“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.
This meditation was originally posted on 9/3/2013.
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—did not become ‘Yes and no’; on the contrary, a final ‘Yes’ has come in Him. For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in Him. Therefore, the ‘Amen’ is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory. Now it is God who strengthens us, with you, in Christ and has anointed us. He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, HCSB).
Do you ever get down and depressed because you feel like you’ve got so much to handle and you just can’t do it all? And then you get all locked up inside and you don’t do anything. I call it “gridlock of the soul.” Why even try, you wonder.
It seems like life is saying “No!” to you, “No you can’t. No you can’t. No, no, no!”
When life keeps telling you “No,” there is something you can do to escape soul gridlock.
Open your Bible to 2 Corinthians 1:19-22 and read, re-read, and read these verses again until you realize that when life seems to be telling you “No,” God is telling you “Yes!”
And not just “Yes,” but an emphatic “Yes,” God’s big “YES!”
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, NKJV).
Is the glass half empty or half full? This expression is commonly used as a litmus test to determine an individual’s worldview. Half full expresses optimism and half empty expresses pessimism.
The Apostle Paul seems like a “glass-half-full” type of guy. Unfortunately, I often fall into the “half-empty-glass” camp…
Sure, I try to look at problems as challenges, troubles as opportunities. But hard as I try, problems are just problems, trouble is just trouble. Although I don’t consider myself a pessimist, I try to avoid problems and trouble, not embrace them!
“The Lord ’s word came to me: Human one, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you in a single stroke. Don’t mourn or weep. Don’t even let your tears well up. Sigh inwardly; be deathly still. Don’t perform mourning rites, but bind on your turban and put your shoes on your feet. And don’t cover your upper lip or eat in human company” (Ezekiel 24:15-17, CEB).
Like several of the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel’s prophecies were often intertwined with his personal life. On one occasion God told Ezekiel that his beloved city of Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. Then, God told Ezekiel his wife was about to die!
And if that wasn’t enough bad news, God told Ezekiel not to mourn over his wife’s death and not even to participate in the rituals of grief and mourning that were a part of that ancient culture. Ezekiel was to keep his grief to himself.
“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.
“The Israelites groaned because of their difficult labor, and they cried out; and their cry for help ascended to God because of the difficult labor. So God heard their groaning, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and He took notice” (Exodus 2:23-25, HCSB).
Hundreds of years had passed since Joseph was prime minister of Egypt and had urged his father, Jacob, and his brothers to move down to Egypt. From the original seventy migrants, the Israelites had grown into a huge nation probably numbering in the millions.
“So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God”
(Nehemiah 6:15-16, NLT
Nehemiah Chapter 6 recounts the extraordinary political intrigue taking place behind the scenes attempting to prevent Nehemiah and the Jews from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: ‘I did it myself.’” (Judges 7:2, HCSB).
Having proven to Gideon that He was present with him, God next demonstrated that His presence was all Gideon really needed to defeat the Midianites.