Counterintuitive Words of Comfort for the Hurting

There is a moment in the story of Job that disturbs me when I read it. In Job 23, Job is at his lowest point. His children have died, he’s lost all of his money, and he’s covered in painful boils. Everything to which he has given himself in this life has become dust. His comforters don’t bring comfort. He says his complaint is bitter and cries that he doesn’t even know where to look for God. Job, a righteous man by God’s own account, is in a miserable place not by his own foolishness. Really, if anyone deserved serious comfort, by my system of accounting, it was Job.

But, after a long silence, when God finally speaks to Job in chapter 38, His words don’t fit the profile of what I think Job deserves to hear.

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2″Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

God continues on this way for four chapters. “I am GOD, Job! I hung the stars in the sky, created the oceans and every animal in them. Can you do that?! I am all powerful and all knowing. Don’t act like you could possibly know better on any issue than I do.”

I would expect God to say something more comforting–at least as I define comfort. Something like nothing can separate us from the love of God. Or that God works all things together for our good. Or that they who wait on God mount up on wings like eagles. Or that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to complete it. But none of those promises are emphasized here.

Instead, to the guy who was probably at the lowest point of anyone ever named in Scripture, God says, “I am God. I am all powerful. And I know what I’m doing!”

I have been wrestling personally with God over some things in my own life. Recently, I seriously prayed for a word from Him–“God, give me something to make sense of this time in life. Help me know how to think about all this and how to respond in obedience.” I don’t know what I expected, but His word was pretty clear. “Without faith, it is impossible to please Me.” (Hebrews 11:6).

God didn’t tell me that my troubles would soon end or that things would make more sense soon. Instead, He said pretty forcefully, “Trust Me! Believe in Me. I hung the stars in the sky and I know what I’m doing.”

I am reminded that God never explained to Job on earth (at least according to the Scriptural account) the purpose for his suffering. As far as we know, Job didn’t know until heaven what all was going on behind the scenes. In fact, Job’s suffering had no earthly purpose at all. It was fully about proving the trustworthiness of God’s character in the heavenly places to Satan and his minions.

I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can’t believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That’s Satan’s taunt–“They only worship you because you are good to them. They’d never worship you if you didn’t answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect.”

The truth is that true faith doesn’t worship God because God is good but because God is God. We don’t endure because we expect deliverance but because He is worthy. And we will never fully clarify this in our own hearts until God stops fitting our definition of goodness and requires us to sit patiently at His feet without answering our prayers for a season. And even if that season lasts the remainder of our lives, He is worthy.

The other truth is that for no one in Scripture did that season last the rest of their lives. God’s promises ARE that He will complete the good work He began in our hearts. He will work all the hard circumstances for honest to goodness GOOD in our lives. And when we wait on Him to work, He lifts us up on wings as eagles.

But that isn’t why we trust Him, have faith in Him, or worship Him. We worship Him because He alone is God. And He is worthy.

Oddly enough, until God actually moved again in my life (and He did), those counterintuitive words from Him did minister great grace to me.

… my righteous ones will live by faith. Heb. 10:38

21 Responses to Counterintuitive Words of Comfort for the Hurting

  1. the three wise menn April 25, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Although I don't think I could've possibly put it into the exact words you did, this is also the conclusion that my husband and I have come to as we have walked through a genetic disorder and a second rare disorder diagnosed in our 2-1/2 year old.
    There is nothing so freeing as realizing that God is God and that alone makes Him good. We have returned to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over and over making our own proclomation: 'Our God can deliver our daughter from these health issues, BUT even if He doesn't, we will not bow down to anything else!'

    Andrea

  2. Alison April 25, 2011 at 12:25 am #

    I agree that being confronted with who God is can be comforting – and can relate a little to how Job felt. I have a daughter with a severe disability who has had a few very close calls in her life. When her life was hanging in the balance in the NICU I remember being confronted by the fact that God was the one in control of the situation – I had no control over the outcome (apart from begging God in prayer). He alone would determine the number of days of her life – and how she would spend them. As the creator it is His RIGHT to determine these things. Very humbling to us little humans but also strangely comforting.

    Thanks for your wise, encouraging and often challenging blog.

  3. Wendy April 25, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    Andrea and Alison, thanks for sharing. You both speak from a place that is most challenging of all–watching our children suffer!

  4. Mike April 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Hi Wendy,
    Thank you for your profound insight – I also have puzzled over God's response to Job, I hadn't made the connection you put so well: true faith worships God because He is God. Other parts of Job also make this clear, such as “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

    The ability to trust God because of who He is and despite circumstances is so much more valuable than clinging to a few nice promises. It really is in the tough times that our faith is purified.
    Thanks,
    Mike

  5. Amy April 25, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Wendy! It's been awhile. This is so where I am at right now. Nothing makes sense, I'm waiting to hear or for action … and nothing. The resounding 'Word' I keep getting is. Wait. I know what I'm doing. Trust Me.

    And here it is again. 🙂

  6. Lilster April 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    “The truth is that true faith doesn't worship God because God is good but because God is God.”

    The timing of this reminder has been spectacular!

    We've been praying for a young couple from our church that delivered a baby last week with serious health issues. Baby Evan will probably be diagnosed with trisomy 13 which can be fatal. He was born premature, only weighs 3 pounds and is still in NICU.

    His parents just posted a picture on facebook that shows Evan holding on to the top of his mommy's pinky. I started sobbing!

    I wept for them as I realized that unless the Lord performs a miracle, they will experience such profound pain.

    I also wept as the Lord reminded me what that pain feels like. Eleven years ago, we lost our little Susanna. She was still born on her due date. Something that was completely unexpected. Back then, God revealed Himself as huge and sovereign and big! He was God back then….He IS God today! And…whatever the 'curriculum' is He has for us or for my young friends….He remains God…and He is worthy…indeed!

    Thank you for your insight and words Wendy. God has used you in my life today.

    ♫ ♪ ♫ “God is God and I am not
    I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
    God is God and I am man
    So I’ll never understand it all
    For only God is God” ♫ ♪ ♫
    ~Steven Curtis Chapman

    Blessings!
    Lily (Miami, FL)

  7. joydriven April 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Agreed. Have been going through (I know we oughtn't compare, but still) much-smaller-scale crises–and additionally enduring long-lasting “conditions”–which require constant Gospel-focused reminders and Comfort of THIS kind, and THIS kind of comfort has been the most fortifying when nothing else holds water, when nothing else holds together at all. Deut. 33:27 & Psalm 33:20-22.

  8. Sara April 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    I echo my thanks for this post. During a long season of silence (perceived silence – I believe God is saying “wait and trust”) I have come to learn and repeat to myself that God is God and I am not – He hasn't abdicated the throne and He deserves my worship because He is worthy, even (especially!) amidst my hurt, pain and discouragement.

  9. Donna April 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    I echo and appreciate your thoughts, Wendy. Powerful and deeply appreciated.

  10. Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    When our beautiful 28 year old daughter died of Melanoma Nov 08, I went to Job to see how he handled the death of his 10 children. I read the passage you described and reading on, I discovered God wanted Job to focus on Him. I thought back on all the years God had intervened on my behalf and all the prayers he had answered (the way I wanted them answered). I also read in Job 41 where God challenged Job that if he could humble the proud, shrowd them in their grave, then even God would say that thine own right hand can save him. It hit me hard, my own right hand could't save me, only Jesus did that. I had to come to the conclusion that I couldn't DO life any better than God. And to read that our days are numbered, I knew there was a purpose and a plan and that I could trust Him in that. It truly did give me freedom and understanding and really did grow my love for him.

  11. Wendy April 27, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Anonymous, I am so sorry for your loss!

  12. Faith April 27, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    I echo appreciation on this post also! Been waiting on the Lord for quite some time but during these moments of quiet is when I've come to really know Him and I appreciate these quiet moments so much more now than ever!! Thank you for sharing!!

  13. Bina April 27, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Read this today:

    Psalm 25
    “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
    2 O my God, in you I trust;
    let me not be put to shame;
    let not my enemies exult over me.
    3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
    they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
    4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
    5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.”

  14. krystalann4 April 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    I was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor that will take me to heaven, and separate me from my children and husband sooner than I desire. Thank you so, so much for posting this. At first when it was sent to me I thought you were writing to me! Thank you!

  15. Wendy April 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    Krystal, I have been praying for you! I'm so glad this was encouraging to you.

  16. Anonymous May 1, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    …for all of us who have suffered and waited…. for all of us… God is God and we worship Him because He is worthy… becomes our source of joy and reason to live and reason to celebrate on this earth…thank you for your words, they make sense now but only after the balm of time has bound my wounds…. if we understood this early in life, it would diminish the time spent suffering and help us life our eyes and celebrate sooner…

  17. Lori: May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Wendy,
    I have been enjoying your book (Practical Theol. for Women) and your blog. Suffering is something so universal yet so individual, isn't it? Nothing can prepare us for the pain, but God is there with us through it all. At the beginning of the year I began reading through the bible chronologically and when I got to Job I didn't want to just read through it, so I went to John Piper's site and found a five part sermon series he did on the book of Job. It was SO insightful and encouraging I thought I would share the link with you in case you hadn't seen it or if it might be helpful to others:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/series-index/job-five-sermons-on-suffering

    Blessings to you. Thanks for your wisdom and encouragement.
    Lori in GA

  18. Meaghan May 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Liked your post, thanks for writing. The only thing I would disagree with or add is that there WAS an earthly purpose to the suffering of Job. Not only was the point to prove his character in the heavenly places, we see Job say at the end of all of this say:

    “My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.” – 42:5

    Job now has interacted with GOD…the Holy One! The greatest thing in this life (to me) is knowing Him…and Job could now say it truly. We see a shift from the beginning of the book (a mere hearing about God) to the end (my eyes have now seen you). To me, there's no greater consolation to suffering or bigger earthly purpose than to know Him and see Him.

  19. Wendy May 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Meaghan, you are so right!!! That is a correction I gladly receive. Thanks for adding that.

  20. Julia May 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I find I have a tendency to hope for an outcome, rather than simply hope in God.

  21. Dolores Miranda May 18, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Hola, perdón por escribir en español. Quiero que sepas que esto que escribiste ha sido de gran bendición para mi. sobre todo: “confía en mi, colgué las estrellas y se lo que estoy haciendo”. Con lo que he venido batallando es un gran temor al rechazo, el cual me llevo a aislarme muchos años, tiempo durante el cual el enemigo me mantuvo engañada, pero Dios puso el anhelo de una iglesia, de servirle y de hermandad con otros cristianos; todo eso El me lo dio, pero al convivir con otras personas, incluso cristianas, inevitablemente vuelvo a experimentar rechazo, pero ahora se que Dios quiere pulir esa área de mi alma y no voy a aislarme, duele y duele mucho, pero El sabe lo que hace y yo voy a dejarlo. “He aquí, aunque El me matare, en El esperare” Job 13:15.
    Bendiciones a tu vida y tu ministerio.