Who's in Charge of My Suffering?
Like the frustration of a recorded voice presenting a menu of useless options when you’re trying to call customer service, not being able to identify who’s in charge can make a person feel helpless and hopeless. Today the experience of Job addresses our desperate question: Who’s in Charge of My Suffering?
Who’s in charge of your acne, your back spasms, your cancer, your recipe of undiagnosed symptoms and test results which befuddle a huddle of doctors? Who’s in charge of the millisecond that makes a difference between a near miss and a tragic accident? Like the frustration of a recorded voice presenting a menu of useless options when you’re trying to call customer service, not being able to identify who’s in charge can make a person feel helpless and hopeless. Today the experience of Job addresses our desperate question: Who’s in Charge of My Suffering?
The book of Job begins with a behind-the-scenes look into the command center of Job’s suffering. Satan appears with the good angels before the Lord, who asks him, “Where have you come from?” He replies, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Translation: “Ha! You claim such control over your created world, but I can go where I want, when I want, how I want!” Even in front of God, the father of lies defiantly spins his half-truths. The Bible does mention that “the devil prowls around” (1 Peter 5:8) wielding a supernatural influence over even the strongest of believers. “We wanted to come to you,” Paul informed the Thessalonians, “but Satan stopped us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Truth be told, sometimes cars, computers, or companies do crash because Satan, whom Jesus once called “the prince of this world” (John 14:30), says so. But the serpent of Eden who deceived our first parents can slither unsolicited into the heart, mind, and will of believers no more. His head has been crushed by the bruised heel of the second Adam, Jesus Christ! The tempter who could not entice Jesus Christ to sin cannot force followers of Jesus Christ to sin. “Away from me, Satan” (Matthew 4:10) our Savior commanded him, sparing himself and us from Satan’s control.
You can, if you’d like, give Satan control of your suffering as much as you can pet a snarling pit bull chained to a post. Here’s how it happens according to Jesus, “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (Mark 4:15). Forget the one thing needed – the saving Word of God – and you leave the gate open for Satan to step in and take charge. If you are suffering but not cultivating the seed of God’s Word by reading, learning, memorizing, better understanding, and applying what God says, you are in danger. Listen to the Word of God like what he said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Not an inquisitive question. An authoritative demand! Translation: “Satan, you do not belong here with these good angels. Explain yourself now!” God then goes on to prescribe for Satan exactly where, when, and how he can inflict suffering on Job. Satan is not in charge of this operation, and he is not in charge of your suffering. He plays a role, but only as a servant of the Lord.
Still, his hissing accusations heckle our consciences. “She doesn’t fear God for nothing … Take away his earthly blessings and he’ll turn away from God.” Satan knows the human spirit as much as he knows the blessings we enjoy from God. “Their faithfulness is a product of their prosperity,” he claims about us. “Surely not,” we argue, like Peter who insisted he’d die with Christ – then denied him. When difficulty, loss. or pain strikes, isn’t one of our first questions, “Why me?” As if somebody else, somebody less noble, less obedient, less loyal to church and family, deserves such trouble but certainly not us. In rapid succession messengers report to Job that enemy attack and “fire of God from the sky” (perhaps lightning, but probably falling fireballs like those that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) and “a mighty wind” either carried off his livestock, murdered his friends who worked for him, or killed all his children. You might figure a successful man like Job would get up, strategize a recovery plan, and take charge of his suffering. Instead, “Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.”
Job humbly admits he is hurting in a display of grief, and then continues with a display of submitting to the Lord. Job believes that the Lord is in charge of his suffering. No wonder the Lord had described Job as his “blameless and upright … servant.” Job’s faith, consistently active, didn’t persevere only on warm, sunny days but also cold, cloudy days. Job’s worship, genuinely sincere, didn’t praise God in church once a week but was a way of living no matter what blessings the Lord gave or took away. Job saw himself and his suffering as servants of the Lord, whom he trusted to be in charge of his suffering.
In God’s design of nature, certain animals are in charge. Animals live in groups and within each group one member is dominant, given priority when it comes to food, resting places, and mates. Subordinate animals express submissive behaviors by looking away and lowering head, body or tail. One study suggests that every time people open our mouths we announce our dominance or submissiveness. Scholars from Kent State University taped 25 interviews of Larry King Live, focusing on vocal frequencies. They noticed that Larry King submissively modulated his voice toward a high-ranking person, such as the President, while in most cases, his guests submissively modulated their voices toward him. Like when you’re listening to a friend on the phone and the tone of your friend’s voice tells you whether your friend is talking to boss, employee, friend, or mother.
Do you hear Job’s tone of voice as dominant or submissive? After losing his job and business, hearing that his employees were murdered by his competition, and learning that a storm killed all his children, does Job curse God or praise God? “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job perseveres by trusting the Lord to be in charge of his suffering. The New Testament agrees, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about” (James 5:11). The Lord gave Job his first breath of earth’s air and will take that breath from Job when it is time for him to die. The Lord gave Job his livelihood, his employees and his children and he holds the right to take them away at the right time. Not to curse Job, but to bless him. Like the Lord blesses us whether giving or taking away, and giving or taking away, and giving or taking away. He promises it is always good for us because our Savior came to be our curse in his suffering and death, then came forth from the grave to pronounce the curse finished. Done. Our suffering now serves only a good purpose. The Lord makes sure of it.
Satan is not in charge of your suffering. The Bible doesn’t say, “Satan gave and Satan has taken away.” Luck is not in charge of your suffering. The Bible doesn’t say, “Good luck gave and bad luck has taken away. Blind fate is not in charge of your suffering. The Bible doesn’t say, “Blind fate gave and blind fate has taken away.” You are not in charge of your suffering. The Bible doesn’t say, “Job gave and Job has taken away.” The Lord is in charge of your and Job’s suffering. Job banked on that truth, so that “in all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
With faith and perseverance like Job, our suffering is not Satan’s playground but God’s workshop. When we feel alone, unsure of what God wants us to do, or life doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to, it is then that God is drawing us closer. The hope he provides is meant not to answer the “why” questions of suffering, “Why? … Why me? … Why now? … Why this way?” but to answer the “who” questions. “Who am I? … Who is God? … Who’s in Charge of My Suffering?”
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Amen.