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There are few things more difficult than God saying no to what we think is the best plan for our lives. We see many examples in Scripture of God doing miracles, saying yes, and giving abundantly but we sometimes don’t want to admit that God’s answer sometimes is simply “no” and we never understand the reason why. As the Lord impressed this topic on my heart I asked Him where I should begin studying this scripturally and He pointed me to Job. Not Job! I said. No one likes that story. It’s hard to fit it into our perception of God. We don’t want to admit that sometimes God does take things away. However, if we truly believe in the sovereignty of God then we have to also believe that He does allow pain and suffering. Job is a perfect example of that experience. Pain and suffering is a result of sin and sin a result of freewill, which was created so that we could have true intimacy with God. This is how we arrive at the conclusion that God operates from a Spirit of reconciliation foundationally and yet, if God is sovereign then He does allow free will, sin, and suffering to continue. It is always for a greater purpose but it doesn’t make the loss any less tragic.
Sometimes I hear the story of Job and think. God? How could you allow that to happen to Him? I have to rest in the all-knowing merciful Savior whose intention is to restore intimacy with His bride. He first and foremost longs for our attention. It is not ever about purposefully bringing pain into our lives. Everything He does is to the end of restoration. When we operate from that understanding, we can rest even in the things we don’t understand. We don’t have to question the character of God even when we struggle to understand His methods. In studying Job, I discovered many interesting things about grief and loss. I encourage you to read Job front to back. Being a narrative, it offers a much different perspective to read it as a story.
Here are some things I discovered:
First, loss does not equal punishment. God does not give or take things away based on merit. Job 1:1 says that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It is easy to blame ourselves when there is loss and sometimes loss is a consequence of choices we make but oftentimes, it is just the way things happen. It is not something we earned based on bad behavior or can fix with good behavior.
Second, there are much greater things at work in the entirety of God’s plan. Oftentimes, things we can’t see. Sometimes, things we will never see. As far as we know, Job was never privileged enough to hear the conversation in heaven between God and Satan (Job 1:8-12). What if all of Job’s experience had more to do with God’s relationship with the enemy than it did with Job? It’s a weird thought but for some very important reason, that conversation was included in Scripture. Could this be a picture of Lucifer, God’s beloved creation, who rebelled and left perfect union with God for power, being taught a lesson in loyalty and love? Could this be a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and His forgiveness of those who would betray Him? We don’t know for sure but these are interesting questions to ask. Why would God bother having a conversation with the enemy and bringing his blameless child suffering if it wasn’t for some shadow of love or reconciliation? Any other conclusion leads us to believe that He is just simply cruel. Was He trying to tell the enemy that He loved Him and that different choices could have been made, as per Job’s example? Was He grieving over the loss of fellowship with the Lucifer? Sometimes, our suffering is not about us. It is hard not to be completely self-absorbed in our pain but trusting that it is serving in places we can’t see helps us to realize God isn’t picking on us and intends to redeem every moment of suffering whether on this side of heaven or the other.
Third, we know from the narrative that God gave free reign to Satan to test Job but as we see in 1:16, the servant immediately blamed God for the fire that fell from heaven. Sometimes, I forget that there is an enemy of my soul. I would rather be more comfortable in the belief that for good or bad, only God exists. The trouble with this is that when things get taken away I immediately run to blaming Him instead of recognizing the order of events for what they truly are. Loving God – Free Will – Influence of the Enemy – Sin – and ultimately, Death. Sin, pain, and death only exist upon the intention of the enemy and although I don’t want to give him too much attention, recognizing his role in suffering allows me to re-frame God as a God of love and choice, not death and destruction.
Lastly, we see that Job begged and pleaded with God for most of his experience. We don’t know exactly how long this period lasted but it must have felt like an eternity for Job. The heavens were silent, seemingly not responsive to his plea for help. He prayed day after day, looking for answers and deliverance. Then, at the very end (Job 38-42), we finally get to hear from the Almighty Himself. I don’t know how many years are between the beginning and the end of this story but one thing I do know is that the waiting period can easily cause us to doubt whether God cares or is even listening. When we don’t hear from God or can’t hear from God we can easily fall into feelings of abandonment and resentment. The long response from God we receive in these five chapters however, proves our feelings unreliable. These chapters point to the detail in which He pays attention. He makes it clear that He is watching and participating in each moment of the Earth and skies; the comings, goings, and survival of every living creature, including us. He is intimately aware of each stirring among His creation. We can be sure that when it feels like He has forgotten us that it merely is not the right time for us to hear Him and that He will surely reveal Himself when He knows we are ready. We can lean into these chapters and into the truth when we become confused about the role of our Heavenly Father in our lives.
On a more personal note, I started this blog post 8 months ago, shortly after I received some of the most devastating news of my life. Then, before I could finish it, I hit a wall, a black hole I thought I would never climb out of. I thought I would never survive the pain and never again have a life worth living. Praise be to God alone! that was not to be the end of my story. I am here to say 8 months later that although my role in this world has changed dramatically for the moment, there is much gold to be found in the refining. I learned during this time that God never took offense to my grieving or ways of processing loss. He was never angry when I questioned Him and asked Him “why?” or the many times I told Him it was just plain “unfair.” Every time I walked away from a prayer time where I was too angry to hear anything and even the private moments where I wondered whether God was really a loving God, He continued to pursue me passionately. He led me to continue studying Job and asked me to allow myself all the room to process as Job did. He is the ultimate counselor and He knew what would not only help me to move forward more quickly but what would allow me to trust in the dark times that He had not forgotten me. I still have a long way to go in this journey but I am excited to dissect Job’s responses to grief with you and remind you that its okay to be right where you are, as long as you need to be. Stay tuned for “When God says ‘No’ (Part 2)”.