The words of the hymn come to mind: If thou but suffer God to guide thee, and hope in God through all thy ways, God will give strength, whate’er betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days. Who trusts in God’s unchanging love builds on the rock that naught can move. These words written in the 17th Century by Georg Neumark. While traveling, he was robbed of everything but a prayer book and a few coins. At the time he was also unemployed and nearly homeless. And yet, he found strength from God in the midst of suffering. And through such strength, he was sustained.
Job’s suffering was so severe that he “cursed the day of his birth.” He asked, “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden whom God has hedged in?” (3:23) The God who in 1:10 “put a hedge around him” to protect him, now left him hedged in with suffering – or so it seemed. Then Job’s friend arrived to comfort him by explaining there must be a reason for such suffering. God has a right to punish you, Job! (some comfort!). As we will see with this story of Job, the ultimate answer to the reason for such suffering was never given. God never provides that answer, but God also never leaves and never abandons.
If God’s motive in suffering was to punish sinners, then look no further than Acts 8-9. Saul’s record of persecution of Christians surely would have put him first in line for suffering at the hands of God. But God reached out to transform Saul. “This man is my chosen instrument.”
This prayer comes to mind: “Lord, what do You want to do through me?” God is present and able to provide strength in my weakness, even in the depth of suffering. And even the worst can become God’s instrument. God is present and able. Am I willing and available?
Today’s readings: Job 3-4; Acts 8-9