Heroes without Capes - #Suffering

We all have heroes, don’t we? From comic books to cartoons to the wave of movies that continue to bring in millions of dollars at the box office, the desire to have people who can go above and beyond to defeat enemies and rescue us from danger is a common theme.

Now, all heroes may not wear capes, do they? I would guess that you have some heroes in your life. If you think about your family, you may have someone who, even if they couldn’t fly, seemed to be able to do incredible things. They knew you and were always there to do or say the right thing.

Or maybe it was a friend. Someone who was always there for you. Someone who did those extra things that were always able to give you a smile or lift of encouragement. Someone who was a calming presence no matter what chaos was around.

Or maybe you have someone that you have never met. It might be an athlete or businessperson or maybe even just someone you read about. Their life has impressed you and you want to do things or be like them in some way.

The more I study the book of Job, the more I’d like to meet him. While he is not perfect, he is certainly impressive. And as I hear his story and reflect on his response, I’m encouraged. Day after day as he went through this terrible struggle, he responded in faith. When his wife told him to curse God and die, Job trusted. And – before you judge his wife – remember that all of these things were happening to her too. She also lost 7 sons and 3 daughters – I can’t imagine.

But Job also had to stand up and be faithful as these three friends came to him to offer comfort and sympathy. We don’t know a lot of details about the lives of these three men, but those verses in chapter two tell us that they came together in agreement. Word was getting around. When they heard what was happening, somehow they communicated with one another. Then they joined together to travel and offer words of comfort and blessing to their friend. Seven days and nights, they wept and grieved with Job. And then – and remember this – Job spoke first. In the depths of his grief, pain, and sorrow, he began to speak and then they responded.

Each one speaks more than once. Eliphaz and Bildad have three speeches recorded. Zophar has only two. If I am honest with myself, I can see a bit of myself in each person. If I am sitting down with someone – or if I am reflecting on what is going on in my own life – I want to see what I or that other person did wrong. Why is this happening? Is the suffering a ramification of some sin? Or is God trying to teach me or them something? Is God trying to use whatever is happening to draw me or that person closer to him or her?

Remember: I am not God. You are not either. Therefore, neither you nor I know all of the answers. All I can do is speak to what the Word says and how the Holy Spirit is drawing me to understand Him better.

Here is an honest truth. I do believe that God uses circumstances in our lives to bring us closer to Him. It’s hard to imagine, but I know that in many of my own struggles, I’ve found no other choice but to seek God. From the depths of pain, I can only look up and trust. Even if no answer is ever clear, I know that He is sovereign.

Here comes the “but”…

As much as I wish it didn’t happen, if I am being honest, I must confess that I find myself at times reverting to Zophar’s response.

To put it simply, his response is: Stop sinning and do something.

Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.  Job 11: 13-17

To paraphrase: Hey Job, your heart isn’t right. Put away your sin. Be perfect. Lift up your face to God and all will be well. Life will be brighter than the noonday sun.

Doesn’t that sound great?

But let me put a slightly different spin on it. Should we think of it this way? I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the idea of service – and not in a good way. What do I mean?

Make a bargain with God. Get better so that things will go better. Make a deal with God so that things will work out. God, if you will fix this, then I will do that. If you will heal me or heal this other person, then I will do that. If you will make this situation or that situation work out, then I will do this for the rest of my life.

I was speaking with my dad one day and I don’t know how we got on this subject, but we were discussing faith and he brought up a time when he was in the service. He spent almost 20 years in the Air Force and flew in planes in Vietnam. He wasn’t the pilot, but they would take planes and swoop down over enemy lines and take pictures. As you can imagine, they were shot at – a LOT.

On one flight, they were shot down. As he was calling in for a rescue, with lots of enemies all around, he began to make promises to God. “God, if you get me out of this, I will…” Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

Are any of us not guilty of doing the same thing?

Now, it may not have been during these exact circumstances, but haven’t we all made a promise or tried to bargain with God in some way?

I don’t want to be too hard on anyone this morning, so I’ll just continue to pick on myself. When my parents first separated, I wondered what I could do to fix it. When I began living in Central America and things weren’t going as I thought they should, I wondered what I could do to make it right. When people around me have gotten sick or in trouble or struggled, I came back to asking God for bargains. I may not have always called them that, but I confess that I put them out there.

There are two simple problems with that approach. First, if things do go better, we conveniently forget our promises. Second, if things do NOT get better, we can blame God for not doing what we wanted. Regardless of whether or not God might be a little smarter than we are (He is); regardless of whether or not God chose to work in a supernatural way; regardless of anything and everything, we forget those simple words that were included in the way Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done”. We continuously want it to be “my will be done”.

Here’s a simple reality. Job had done nothing wrong to cause the present situation. His three friends, who went there to provide sympathy & comfort, didn’t provide those things. They began to try to fix Job’s problems. They began to act in God’s role.

And it’s incredible to read through Zophar’s second speech. He has no sympathy for Job and puts him in with those he calls the “wicked and the godless”.

Though he flees from an iron weapon, a bronze-tipped arrow pierces him. He pulls it out of his back, the gleaming point out of his liver. Terrors will come over him; total darkness lies in wait for his treasures. A fire unfanned will consume him and devour what is left in his tent. The heavens will expose his guilt; the earth will rise up against him. A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God's wrath. Such is the fate God allots the wicked, the heritage appointed for them by God. Job 20: 24-29

I don’t know about you, but if these were my comforters, I would go back inside my house. I’d go into our closet and close the door. I’d curl up into a ball in the darkness and I wouldn’t come out.

Let me share a few closing thoughts with you that I think are a much better option. I think there are some ways that we can actually provide service in the midst of suffering so that Christ is truly revealed through it.

And it is important to make that connection to suffering. In Isaiah 53, we read of Jesus being the “Suffering Servant”.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:4-7

First of all, if you are going through suffering, please serve by enduring it.

What does that mean?

If you endure something, that means you push forward through it. I am NOT telling you it will be easy. I’m not telling you that you have to be silent and can’t share with others. I’m not telling you it will be quick. I’m simply telling you to find a way to trust God. Find a way to dive deeper into His Word and connection with Him so that you can enjoy the great blessing of love and fellowship with Him. The more we can reflect a Christ-like attitude, the more others can be drawn to Him through us.

Jesus endured pain we can’t imagine and He did it out of love. He did it so that we could be restored in our relationship with the Father. Sin was conquered and, when we receive Him as our Savior, our eternity is secured.

Second, if you have an Eliphaz, or a Bildad, or a Zophar around, please serve by ejecting from them.

What does that mean?

My dad has ejected from three planes. Two were in combat and one was flying over a field. That third time, he was in a plane and suddenly it started shaking – very violently. He called out to the pilot and there was no response. He followed the procedures you were supposed to follow, but as the plane continued to shake and the pilot didn’t respond, he did the final step – he ejected. He got out of the plane and away from the problem.

If you have an Eliphaz, or a Bildad, or a Zophar, then eject. That does NOT mean you have to go away from that person, but stop listening to things that are going to pull you down rather than build you up. When Simon Peter told Jesus that He would not suffer and die, how did Jesus reply? “Get thee behind me, satan!” Jesus then told all the disciples that they would have to take up their crosses DAILY. Let me put this simply. Smile back. Love them back. But don’t get sucked into the muck and the mire. Life is too short. Don’t accept more pain.

And lastly, if you know someone going through suffering, do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT be an Eliphaz, or a Bildad, or a Zophar. You can sit with them. You can cry with them. You can love them. But please serve by easing up.

We all will experience some form of pain or struggle in life. This is a fallen world. We sin and people around us sin. Things happen as a result. As things happen to you or to others, try to be a blessing. Try to find a way to reflect grace rather than gloom.

Yes, there are times we need to speak the truth in love. I’ve had to do it with people that legitimately were going through things that were the result of their own making. And while I ABSOLUTELY know that I did not do it perfectly, I pray that I am doing a better and better job of it every day.

And I also want YOU to know that I see so many of you doing this as well. Honestly, many of you do a much better job of it than I will ever do. Many of you are the “super heroes” I see in life. I know many of you are enduring stuff that I don’t think I could. You are being the light and love of Christ to others.

Continue to press forward in faith. Strive to have more of Christ reflected through you every day. Whether it is a person on the street or a person you meet from across the globe, may we be messengers of grace and truth.