Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Crisis & Choice, Pt 4: “When Life Seems Unfair”


The year 2001 was a sad year for a family I had known for more than ten years. The family was a staunch Christian family and for four generations the tight-knit family had served tirelessly in church. The matriarch of the family was a widow and her two sons and only daughter were pioneers of two churches and, including their daughters-in-law, the family counted five deacons who were actively involved in three churches.

Things began to unravel at the beginning of the year. The matriarch of the family died in April and even though she died at a ripe old age, the death was a shock the family. Three months later, her daughter-in-law, who had suffered a stroke and had spent more than a year in a convalescent hospital, also died. And in a cruel twist of fate, the matriarch’s daughter Sue suffered a mysterious illness about the same time her sister-in-law was buried.

I visited Sue ten days before she passed away. For a long time, she kept the news of her illness from friends. She was uneasy about how she looked but was happy to see me. She was literally just half the person she used to be. Three months after the last burial in the family, Sue passed away and I was invited to give the benediction at her funeral service. After the service, the family told me how happy she was that I visited her before she passed away and revealed that Sue had actually seen me at a restaurant when she could still walk, but felt too embarrassed to approach me.

Such are the inner guilt, social stigma and conflicted feelings that sometimes befall godly Christians and their families when faced with suffering.

One of the most mesmerizing, puzzling and unpopular passages in the Bible is, no doubt, the story of Job. Job was a moral, wealthy and godly man. As the story unfolds, his life was likened to a bad movie script, in which his children were like extras that died in the first scene and the plot that followed resembled a boring screenplay of all dialogue and little action – with two chapters on tragedy and forty chapters on philosophy. The word “only” (KJV) occurs five times in chapter one (vv 12, 15, 16, 17, 19), more than any chapter in the Bible. Scholars largely agree that Job was a contemporary of Abraham and lived before the Jewish nation was founded. Therefore, Job’s account is the only biblical account of an individual stripped of cultural, national or even Jewish ties. Job is a universal and personal story, too, a story too close to home. It is easy to cry for Job, to sympathize and identify with him, because you may have gone through or know of someone who has gone through or is going through unspeakable pain and extreme suffering.

Job is a profile of courage in the face of adversity, because Job did not give up on his character, give in to his pain and give way to Satan. What are we to do when encountering adversity? How can we help others who are suffering? Why does God allow and not banish difficulty and even danger from our lives?

Be True in Adversity
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “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.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 1:20-2:3)

The first thing Job did when life seemed unfair was to be true to his character and belief. He remained true to himself, true to form and true to the end. Unknown to Job, God defended Job’s innocence, praised his integrity and flaunted Job’s determination, feistiness and toughness to Satan.

The Chinese have a saying: “True gold is not afraid of fire.”

Do you know why gold is so expensive? Olympic athletes compete for the gold for a reason. I did a little research on gold and discovered some interesting facts on gold. Gold is a hedge against inflation, a popular form of savings and a reliable asset during the worst times of economic uncertainty or political upheaval.

Gold has a fairly high melting point of 1945 degrees Fahrenheit. It is valuable because it is almost indestructible and has been used and then reused for centuries to the extent that all gold that is in existence today is almost equal to all the gold that has ever been mined. Gold is also a great medium metal for jewelry, as it never rusts or tarnishes.

Gold appreciates in value when more of it is present in the material. For example 10K gold is the least expensive and there is more gold and value in every additional 2K gold, from 10K up to 24K gold, which is 100 percent gold.

Job was as good as 24K solid gold. He did not bend in his character, deviate from his character or part with his character. The Hebrew word for the verb “maintain” (2:3) has been used in a negative sense to describe the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 7:13), but in the positive sense for “strong” in the famous “Be strong and courageous” assertions in the Bible (Deut 31:6 Josh 1:6, 1 Chron 28:20, 2 Chron 32:7).

In a sense, Job was as headstrong and as thick-skinned as an ox. He was stubborn, uncompromising and indomitable in faith despite Satan’s larger than life presence and opposition. “Satan” shows up seven times in both chapters 1 and 2, both more than any chapter in the Old and New Testaments. He did not move, budge or retreat from his position, viewpoint or stand. That was what drove Job’s wife nuts in chapter 2 verse 9. The same word for Job’s determination to “maintain” his integrity is next translated as “holding on” (2:9). His wife said to him, “Are you still ‘holding on’ to your integrity?” When his three friends accused him of harboring known and deliberate sins in his life, Job had the same fighting words for them: “I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will “MAINTAIN” my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. (Job 27:5-6)

God used an unusual word for Job’s “integrity,” or the Hebrew word for “innocence,” to describe Job’s character (2:3). This word is found only in Job and Proverbs – four times in Job and once in Proverbs (11:3). Job upheld, pleaded and maintained his innocence to the intimidating end: “Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.” (Job 31:6) The root word for “integrity” is derived from the Hebrew word for “blameless” in the same verse (2:3). No matter what others said, Job claimed innocence – he had an unyielding grip and a choke-hold on his own innocence.

The three words Job’s friends could not believe that he continually muttered were “I was innocent.” Job meant that he was morally innocent, not just ethically and legally innocent or not guilty. Job’s claim infuriated his friends, caused a debate, and made others lose sympathy for him. His friends did not believe him nor did they think it was possible, so they threw the book at him. Whether Job had a good attitude was not the focus or the point of the text.

Be Tenacious When Afflicted
4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” 7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:4-8)

It’s been said, “Every winner has scars.”

I read that Romans, at their peak, distrusted most of the foreigners they had conquered and foreigners who wanted to fit in, but they admire battle scars and despise cowardly scars. The manly thing was to have battle scars on the front. To have scars on your back was a mark of shame – it showed that you had turned your back in battle and run away or worse, that you had been whipped – only slaves were whipped.

Alexander the Great (356—323 B.C.) was one of history’s most courageous and charismatic leaders. Any man in his army would lay down his life for Alexander in a heartbeat. As his enemies watched, Alexander would stand in front of his thirty-five thousand troops before battle. Without saying a word, he would drop his toga to complete silence.

Alexander was a strong and handsome man, but the front of his body was covered with battle scars because he always led his troops into combat. After displaying the scars on the front of his body, Alexander would turn around to show that he didn’t have a single scar on his back, proof that he had never retreated in battle. Following this display, his soldiers would let out a deafening cheer while hammering their shields and swords together in a frenzy. The enemy would quake and the battle was won before it even started.

The obstinate Job did not give in to his pain. Though he had painful sores from head to toe (v 7) eating into his flesh and bones and waking him morning till night, but he still did not give in or caved in to his pain.

Pain was an enemy but never a stranger to Job. Job did not ask for suffering nor did he despise his suffering. Nobody has a higher tolerance of pain than Job. He did not hide his pain nor grovel in his pain. With courage, he scraped himself with a piece of broken pottery (2:8) to relieve the pain, the sore and the itch in his body, through the process not letting out a murmur or a whimper from his mouth, not displaying a growl or a frown on his face or shedding a tear from his eye.

The Hebrew word describing Job’s “sores” (2:7) are similar to the plagues in Egypt (Ex 9:10, Deut 28:27) and for leprosy in the Law (Lev 13:18-20). Job not only he sat among the ashes (2:8), he had become like dust and ashes (Job 30:19). Rather than moan and groan, fuss and fret, he’d rather use the energy, muster the courage and still the body to save his strength, dull the pain and quiet the mind, so that when the next sore stirred his body, pinched his nerves or weakened his bones, he could still muster the last ounce of his strength to turn to his side, apply some pressure and relieve the pain.

Job demonstrated remarkable courage under the circumstances, under the weather and under the onslaught. He passed the school of hard knocks with flying colors and graduated with the highest honors, making him the valedictorian to speak to all sufferers. Nobody understood him; not his wife or his friends. Job cried out in his pain, but he did not give in to the pain. He was alone and lonely in his pain, yet he refused to buckle or break. He was discouraged with things but not despondent of life. The patient Job was not bitter to the end or devoid of hope. He clung on to life and hope even though he longed for death. When staring at death in the face, he did not blink. He cringed, but he did not cry, bravely fighting back tears of rage, pity, or shame. That’s the essence of courage –an uprising against fear, pain and suffering. Courage is a virtue that faces its sternest test against evil, injustice or grievances.

Be Thankful Under Accusation
9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:9-10)

Lucy the wannabe, moneymaking psychologist from the Peanuts gang once put up her advice booth with the slogan “Flawless Advice” written on it. Before too long, Charlie Brown walked in, sat down, and opened up: “My trouble is I never know if I’m doing the right thing. I need to have someone around who can tell me when I’m doing the right thing.” Lucy had a ready response to his problem: “Okay, you’re doing the right thing. That’ll be five cents, please!” Charlie Brown vacated the chair, paid the money and left the place, but returned after a short while.

Lucy was surprised to see him so quickly, and said, “Back already? What happened?” Charlie Brown admitted, with a downtrodden face, “I was wrong, it didn’t help. You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.” Lucy jumped up and eagerly concluded, “Now, you’ve really learned something! That’ll be another five cents, please!”

It’s been said, “Life is a test. It is only a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received instructions on where to go and what to do!” (Bits and Pieces 1/2/97)

Finally, resist Satan when you are tested. God called Job, who passed the sternest test with flying colors, “my servant” six times (Job 1:8, 2:3, 42:7, 42:8, 42:8, 42:8). God gave Job the highest honor: “There is none like him in all the earth” (1:8), a statement reserved for God who is in heaven (Ex 9:14). Job was sorely tested like no other. Satan’s accusations have not changed much since: “Do people fear God for no reason? I don’t think so! What if godly people are not wealthy, what if they no longer have plenty, if natural disasters leave them friendless, their enemies get to them, they lose people dear to them and all they have saved? What if they lose the biggest wealth of all - their health? Would they still love You?”

Of course, definitely Job did not serve God because God had put a hedge around him at all times, sheltered him from harm, or kept watch over him, his household and his business, property, and livestock. He had feared and served and loved God unselfishly and unflinchingly, not for fame or reward, but for better or worse.

Satan was wrong. Job did not merely fear God; he avoided evil (2:3), too. At the point when God withheld his blessings, not only did Job not spout evil, he said good things. He blessed the Lord, praised His name and declared God’s goodness. Job was steadfast, stable and single-minded in thanksgiving.

There is an intentional play on the word “take”. The Sabeans and the Chaldeans were the ones who “took away” or carried off Job’s livestock (Job 1:15, 1:17), but Job saw the Lord’s hand upon his life: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21). Job had a positive attitude. He was grateful for what he had, rather than what he had lost. At least he was rich and powerful once!

Job wrestled and argued with God, but he never blamed or challenged God. He was vocal but never defiant. He lamented for God and not lambasted against Him. Job railed for help but not railed against God. He tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground, but in a reverent, humble and urgent worship. Job 1:22 concluded that Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. Job did not consider God his true enemy, blame Him for innocent suffering, or fault Him for not helping. He did not consider God’s ways cruel, offensive or irresponsible. Job’s word emphasis was on God’s gifts before God’s repossession. Job asked, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)

Conclusion: In the cosmic battle of good versus evil, when everything seems out of your hands and life seems unfair, unbearable and unacceptable, we still do have ample choices. We are not bystanders. With courage, we can participate actively with God to overcome evil with good, live triumphantly over obstacles and reject the devil’s lies. Notice it was God who initiated the discussion with Satan (Job 1:8), not the other way. In man’s eye, he is naked (1:21) and alone, but he is actually guarded and guided by God’s watchful eye. Do you know God tempts no one with evil (Jas 1:13)? That He we can cast all our cares upon Him? Praise God, He is faithful and He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our limitations (1 Cor 10:13). Have you asked the Lord for humility, help and honor when undergoing affliction and meeting antagonism?


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