This post is adapted from a sermon I had the privilege to preach back in October 2014. It’s a little on the long side, and the fact that it’s based on a sermon may put you off, but I hope you’ll take time to read it all the way through. It’s worth it. 🙂
In this post, I want to look at the question of “Where is God when it hurts?” but I want you to know right from the start that this isn’t just an intellectual exercise. I’m not going to tell you that bad things that happen in our lives are God’s plan and then leave it at that. It’s not that that answer isn’t true, it’s just that it speaks to the head and not to the heart and when we’re hurting it doesn’t really do much to answer the questions that we have. When my wife and I were married in May 2011, I was still in Canada, in the military, and health issues and uncertainty kept us apart for the next three years. We were waiting for an answer that never seemed to come, and let me tell you that’s not an easy thing to do. I had a lot of questions for God. Why is this happening? Why won’t you deal with this? Did I make a mistake? Well-meaning people told me it was God’s plan, and I knew that, but it did not nothing to deal with the hurt inside. I can remember not wanting to go to sleep at night because that meant having to wake up and deal with it all over again the next day. Those are the sort of questions I want to look at here.
A good place to begin with these kinds of questions is the book of Job in the Old Testament. You see, Job is a man who knew what it was like to hurt. Some of you reading this have lost your whole world. The very people who were supposed to love and protect you didn’t, or they hurt you, or they failed to accept you. I don’t know what that feels like, but Job does. Job Chapters 1 and 2 tells us that he lost his whole world in a single day. His wealth, his family, all of it, all gone in a day. It also tells us that Job had done nothing wrong. God allowed it, for reasons we don’t get to know, but Job had done nothing wrong. The main passage I want to look at is Job 38:1-2, which reads in the King James Version, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ‘Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” I want you to remember that, because it’s our clue as to where God is when it hurts. Before we come back to that, however, we need to look in a few other places, places where you might expect to find God but don’t. (And for anyone who’s curious, I am not using the King James Version because I think it’s better than other translations. I just like how it reads like poetry.)
Job was a good man. According to Job 1:1, he was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” He had done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve what he got, but as Chapter 2 tells us, God allowed Satan to take what Job had in order to show what was in Job’s heart. Even after Job had lost everything, he still did not curse God. This leads us to the first place we look for God when it hurts. You see, Job had three friends, who when they heard what had happened, came to comfort him. His friend Eliphaz says to him, in Chapter 4:7-8, “Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” Eliphaz points out that bad things don’t happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people, and as something bad has happened to Job, he must have done something wrong. And we follow that logic, right? It makes sense to us. Here’s the thing, though. We know from Job Chapters 1 and 2 that Job hasn’t done anything wrong. And Job knows it, too. He says in 6:24, “Teach me and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.” He wants them to point out his wrongdoing, because he knows there isn’t any.
I’m not trying to take away from the fact that sometimes we do wrong things and there are consequences for those actions. All I’m saying is that this is not true here. This is the first stop on our scavenger hunt, and God is not here. We know that Job has done nothing wrong, which means that God is not in the “bad things only happen to bad people” answer.
Stop #2 on our scavenger hunt is Job 11:13-15, which says, “If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him; if inequity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear.” Here Job’s friend Zophar takes a similar approach to what we saw in Stop #1. Job has clearly done something wrong, and if he repents things will be better. And again, we find it hard to argue with the logic, don’t we? If you make a mistake, if you wrong someone, you make it right and everything’s better, right? But again we have the same problem. Job hasn’t done anything wrong. Job says in 16:2-3, “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? Or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest?” Job’s response is simple. “You think you know? You don’t. I have done nothing wrong.” Again, I’m not trying to take away from the fact that repentance is necessary after we make mistakes. All I’m saying is that it’s not true here because Job hasn’t made any mistakes to deserve what’s happened to him. So, in Stop #2 on our scavenger hunt, we don’t find God, either.
To answer our question of where God is when it hurts, we have to look elsewhere, and that brings us to stop #3, our main Scripture passage in 38:1-2. Remember how I said this gave us our clue? Let’s look at this passage some more and see what we can find out about where God is when it hurts. Most of the book of Job is a back and forth between Job and his friends. “You’ve screwed up.” “No, I haven’t.” “You’ve screwed up.” “No, I haven’t.” And on and on it goes. God is silent throughout this. In Chapter 38, however, God shows up. Surprisingly, instead of answer Job’s questions, God starts asking questions of His own. This passage continues in verse 3, “Gird up now thy loins like a main, for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures therefore, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it?” The questions go on like this for two more chapters. You see, in knowing that he has done nothing wrong, Job has come to believe God has made a mistake, and God very quickly puts Job in his place. God knows far more than Job does, and He doesn’t make mistakes, which means that Stop #3 comes up empty for us, too. God does not make mistakes, which means that God is not in this place, either.
So where, then, is God when it hurts? Turns out He has been right before us all along. Remember what God says in 38:2, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” Job’s friends have been speaking about things they don’t understand, and God knows it. Now think about that for a minute, and don’t miss the significance of it. Setting aside, for the moment, that God is omniscient and therefore knows everything, how would God know what Job’s friends have been saying unless He had been there all along? Where is God when it hurts? He is right there with us. Right there with us. Right there with YOU.
I don’t know why bad things happen in our lives. Each one of us has things in our lives we have questions about. Things that we don’t understand. I don’t know that we’ll ever get answers to our questions, at least not this side of eternity. At the very least, Job never did. And knowing that God is right there with you may not take away the hurt. I honestly don’t know of anything that ever will take that away, again at least not this side of eternity. All I can tell you is that He knows how much it hurts, and He is right there in the middle of it with you, going through it with you. He knows how it feels. He understands, more than any other person ever will, and He above anybody else is trustworthy.
Having said all that, so what? Knowing that God is right there with us when it hurts, what does it mean for you and me? In Job 23, Job accuses of God of having done wrong. In allowing what has happened to Job, God has made a mistake. Now as we’ve said, God responds to this and puts job in his place, but follow me one last time to Job 42:7. Here God says of Job’s friends, “My wrath is kindled against thee . . . for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” Think about that. Job was angry with God, and accused him of screwing up, but he said what was right. Now we know that God didn’t make a mistake, so that wasn’t right, but what was right was how Job felt and what he did with those feelings. He was miserable, he was very vocal with his complaints, and he didn’t try to hide how he felt. In the end he did trust God, but he did not hold back his anger with God. The “so what?” is that we don’t have to, either. It’s OK to be angry with God when it hurts, and it’s OK to tell Him that. He can take it. It is OK to feel that way, and to let it out. Just don’t stay there too long.