Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do You Need Knowledge Or Understanding In Your Suffering?

Recently, my new office buddy Carolyn recommended a book by Dale Ralph Davis on preaching from Old Testament narrative texts.  In the second chapter, he lists nine literary features, or "quirks" as he calls them, that the interpreter needs to be able to recognize in order to get a grasp on the point of a narrative.
  1. Reticence
  2. Eavesdropping
  3. Selectivity
  4. Sarcasm
  5. Imagination
  6. Surprise
  7. Emphasis (Repetition)
  8. Intensity
  9. Tension
In his discussion on "eavesdropping," he notes that often the biblical author will provide insight to the reader that the protagonist in the narrative does not know.  The reader, in essence, gets to know what is going on behind the scenes as we watch the protagonist try to figure things out on his own.   

One of the examples he provides to show this literary feature is in Job.  As many know, Job was put through a great trial and suffered greatly in the process.  And this trial was not because of blind fate, bad luck or even Satanic cause--it was God who providentially brought this trial on Job.  In Job 1.8, it is Yahweh who brings Job up to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job . . ."  Yahweh initiates but also limits the trial (see 1.12).  Prior to Job's trial and suffering, there is a meeting that takes place between God and Satan--a meeting that the reader knows about, but Job doesn't.  We are given insight into Job's situation that Job himself does not have, "[Job] goes through his whole struggle in the dark, knowing nothing of the accuser who ridicules his loyalty nor of the fact that Yahweh has steadfastly been for him," (p. 13).

This perspective made me think about Job's suffering in a new light.  Job does not know the details surrounding his trial and suffering--and this lack of knowledge is what clouds his faith.  He never loses faith--but he does lose his patience, even to the point of demanding that God answer him (Job 31.35).  And throughout, it is clear from Job's words that he is trying to recount his actions to find where he went astray--actions that would warrant such judgment from God.  And he cannot put his finger on it.  He just doesn't know why.

And this is telling for us.  When we find ourselves in trial and affliction, it is quite easy for us to grow impatient in the trial--especially with God himself.  And this is quite natural--for trial and affliction are not easy or fun.  They are difficult and they can cloud our spiritual vision so that we look with our physical eyes rather than our eyes of faith.  And when we do this, we set ourselves up for further suffering--for our physical eyes only see what seems to be causing the pain.  We look to know the details of why we are suffering by looking only at the realities of this world.

During these seasons of trial, we don't need knowledge--we need understanding.  We need to look with the eyes of faith at the other worldly realities that are going on behind the scenes.  Job could not see them--but God shows them to us.  And he does so because these same other worldly realities are still at work.  We get to peer behind the scenes with Job so that we come to understand what is going on behind the scenes in our own suffering. 

And the reality is this:  God is providentially testing his people, this testing takes place in the midst of spiritual warfare wrestling not "against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," (Eph 6.12).  And this is not to harm us but to strengthen us, to help us peer behind the veil of our own trials with eyes of spiritual understanding.  We don't need specific details, we need spiritual understanding that comes from peace with God, knowing that trials and suffering bring us to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and that we may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3.10-11).

The peace of God we need comes to us in the gospel.  That silly message that tells us that in Christ, life is found through death, that exaltation comes through humiliation, that peace in suffering is found not in knowledge but in understanding--gospel understanding.

Are you feeling wearied in your trials and suffering?  Do you find yourself becoming impatient with God and demanding him to answer you?  Then step back, think through the gospel afresh.  God has provided everything you need for this affliction, so stop frustrating yourself by looking for what he has not told you and trust the behind-the-scenes-insight he has shown you.  Find yourself in your afflicted state united to Christ with whom you suffer, be comforted in his resurrection that is yours by faith, and then rejoice in the Lord who is at hand so that you may not "be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 4.6-7).  There is no answer, there is no help, there is no comfort, there is no hope apart from your life being hidden in Christ.

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