Purposeful Suffering

In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis points out:  “… the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator.” In Job Chapter 3, this act of surrender is part of Job’s challenge. I think it’s safe to say Job was no different than me (or you?) in that he didn’t particularly enjoy suffering. However, because we’re the creatures, surrendering ourselves to the Creator’s intent may be a proper good, the right thing to do, the means through which creative objects derive their meaning … but this surrender isn’t always an easy thing for us!

FROM:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake
FROM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake

There’s an interesting dynamic in the Book of Job. Reading the text today provides us with the exact situation … the back-story (if you will) to which Job himself wasn’t privy. We know from Chapters 1 and 2 that Job’s suffering transpires because of a heavenly conversation between Almighty God and Satan. Satan has requested permission from God to torment and cruelly sift Job in order to demonstrate that Job’s faith is worthless under heavy pressure. Satan thinks he can prove Job’s a man of fair-weather faith.

Job doesn’t know any of this. All he knows is his life has suddenly gone terribly wrong. He’s suffered huge material losses, the annihilation of his family and finally, the destruction of his physical health. Summing up his life, all Job really knows is:  Life sucks!

The drama going on behind the scenes is a gift from God for His creatures. Allowing us this glimpse inside the heavenly throne room, we’re able to understand (though imperfectly) the place of suffering from the divine perspective. Satan – literally the Adversary – opposes God, His plan and His purposes. His antagonism toward God translated into antagonism for Job, God’s creation. Satan’s the one saying, Make Job suffer! I will bury him! As Joni Eareckson Tada puts it: “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” (If you’ve never heard of Joni, she knows firsthand about suffering.)

Tbook-f-job-posterhe news has provided recent examples of suffering. There are three young women who share similar medical histories. Each of them received the diagnosis of cancer, two of them have stage 4 glioblastoma. (This is the kind of cancer that caused my daddy’s death, previous post here.)

Twenty-nine year old Brittany Maynard’s story has received perhaps the most press. On November 1st, she personally administered a lethal cocktail to bring about her death because she believed the symptoms of her disease were progressing to the point her last days would be marked by terrible pain and suffering.

Another young woman, Heather Knies was diagnosed with glio at the age of twenty-four. That was in 2005. Almost a decade since her diagnosis, Knies is cancer-free today and enjoying life with her young family. (She does have quarterly medical tests to stay ahead of any possible recurrence.)

A third woman, mother of four Kara Tippetts from Colorado, maintains a blog where she writes about the intersection of cancer and her life. Her story is a bit different in that her initial cancer diagnosis was breast cancer (at the age of 36). In the two years since, the cancer has metastasized throughout Tippetts’ body. From a strictly human perspective, her prognosis isn’t hopeful. Her book, The Hardest Peace, offers an unvarnished look at life and the faith required to achieve the proper good.

Three women, and at this point, three apparently different outcomes. All of them, like Job, experiencing adversity; all three, like Job, hope to have understanding and find dignity in the suffering that has placed them at death’s door.

Let’s look at Job specifically. He’s suffering. He knows it. His friends (and community) know it. My sonnet (below) relates some of Job’s angst. (I actually included the latter part of Chapter 2 in the first quatrain.) When Job finally bursts forth in lament, he doesn’t hold back. The end of Chapter 2 explains, his pain “was very great.” I’m pretty sure even this description doesn’t begin to help us understand the full weight of Job’s suffering.

Job, Chapter 3, sonnet, suffering, poem, poetry
Job Chapter 3

Thinking about Job’s suffering this past week, I considered my own response. When something goes wrong in my life, I usually try to figure out why. What is the cause of my suffering? If I can understand that element, I’m better able to keep a positive perspective.

But sometimes, there’s no explanation for the pain and suffering … at least in the here and now. Job was at the point in his suffering where all he wanted to do was die and die quickly. If he had, there’d have been no Book of Job, no glimpse into the Heavenly realm, no way in which to understand suffering as anything more than a cosmic atrocity. In his suffering, Job relied on God’s goodness … and so should we. It is the proper good.

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