down and he was left in a refugee camp surrounded by malnutrition, cholera, and death. Yet this man, whose name I don’t even know, looked through the dense fog of his horrendous suffering to see what God was doing through that suffering. And with joy.
How is it that a man can be so humbled – how can he watch his life be completely demolished – and still see God at work? The atrocities this man had to face borderline the trials endured by Job when Satan went to war against him. This kind of inconceivable suffering should never be allowed. And yet, it almost seems as if this man’s faith was strengthened.
That’s it. Christians are crazy. That’s the only explanation.
But there’s something more, I think. Read Habakkuk 3:17-19a.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength.”
I’m not going to go into the whole historical context here; but essentially, these two verses say, “When there is nothing today and no hope for tomorrow, still I will rejoice in the LORD.”
“He is my Savior and is my strength.”
This is the hope we have. This is the one thing that can keep us going, as Christians, when everything else around us is gone and hopeless and failed and destroyed and barren and dead. If we just remember the hope we have in God as Christ Jesus, there is nothing else we need!
Jeremiah was forced to walk through the barren streets of a destroyed Jerusalem, and yet he still had hope in God!
Paul was imprisoned in Rome and was nearly certain of his impending execution, and yet he still had hope in God!
John Hus, as he was awaiting his execution for heresy, which was burning at the stake, prayed to God for strength, and he had hope in the Lord until the very end!
Christians in places like Southeast Asia endure torture and death way too often and yet they remain strong in their faith because of the hope they have in God!
This unnamed Rwandan looked death and pain and decay and turmoil in the eye and said, “God is doing work here, in this.” He too held onto hope in God.
For two millenia, Christians have been holding onto a hope in God that is supernaturally strong. Since before the world officially recognized that the Earth was not the center of the entire Universe, Christians have been holding on to a very, very powerful hope that nothing can seem to break.
What is this strange hope?
Job 16:19-21 answers this question.
“Even now, my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as I pour out tears to God; on behalf of man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.”
Job is talking about the Holy Spirit, who is mentioned many times throughout the Bible as being our intercessor before God. And in the New Testament age we now live in, the Holy Spirit is given to all who recognize Jesus’ gift of sacrifice as the only way to have salvation. This is why we can have hope.
So What Do I Do?
What this means For the Christian:
In the same way, how a Christian handles himself in this time says a lot to others about God. Whether they realize it or not, the world has its eyes on Christians to see how they react to different situations such as trials. How they respond to these times of trial and suffering can glorify God and perhaps even leave a lasting impression on others. But if they do not handle trials correctly, Satan wins and the world sees in that person nothing but another human being. As Christians who understand the complete sacrifice of God for our lives, how can we not live every day in joy, even through times of struggling? When we do so, God is glorified and others are able to see Him in us.
“If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness, if I say to corruption, ‘You are my father’ and to the worm, ‘My mother’ or ‘My sister’, where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me? Will it go down with me to the gates of death? Will we descend together into dust?”
What hope is there in death and decay? Can you take hope with you into the grave? There is a hope in death for those who are in Christ – that is a hope for a continued life. Jesus even refers to death as “entering life”! We aren’t sure where or when this continued life will be, but we do know Who it will be with and what it will involve. It will be with our Loving Creator, our Merciful Savior, and our Compassionate Intercessor and it will be completely without pain and suffering, without the fear of death, and without the sting of loss.
You might say, “Richie, everything you have talked about describes why Christians go through suffering. God is refining their faith, allowing them to represent Him on some spiritual battlefield, or He is showing them His work in the worst situations. But none of these explain why non-Christians go through suffering, even if they are good people.”
Allow me to be blunt for a second: What can someone who refuses to put his faith in God expect? How can we ask God to protect us from suffering when we can’t humble ourselves to submit to Him in the first place? Can a man demand protection from the king against whom he is rebelling?
Jesus cried over Jerusalem, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem….how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 24:37). And He cries the same thing out to you. God longs to be your shelter and protection, but He cannot do so unless you acknowledge that you need it. And you do need it.
Jesus has already done the hard part. The ball is now in your court. What’s it gonna be?
“Then Hezekiah the king…prayed because of this and cried to heaven… So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria” II Chronicles 32:20,22
And so God rescues us if we rely on Him. This comes in different forms. Sometimes it comes in strength. Sometimes it comes in vindication. Sometimes it comes in full-on salvation. But the important thing that we must always do is remain trusting in God because that is where our only hope comes from. No matter how long or severe the hardship (notice it took 22 verses for God to deliver Jerusalem).
My hope is that when we find ourselves in the midst of the hardest times in life, we will be able to look up and say,
“[God] knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
And this hope is also my prayer for all of us.