It is one of the perks of my ministerial profession. I count it one of the bonuses. It is getting to come alongside people in the extremities of life, in the dark valleys where we learn about God and about the mystery of suffering. It can happen in a hospital ER, a police station, hospice room, or at a fresh grave. Those are moments I feel privileged to stand on holy ground as heaven intersects earth, and eternity touches time. There we wrestle with God as Job did, and listen for answers.
Job is a long book of 41 chapters, in which Job wrestles with God and complains against Him, not having a “Why?” for his suffering. Finally, in chapter 42:5 Job says to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” Through Job’s dark, dark valley, his suffering, and struggling with God, he has been drawn into intimate knowledge of God. Yes, Job had been told of God and had known Him from afar, but now, through suffering, he knows God for himself, firsthand, having ‘seen’ God with eyes of faith. So, as I have sat with those who suffer, they often speak of God’s wondrous beauty and greatness. They have ‘seen’ God with faith’s eyes.
It was in the darkest of times I realized that most of what I believed about God I had heard from others in sermons, books, or conversations. My knowledge of God was from afar, secondhand. And then I suffered. I was broken.
Missionary statesman E. Stanley Jones told of browsing a used book store and seeing a sign over a stack of books: SECONDHAND THEOLOGY FOR SALE. Jones said that at that moment he determined not to have a ‘secondhand’ theology; he wanted to know God firsthand, for himself. He wanted, like Job, to know God not just by the hearing of his ear, but by seeing him with faith-filled eyes.
At the end of a long book about suffering, Job feels blessed. He had lost everything but gained God. He does not know ‘why?’ but he does know God. And that is what I have seen suffering do in believers’ lives again and again. The crucible of suffering transforms lives.
In David’s beautiful 23rd Psalm he sings about the care of the Lord our Shepherd. Notably, David begins by portraying the Shepherd in the third person: This is what HE does for me. “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul…” But it is when David comes to the darkest valley that he changes from talking ABOUT the Shepherd third person to talking TO the Shepherd second person. David is no longer talking about God, but talking to Him. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” In the darkest valley we discover God’s presence particularly real and near.
Today, if you are struggling, perhaps suffering, know that God is with you, loving you and caring for you. He is drawing you ever closer to Himself so that you might ‘see’ Him through eyes of increasing faith.
A Fellow Traveler,
P. S. I share with you the following prayer distributed Sunday at Christ Church Anglican Phoenix and invite you to join in fervent prayer for Ukraine.
“Sovereign God, who alone can order the unruly wills of humanity, intervene and bring an end to the warfare in Ukraine, and make leaders submit to your firm hand that peace might be achieved and your love known to friend and foe alike. Harbor in safety those of your family who serve as missionaries, pastors or faithful worshippers. Bring healing, hope and encouragement to all who suffer and are hurt in the conflict, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”