8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Transformation Meditations: 8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

In the previous study we focused on personal grief, what happens when someone close to us has gone, but I am aware that when Isaiah wrote these words he included, “in Zion” which suggests that he also had in mind the grief that a man or woman of God would have felt when Israel went through times of unbelief and the land was invaded and Jerusalem was plundered, and the glory of God removed.

We find such times of mourning in the life of Israel expressed in its earliest years by David when Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle by the Philistine army. This man, described as a man after God’s own heart, poured out his grief when he heard of their deaths with the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Sam 1:1) and repeated again and again “How the mighty have fallen in battle!” (2 Sam 1:25,27) The song of lament extols them both, despite the fact that again and again Saul had tried to kill him. He extols Saul, honoring his position of king over the people.

Years later Jeremiah (it is believed) lamented over the destroyed Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar’s army had burned down both city and Temple: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.” (Lam 1:1) In chapter 2, verses 1 to 8 it is again and again attributed to the Lord. Yet in chapter 3 there is hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (v.22-26) Anguish with hope.

In the New Testament Jesus mourns over what will yet happen to Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt 23:37,38)

In each case there is a mourning over what has happened or what is about to happen to the people of God and, more specifically in the latter two, to Jerusalem, the city that held the Temple where the Lord had revealed His glory, a glory that had gone.

The question arises, are we sensitive to the state of God’s people, do we yearn to see the glory of God revealed in and through His people, do we anguish when that is absent? The song of the Messiah brings hope, because the Messiah is sent to comfort us, even when we mourn over the loss of His glory. One day Jesus WILL return (see Rev 19) and God’s honor will be restored. In the meantime those with eyes to see grieve over so much formal ritualistic religion where the life of God is absent, but they also rejoice when they come across the body of Christ empowered and directed and moving by the Spirit and the glory of the Lord is seen. Pray over both situations.

7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

24. Mourning/Dancing

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Mourning or Dancing

Eccles 3:4 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn?  Of course when someone dies!  That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn?  We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral of someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew who dies. Perhaps we aren’t so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it’s when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can’t imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!  In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it.

Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I’m sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn’t come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won’t be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn’t something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4)  God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It’s right to mourn for close loss. It’s right to cry. It’s right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We’re not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life’, recognizing that life has got to continue, but it’s a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward pleasure and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It’s just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can’t be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again.  Yes, as we’ve said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can’t laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn’t go on for ever. You shouldn’t mourn when it’s a time of happiness. We can’t mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don’t feel the anguish of loss, don’t try and pretend.  Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That’s what life is like; that’s how we are made.

43. An Advocate

Meditations in Job : 43.  I have an Advocate

Job 16:19-21 Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.

I have commented before in this series, of a couple I knew who lived good, faithful, Christian lives and then went into a time of complete darkness. It did seem that their lives were in utter darkness, but it was only when they were in that utter darkness that they realised that they were not alone and there was One with them there in it. They were not alone. Suddenly they had a revelation that they had not had before. It is a truth that sometimes it is only when we go into the depths of suffering that we seem to be able to receive the most wonderful of all revelation.

Now before I carry on it is necessary to combat the snide remarks of atheists who, at this point, seek to leap in and twist what is being said. “Oh,” they say, “so you are saying it is a good thing to be pushed by God into suffering?” I’ve heard it said. First of all it is probably not God who has got them into the place of suffering  (there is only one Job in the Bible) and, second, God weeps with us in such situations (see Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb – Jn 11). Third, we are talking about what can come out of a bad situation because we have quoted a number of times that wonderful truth from Rom 8:28: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” God will be working in whatever bad situation we find ourselves in, to bring good out of it for us. So, remember what we have been saying, that in the dark places, we often find revelation. Now let’s go back to Job.

What is his situation? “I have sewed sackcloth over my skin and buried my brow in the dust.” (v.15) This is a man in the depths of mourning. For them, as we’ve noted before, to put on sackcloth and putting aside fine clothes, and then putting ashes on your head to disfigure you, was the way that they outwardly expressed their mourning. But this wasn’t only how he was dressed: “My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes.” (v.16) When you are in deep mourning, you weep and your face gets red and your eyes red and dark shadows appear below your eyes. However, as he thinks on his state, he is still confused: “yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” (v.17) In other words, why is this happening? I can’t understand it; I haven’t done anything to warrant this. He continues, “O earth, do not cover my blood; may my cry never be laid to rest!” (v.18) i.e. don’t let me be buried, don’t let my corpse be covered, don’t let my present cry be suppressed!

That is where he has come to. It’s a cry of confusion and frustration in the pain and anguish of his suffering. It’s a time of an all-time low in his life, and then suddenly he comes out with something that is quite remarkable, this man who, so far, has felt totally alone, condemned by God: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” (v .19) What?  He’s not alone? He senses someone in heaven who is on his side? What is this?  If this is, as some suppose, one of the oldest books of the Bible, then this must be one of the earliest glimpses of one who would come on our behalf, one who would speak up for us from heaven. Why does he speak up? Because he speaks out the love of the godhead for the people of the earth. The truth is that God is not against the people of the earth; He is for them. He wants them to know His love, but so often they are too taken up in their own sin to receive it. So far all Job is saying is that there is One in heaven who looks down and sees the truth and speaks up on his behalf. Now see what he goes on to say: “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” (v.20). This one who speaks out for him is a friend, not an enemy and he is moved by Job’s tears to God. Isn’t that exactly how Jesus responded at Lazarus’s tomb when Mary came out to him: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (Jn 11:33) He did not stand aloof but was moved to tears and to action. That is what compassion is all about. Jesus was described as a friend of sinners (e.g. Mt 11:19)

Job further describes this ‘friend’: on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” (v.21). Moses pleaded with God on behalf of Israel (Ex 32:11-13). Similarly Jesus calls us friends (Jn 15:14,15) and he speaks up on our behalf when we sin (1 Jn 2:1). That is the incredible wonder that Job stumbles across in his darkness. He has a friend in heaven, one who is for him, (Rom 8:31) not against him, but then the reality of his situation seems to close in on him again: “Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return.” (v.22) Everything about his situation seems to suggest that his time is strictly limited on the earth. Perhaps he is reflecting that he will soon see his ‘friend’; we’ll need to see it in the context of the verses of the next chapter.

If you are in a place of great darkness, know that you are not alone; there is One who is there with you, one who is your friend, who is there for you, who will call out in heaven on your behalf. Reach out in the darkness and sense His presence, sense His love. It IS there despite everything else.

31. Unfair world

Meditations in Job : 31 :  An Unfair World

Job 12:6   The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure– those who carry their god in their hands.

The third of the three ‘friends’ has just finished his first attack on Job – and it has been that, it was an attack! It sought to apply good spiritual principles into a wrong situation. He did not meet Job at his point of need. He misdiagnosed the problem! Before we start getting all negative about Job’s response, pause up and wonder again, how you would like to be treated in such a situation. You are in the agony of mourning for having lost your family, and to a measure for having lost your wealth. You are also in great physical pain and discomfort. You would like some understanding, I am sure, and certainly some care, compassion and comfort. But what do you get? Three friends who misdiagnose your situation and keep on focusing on your sin, as they see it, yet you are fairly certain you have been as righteous as you can be.

At this point, I would suggest, you would be feeling pretty down, so we should not be surprised at Job’s opening words: Then Job replied: “Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!” (12:1,2) That sounds a bit cynical or sarcastic. “Well you guys are obviously the experts and have got it all buttoned up! When you die who will be left with any wisdom?”  OK, it is cynical and it is sarcastic and not what we would recommend to those who are vessels of the Holy Spirit – but Job wasn’t. He was on his own. Don’t be too hard on him. He continues, “But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?” (v.3) In other words, I can think for myself, I’m not an idiot, and I’m not inferior to you. I mean, after all, everyone knows these truths.

Then he reveals what he thinks about himself: he’s become a joke! “I have become a laughingstock to my friends,” (v.4) that’s what he feels. Why?  “though I called upon God and he answered– a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!” They key here isand he answered”. How did God apparently answer Job’s righteousness and blamelessness? He dumped him with suffering! What a joke!  Here he was, living out his life the best he could, seeking to be godly and righteous and suddenly, wham, he’s dropped on! They must be laughing in heaven, because they certainly are on earth. He doesn’t say it, but no doubt he imagines, the unrighteous unbelievers, who had watched his godliness all through the years. Now they would be laughing at him, “So what did his being a believer do for him? Not a lot, obviously!” He looks at his three friends and concludes, “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.” (v.5) In other words, when you are comfortable and at ease, it is easy for you to pontificate on sin and suffering, it is easy for you to put down my misfortunes as the outworking of my slipping away from God!

Then he arrives at our verse today, as he ponders on the unfairness of life: “The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure– those who carry their god in their hands.” (v.6). What is he saying? He is saying that while he, a godly and righteous man, is suffering (implied in what went before), those who live by marauding and pillaging are sitting back, comfortable and undisturbed. They challenge God and say rude things about Him, they worship idols, and yet they seem to get away with it and seem to be at peace and secure in their evil ways. It really is an unfair world, is what he is saying. It’s all a bit of a joke.

I wonder if we sometimes feel like that. A prophet I know, prophesied a number of years ago that Christians would start struggling with the anger of frustration as they looked on the ungodliness and unrighteousness that was rising up in the Western world. We look at what is happening around us and feel helpless; we feel frustrated, and the natural expression of frustration is anger. We look on the world around us and wonder why God is not judging this growing unrighteousness. Of course when we do that, we forget four things.

First, God IS judging the Western world but mostly He is doing it not by disasters that we normally associate with judgment, but by lifting off His hand of restraint so that sin will have its effect. Paul understood this when, in Romans 1, he said, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts,” (Rom 1:24), and “God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (1:26) and “he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (1:28). This lifting of His hand of restraint, is a very real form of judgment and it is His slow way of bringing people to their senses as they slowly begin to realise the folly of their ways.

The second thing is that, as we’ve just indicated, God moves very slowly and there is a reason for that: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9). The Lord wants there to be as big a harvest as possible.  The third thing, is that God still loves stupid people and that is what motivates Him, and should motivate us, to do all He can to draw as many as possible to Him. Remember, Jesus taught, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” (Mt 4:45) when he was teaching his disciples to love everyone. Yes, even the ungodly world is blessed by God’s provision but that is just a sign of God’s goodness and grace.

So, yes, the Lord does allow the ungodly and unrighteous to “get away with it” but perhaps the fourth thing we should remember is that one day they will ALL be held accountable and will have to appear before the Lord is heaven to receive their due. They may appear to get away with it for the time being, but that is only because the Lord is giving them space to come to their senses. If they refuse, there is an accounting in heaven! In the midst of suffering or injustice we may forget these things; that’s what intense pain does for you, but perhaps we therefore need gently reminding of the bigger picture.

6. Those who Hunger

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 6

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

To catch the full import of this verse we need to recount the previous three verses and see this one in context. First there had been the requirement to recognize our spiritual poverty. Second, simply recognizing it was not sufficient, there had to be a mourning or grieving over it that showed we understood how awful being dead spiritually was. Third, and following that, there had to be a willingness to submit utterly to God’s will, for nothing less than that could open the way up for His blessings to flow into our lives.

But now comes a further aspect of the same thing. If on one hand we saw and rejected our old lives, recognizing the failure to be good that there was in that life, what there also needs to be is a yearning for the good life, for a life that is good and right. Do you see the importance of these stages? You can be aware of your poverty and just wallow in that and remain there. You can see it and anguish over it but be unable to let go your self-centredness and so you stay there in it. You can be aware of your poverty, mourn over it and want God’s will and yet only desire it for what it can bring you – and that is still self-centred.

To go the whole way you have to come to this point of submitting to God’s will whole-heartedly and yearning for a right standing before God. That is what righteousness is – right standing before God, right living before God. Again, do you see the two aspects there? When we become aware of our poverty, aware of our failure, aware of our guilt, for the work to be fully done, there also needs to be a yearning to be freed from the guilt and shame and to be put right with God. In the awareness of our spiritual poverty there also needs to be the recognition that it involves sin against God. Do you remember in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, when the son returns to his father he declares, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.(Lk 15:21). When the Holy Spirit brings conviction it is not merely of our failure, but our failure in respect of God. As we realize that, we understand we have offended God and that needs to be put right. Somehow we need to be reconciled to God – but we cannot do it ourselves. It is only as we hear the good news of Jesus dying on the Cross in our place that we realize that the Father alone has provided the means for us to come back into a right standing with Him.

But there will also be a yearning to change our way of living, to get rid of things that offend God, and to live rightly before Him. Behind this hungering and thirsting, this heart yearning, there will also be this desire to lead a good life, a life free from sin. The New Testament shows us the nature of that life, and particularly the apostles’ letters put detail to that, but the main thing we find, is that God provides His own Holy Spirit to live within us, so He is there to direct and guide us, to show us the way in any particular situation, He is there to empower us to enable us to overcome and live as God’s child. Whether we recognize it or not when we look back, this is the work the Holy Spirit does in us when He convicts us of our need – a recognition of our poverty, an anguish over it, a desire for God’s will and a desire to be put right with God so that we can live the life He wants us to live, as His children. Those are the facets of what goes on within any person as they come to God to be born again.

And this is where we come to the latter part of the verse: they shall be filled. When someone is hungry, they are empty. When their hunger is satisfied, they are filled. It is a picture of being completely satisfied. At the end of a banquet, people are heard to say, “That was wonderful, I am full up. I couldn’t eat another thing!” And that’s the truth; when God does His work in us He does it completely and there is nothing more to be added. Every aspect of what we have considered has been covered. From being poor isolated wretches we become children of God with all the blessings of God. Our mourning is turned into rejoicing. We rest and rejoice in coming into the purposeful will of God, where we sense a new purpose and direction in our lives. The yearning to be put right with God is completely satisfied as we are declared forgiven, cleansed and totally pardoned and, as the Holy Spirit comes in, we are energized to live the new life. We are filled, we are utterly satisfied. Yes, we are filled with the goodness of God and of His Holy Spirit as we submit ourselves to Him and let Him do what He wants with us. How wonderful when it happens, how scary for the person who wants to remain in their self-centred isolation!

7. Options

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 7

Job 2:7-10 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

The book of Job is a difficult book on at least two levels. First of all, once you pass these first two chapters it settles down to a long series of difficult dialogues and monologues and they are difficult in that they are a mixture of truth, half truth and non-truth and once we get there our exercise is to try to discern which is what. If you’re not sure of what I mean you either haven’t read those chapters or you’ve never read any commentaries on them and seen the variety of ways it is possible to look at them. I believe we are about to move towards some of the most difficult writing in the Bible. The second level of difficulty in Job is that it presents us with some serious and uncomfortable challenges. Our verses above bring one of the major challenges that this book must bring to us.

So we’ve gone through the God-interviewing-Satan bit in heaven again and as a result Satan has permission to extend his attack on Job’s life to include attacking his body. Perhaps we shouldn’t rush past this too quickly. Job gets covered with sores from head to toe and the record said Satan did it. Satan had God’s delegated authority to inflict Job with this. Now when I look around this modern world I see an amazing amount of affliction. I hear scientists trying to explain why we are suffering so many allergies, blaming them on things we put into the food chain and so on, yet I wonder, just wonder, is this part of the package of stuff that God allows Satan to bring against ungodly societies of the West to bring them to their senses and to seek Him? When we find ourselves afflicted, what is our first reaction, I wonder.

Initially, I suggest, our reactions can be godly or ungodly, and by that I mean we can refer it to God or not. Ungodly here simply means we leave God completely out of the equation. But we can also be ungodly in another way and Job’s wife reveals that. Job and his wife show us two options – and we can choose how we will respond! Job is in a dire state, covered from head to toe in boils or scabs or sores. It is incredibly painful and he also itches and so, in a place of mourning, a place of ashes which were used for mourning, he scrapes at himself in desperation. He is an unpleasant mess and he has every reason to be upset. His wife understands the issues. You can believe in Satan and you can believe in chance or misfortune, but if you believe in God, He has got to be the Ultimate Power, the One who can do what He likes, and if He wanted He could have stopped this happening!

Yes, that is the stopping place with all this, from our standpoint. If God is all-powerful then He could have stopped this happening to me! Why didn’t He? Yes, Job’s wife understands that and so she chides Job. For goodness sake, she demands, why are you so intent on holding on to this so-called integrity of yours. You are wrong. God could have stopped this. God could stop it now. For goodness sake, be real, speak out what you feel, curse Him and get it over with quickly. He’s obviously got it in for you! I wonder how much of that Satan put into her mind? It’s not only a physical attack going on here, it’s also a mental attack. Get Job to curse God; that is Satan’s intention.

I believe the same thing was happening on the Cross with Jesus. The battle that went on there was whether Jesus could remain the sinless Lamb of God in the face of the terrible pain and anguish. But it was more than that. Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm that more than any other catches something of the unseen battle that was raging: “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (Psa 22:12,13) I believe this describes the demonic hoards who railed at him and challenged him to curse God in his anguish, just like Job’s wife did with Job. When you are in deep pain and everything seems to be going wrong and you are in deep anguish, this is the peak of the battle when the enemy comes and whispers to you, “It’s all God’s fault! Curse Him!” That is one option that is open to us if we want to side with the enemy who is already afflicting us.

But we see the other option in Job: Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? Job has got the right perspective. It’s like he says, “Look, we’re very happy to take all the good things God gave. If, in His wisdom, He feels that this is the best thing for us at the moment, then so be it.” That is really what is implied in what we have in the record. Faith is responding positively when God speaks and guides us. Trust is responding positively when God says nothing and we appear alone. Trust says that I will be secure in what I know of the Lord. I know He loves me and He always works for my best. I don’t know what He’s doing at the moment allowing this to happen to me, but I so trust in His love for me that I will get His grace to cope with it for as long as He allows it.

Christian history is full of testimonies of God’s people who have lived this out in the face of persecution and general opposition. There was an important little ingredient in what we’ve just been saying, that needs highlighting. It is the reference to God’s grace. Grace in this context is simply God’s resource that enables us to cope. At the very minimum it is His presence.

I know of a couple who walked faithfully with God and then went through a Job time and everything seemed to go wrong. As it got worse and worse, and as I prayed for them, it seemed like they were having everything taken away from them and all that was left, it seemed, was existing in a pitch black room of darkness. Yet in that pitch blackness they became aware that they were not alone. HE was there with them in the darkness. I have also known of someone suffering mental illness so that reality itself was challenged, and yet in the midst of that chaos and confusion, there came a sense that HE was there. In both cases that was all that was needed. I am not alone. HE is here and HE understands and is with me. That was enough. Of course there are those many other times when it doesn’t get as bad as that and we simply find that somehow there is some faint resource within that holds us, that keeps us, and sees us through. It is His grace.

So, when all hell seems to fall upon us, we have two options, to be like Job’s wife, or to be like Job. As we make that decision, a major battle is either being won or lost. I wonder how many victorious battle medals you will find you have when you eventually get to heaven?