Last week a friend of mine who sent me lots of stories for my blog decided to commit suicide.
I had not been close to him for the past couple of years, because he wasn’t responding to e-mails and we lived in different cities. I only met him in person one time. I know that he was deeply hurt by his father’s decision to divorce his mother when he was only 9 years old. And his mother later died of cancer when he was 16. Although he had been a pretty serious Catholic early on, these two blows pushed him into a sort deistic agnosticism. During the time I knew him, he told me that he accepted all the scientific arguments for God’s existence, but he did not think that there was enough evidence for Christianity in particular. He didn’t believe in a God who cared about people, and answered prayers. Given the terrible things that had happened to him, I can understand why he felt that way.
Whenever I talked to him about my life and my childhood, he liked that I had also grown up with bad parents and had suffered some painful experiences. My experiences allowed me to be sensitive about the things that happened to him. He would talk about how his father never admitted any guilt for the divorce, even though divorces cause enormous problems for children – especially for their relationship with God.
I sometimes wonder why we both went down different paths when we were hit with suffering. I don’t really know the answer. But I thought of this post from Clay Jones, who writes about the problems of evil and suffering.
Since I teach on why God allows evil, I often talk about Job. I have learned that many Christians have missed a major lesson of that book, if not the major lesson. Although many rightly conclude from Job that we should be humble when it comes to why God allows this or that suffering, there is something else amazing found in the book’s beginning.
In the first chapter we learn that Job is the wealthiest man in the world, renowned, and that he worships God.
But then we are told of a great contest in Heaven.
One day the angels presented themselves before the Lord and Satan came along with them and the Lord asked Satan:
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)
Here Satan contends that Job only serves God because God has given Job everything Job wants and that If God didn’t give Job what he wanted then Job would rebel.
Well, the Lord tells Satan that Satan can destroy all the things Job enjoys. Soon disaster kills his family, marauders steal his possessions, Satan afflicts him with boils, and Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.”
And here’s the question I ask my students: “what was the only thing that Job had to do to humiliate Satan in front of God and all God’s servants?”
The answer is simple: the only thing Job had to do to humiliate Satan in front of God and all the beings of the heavenly realm was to continue to honor God. As long as Job honored God, he humiliated Satan.
Satan would be humiliated because it would not only prove him wrong but, even more importantly, it would prove that some beings will serve God even if their lives are miserable.
And this would justify God’s final judgment of Satan! After all, why did Satan rebel? Isn’t it because Satan thought he deserved more? The implication is, “If you gave me everything I had ever wanted, then I wouldn’t have rebelled either.” Isn’t it Satan’s underlying argument that no one will serve God if He deprives them of what they value? Satan certainly believed that was the case with Job.
So, like Job, when our life gets very hard, if we get fired, or our finances tank, or we get cancer, but we still honor God then we too humiliate Satan.
And, of course, all of us, unless we die first, will get life threatening news which can be our finest hour! What I mean is that our finest hour isn’t getting a promotion or sitting on the beach in Kauai; our finest hour is when we get life shattering news, and our family and friends and acquaintances and the Heavenly host are watching, and we continue to honor God anyway!
When we do this, when we honor God in hardship, then we too humiliate Satan.
Eph. 3:10: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
I think when people see Christians in the world, there is this assumption that God will look out for his own people and protect them and give them nice things. But we forget that God has his own reasons for creating us. He is using us to make his existence and character known to others. It tells other people something when they can see that your needs are not met, but you still remain faithful. People sometimes think that I keep my faith because I just haven’t been hit hard enough by suffering. But the truth is that I have suffered, and even now there are things I wanted, like a wife and family, that I never got. It’s important for people looking on to understand that I am not a Christian because it works for me, but because Christianity is a true worldview. I’m not guaranteed happiness in this life. Endurance is a Christian virtue.