Breeding Familiarity: The Righteous Suffer

Suffering is too important, pivotal, and central to Christianity that when we think wrongly about it there's a lot at stake.

Whenever we begin to think of suffering in terms of what is or is not deserved, or are directed by some form of karma, or declare that what one reaps he has sown, or say that what goes around comes around, this logic begins to niggle its way into our hearts – the unrighteous suffer and the righteous prosper. The theme of Job stands to remind us that the righteous suffer too!

 

Since becoming a pastor I’ve been persuaded that one of the greatest burdens of the ministry is to preach, pray, and shepherd in a way that prepares others to suffer. Even in the small congregation I’m privileged to call my family, I’m continually astonished at how much God’s people suffer – losses, depression, pain in body and soul, loneliness, and brokenness. Next to being grounded in an understanding of the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation and the unique role and ministry of the church, how to glorify God in suffering tops my pastoral priority list. It’s for that reason that I began several months ago to preach through the book of Job.

Job is a difficult book. If I can admit it I’ve regretted my decision to preach it almost every Monday morning. There are many riddles and complexities that seem, in my mind, to mirror the complexities and riddles of suffering itself. But one of the most challenging aspects of preaching through Job is the repetitive content of Job’s three friends. Maybe a brilliant someone has discovered something more but it seems to me that eight times Job’s friends in slightly different ways say the same thing to their friend: the unrighteous suffer so you must be unrighteous. While many of their pithy lines and maxims have an echo of the truth they are very wrong to apply that truth to Job. He isn’t suffering because he is unrighteous; rather, he is suffering because he is righteous.

The logic of Job’s friends, however, is a logic deeply imbedded in the human heart. Like them, we are prone to think wrongly about suffering. Remember, the Psalmist was puzzled about the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:3), and Jesus himself was challenged over who sinned that a man was born blind (John 9:2). Whenever we begin to think of suffering in terms of what is or is not deserved, or are directed by some form of karma, or declare that what one reaps he has sown, or say that what goes around comes around, this logic begins to niggle its way into our hearts – the unrighteous suffer and the righteous prosper. The theme of Job stands to remind us that the righteous suffer too!

But the unique thing about Job is that this message is repeated. Quite literally it is repeated again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Why? Well, I remember in elementary school I had a teacher who always made us repeat her instructions three times. She did it because she had realistic expectations – we weren’t going to understand, remember, and do unless the point was driven in again and again.

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