I wrote this 3 years ago when I had my right femur fracture. This still pertains to how I see the world today.
COVID-19, The questions of what is this all about creeps in.
Why is this happening? How long will this go on? Am I going to become infected? If so, what shall I do with the remainder of the days on this earth? Where do the dead people go? Is there anything beyond this life? Is God there? Why do we have to go through all this? Why is God silent in pain and pandemic? What is the meaning of pain? What is the meaning of life anyway? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why so much suffering and pain in this life? How can a loving God permit so much calamity?
There is a strange story in the Bible about a man named Job. He lived in the land of Uz. He was a man of complete integrity, and blameless. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He was, in fact, the richest person among all the people of the east. Everything he did was honest, and righteousness covered him like a robe. He served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. He fed the hungry people, clothed the poor, and looked after orphans and widows. New honors were constantly bestowed upon him. People listened to his advice. They were silent as they waited for him to speak. And after he spoke, they had nothing to add, for his counsel satisfied them. They longed for him to speak, as people long for rain. They drank his words like a refreshing spring rain. When they were discouraged, he smiled at them and they felt accepted. His look of approval was precious to them, and like a chief, he told them what to do and they obeyed. He lived like a king among his people and comforted those who mourned. He also had many family members and friends who supported him and made him feel proud. Job is a “picture perfect” and ideal person who had power, respect, honor, wealth, and he was a person filled with justice. This is a kind of life everyone would desire to live.
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the accuser Satan came with them. The Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless, a man of complete integrity.” Then Satan said, “You have always poured a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” God replied, “All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” This was the conversation between God and Satan. It is hard to believe such things are recorded in the Bible.
God is fully aware of every attempt by Satan to bring suffering and difficulties upon Job. The first attack was on Job’s possessions, his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, farm hands, shepherds, and servants. The second attack was on Job’s children; his sons and daughters died from a powerful wind collapsing their house.
After all these calamities, Job tore his clothes, shaved his hair and fell to the ground to worship God and said “I came naked from my mother’s womb and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of Lord”. In all this, Job did not sin by blaming God. He acknowledged and loved God for who He is and not what He gives. His emotions of his loss and grief were expressed to God.
The members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord and the Satan came also. God said that Job has maintained his integrity even though Satan harmed him without the cause. Satan replied “skin for skin, a man will give up everything he has to save his life. But reach out and take his health and he will surely curse you to your face”. The Lord said then do as you please but spare his life. Then Satan attacked Job a third time, with physical ailments—Job was with terrible boils from head to toe and Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. Job’s wife gave the fourth attack, humiliating Job by saying “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job replied “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hands of God and never anything bad?” So, in all this, Job said nothing wrong and had not sinned against God. The final attack was from his three most trusted friends who came to comfort and console Job. Their names were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They were from different regions. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. They sat on the ground with him for 7 days and no one said a word for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. After 7 days, his friends, one by one accused Job with harsh words by saying that he must have sinned enough to deserve such suffering.
Loss of power, possessions and love ones are sad enough, but he was getting further humiliation by younger people mocking and abusing him, adding insult to injury. Job said “But now I am mocked by people younger than I. A lot of good they are to me. And they mock me with vulgar songs! They taunt me! They despise me and won’t come near me, except to spit in my face. For God has cut my bowstring. He has humbled me, so they have thrown off all restraint. They block my road and they do everything they can to destroy me. They know I have no one to help me. My honor has blown away in the wind and my prosperity has vanished like a cloud. And now my life seeps away. Depression haunts my days. At night my bones are filled with pain which gnaws at me relentlessly. I cry to you, O God but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. You have become cruel to me. You use your power to persecute me. My heart is troubled and restless. Days of suffering torment me.” (Job 31).
This agonizing voice of Job crying out to a silent God is faced by most of us at some point in our lives. The pain and suffering that we are facing at times do not seem “fair.” Why is this happening to me when others are seemingly happy and carrying on with their lives with uneventful mishaps? At times, life is so cruel that not existing seems better. Despising life and desire to die at times are so strong. In Job 10, he said “I am disgusted with my life. Why did you deliver me from my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?”
This principle of good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to bad people are a prominent thinking and somehow natural ways of thinking we all have. “Life should be easy” is also a common and natural expectation, but life is never easy. None of these expectations are written in the law of life or in the Bible. We intuitively know that life is indeed difficult, and we face tragedies and turmoil at times but when they actually come, we are often surprised as to why. Initially, friends and family members sympathize with the acute difficulty for the loved one but with a little time, it is not unusual to question perhaps previous sins of the loved one has caused one to have such difficulties and deserve such sufferings. Assumption regarding others to suffer due to their own fault or previous sin is not correct. It is not “eye for an eye” principle that God reacts to one’s sin.
There are four different reasons why we may suffer in life that I can see:
1. One reason why we may suffer is due to the consequences of bad decisions we have made. For example, if one drinks a lot and becomes an alcoholic, there are a number of bad consequences one may have to face, which may include broken relationships, loss of job, financial problems and physical illness such as liver cirrhosis. This is a direct consequence of acts that one causes by choosing and continuing to live with bad decisions. Most often, a person knows that he or she made sequences of bad decisions and hence deserves such suffering. This might be a root to our common philosophy that the wicked shall be punished and live in pain and the righteous shall live upright and prosper. God will give prosperity to those who truly believe in Him and live happily—this is a dangerous way to think.
2. The other reason why we might suffer is to bring healing and restoration. God is trying to teach and instruct specific things in one’s life to “give a lesson,” so to speak. This kind of suffering is not meant to punish us as much as it is meant to correct and restore us to keep us on the right path. This is why we constantly ask questions such as “what must I learn from this experience?” “What was it that I am supposed to gain from this lesson?” or “Is God telling me something?” Although maturity can be established by thinking through this way, it is still somehow tied to sin and that your imperfection is getting refinement.
3. The other reason why we might suffer is to benefit others. I was afflicted with polio on my right leg at a young age. This is what I believe why I constantly suffered throughout my life with my physical disability. Without my own pain, I would not know others who go through lives with pain and physical limitations. I understood this very well when I saw a patient who lost almost half of her face due to head and neck cancer. She was severely disfigured and shocking to see. She lived in fear that people would look at her with disbelief and disgust. She was in pain and shame. When she unwrapped her face and revealed her scar, she was crying after I held her hand. She knew that I had my own sets of physical limitations and I had gone through emotional and mental pain. There was unspoken language of understanding and compassion to each other. We had a special bond at that moment and there was a mutual understanding of enormous burden we each carried in our daily lives. This kind of human understanding needs no words but is felt between people who went through certain amount of pain. This experience taught me though I still suffer with my physical disability, I am somewhat comforted knowing that my pain has some purpose.
4. The final one is that pain has no identifiable reason. This is unexplainable pain and suffering, similar to what Job went through. God negotiated and discussed with Satan in heavenly meetings and God allows certain things to happen to Job. There is nothing a human can explain or even attempt to understand. The Creator of the universe is carrying out His plans. The only thing that I can say is that ultimately God always blesses the one who suffers with this kind of cause.
(Job 38-42) When Job challenged God by asking why God has done all these things to him when he was upright and fearing God, God spoke to him but not directly answering him. God asked Job a series of questions pertaining to earth’s nature which no human can fathom to answer. God asked “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determines its dimensions? What supports its foundations? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries? Have you ever commanded the morning stars to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depth? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Where does light come from and where does darkness go? Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail? Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind? Who creates a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightening? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up? Who gives birth to the dew? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? Can you direct the movement of the stars? Can you direct the sequence of the seasons? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightening appear and cause it to strike as you direct? Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods? Can you stalk prey for a lioness? Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God and wander about in hunger? Do you know when the wild goats give birth? Have you watched as deer are born in the wild? Do you know how many months they carry their young? Are you aware of the time of their delivery? Who gives the wild donkey its freedom? Who untied its ropes? Will the wild ox consent to being tamed? Will it spend the night in your stall? Can you hitch a wild ox to a plow? Will it plow a field for you? Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust? Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle rises to the heights to make its nest? Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic but you do not have the answers? Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right? Are you as strong as God? Can you thunder with a voice like his?” After all these questions God asked to Job, he simply responded “I know that you can do anything and no one can stop you. I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” And then Job repented, taking back everything he said to God.
No one can fathom God’s knowledge and power to explain his creation and common events in nature. How can we possibly understand God’s intention in our pain? God himself is the standard of justice and we cannot put fairness or justice as a higher standard than God. If nature is beyond grasp of understanding, how could we possibly know God’s purpose in pain? One thing we do know is that the principle that suffering is God’s judgment for sin is not always true. In fact, this is a dangerous road to take. Certain people believe that if you are a true “Christian,” then you will prosper and always be a winner. It is equally not true to think that suffering always brings discipline and refinement. Satan was also wrong in that people only believe and worship God when they are prospering and not suffering. Though people are friable and weak at times, the desire to seek out the creator and relying on God in all circumstances, especially in pain, is deep rooted in our heart.
“I know the road that I take with the Lord and when I am thru, I will come out as gold,” said Job. This is the trust, the faith in God which is the only thing required in living. Perhaps God’s view on suffering is that it will cause us to trust God for who he is and not what he does. Amidst undesirable outcome, even the death will be acceptable if we believe that God is under control. This faith is the only thing that can provide any hope.
The blessing may be disguised in death. We cannot fathom how death can be a blessing. The only fact that is true is that there is death after birth. Life here on earth is always numbered and no one escapes from the death. But without death, there is no resurrection. We only know what this life is about and death seems dark, lonely, and unknown. It is like a fetus in the woman’s womb, cozy in the warmth of its own fluid, not breathing but moving around in a tight space. The fetus would never even imagine what it will be like in the outside of the womb. But when the womb broke its contents and the baby comes out into this new world and takes the first breath filling the lungs with air, there is a new life with new experiences. Death may be the same, something to experience outside of this limited world in which we live. The space beyond this life may be even greater than where we are. There will be an end to pain, physical limitations, and confinement to the body and emotions.
This is where I am differing in thoughts. I have hope even in death because the faith I have in Jesus. For all those who are battling with cancer diagnosis, COVID-19 infection, or severe mental pain, do not lose your heart. When you are nauseous, vomiting your gut out and feeling like there is no meaning in life, keep talking to God. God did not have to show up to Job and justify his actions but God did show up and spoke to Job because he cared and loved him. Throughout the Bible, all God talks about is how He showed up and cares for us. And even if God is silent, keep praying. Your God did show up 2000 years ago, broke the history in BC to AD through Christ. He came humbly as a baby through a woman’s body, cleansing the cursed name of “Woman” with His deity, spilled out his blood as a sacrificial lamb for the atonement of our sins, underwent extreme humiliation and mockery from his own creatures, emptying his glory, laid down his life to be forsaken and to save us from the eternal death, rose again victoriously from the death so that we may have hope, sat on the right hand side of Father God and He promised us “He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17).
Why do we suffer? It is for the glory of God. The glory which we cannot fathom today but in time, God will reveal to us. Rejoice in pain and wait patiently. God will show up and lift you up in His glory.