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When There's No Silver Lining — John H. Walton on the Book of Job [Excerpt]

Categories Old Testament Book Excerpts

Here's a slice of John H. Walton's NIV Application Commentary: Job.

Sometimes there is no visible silver lining, no redeeming value in sight. Sometimes those who endure difficulty feel that nothing is left but an empty shell. Some people never recover physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is not guaranteed that we will emerge on the other side of pain strengthened by the experience. It would be naive to suggest that suffering universally results in growth. S. Cairns suggests a more nuanced perspective as he elaborates on Simone Weil’s observation that “affliction compels us to recognize as real what we do not think possible.” He observes:

The occasions of our suffering are capable of revealing what our habitual illusions often obscure, keeping us from knowing. Our afflictions drag us — more or less kicking — into a fresh and vivid awareness that we are not in control of our circumstances, that we are not quite whole, that our days are salted with affliction [Cairns, The End of Suffering].

I dare to suggest, however, that when we undergo trials, the biblical way to pray is for strength to carry on and acquit ourselves well. We should seek to honor God when life is at its lowest. We should strive to trust him even when hope is gone...

The Real Meaning of Endurance

Philip Yancey tells of a young woman dying a painful death from cystic fibrosis. She felt encouraged by William Barclay’s statement that “endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory” [Yancey, Disappointment with God]. In the case he recounts, as with many others, there was no opportunity for the young woman’s afflictions to make her faith stronger and to bring greater maturity. Death was howling at the door. She was joined in her suffering by friends and family. For some their own faith was undoubtedly bolstered by the courageous faith of this woman dying in pain; others, just as assuredly, had their faith shaken. None, however, would miss the evidence of the frail world in which we live...

When God, in his wisdom decided to use a long process to bring order to the cosmos and to humanity and thereby chose to have a world with continuing disorder and resultant suffering, he also chose the world in which Jesus would have to suffer and die. His wisdom might seem foolishness to some (1 Cor. 1:18 – 21), but it includes suffering in a disordered world moving toward order...

What God Asks Of Us

All of this is inadequate and unsatisfying when we or our loved ones suffer, or when we are crushed by the suffering we see all around us. It is not meant to be satisfying but to drive us to faith. No explanation can suffice to alleviate our suffering, and no strategy can avoid or eliminate suffering, but, as Bonhoeffer observes, life with all its struggles, trials, and hardships is what develops us into people of faith:

I thought I could acquire faith by endeavoring to lead what might be termed a holy life. . . . Later I discovered, and am still discovering to this day, that one can acquire faith only by leading an entirely worldly [as opposed to other-worldly] life [...] And by worldliness I mean living amid the [world’s] abundance of duties and problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities — if we do that, we cast ourselves completely into the arms of God; we take seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in this world; and we share Christ’s vigil in Gethsemane. That, I believe, is faith, is metanoia, and that is how one becomes a human being and a Christian. . . . I’m thankful to have recognized this, and I know that I could only have done so on the road I have traveled. That is why I reflect with gratitude and serenity on things past and present [Bonhoeffer, Love Letters from Cell 92].

Bonhoeffer shows us that beyond faith and trust, what God asks of us is humility: humility about our ability to discern how the cosmos works, and humility about our ability to fully comprehend God and his ways...

A Benediction

The fitting benediction comes from Romans 11:33 – 36 (with my italics for emphasis):

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

This article is adapted from John H. Walton's book NIV Application Commentary: Job. Image: Job Rebuked by His Friends, by William Blake.

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