Brian was my good friend. He was 25 years old, he was training to become a professional athlete…and it was no pipe dream…he was very close to making it.
But on his way to a tournament…he had to return to Wichita because he was suffering with terrible stomach pain.
They found cancer that was so far along that Brian was given just months to live.
I was with him in the hospital two days before he died. I was still in shock.
I had been out of town that summer and the last time I had seen him, in the Spring, he was the picture of health, now he was on death’s door.
I felt a bit awkward because I was wearing a summer tan from working outside…Brian was sickly white…it felt inappropriate to be healthy and to feel so good…when my friend clearly felt so bad.
I was at a loss for words…but he wasn’t, he wanted to know how I was doing…how I was doing!
Brian, had a healthy hope, in an unhealthy body.
He told me of all the good God had already done through his cancer…family members had come to Christ through his testimony…I was struggling to see past the hospital bed.
Brian told me of his gospel hope…that his life was not over, eternal life was a present reality for him.
I went to encourage him…he encouraged me.
He was in heaven before I could return to see him again.
Today we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the final answer to the largest of all human questions…. “If God is there, and God loves us, why is there so much suffering?”
The Bible gives a host of answers to that immense question…but they are not 1,2,3 easy answers…because this is just such a large and powerful question.
The Bible does give us some large motifs…that altogether paint a picture of God’s love and human suffering.
By motifs I mean…a combination of principles, direct teaching and stories woven together in Scripture.
- He uses suffering to draw people to himself.
“Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world”
This includes drawing Christians to fuller growth, and non-Christians to come to faith in Christ.
*In my experience, most adults who come to Christ do so as a result of some kind of suffering or difficulty.
*And often, Christians can move through life “sleep-walking” until God uses something difficult to wake them up to a more purposeful lifestyle.
Unfortunately, we often don’t change until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing.
Though it’s not necessary for this to be true, it often is.
I think it’s because we tend to try and hang our hopes in mid-air, with no foundation under them.
They stay there, suspended in a sort of unreality…until they are tested by difficulty reality…often by trouble or tragedy…then they fall to ground.
This hardens some to God, but others it makes them look for a firm foundation for their hopes…they turn to the gospel.
- There is a real enemy who is continually attacking humans…sometimes suffering is demonic in nature.
-Like the terrible suffering of the Ukrainians is because of an enemy…sometimes ours is because of a spiritual enemy.
- Suffering can be used by God to reveal himself through his people’s faith. Like Brian, like Jesus.
- Sometimes human sin causes suffering…we can suffer for our own sin, we can suffer for the sins of others around us.
-For God to eliminate sin and its corresponding suffering…he would have to remove choice…which he won’t do.
-Some have believed that all suffering is the result of individual sin…Jesus himself said this is not so.
His friends asked in regards to a man born blind… “who sinned, him or his parents?” (John 9)
-“Neither” Jesus replied, “This is so God’s glory can be revealed.”
- There is mystery. A biblical answer to “why” is sometimes, we don’t know yet.
*Mystery is a real answer to some questions.
In science, and in theology.
-It doesn’t mean there is not an answer, it just means we don’t know the answer.
Deut. 29:29, “The secret things belong to God, the things revealed belong to us.”
- Then there is God’s final answer to…“Are you there, do you care? Will you do something?”
The final answer, is the gospel answer: The cross of Christ…and the resurrection of Christ…the future return of Christ.
God says…I have done something…look at the cross.
I have done something…look at the empty tomb.
We live between the beginning of the end and the end of the end…Christ has come, Christ will return…the final answer is in process but God has spoken clearly through his Son, Jesus.
Heb. 1:1 “In the past God spoke through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken through his Son.”
*Let me offer what sounds like a hopeless perspective…but please stay with me.
We all have two choices in life:
-We can suffer or we can suffer
*Everyone will suffer, this is no controversy in that statement…though there is discomfort in it.
But let me elaborate… Everyone will suffer but…
-We can suffer without hope
-We can suffer with hope
There is no third path…the path of no suffering…but there are those two paths, paths we are given the choice to choose to walk…one with hope, one without hope.
Less you think this is a gloomy Easter message, let me tell you what the Theme for this message is…Hope.
But I’m not selling hope as unreality, or hope as escapism, or wishful thinking…so I tell you, there will be suffering…but there can be hope.
That is THE appropriate Easter theme…but we must not think of hope as “good feelings” or merely “a hopeful attitude”
I hope you feel encouraged today…but I hope you leave with a lasting hope…whatever you feel.
In fact, it would be better to leave here feeling thoroughly miserable, yet open to the gospel hope, than to leave here with hopeful feelings but no foundational hope for our actual lives.
I would prefer, you NOT leave here feeling miserable…AND with a foundational hope that will not fail you.
We need hope
But hope built on a solid foundation that will not fail us at the worst possible time.
Brian suffered with hope…the gospel was something he had believed as a fact of faith, now in his final days it was something he was experiencing personally.
He had heard of God’s faithfulness and had believed it…but now he had seen it for himself…it was his own experience…but that full experience would only come post mortem…when he saw God face to face.
We need a hope that is not contingent on things going our way…we need a hope that will sustain us in the storms…we need, especially a hope that will sustain us through this life and through death itself.
Our main Scripture today is a bit strange for an Easter Sunday, but please bear with me…I think it will make sense by the time we are done.
It is from the final chapter of the book of Job, 42:5
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
Here’s the backstory
A key to understanding Job (which is a difficult book) is a verse in the very first chapter.
Job, is an exemplary man of faith and character…who clearly wants to please God.
Job 1:9 the accuser asks God…“Does Job fear you for no reason?”
Fear of God=implies relationship, obedience, commitment.
The implication is that Job is faithful and obedient not for God’s sake or glory but for his own self-interest.
“Big deal…Job loves you, look at you do for him.”
“Take away all the good stuff from his life…and he will turn on you.”
This is the bottom-line issue… “Will humans continue in a relationship with God when all they gain from the relationship is God?”
(From: Eric Ortlund “Five Truths for sufferers from the book of Job.”)
The gospel does not promise us health and wealth…we do experience material goodness from God but these are a distant second place to the ultimate gifts of forgiveness and relationship with God.
And all of the material goodness, that God grants according to his plans for individuals…in this life is it all of course, temporary.
So, Job had experienced much of God’s material goodness…but now he has experienced terrible loss…at every level possible…physical, emotional, relational, vocational.
And he has no idea of the cosmic backstory that he is a part of…all he knows is that he is in terrible suffering.
He is quite sure he has not sinned; he doesn’t deserve some kind of punishment…but his friends are convinced that he must have done something to earn this trouble.
Because in their messed-up way of thinking…all suffering has a corresponding human sin…Job has earned this trouble, he just won’t admit to it.
In their arrogance they presume that Job is suffering because he is bad and they are not suffering because they are good.
But in the end…it is Job’s friends who get into trouble with God…because they are absolutely wrong about what is going on.
Job has not sinned, yet he is suffering…and in the book’s narrative…Job never finds out why he is suffering.
But in his suffering he doesn’t curse God…which Satan, and his wife…encourage him to do.
He does presume that he could take God to court and win in a jury trial…his innocence would be clear, with the implication being…God has mistreated him.
God gives Job a long reply (not a defense of himself) but a discourse on creation and his own power and providence (oversight of creation)
If you read that long section…it can be confusing…but essentially God is demonstrating that the world is not chaotic…but created and controlled by him.
-And there is a sense of joy in God’s telling of his creative and sustaining work in the world.
God is not an ominous… “don’t dare question me” being …he is a joyful, but powerful being…who has made and who sustains everything.
God is showing love to job, not by answering questions he can’t understand…but in giving him perspective that will help him suffer with hope.
Job’s suffering has narrowed his vision so he sees the world as chaotic and as one big mess…God replies that in fact…he has made the world, he controls it, and he delights in it.
Job’s vision is, understandable cloudy…I mean look at what he is going through.
But God’s clarity breaks through Job’s suffering heart and mind…he finds his way, though the suffering has not stopped.
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
This is not fatalism…it’s not passive resignation…it is, in a sense, comfort for suffering Job…God, not chance circumstances are in control.
For people who have been through trauma; the world becomes a place of danger, darkness, chaos…it is unpredictable, unsafe.
Job has been through trauma…God knows this.
God’s long discourse on his creation and control of the cosmos…is not pilling on poor Job…but resetting his perspective…which has been broken by his suffering.
Job doesn’t know what, exactly, God is up to…But God, not blind fate or meaningless circumstances is in charge.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
This is Job’s submission to the wisdom and reality of God.
He had stood shaking his tiny fist in the face of God…and now he responds with “What was I thinking?”
Then back to verse 5, one of my favorites in the Bible, Job has a new vision of God…that makes all his former knowledge merely second-hand information.
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Of course, he has not literally seen God…who Scripture says is invisible, and no human eye can see.
This is a statement of relative comparison of where he is now, verses where he was before, in his perspective on God.
“I had heard of you”…and I might add, that knowledge was true (God affirmed it as such)
“Now my eyes have seen you”…he added a whole new level of personal experience to his mere knowledge of God.
Look at verse 6, Job is not saying what it might sound like on the surface.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
He has not learning to have a bad self-image.
He is not admitting sins that brought all this suffering and therefore repenting of them.
Clearly in the book we see that Job’s friends were wrong, Job did not sin and bring this trouble on himself.
In context Job is still in his terrible suffering…but he now is sorry for thinking he was smarter than God…that he could make his case and win.
These words indicate submission and worship…even though he didn’t understand why.
He has “seen” God…and he sees himself differently as well.
God, in his larger purposes had seen fit to allow terrible suffering to come on his servant Job.
God, in his wisdom has responded to Job in a way that shifts Job’s heart and mind…not just in a way that merely answers Job’s questions.
*You can get answers to questions but if your heart doesn’t change…the answers mean nothing really.
*I’ve tried to convince people through argument…but a person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.
God’s too smart for that…he didn’t answer Job’s questions…he revealed himself…that was much better.
*We don’t just need good information about God…though we do need that…it’s called truth.
We need to Know God, not just to know about him.
Job said, “My ears had heard, now my eyes have seen”
When Abraham Lincoln entered the White house in 1860 he looked young and robust…by 1865, he looked like a different person…haggard and worn down by the suffering of a Civil War…and his own personal losses.
His secretary said that the perpetual strain on Lincoln’s nervous system began to show in his health and temperate.
He became ill, short-tempered, petulant (childish).
Over time, stress undermines our physical, mental health…no one is that resilient.
We can train for resiliency…but our best will, in the end, just be our best…it won’t prove to be enough when the suffering is just too great.
When you read of what happened to Job…it is only surprising that he did as well as he did…the stress of his trauma would have been enormous…life changing.
One trauma expert writes “Many trauma survivors believe the world is dangerous, unpredictable and not worth living in.”
This sounds like Job…he is struggling with his prior knowledge of God…and now, the world seems unsafe, unstable.
But God doesn’t blast Job for his stress response…he is reorientating him to reality…out of love for Job.
The world is not a random, unpredictable place…God says… “This is my world”
This may seem like an answer that just raises another question.
“Okay, I get it, you are in control…then why did you let all this happen?”
Again, Job didn’t get the answer to the why…he got a clearer picture of God.
This was enough for him to reorient…even though his suffering did not end…something significant changed in his heart.
“My ears had heard of you, now my eyes have seen you.”
Job’s story pre-figures the Lord Jesus…all of the Bible is the gospel narrative.
Job was blameless and upright in his relationship with God…Jesus even more so.
Job innocently suffered the wrath of God in order to further God’s purposes, Jesus did even more so. (Eric Ortlund)
Job, if given the chance might have opted out of the opportunity to be a blessing to the ages (we are reading his story thousands of years after his death).
But Jesus, refused to opt out of his opportunity to save the world…for the joy set before him, he endured the cross scorning its shame.
So, let’s go to another place in Scripture, another story of suffering and loss but one full of great hope.
John’s gospel, chapter 11.
Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is sick.
Word is sent to Jesus that his friend needed him.
“Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Jesus replies “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be gloried through it.”
*There is one of those Bible answers to suffering…his sickness would be for the glory of God.
Jesus loved these three siblings but he waited two days before heading their way.
Even if he had left immediately, on the two-day trip…Lazarus would have been dead for two days when he arrived…he would have gained nothing by departing right away.
But why wait, why not get there and save them two days of sorrow?
*Here’s one possibility…It was commonly believed at the time that the spirit of the departed hovers around the body for three days in the hope of resuscitation.
Waiting four days would have made it clear that this was a resurrection…and God was in it.
Jesus and his friends make the two-day journey and when they arrive, Lazarus has been in his tomb for four days.
Many people had come to comfort the sisters in their loss…there was a large audience for this important event.
Martha heard Jesus was close so she went out to meet him.
“Lord,” she said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said…spoke some of the most important words ever heard on the planet…“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in my will never die.” 11:15
These are words of a liar, or a lunatic…or the Lord of life and death itself…there is no fourth option.
He had them take him to Lazarus tomb…and when he saw the sisters weeping as well as other friends of the family in great sorrow…Jesus also wept.
No one knows why…some think it was sadness at their persistent unbelief…others that he was moved with compassion for the pain of his friends.
Either way, he was moved to tears because of his concern for his friends.
He went to the tomb of Lazarus, commanded him to come out…and Lazarus was resurrected from the dead
*Many, maybe most of you have enough confidence in Scripture to take this at face value.
But in case you struggle with thinking this to be a fabrication…please realize that this account was widely known and spread quickly, as you could imagine.
It was so powerful in its impact that it would lead to a plot to kill Jesus because the religious leaders thought he was threatening their power and security.
It would have been easy, at the time to disprove this had it not really happened…but the leaders knew they couldn’t…too many eye witnesses.
Lazarus was alive again…after being dead, in a tomb…four days.
If you keep reading, Job, after his statement of faith, you will see that his health and wealth were restored…but it would eventually be lost again…he died.
Lazarus was resurrected to life…but he eventually died again.
They both, like all the dead in Christ…are alive with Christ now…but waiting for the final resurrection.
It is one thing to talk of suffering in this setting.
it is quite another thing to actually suffer…isn’t it.
To feel alone in the dark night of the soul.
I could have given the information about what the Bible has to say 35 years ago…just like I gave it today…that information hasn’t changed.
I have changed, over those years… I’ve lost people dear to me.
I have sat with people in terrible suffering.
I’ve suffered some myself…there was a brief time when I was not afraid of death…I was more afraid of life as it was at the time.
There is a sense in which I can say “My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.”
Faith had come to my life through my hearing the word of the gospel, and believing it…that was when I was saved, born again…words Jesus used to describe new life in him.
But now, that faith that I experienced through hearing…has become a faith that is confirmed through seeing.
But none of that changes the fact that the prospect of suffering can be terrifying.
And I am aware, that there is suffering yet in front of me.
And the unknown nature of the future, and the prospects of suffering can take us in several directions…
-Denial (It won’t, can’t happen to me)
-Avoidance (I refuse to think about it)
-Stoicism (I will make myself not care…this does us less vulnerable to pain (I’ve tried it), but also makes impervious to life and love…bad trade)
Ps 90:12 “Teach us to number our days aright so we will gain a heart of wisdom”
But not just number our days in the sense of…my time is limited…I’m going to die.
That can make a person even more foolish… “I am going to die, so I am going to get mine, I’m going to live for me, for pleasure.”
Or “I’m going to die so nothing is worthwhile…it will all be lost anyway.”
To number our days rightly includes both the reality that life now is temporary, and the live come to is eternal.
I really want you to FEEL hopeful…but even more so I want you have a foundation for hope that will hold when feelings fail you.
Hope that will sustain you when all hope is lost…that sounds contradictory…but its not.
If all hope is lost, how can hope sustain us.
In Romans 6, Paul is writing of hope in Christ using Abraham as his example.
He writes “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”4:18
It is two different kinds of hopes.
“Against all hope” is there was no possible human way forward.
“In hope Abraham believed”…is his faith in God…his hope in God.
Here’s how I applied this message to my life this week: What if Satan said to God about me….
“Does Terry follow you for nothing? Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
Where is my hope? Is it in the things I want God to give me, or he has given me…or in God himself?
Do you have a real hope?
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he/she who believes in me will live even though he dies.”
It’s good and normal to hope…for marriage, children, success, health, happiness, impact, good relationships…so many good things…things God is often delighted to give us.
But these must stay OR become, second place to our foundational hope…Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope (gospel of Jesus) as an anchor for our souls.”
The gospel of Jesus, relationship with him by faith…this must be the anchor hope for our lives.