“Hear this, O Job. Stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” –Job 37:14
How often we hear and say the wrong words in times of suffering. How often we see and do the wrong things in moments of hardship. Well-intentioned attempts to bring comfort, reduce pain, or solve problems fall far short of what is true or helpful for a true sufferer. It’s so easy err excessively on the side of careless truth (speaking accurately, but without compassion) or empty comfort (making false promises or assurances with no substance). And this is not a new problem–possibly the earliest manuscript known to civilization centers on the human problem of suffering and from the beginning, both those suffering and their loved ones have struggled in their response. How difficult it is for us to simply maintain silence and grieve with one another (as Job’s friends initially did) and how tempting it is to respond to our cultural training to circumvent the discomfort by ignoring, belittling, excusing, explaining, or pacifying the source of pain rather than truly and deeply walking through the grieving process with them. It’s easier, but it’s not better.
While there is no universal algorithm for comfort in grief (as people respond in varying ways based on their nature, disposition, and stage in the process and what may feel comforting and compassionate to one person may feel abrupt or presumptuous to another and by God’s grace alone might we obtain the wisdom to comfort those suffering), a universal principle rings true. It seems Elihu encapsulates this in the best human response in all the book. His words ring of truth in content and love in demeanor and I suspect may in fact be prophetically speaking the very words on the creator and destroyer of the divinely treacherous whirlwind. After listening, and listening, and listening some more, he speaks respectful rebuke to the lies and gentle truth to Job culminating in what I believe is the best most concise and beautiful exhortation Job could possibly receive. “Hear this, O Job. Stop and Consider the Wondrous Works of God.”
Hear this –Oh Job—you’ve been hearing lies, condemnations, and distortions of truth. You’ve been accused by the great deceiver, betrayed by your own wife, shunned by your nearest friends. You’ve been conscience stricken and guilt-ridden. The assault of the enemy has been nothing short of brutal. He’s had a hay day not only with your physical body, but with your mind and emotions. You’ve been listening to voices whisper of your hidden sin, your worthless life, your certain destruction, your deserving suffering. You’ve wrestled with the notion that God is not who you thought he was—that he is ruthless, uncompassionate, merciless, and even cruel. And it all seems to line up with your emotions and your circumstances. You don’t have a paradigm for an infinitely holy, just, and merciful God who would allow the torment and pain you are enduring. Oh that we might insert our name and stop listening to ourselves, our thoughts, and even our friends and learn the discipline of preaching truth to our souls, critically evaluating everything which naturally makes its way into our thought pattern and willfully ordering it where it belongs.
O Job!—Each heart knows his own suffering, and no one can share in joy…. We can empathize, we can love on, we can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. But no human friend can fully share in the entirety of a trial. We are uniquely and individually fitted for specific roles, domains, and services and as such we are given corresponding gifts, talents and experiences with the deliberate intention of producing the character and response to achieve that end. We are, in one sense, alone in our suffering, and yet there seems to be a one who has even greater wisdom than our wisest friends and deeper insight than our sincerest pursuit (He 2:18). We are gracefully being refined through trials, yet have a knowledge of one who has been fully perfected through them. There is one whose eyes are in every place keeping watch over the souls of all who not only knows more fully, but also has experienced more painfully every root of the wounds inflicted on mankind and he does not stand idly by, but pierces through the silence with the ferocity of a lion and a the compassion of a lamb beckoning a unique and secret name known only by him and his sheep.
Stop—To be placed in the midst of a trial is to be thrown upstream into a river of despair–to even stop from flowing further downward requires swimming. And swimming is the last thought that comes to mind in a trial. How quickly and easily we spiral out of control when life gets messy. It starts out bearable, but as we strain to analyze, to problem solve, to trouble shoot, to figure out what to do and how to resolve it, the human mind is weakened and becomes increasingly vulnerable to whatever may be spoken to it. It inevitably becomes introspective and self-centered—because that is where the turmoil is most fervently bubbling up. We begin to prioritize fixing the situation and ending pain over and above the valuable process of walking through it and learning from it. We would rather be done with it than grow from it. We’d prefer an easy out…a ‘luxury’ which the saints of God are never privy to. Oh that we’d learn the discipline of learning to simply stop! To be still and know, to dare to be silent in the midst of a storm and be willing to hear truth regardless of how painful it sounds and willing to risk the potential for breeding further disappointment if nothing is heard immediately.
and Consider—distinguished from learning new information or seeking mysterious revelation, both of which a true sufferer has little emotional energy to pursue, considering is a simple but active recollection of things already known. Considering is similar to meditating, remembering, pondering. It’s so basic we overlook it and instead strain forward in exhaustion. Elihu simply calls him and God would often call us to stop running from the pain and begin considering truth and reality, to stop ignoring the difficulty and start seeing it in light of something far greater, to stop gazing inwardly and turn his eyes upward.
the Wondrous Works–Never are we exhorted to follow a nice idea nor do we cling to an empty hope rooted in wishful thinking. No, we have a knowledge of certain promises made by an Almighty King who has proven himself faithful in more ways than we can count and in greater degree than we will ever know. He has given us all brains with the intellectual capacity to recall events and a heart to be deeply and profoundly moved by such happenings. Some have happened to us personally, some to those we know well, and others to those weave never met. Some we recall with a beaming smile, others with great somberness. But no one with any level of sanity whatsoever can say with a clear conscious that they’ve not witnessed His wondrous works. In fact, pure spiritual eyes could see nothing else. Even moments and times of great distress contain firstfruits of his wonder which will one day be potential zed if we can only persevere in hope, not wishing for what we want, but banking on what we’ve been promised by the one whose track record speaks for itself.
of God. God—the Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort, the Alpha and the Omega the one who was in the beginning, is in the middle and will always be. The one who condescended from glory to futility, who traded Eden for a cross, the one who tore the curtain of separation, and the one who walked out of his grave victoriously. How futile, how depressing, and how fruitless to gaze inwardly at the brokenness, ugliness and insufficiency that is so terrifyingly revealed during suffering when infinite beauty is only a humble yet bold glance upward. See the sin in a moment, take note of its source with carefulness, rebuke it immediately with all authority, and gaze eternally with all gratitude at the grace which destroyed it.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. –Helen H. Lemmel, 1922