How can I believe God is in control of my life when I am experiencing such pain?
The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that it is common to the human condition that we go through times in our life when we experience sorrow as well as joy. There is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’, Eccles. 3. 4. Certain believers, however, pass through extraordinary times of adversity. They can experience pain, pressure, or loss, often lasting years, and, like the Apostle Paul, seem to be ‘appointed’ to suffer, Acts 9. 16. Sometimes events during these dark periods in our life make no sense at all to us and we call into question whether God is really in control of our circumstances. Such doubts can make genuine believers feel even worse about themselves and can lead them into depression and bitterness.
If these words resonate with you then let me assure you that you are in distinguished company. Other notable individuals expressing similar doubts include Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19. 4; Asaph, Ps. 73. 13-17; David, Ps. 142. 1-4; the disciples, Mark 4. 38; and Martha and Mary, John 11. 21, 32, to name a few. The problem of human suffering is one of the most profound questions of all. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Bible dedicates a whole book to this subject, the book of Job, perhaps the oldest book in the canon of scripture. Let us draw a few helpful lessons from this book.
The first lesson from Job is the danger of rationalizing the situation. When Job’s three friends saw the tragedies he had experienced, ‘they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great’, Job 2. 13. Remaining quiet and sitting with their friend Job was possibly the best course of action they could have taken. From that point onwards when they, along with Job, tried to make sense and vocalize what had happened, all they managed to do was darken ‘counsel by words without knowledge’, Job 38. 2. In times of adversity, we should rest rather than rationalize, being confident in the knowledge that God knows best.
A second lesson highlighted by this book is the problem of having a limited and localized view of events. When Job and his friends had said all they had wanted to say, God finally spoke in chapters 38 to 41, bringing their human wisdom to nothing. In these ancient days, before the revelation of the scriptures had been formally provided to humanity, God reminds Job and his friends of the immense global scale of events He deals with in creation. God assures Job of His immense power and intricate knowledge through the way in which He has designed and brought into existence the created world and in His day-to-day administration of the vast complex and interconnected universe in which we live. We need to remember God sees the bigger picture. He has eternity in view as well as time.
Another lesson from the book of Job, and one that is easy to miss, is the importance of not comparing ourselves with others. God uses the example of the animals. By God’s design each one is different. Also, by God’s sovereignty, each is allocated to live in its own particular habitat. Certain animals are appointed by God to survive in the harshest of environments. The wild goat survives on rock ledges, facing danger every day, Job 39. 1-4. The wild ass (or onager) roams the desert with frugal resources to survive on, vv. 5-8. Yet God not only appoints but keeps and preserves these animals in the cruellest of conditions. God had done the same for Job. He was surviving by ‘the skin of my teeth’, 19. 20. Yet his faith had come through and was proved to be vital and real. ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’, Job says in chapter 13 verse 15. Like these animals, God can preserve and keep us in the challenging circumstances we face. He uses trials to prove that our faith is real, 1 Pet. 1. 6, 7, as we draw more on the infinite resource of His strength, ‘which is made perfect in weakness’, 2 Cor. 12. 9.
Let us conclude by reminding ourselves that suffering is not something God is isolated from or immune to. Personal suffering is something that is central to the story of redemption as we contemplate the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. It is also a reason why the Lord Jesus is so effective in helping us through our trials on an emotional level. He has been here before and suffered many of the things we experience – ‘For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour [help or aid] them that are tempted’, Heb. 2. 18.