Friday, December 31, 2010

Right Answer, Wrong Time

By Bob Henderson

I recently heard the comment, “Christians are answer people, not compassionate people.  When confronted with a tragedy in someone else’s life, Christians try to explain why the tragedy occurred or how it will eventually be seen as good.”  While believers in Christ may not always understand why things happen they have god’s promise:  “And we know all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”  (Rom. 8:28).  This is true, of course, and it is often quoted to Christians in a crisis, indeed, it is a right answer for a Christian.  But the right answer, at the wrong time, could be the wrong answer.

If we were to conduct a survey among Christians to see who in the Bible is most often associated with intense personal suffering, Job would probably top the list.  Job suffered the loss of worldly possessions and the death of then children—all on the same day.  The Bible makes it clear that he had done nothing deserve this tragedy.  Satan had sought and received God’s permission to make these things happen.

Job was a man of faith, and while I tremble at the thought of losing my only child, Job “fell to the ground and worshiped… Through all this Job did not sin not did he blame God” (Job 1:20,22, NASB).  Frustrated that his efforts had not made job turn against God, satan again sought and received God’s permission to bring further suffering into Job’s life.  Job’s entire body became covered with painful boils, yet job’s faith in God still held for a while (2:10)

Word soon got out about what was happening to Job.  Three of his friends, all well-known elders, came sympathize with him and comfort him”  (v.11).  when they arrived,  “they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great (v.13).  Seven days and seven nights without a word!  What a testimony—both to Job’s degree of suffering, and to his friends’ great sensitivity.

Even though Job was a man of great faith and integrity, he was still a man.  After the seven days of silence, Job “opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” (3:1).  Job’s suffering from this tragedy was so intense that instead of just wishing it had never occurred, Job wished he had never been born! He felt that his suffering had now overshadowed all the good that had been in his life before.

Although Job’s three friends were elders noted for their wisdom, they too, were men.  They reacted to Job’s bitterness the same way many of us treat when we see Christians going through intense suffering they had the answer to “Why?” and they were eager to share their answer with Job.

Even though Job wasn’t ready for the answer that didn’t stop them.  Furthermore, there answer that Job’s suffering was a result of sin in his life.??????. Much later, when Job was ready, a loving God corrected that.  Yet Job’s friends, despite their initial understanding were answer people, not compassionate people.

Jesus Christ saw much suffering during His life on earth, and He responded compassionately, even though He knew the answer to the “Why?”  associated with the suffering.  When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, died,  Jesus knew why and told His disciples,  “Lazarus is dear, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe;  but let us go to him”  (John 11:14,15).  The purpose of Lazarus’s death was to nurture the most important thing in anyone’s life: belief in Christ.

When Jesus went to Bethany where Lazarus had been buried.  Martha felt well enough to come out and greet Him.  (Perhaps Mary was still too overcome with grief).  Seeing Jesus, Martha immediately expressed faith in Him in two ways.  First, she knew Jesus could have prevented her brother’s dying if He had been there and, second, even now she knew Jesus could receive from God whatever He asked.  Martha’s faith enabled Jesus to give her an answer in this tragedy.  He told her that her brother would rise again.

Jesus’ reaction to Mary was different.  When Mary overcame her grief sufficiently to go to Jesus, she also expressed faith that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death had He been present.  But she didn’t go beyond this, as Martha had done, to say that she believed Jesus could do something now.  Mary was too deeply in grief (vv 33-35). Bit Mary’s grief and tears brought a reaction from the Son of God, who knew the answer to “Why?”  Jesus tears were not for Lazarus, as those who saw Him weeping supposed (v.36), but for Mary and the others who were grieving, and for the havoc that sin had brought to the world.

Mary and Martha were sisters who experienced the same tragedy, but their loving and patient Saviour, who understood both of them and was willing to accept their differences, treated them differently.  For Martha, who was ready for an answer, Christ and the answer.  But for Mary, who was not ready, Christ had compassion and love that went beyond merely understanding what she was experiencing.  His love for Mary allowed Him to accept her in the grief she was going through.

God knows our weaknesses.  When we display those weakness in bitterness or anger in response to a humanly perceived tragedy.  He doesn’t abandon us, and He often doesn’t immediately try to reason with us.  Instead, He shows patience and love.  While God always loves so intensely that, instead of describing the depth of God’s love, the Apostle John simply wrote.  “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

God’s people should be answer people, for they have the Answer.  But they should first be people with the kind of love that results in patience, understanding and acceptance.  “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet. 4:8). End.

(An article originally published in the 'Confident Living' magazine, A Back to the Bible publication)

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