Lesson one in adversity.
Adversity is a great teacher. More to the point, times of hardship and trouble may be among life's most profound teachable moments. And, that lesson could be one of the most truthful pieces of advice old Job received from Elihu, the fourth commentator to Job's horrible circumstances. Elihu's identity and sudden entrance and exit from the text is debated. And, we'll leave that to the Old Testament scholars, translators, and interpreters for now. But, his words, comprising Chapters 32-37 in the Book of Job, add layers of truth to the often confusing web of Job's suffering.
It's among the mysteries that has confounded believers since creation, the dilemmas of pain, suffering, and personal affliction. Few of us escape the question marks created when trials overlay our lives. Most believers accept and rejoice in God's Sovereign leadership over the affairs of the human species with the confession that God hasn't shown us everything (see Deuteronomy 29:29). Our faith acknowledges that God is just, that he is working for good in our lives, and that the many obstacles of life in this fallen world are given by God to refine and mature us. Job refused to denounce God from this angle of biblical wisdom. God is good and works in our troubled times to discipline and grow us.
Some of us recite the ancient Hebrew broad brush reasoning that good things attend righteous living and bad things happen to sinful people, the reasoning provided by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. As a result we tend to bow at the prayer rail confessing the many sinful acts and thoughts resulting from our poor reading of life events or responses to them. Surely there's enough sinful behavior to warrant this approach to our hard times. There's this works related blame game inherited from Adam and Eve that wishes to shoulder the human elements of our suffering. Job's three friends certainly wanted him to fess up, accept the punishment for his misdeeds and make things right with his righteous and just God. Then again, Job was basically innocent.
Enter Elihu. Elihu interjects something deeper to this debate, that is, that suffering and hardship aren't evidence of God's enmity for sinful acts, but of his love of sinful people. The six chapters of Elihu's thoughts provide this truth at many intersections. But, one single verse resonates most clearly in my own struggles with the tests and trials of life. Early in his dissertation, Elihu states---
He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.
Job 36:15, ESV
The meaning? Simply that the suffering and difficulty of this life should turn our eyes and ears away from our circumstances so that through the affliction we can contemplate and hear God. Looking and listening up is God's call to us when adversity and affliction visit. It is, perhaps, lesson one in our tutorial about affliction and hardship. When lambasted by life's uncertainties we should look and listen up.
It's prominent theme in the Psalms as well. King David, the man after God's own heart, was intimately familiar with the twists and turns of human nature. In one sentiment he revealed this particular avenue through his moments of affliction. He wrote, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:67, NET). Evidently times of testing and trial "can purify us if we submit to the One who has a loving plan for the pain" (from https://bible.org/article/value-suffering, The Value of Suffering, Sue Bohlin, August 21, 2009). Looking and listening up opens that door. Lesson one.
Oswald Chambers wrote, "Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness". It is true that the weight of our moments of suffering and pain should lift our eyes, ears, and thoughts away from our temporary circumstances so we can behold what God is doing in us and hear the instruction he has for us in such troubles. Looking and listening up should be our first response when we're confronted with difficult times.
I vividly remember the months my mother suffered through ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. During our visits she wanted me to read Paul's words from 2 Corinthians 4:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet
inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our
eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, NIV
In my mind, it is the truth of Elihu's words to Job. My dear mother wanted to look and listen up during this ordeal. She wanted to see and hear about the eternal things. You know, look and listen up when dealing with the destructive pain of this dread disease.
it was lesson one for her in such trying circumstances. And, it should be lesson one for me as well.
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