Our Only Hope in Suffering

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Job 16:19-20
Full Text: Job 16-17, 1 Cor. 4

Tension | Several years ago, when I went through a period of prolonged suffering and confusion, I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my experience with the loving will of God. On the one hand, I wanted to believe that God didn’t condone the sin that led to my pain and that He empathized with my sadness. On the other hand, I knew that He was sovereign and could’ve prevented what had happened. How was I supposed to hold both of these truths together?

Distinct | Thankfully, the Bible has two clear and distinct understandings of “the will of God.” First, there is “the will of God” that refers to His sovereign control over all things [1] – even things that He hates [2]. For example, although the murder of Jesus was the greatest sin ever committed, it was also the will of God [3]. In this sense, “the will of God” can never be thwarted; it always happens [4]. Second, there is “the will of God” that describes what He commands us to do. For example, He wills that we practice holiness and thankfulness and sexual purity [5] – yet we know that many of us don’t do these things. In this sense, “the will of God” can be broken; in fact, it’s broken every day.

Hope | Having these two understandings of “the will of God” meets our deep need in suffering. We need to know that God is in control and, therefore, able to work all things for good [6]. We also need to know, however, that He empathizes with us and doesn’t delight in pain. We see this tension in Job. On the one hand, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his pain: “I was at ease, and he broke me apart” [7]. On the other hand, he knows that God is his only hope: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God … If I make my bed in darkness … where then is my hope?” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Although we don’t understand everything about our suffering, we know that you are our only hope in it. In some ways, that seems frustrating because we know that you could’ve prevented our pain. But how can we hope in anyone else? You’re the only wise God and Jesus is our advocate. In you, our beds are in light, not darkness. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See e.g., Matt. 26:39 (noting Jesus deferring to the will of God over his own). The will of God is sovereign even over the smallest things, see e.g., Matt. 10:29 (not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from Him); Prov. 16:33 (every decision is from the Lord); Prov. 16:1 (plans belong to men, but answers are from the Lord); Prov. 21:1 (the inclination of the heart of the king is directed by the Lord); Eph. 1:11 (the Lord works all things according to the counsel of His will); Job 42:2  (He can do all things, no purposes of His can be thwarted). A wonderful sermon on the tension between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is Tim Keller’s Your Plans; God’s Plans (free download from Redeemer).  |  [2] See Is. 53:10 (it was the will of the Lord to crush Jesus). See also 1 Peter 3:17 (it may be the will of God for Christians to suffer sinful persecution for their good works).  |  [3] See Acts 4:27-28 (noting the control of the hand of God over Herod and Pontius Pilate in the plan to murder Jesus).  |  [4] See Dan. 4:35 (He does according to His will, none can stay His hand)  |  [5] See e.g., Matt. 7:211 Thess. 4:3 (our sanctification and sexual purity are according to the will of God); 1 Thess. 5:18 (our thankfulness is His will); 1 John 2:17 (“whoever does the will of God” suggests that it is possible not to do the will of God)  |  [6] See Rom. 8:28  |  [7] Job 16:12 ESV  |  [8] Job 16:19-20; 17:13, 15 ESV.

2 Comments to “Our Only Hope in Suffering”

  1. Hi Bethany. I just wanted to say that I found this entry quite helpful. Like many others, I have always found Job (as well as the other “wisdom” writings in the Bible) to be extremely perplexing. Perhaps what is most disturbing of all is that God, NOT Satan (as many people think or imply) actually initiates the trials of Job. (“Have you considered my servant Job…?”) On top of that, He says that Job’s friends have not spoken rightly of Him, as Job himself has. Well, when we consider the bulk of the spoken words uttered by all of the participants, Job’s friends have done nothing but defend the justice and sovereignty of God, and Job has, for the most part, questioned the justice of God. Anyway, I really like the way that you have discussed the different meanings of “God’s will” in this entry. I’ve thought for quite a while that somebody needs to do a series on the many words and phrases in Scripture that are used in more than one way. (Ex. life, death, sin, law, church, son of man, love, etc.) So many times we just pass over things, thinking we know what they mean…but, in truth, we don’t…and we miss the point entirely. Anyway, once again, thanks much for everything.

    • Most of the times i visit a blog I notice that most blogs are amrteuaish. Regarding your blog,I could honestly say that you writting is decent and your website solid.

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