My life is but a weaving, Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors, He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow; And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper, While I the underside.
“Life is But a Weaving,” Corrie Ten Boom
One picture I use to explain God’s sovereignty to my classes is that of a tapestry. On the board I draw the top side, then the bottom side, inscribing “Job 1 and 2” as the text underneath. I then explain that if it were not for chapters 1 and 2 in Job, there would be no sense believing in Yahweh’s explanation of suffering. Job 1 and 2 give credence to a Heaven-centered view of pain. As a human, I am not pleased by the hurt I bear. But I can abide the gut-wrenching agonies I face if I know there is a Personal, Eternal, Triune Creator who superintends my life. God is not absent in suffering. He has not left the building. God’s supposed silence does not indicate an uncaring attitude. I can live with an earth view of the tapestry when I am assured Heaven’s view is unobstructed.
In The First Testament (Old Testament) time period, pagan peoples believed in fate. Impersonal forces mysteriously presented themselves; humans were left to deal with the psychological aftershocks. There are few cultural differences between then and now when it comes to pagan views of suffering. Neither luck, chance, accident, serendipity, nor destiny are progenitors of earthly encounters. Yahweh superintends, sustains, supports, and saves His creation in spite of the suffering introduced through human sin. As Job 38-42 indicate, we may ask “Why did this happen to me?” but Yahweh responds with 68 questions of His own; about His creation He asks “If you cannot understand My creation, why should you think you’ll understand The Creator?”
Job 3 is Job’s first foray into asking “Why?” In the first three parts of this series on lament, we have understood that we suffer for unidentified reasons (“blindsided”), we have good cause to cry out (“pain”), and we sometimes wonder if life is worth living (“doom”). Lament is a proper form for human response to wounds. But we cannot stay in a state of lament. Here is where we must add a dozen specific applications to the nature and character of God as well as our response to Who God Is in the midst of our laments.
1. Teach the nature, attributes, and character of God early in life. Children need to know Who Yahweh is. To this day, people ask me, “What is the most important thing I can teach?” My answer is always the same. Teach children Who God Is. [Psalm 78]
2. The best time to teach sovereignty is before humanly bad things happen. Shut up and listen. If Job’s three friends had followed this simple rule of human response to suffering, Job would have been a short book! Doctrinal teaching in the midst of pain will be rightfully met with rage from the people who ache. Attempting trite, superficial, hyped God-talk is the worst response to suffering. Building strong biblical-theological structures on the bedrock of Scripture will allow the house to stand when the earthquakes come. [Psalm 119]
3. There is no one-for-one correspondence between wrongdoings committed and pain experienced. Reason, purpose, and meaning in suffering is not ours to decide. Our views of human experience should be tempered by this knowledge: we understand little. Scripture clearly teaches evildoers do not always receive their just desserts for wrongs committed here. [Psalm 73]
4. There is no absolute correlation between doing right and rewards. The exact opposite is also true: do not assume that our goodness will be reciprocated with human-viewed good from God. We need to eschew a works-centered view of life, seeing a grace-centered viewpoint instead. We should continue to do good, discontinuing our belief that we deserve something good because of it. [Titus 3:1-8]
5. Answers to the “why” questions are not our domain. God controls the mysteries of life. There are no explanations for suffering; we should not expect any. In fact, mystery is a marker of the truth God’s revelation to us. If we could figure out mystery, why worship? [John 9:3: 11:3]
6. We should never doubt God’s presence in suffering. He is with us in it. And for our pagan friends who wonder, “Where is God when bad things happen?” we must ask them, “Where is your praise for God for all the good things that happen to you?” [Hebrews 2, 9, 10]
7. We are outraged by “undeserved” suffering. We have repented of sin, we serve God and man, “We’re all in” as the poker player calls it: we have a royal flush. And suddenly, out of nowhere, someone has created a new, winning hand. Our flush is crushed. We respond in anger to injustice but leave the ultimate response to The Just Judge. [Habakkuk]
8. A proper view of suffering suggests that the answer to pain will not be satisfied by welfare, government programs, warfare, or the judicial system. [Daniel 4:34-37]
9. Suffering happens, it cannot be prevented. For those who would want to blame God for suffering we must redirect their attention to Eden and our collective responsibility as the human race for the state we are in. [Genesis 3]
10. Protesting our pain before God is a godly position. ‘Lament’ is a form of expressing our human grief from a God-centered perspective. [Lamentations]
11. Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet: only through experience of trial and suffering. [Romans 5:1-4; 1 Peter]
12. If there is a beginning there will always be an end. If there is doubt, there is hope. If there is darkness, there is light. If there is pain, there is release. If there is heartache, there is joy. If there is a creation, there is a second coming. If there is a cross, there is an empty grave. If despair, delight. If mystery, worship its Author. If there is an underside to the tapestry, be assured the top side is being woven by Yahweh. [Job 42; Isaiah 60-66; Revelation 21-22]
Mark has been teaching the tapestry for 30 years; presently his students hear his instruction at Crossroads Bible College. The ‘lament’ series has been a guest blogging entry during March, 2012 at http://christianpsych.org/wp_scp/blog/