“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place…. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13, ESV).
The past few weeks have been, it seems, a series of personal tragedies among some of my friends and colleagues. Terminal illness and death of young people runs counter-intuitive to our existence in this world. It’s just not how life is meant to be.
And, in the midst of great tragedy we are left wondering–why did this happen?
Then, we wonder what to say to our friends who are grieving and struggling with overwhelming loss. How can we explain “Why”?
For those who read and study the Bible, the Book of Job in the Old Testament is often the Bible story we fall back on for comfort and understanding in confronting adversity and tragedy. After all, Job’s ten children and who knows how many grandchildren died when a tornado caused the house where they were all eating together to fall in on them.
Besides his children Job lost all of his considerable wealth and his health and then even Job’s wife scorned him in his affliction.
And, all this happened as a result of some seemingly diabolical wager that Satan made with God.
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10, ESV).
Paradox is used to reframe a reality that is outside of normal perceptions. When used in the Bible, paradox helps us perceive an alternative universe–the Kingdom of God–where God rules and reigns.
The normal Christian life is a great paradox. It’s life, but it’s death. It’s sorrow, yet joyful. It’s deficiency and sufficiency.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).
The “treasure in jars of clay” verse (2 Corinthians 4:7) is probably in the top three of my favorite Bible verses!
The treasure spoken of refers to “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (vs 6). And God gives this knowledge of Himself–this treasure, revealed in Christ Jesus, to human beings to do with as they please–accept it or reject it.
In these verses the Apostle Paul describes what life is like for those who possess this treasure. He describes what we might call The Normal Christian life–affliction, bewilderment, persecution, adversity AND eternal life.
“I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, NEB).
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was once asked by a reporter what he thought about an opponent who had a clever plan for defensing his left hook. Tyson responded, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Sometimes Christians, especially affluent Christians, forget that bad things in life can happen to them. When everything seems to be going so good, we somehow get to thinking that we are fortunate because we deserve God’s great grace. We begin to think that certainly God won’t let anything bad happen to us because we are so blessed.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted. that I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71, NASB).
You probably have never experienced problems or sickness and said to yourself, “That was good!” Sure, we’re taught that the problems of life can work for our good (see Romans 8:28), but we still don’t like to have problems. We don’t like to be hurt or sick. We don’t rejoice about affliction!