If we read Philippians, we get a sense that Paul has found some source
of irrepressible joy. We know that we should have this joy, but
how do we find it?
My approach, from Ecclesiastes 7:3, that sorrow is better than
because a sad face leads to a happy heart, is not theory. This is
my personal experience. Not only for myself, but when I meet a
person who is experiencing great, ongoing hardship, and share with them
from Job 14:18-19
But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
and as a rock is moved from its place,
as water wears away stones
and torrents wash away the soil,
so you [God] destroy man's hope.
that far from pushing these people further into despair, that
these words bring great freedom and release. As if to say - yes,
there is someone else who knows what I am experiencing. There is
someone else, even a righteous man, who knows the deep despair and
hopelessness that fills my heart.
There is yet more hope in Job. While he is in this place of
pain, he has three comforters who speak to him about how he should
handle his problems. Their advice sounds so correct, just like
all the good sounding advice that our own friends are giving us.
But in the end we discover that God is mighty displeased with these
We all know the beginning of the book of Job, and we all know the
end. In particular, we see that after meeting with God, that Job
confesses that his words were unwise, and he covers his mouth. So
does this mean that we don't need to read the forty chapters in
between? And if it does, why did the Holy Spirit bother to write
it for posterity?
Before Paul was saved, he knew the Old Testament back to front,
and outside. I speculate that he must have found a great deal of
it mysterious. For example, what was he to make of the totally
depressing Psalm 44? Then he had his amazing experience of truly
meeting with God, and as the years followed, so much of the Old
Testament must have fallen into place. He quotes this psalm in
35. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall
or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36. As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
37. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
We all know verses 35 and 37. But how does verse 36 fit
Are we more than conquerors because we are considered as sheep to be
slaughtered? Is it possible that his "facing death all day long"
is part of what caused his overwhelming joy that is expressed in
What I can say is that I have found a deep meaning in Job's
suffering. It all fits together, what Paul says about joy in
suffering, and the deep anguish expressed by Job. I cannot
understand one without the other.
What do we make of David's and Job's response? Should we refrain
from speaking to God about the pain and suffering we experience,
because then we will only later be covering our mouth with shame, and
realizing that we were acting like a brute animal? Should we
consider Job's and David's responses as lessons in what not to do?
When we experience grief, anger, unforgiveness, depression, or other
negative emotions, we want these emotions to end, right now. When
we teach about how to react to pain and anguish, we give the impression
that to wallow in them is wrong. This sense of hurry (or possibly
guilt laid upon us by our well meaning friends) leads us to try to
short circuit the whole process, start at Job 1, and go straight to Job
So we might come to church, feeling like Job, or feeling like David
one of his worse days, and when we get there we sing songs like "I feel
so full of joy that I just cannot help dancing, even though I know its
silly." Its great if you really feel like this, but I don't think
that Job himself would have got a lot out of that worship song.
Indeed our worship songs come from the Psalms, but somehow we seem to
miss part of them out? What songs are based upon Psalm 137, or
upon Psalm 139:19-22, or upon the middle forty chapters of Job?
It is as if we ignore the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 "All
Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, for training in righteousness." Do we only select
those scriptures that we understand, make us feel comfortable or fit in
with our theological preconceptions?
We say that Paul's emotions do not depend upon his circumstances.
But that is not true. Certainly his emotions do not depend upon
the outward circumstances. But he cannot find true joy unless God
himself actually turns up and comforts him. He is not engaged in
some kind of self help mind exercise. If God had not met Job at
the end, Job would have remained depressed and sad. I doubt that
even the words of the "fourth comforter," Elihu, could have brought him
comfort, true as they were. In Philippians, Paul is full of joy,
not because he had convinced himself that his sufferings are for some
good cause, but rather because God himself had told Paul these truths.
In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your
requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which
surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in
Christ Jesus." This I can tell you - if you do truly present all
your requests to God, then this peace really does come, and this peace
is genuinely beyond comprehension. This peace cannot be gained by
any intellectual speculation, or by working it up within yourself -
this incomprehensible peace can only come from God himself.
In the end, I believe that God allowed Satan to torture Job, not
because he wished to test Job, nor as some kind of punishment.
Ultimately, it was because he loved Job. He showed his love to
Job by bringing him great sufferings, because God knew that this was
the best and most beautiful way to find real truth and joy. Paul
also knew this lesson. Perhaps he received it in part from the
book of Job, or perhaps from Lamentations (not just Lamentations
3:22ff, but also the rest of it, which we moderns don't like to read),
and certainly he knew this from experience.
If we are going through a season of joy, enjoy it and thank God for
it. But if we are going through a season of suffering, thank God
for these days as well. For these difficulties will, in time,
yield great fruit. But do not deny the pain and anguish, rather
experience it to its fullness, and bring it to God. For in Psalm
126:5 we are promised that "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs
When I was saved , I joined a charismatic church which, more or less,
held that to be not super full of joy was sinful. I took on this
teaching, and so when two years later I came to Christian Fellowship in
Columbia, I was surprised and shocked by Joe Tosini's preaching from
the beatitudes - blessed are the poor in spirit - blessed are those who
mourn. But to my great surprise, I found his lessons actually
freed me. Much of my joy up until then was not true joy, but
actually a feeble attempt to con myself.
At this time, the general theme of much of the preaching was of the
importance of suffering, and finding God through difficult
circumstances. I felt that I was not suffering at all, and
wondered if this meant that I would be denied this wisdom. But
when I prayed about it, I felt God tell me that my time of suffering
was not yet to be. But God loved me so much, that he would not
deny me this experience, yet when I did experience it, it would be a
much more gentle experience than I was anticipating.
Well a few years later, suffering did indeed start to come my
way. My wife showed signs of schizophrenia, I broke my neck in an
accident, my daughter displayed symptoms of autism, and there was bad
politics at work. Thus I decided to seek God through the book of
My sense of God's love for me is so much greater and fresher than it
was before. Having experienced some of the more difficult times,
I now know that God is for me, no matter what the external
circumstances reveal. He is always ready and pleased to hear my
heart's innermost desires, both the praises and the complaints.
In turn, God is pleased when I seek him with my whole heart, and when I
desire to know what he is really like. God has truly become my
friend and my father.