Job's Comforters on the Mountaintop
By Patricia Backora, author of the book
Tough Love in Christ's Millennium
Which you can order online from: http://www.publishamerica.com
When life hits rock bottom, who does a wounded Christian turn to? If he is fortunate he will find a caring counselor with a listening ear and a mouth which is slow to criticize. It has often been said: God's army is the only one which kills off its own wounded. Someone full of religious rhetoric but short on empathy will sit pretty on his serene mountaintop and look down judgmentally at the saint under fire by the devil. He (or she) will pick at the poor Christian for being unable to endure the trial with great joy.
You who have been through this, believe me, I've been there too. Many years ago, I was minding my own business one afternoon when two supersaints from the church knocked on my door. At least it wasn't our "Christian" landlord coming for more money. I was surprised to see those two ladies, since they'd never bothered to call on me before. One of them happened to be the church busybody. They couldn't have picked a worse time to come by. Bad weather had interfered with my husband's outdoor work, and he hadn't gotten paid yet. That day I didn't have any refreshments in the kitchen to share with them, just a box of baking soda, as I recall. But they made a real meal out of me, and it was well worth their while to come over. To the delight of "Susie Q", they got me to admit that I felt bad about how some brother in the church had defrauded my husband of badly needed wages and never reconciled with us afterward. While this brother lived on easy street, we were living from hand to mouth. That man's wife had been one of my best friends before she married him, and she had little contact with me afterward. Well, Susie Q. said piously: "I'm really surprised at you. I looked up to you."
As they darted out the door with their juicy tidbit, the other lady said: "I'm going to fast and pray about this." Well, at least those two had a choice about their abstinence, and whenever they decided to end their self-righteous fast, they could go out to Burger King and stuff themselves. I didn't have that option. I was hungry and expecting a child. Those two supersaints were long on armchair religious rhetoric and short on the practical kind of love Christ has called us to. I hadn't asked them to come and meddle. They'd only made my trial worse by coming by to minister condemnation.
How easy, to exhort someone else to cheerful patience and endurance when your own existence is a rose garden without thorns. You will never, ever, hear me thank God for the works of the devil in my own life, and especially not in someone else's life! Am I going to thank God that my brother suffered from such a bad eating disorder that his weakened body finally succumbed to the cancer that killed him? Should I thank God for the agonizing way my dignified dad died, fed by a stomach tube and partially paralyzed by a stroke? Should I thank God for the worries my poor mother suffered over Dad's hospital care, and the fact she was too poor to pay for it? I won't insult the Lord by sanctifying the works of the devil with a prayer of thanks. Instead, I would offer up a prayer for deliverance and thank God that He is able to undertake for me to set me free from satanís oppression.
It seems like the doctrinal pendulum has swung from one extreme to another: from saying that Godís children should NEVER have to suffer to the other: implying that the Lord cannot be pleased with His children unless they are in a state of suffering, as penalty for their descent from Adam. If there is still a penalty to pay for that fact, then the redemption of Christ is yet incomplete, and how can anyone explain that mortal Millennial saints will get to live for 1,000 years free of devastating trials? (Isaiah 65: 17-25). That passage speaks of a future generation of mortals, who will engage in agriculture and bear children. It cannot be speaking of the immortal state of blessedness, because only mortals can give birth to children. The Millennium will be a time of near-paradise conditions on earth, not a fiery furnace where people must take abuse from the devil. If God must punish us with tragedy for being descended from Adam, to be fair, He would also have to punish those other mortal people in the same way. We suffer today because satan has not yet been confined to his holding tank to await his future execution. He will be confined throughout the Millennium (Rev.20:1-3).
Speaking of paradise, I can thank God my brother repented and is in heaven now. But if I were misguided enough to thank God for the horrific pain my poor brother went through, you could surely question whether I even loved my own brother. Would I have wanted something for him that I wouldn't wish for any animal to suffer?
Am I going to thank God that my husband has suffered continual severe pain from a construction accident he had back in 1984? NO! But I can thank God for the wonderful way He spared Tom's life recently and the progress he has made in being able to walk with a cane and getting around every day. And before anybody tells me Tom's pain is a gift from God to rejoice over and be thankful for, be mighty careful! Would you yourself be prepared to go through 24/7 pain I can't even begin to imagine? Those who boldly brag: "Whatever God sends I'll cheerfully sail through with flying colors", those are the ones who are opening themselves up to the possiblility of getting a pop quiz in Patient Endurance 101.
Some theologians focus only on the fact that God is able to salvage good out of bad things. But while some suffering is unavoidable, other suffering people can bring on themselves through disobedience, making bad decisions, etc. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ended up having her husband killed so he could take Bathsheba into his harem. David suffered terrible consequences for his sin, including the death of the baby born of his illicit affair. God did bring good out of that terrible thing in the form of godly descendants which sprang from David and Bathsheba. Thanks could be given to God for the likes of King Hezekiah, King Jehoshaphat, and King Josiah, who while they might not have been perfect men, served Israel as godly kings. Jesus could trace his own ancestry back to David and Bathsheba through their son Nathan (I Chron.3:5; Luke 3:31).
Yet it surely wasn't God's perfect plan for David to commit adultery, even if good was salvaged out of the situation. That sin almost cost David his soul. It did not bring glory to God, and it created opportunity for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (II Sam.12:14). Thanks could not be given for the sin itself. David could have gone to hell for committing it. Not only did David's infant son die, but many of his other family members suffered ripple effects of divine retribution for his sin.
Job is cited in the Book of James as an example of patient endurance. Endurance is the key word. Job accepted having to go through the trial as the will of God, but while Job endured the trial, he did not ENJOY the trial, which is what some believers think God requires of us. Throughout the Book of Job, Job laments over the injustice of his sufferings while his know-it-all "friends" castigate him for complaining, because surely he must have done something bad to deserve his misery. In Job Chapter 3 Job curses the day he was born, and wishes he hadn't even been born. Yet James still cites Job as an example of patient endurance. Why? Not because Job gave God rapturous thanks for His traumatic trials, but because Job did not lose his faith in God.
There were other saints who did not break forth into heavenly jubilation when they were severely tried. Elijah got so depressed by Jezebel's persecution he wished himself dead (I Kings 19:4-7). But did God rebuke Elijah for not having a better attitude toward his trial? No. God sent an angel to minister to Elijah's physical need of food, to strengthen him so he could go on. Far from rejecting Elijah, God rewarded him with a privilege only one other mortal man is recorded to have received: Elijah was taken up into a whirlwind to heaven without first dying (II Kings 2:11).
The prophet Jonah did not even thank God for what he should have seen as a miraculous blessing: the repentance of an entire city after a campaign of half-hearted preaching Jonah did out of duty, not love. Jonah, like Elijah, said it would be better for him to die than to live (Jonah 4:1-3). Jonah's lack of love for the Ninevites was appalling, but God did not chuck Jonah out because of his faults and failings as a man. The Ninevites and other Assyrians were a military threat to Israel, and Jonah felt uneasy about God sparing that nation. But God gently reasoned with Jonah and provided shelter to protect him from the heat. God understands that we are but dust (Psalms 103:13-14).
Even if some preacher wears a string of degrees around his neck and wears an ecclesiastical miter as tall as the Empire State Building, don't let him sit in judgment on you before he has first gone through what you've suffered. If you still have nightmares from your school days when you were being bullied on the school bus year in and year out, don't let that spiritual butcher make you feel bad just because you can't give God thanks for the monstrous abuse you endured on that bus. It wasn't that preacher's pain, it was YOUR pain!
Perhaps there are those who find it a challenge to give God thanks for a financial setback which was caused by catastrophic illness in the family. And that awful trial struck in spite of the fact the saint gave generously to bless others and worked hard to prosper in business. Perhaps that trial led to homelessness for the saint, so that his family had to stay with relatives for awhile. What if, because of their unearned setbacks, they were perceived as losers who couldnít make their way in this ruthless world? Trials are like rabbits. Give 'em a chance and they'll multiply like the ripples on the surface of a pond multiply after a single stone is thrown in.
If you admit to some religious expert that you're still living with the bad effects of past trials, both circumstantially and emotionally, watch out! Darts of condemnation are apt to fly your way. If you can't be glad about being mired down in permanent trial, you just might be accused of being too self-centered to give God glory for your suffering. And such blame is apt to proceed from the mouth of someone sailing a smooth sea.
To rebuke someone for admitting that their trials hurt and they don't enjoy them is as stupid and callous as upbraiding a man because his leg hurts all the time. Pain in the soul is every bit as real as pain in the body. Which lives forever, the immortal soul or the perishable body? It's safe to say that the religious expert who exhorts saints to rejoice when they suffer undeserved financial ruin has no first-hand experience of what they are going through, and has got a tidy nest egg stored away for himself somewhere. He rests in the certainty that his own never-ending rainy day shall never trouble the blissful blue of his sky.
As to this business of rebuking others who donít thank God for it every time satan attacks them, consider the following verses:
2 PETER 1:3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
ROMANS 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
Which ďall thingsĒ does God freely give us? Does He give us a rattlesnake and tell us to kiss it? If that Scripture is trying to comfort a Christian by promising that God will freely give him cancer, how can that reassure a believer? Nonsense! Peter said that God has given unto us ALL THINGS THAT PERTAIN TO LIFE AND GODLINESS. If it does not pertain to life and godliness, God did not give it to you. Satan did!
How could you possibly have a thankful attitude for EVERYTHING in existence? How could any sane individual give God thanks for the Holocaust? If such unthinkable words were ever expressed, they could never have come through Jewish lips.
The word "compassion" comes from Latin words which literally mean to "suffer with". Romans 12:15 exhorts believers to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. It doesn't say to rebuke those who weep from the pain of their tribulations. How can a PHD Pharisee who has known only sweet acceptance understand a teenager or adult who has been subjected to protracted periods of bullying or other rejection? How can someone who has known only prosperity and health understand someone who must cope with illness or disability in the family?
God gave us taste buds for a reason, not just so we could discern cordon bleu from MacDonald's. When we taste something foul or bitter, we have reason to suspect that it is poison. Would God not give us at least as much discernment in the spiritual realm as He does in the physical? If satan is trying to destroy me in any way, the experience will have a bitter taste about it, and I have just as much right to spit his food out as I would to spit out sour milk I didn't want to digest. God no more condemns us for spitting out satan's religious lies than he would if we refused to drink the spoiled milk. God's people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). We must know our rights as sons and daughters of God, and one of those rights is to not be beneath the heel of the enemy (Rom.16:20).
Is it a sin to cry instead of rejoice? The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: Jesus wept. Two short words, but they speak volumes about Jesus' humanity. Jesus knew more of the principles and ways of God than anybody else ever has, and yet He did not go up to the mourners at Lazarus' funeral and chastise them for crying instead of rejoicing and giving thanks. Jesus did not give God thanks for the suffering that Lazarus did, or the suffering Mary and Martha did. But He did give thanks and glory to His Father for the miracle everyone was about to witness (John 11:41-44). And Lazarus rose from the grave, not because Jesus was too spiritual to cry, but because Jesus exercised authority over the dominions of darkness which had put Lazarus into the grave in the first place.
Many of King David's Psalms were composed out of a heart of grief and sadness, as he was hounded by his enemies for many long years. Isaiah the prophet mourned like a dove as he pleaded for God to intervene in his situation (Isaiah 38:14). Many first-century Christians were in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials):II Peter 1:6. Peter was wise enough not to upbraid them for this, even if he does say trials have a purpose for growing faith (verse 7.
It is in such a stressful time that we should stop and ask ourselves: Is the Lord in this, or is the devil trying to get me to swallow a gall cocktail he concocted himself? Jesus Himself drank to the dregs a bitter cup of suffering so we could be saved (Matt. 26:39,42). He had been protected from earlier attempts to kill Him, such as when the townspeople of Nazareth tried to hurl Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). On those occasions He was spared the bitter cup of death, though it eventually came to Him. Many times God's well-meaning people stop resisting satan because they think it is selfish to want to be free of his oppressions. They say all their suffering is from God and they must submit to it. Some say: "Slaves have no rights." True. But Galatians 4:7 says we are no more servants (in the sense of an abject slave), but sons. We serve and endure what God appoints out of love, not fear. But if satan is hindering your life and outright destroying you, you have a right to use the weapons of the Spirit to stand up to him (Ephesians 6:10-18).
One time Jesus was asked a trick question: Is it lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar, or not? (Luke 20:22-26). Jesus asked someone for a penny and asked them: Whose image is inscribed upon his coin?
And they said: Caesar's.
Jesus' classical response: Render therfore unto Caesar whatever is Caesar's and unto God whatever is God's.
Must we go on serving as doormats for satan's feet instead of resisting him? God uses trials to train His children, but if your trial is literally destroying your peace of mind, ripping your family apart, making you homeless or sending you to an early grave, check to see if it has the signature of satan upon it. His signature is, essentially: Steal, Kill, and Destroy (John 8:38). Then, if you insist on thanking anyone for your own destruction, render it unto whom it is due, not unto your Loving Heavenly Father, Who sent His only begotten Son to give us life, and life more abundantly.