A soldier returns from Vietnam, his leg had been blown off by a land mine, his wife had left him, and his career was in ruins. "Don't talk to me about God, about love, about faith, about forgiveness." It was surely in the mercy of God that the Pastor on whom he was venting his anger also had anguished over the death of his own little three months old son.
Sometime ago at an Eisteddfod in Wales, where a few of us had set up a literature stand, I offered a Jewish lady a free tract, which I thought might be helpful. She refused and retorted sharply, "How can you believe in a God who allowed six million Jews to perish in the Holocaust?"
Over the years I have taken part in a number of discussion panels on local radio. The chosen subjects have varied but somehow the interviewer seemed always to come back to the question of suffering. "Why does God allow suffering, particularly the suffering of the innocent?"
Many plunged into a devastating situation have asked, in their despair, the same question. You too may be asking that question just now, and finding it difficult even to read this, or find real comfort in anything.
Perhaps it may help a little if I say to you that I know what it is to have asked that question. But when, with heavy heart and much perplexity, I turned to the scriptures I found some of the help and comfort I needed. Not just in the actual words which were written but from the very fact that men like David were expressing feelings of perplexity similar to my own. (Read for example Psalms 6; 10; and 13.)
It may be poor comfort to be told that no matter how bad it may be with us, we can be sure there are others in a worse situation. However I doubt whether any of us have suffered to the extent of Job. In one day disaster upon disaster struck and he lost just about all he possessed and held dear, including his seven sons and three daughters, and this latter tragedy by, what modern insurance folk would call, “an act of God." On top of everything else he himself was smitten with an extremely painful disease from head to foot. A disease so loathsome that even his closest friends could hardly bear to come near him.
So that question comes up again, "Why”? Now in all honesty some suffering is, sad to say, self-inflicted by the way we have lived and behaved, sometimes in face of good advice and clear warnings. But still you may ask, "What have I done to deserve this?"
The whole long book of Job is about trying to answer that ageless question. Indeed it is a book full of questions especially that "Why?” Some of the answers proposed to Job were very wide of the mark and no help to Job at all. "Miserable comforters are ye all", Job declared. The description was very apt and can be applied to much well meant but misguided advice even today. After all God Himself had commended Job as a man who was perfect and upright stating, "There is none like him in the earth."
Why then? In Job's case God had a hidden purpose, which neither Job nor his friends could understand. Then too despite Job's obvious good character there was still a refining process for him to go through and an essential testimony to give. He would come forth refined and, at the end, doubly blessed.
We may fail to see the ends God has in view but those ends are for our good and His glory. The value of an unmoved faith in such circumstances means more than we can calculate.
To praise God for blessings is but our duty. To declare from amidst our devastation and affliction: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Job 13:15 Is something that goes far beyond the call of duty. It reverberates right up to the throne of God. It brings delight to His heart. It is a witness, an example and strength to the afflicted in all ages. In the midst of our trials we may come to know God as we have never known Him before. So let us look in simple faith to Christ for Grace, not only to save our souls, but to give us strength, and to see us through however rough and tough the road ahead may be.
William Cowper wrote the words of this familiar hymn with a pen dipped in the ink of his own experience
"God moves in a mysterious way His Wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take! The clouds ye so much dread. Are big with mercy, and will break in blessings on your head."