This weekend I attended a candlelight service for a young man who was tragically killed in an ATV accident earlier in the week. Unfortunately, just two days before he was killed, another young man in our community committed suicide.
As you can imagine, these deaths have greatly impacted people from all walks of life. They have reminded each of us about how fragile life can be and how quickly it can be irrevocably changed. Cole and Tyler got all of us thinking about big issues like God, life, death, heaven, hell, and forgiveness to name a few.
For many Fort Dodgers, this week has been especially difficult because Cole’s death marked the third teenage suicide we’ve had in just the last year. There have been comments all over Facebook about people’s desires that suicides would stop in Fort Dodge. I saw people’s hearts break each time I logged on my home screen.
I can’t say that I knew either young man, but I do know others who knew them. The couple hundred people I saw gathered outside Tyler’s house on Friday were a testament to the impact that he had on others. I even heard about old classmates who had driven from out of state to come to both funerals. These guys were well liked by many.
Therefore, I can only imagine what pain and frustration those who knew them are going through. I’ve thought all week about what I can offer for those going through such a difficult time. I feel like no words that I say will be able to do justice to the sorrow that many people are feeling.
Providentially, I’ve been reading through the book of Job this last week in my quiet times.
This book has always been intriguing to me. I remember the first time that I read it in 2001, when I was working in an orphanage in Mexico for a summer.
I was shocked by what I read.
As a product of faithful Sunday school attendance, I knew the story of Job. I knew about the dialogue between God and Satan and God letting Satan take all that Job had. I remembered the part where Job doesn’t curse God and Job is given a double portion of all he had in the beginning. So when I discovered the book myself, I noticed that 95% of the book is dialogue. Dialogue with Job, his friends, and God. There are only about 2.5 chapters that actually have narrative in them.
This blew me away as a 17 year old. Here I was, reading an actual dialogue between Job and his three friends, arguing back and forth. They tried to figure out why God would punish Job while Job maintained that he had done no wrong. Never had I seen such detail in a conversation in the Bible. I devoured the book, fascinated by all of the conversations.
Later encounters with the book of Job have left a slightly less sweet taste in my mouth, especially this time. This current dose of Job’s arguments with his friends has been even more difficult to swallow. I’ve felt extremely conflicted.
On one side, I really, really want to uphold Paul’s claim in 2 Timothy 3 that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. But the other part of me wants to completely throw the book of Job out of the Bible!
I don’t know why I never had an issue with this story when I was younger. The book of Job portrays God in such a negative light. Upon reading the last few chapters of the book, after listening to relentless cries from Job, begging God to explain his actions, God basically goes on a rant. In my (limited) understanding, God explains to Job that he is God and can therefore do whatever he wants, and who is Job to question him anyway? After this divine lecture, Job is brought to his knees before God and still remains faithful. In the end, all is well, though, because God gives Job twice as many sons and livestock as he had before to make up for all the suffering he endured.
I understand that I my summary is tongue-in-cheek, but it illustrates some of my difficulties with Job. If an all-powerful God acts like God does in Job, do I want to know that God? Do I want to know a God that seems to toy with me just to prove a point to some other spiritual being? Do I want to know a God who arbitrarily decides to bring calamity on his people? Do I want to know a God who thinks giving me two more sons will replace the one that I’ve lost? Do I want to know a God who seems to wait in silence while I wail and mourn, begging for an explanation of life’s tragedies?
So I come back to the events of this past week, still struggling. What can I offer to those who are asking God some of the same questions Job did? Does God ever provide any comfort other than what is found in the book of Job?
In spite of all this uncertainty, there is one thing I would like to offer:
In the midst of our suffering, we are more like God than we realize.
Said another way, we encounter God when we suffer.
Let’s unpack this. As Christians we believe that Jesus is God. We believe that roughly 2000 years ago God was born as a boy who walked on this earth and grew to be a man who died for us and was raised from the dead. Jesus wasn’t just a moral man, a prophet, or a great teacher. He was God, living among us. Now here’s the crazy part. Jesus lived a life of suffering. He was homeless, kicked out of his hometown, betrayed, doubted, feared, scoffed at, whipped, beaten, spit on, and murdered.
God was murdered.
It is safe to say that through Jesus, God knows what suffering is like. Through Jesus, God did what Job’s judgmental friends weren’t able to do. Through Jesus, God did what I’m not able to do. Through Jesus, God can relate with each one of us.
When we suffer, when we cry, God knows the feeling. When we feel lonely, like nobody understands our thoughts, God knows the feeling. When we’ve been hurt so badly that we don’t even know what to say, God knows the feeling.
So for all those who have been deeply wounded by the events that have transpired in Fort Dodge this past week or by anything else in life,
God is with you.
It might not feel like it, but you are closer to God than you realize. God is walking each step of this incredibly hard journey, working in your life, transforming you.
Just earlier today I participated in a church service where I read a passage from Joshua 1. It is my prayer that you might know this truth today: Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.