Tuesday of Holy Week 2020

A Reflection on God’s Presence in Pain

The Bible’s book of Job is a long poetic treatment of the question of suffering, and particular the suffering of the innocent. The righteous man, Job, becomes a pawn in a plot devised by Satan to undermine and ultimately overthrow God. The evil one’s accusation is that Job is only righteous because it brings him blessing, i.e. the very reason that God delights in Job (his righteousness) is alleged to be without integrity – Satan suggests that Job’s seeming selfless love for God is actually selfish desire. The only way to settle the matter is for God to allow Satan to remove his blessings from Job and to watch Job’s response. As a result, Job loses everything – his livestock, property and family. The writer records Job’s words:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb
and naked I shall depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Job 1:21 (NIV translation)

It is often our temptation in times of distress or loss to blame God for our negative circumstances, or even to curse him (e.g. by declaring he is evil or careless or absent), but Job resorts to praise!

The story continues. After Job suffers further tragedy with the loss of his good health, it is clear that Job’s wife concludes that God is being unfair with Job and recommends that Job’s best option is to abandon his faith, saying, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9).

But Job will not. “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” he asks (2:10).

Were the story to end there, I dare say it would feel rather unreal and unsatisfying, but it doesn’t. The book continues for another 40 chapters in which Job wrestles with his suffering and with God.

We learn from the story that it is possible in this world for the righteous to suffer, even greatly, and that wrestling within the suffering is appropriate. And as we look back towards the days of Job (many years before Christ), we are confronted by another righteous man who suffered – indeed, one whose suffering went beyond Job’s even to death – Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man and Son of God; fully human, fully divine; sinless yet receiving the wages of sin (death – cf. Roman 6:23). We see in Jesus God not only present with us in our suffering, but also taking it upon himself. As our nation is gripped by coronavirus and its deadly consequences, and as we face our own storms in life, may God grant us faith to trust him and to praise him, our rock, our refuge and our redeemer.

This song was written in the light of the singer’s experience of helping friends coming to terms with their daughter’s cancer. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with cancer himself, whereupon he admits the song became harder to perform each night on stage. Through both experiences he found, as Job teaches us, that shallow or glib solutions to pain are not helpful – rather we should continually lift our eyes to the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, for he is our only hope (Psalm 121).