“Strange though it may seem, there are distinct similarities between the ways of God in revival and in judgment. Throughout the prophets the thought of a divine visitation is used to describe blessing and revival on the one hand (Jer. 27:22) and a season of judgment on the other (Jer. 50:31). Likewise, the overflowing rain could picture a time of spiritual revival (Ezek. 34:26) or of divine judgment (Gen. 6:17). Another figure used of the mighty operation of the Spirit in revival is fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38; Acts 2:3), but it is also typical of the judgment of God (2 Kings 1:10). All this may be partly explained by the fact that there is an element of judgment present in every revival. But it is also true that judgment is the solemn alternative to revival. The purifying and quickening of the people of God are a moral and spiritual necessity. Because of His very nature, God cannot and will not permit spiritual decline to continue unchecked. He is ever halting and reversing the trend of the times by means of revival or judgment. Where His people are not prepared for the one, they shut themselves up to the other.” (Arthur Wallis, In The Day of Thy Power, p.240, emphasis original)
“Every man is ultimately concerned with something. He has given his heart, his allegiance, to something–set his direction. Thus the Scripture speaks of the ‘godly’ man in the Psalms, the man whose heart is ready to seek God. His counterpart has set his heart to seek things which are going to pass away. No man can be headed in two directions at one time.” (Elizabeth Elliot, The Liberty of Obedience, pp.49-50, emphasis added)
Most difficulties in life only get more difficult the longer we refuse to deal with them. Things rarely get easier by avoidance.
That includes interpersonal strife: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14)
Reconciliation: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” (Matthew 5:25)
Childrearing: “Discipline your son while there is hope …” (Proverbs 19:18a, NASB)
Personal temptation: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
A foolish business commitment: “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” (Proverbs 6:1-5)
In each case the path of wisdom is to lean into the challenge and, to use the words of a wise old deputy sheriff, “Nip it in the bud!” (be sure to click the link!)
We have problems. God can help. God wants to help.
We want Him to help! And we figure we know just how he ought to go about doing so.
God, however, seldom dances to our tune.
Job had problems. His problems were epic, legendary. He wanted—desperately—God’s deliverance.
Job’s three friends were of little help. God eventually rebuked them, saying, “you have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7).
Once they’d shot their counseling-wad a fourth figure steps to the fore and offers his take on Job, his problems and how he’d been responding to them. Elihu is a somewhat enigmatic figure. Just how are we to view his contribution to this drama? He is unlike Job’s three friends in that they each shared in three rounds of debate with the sufferer, allowing Job to respond after each round (Job 4-31). Not so with Elihu. He offers four discourses aimed at Job and his response to suffering (Job 32-37). There is no response from Job. When Elihu steps down from the mic, neither does God make a response to him or what he’d said. God simply turned to Job and responded to him and what he’d said (Job 38-41). Its almost like Elihu didn’t exist and his speech was inconsequential!
So how are we to understand Elihu and what he said? I can’t satisfactorily answer that weighty matter here. Perhaps in some way he prepares for Job to hear God when he eventually breaks the heavenly silence.
One point Elihu makes is one I think we all need to hear. Sometimes God delivers us, not by removing our adversity, but by sending it. Perhaps God’s willingness to appear at least temporarily passive or disinterested with regard to our affliction is the greatest proof of his commitment to be our perfect Deliverer.
“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15; cf. also 33:19-22).
Perhaps the very thing we feel need of being delivered from is the means of the real deliverance we desperately need. What we feel need of deliverance from actually may not be our greatest need.
The words picture a person “afflicted.” The affliction is not specified, but in context we ought to picture Job. We’re not talking inconveniences here; this is deep affliction. He needs to be delivered, but by what means? Who will do so? And how with it happen?
Elihu reminds us that it is “by their [very] affliction” that deliverance comes. This can only mean that my perceived (and, indeed, real) affliction is not my only or even primary affliction.
Every sufferer has another, deeper problem than the one stealing their attention. The lesser affliction is sent to rescue from the greater affliction.
Just how is it to do so? It does so because it “opens their ear.” It gets their attention. It opens their awareness. There is a willingness now to listen to God, where perhaps there had not been. The sufferer will now consider possibilities that were heretofore brushed aside.
Isn’t this what C.S. Lewis was getting at in The Problem of Pain? He asserted that “God whispers to us in your pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Dr. Paul Brand who spent a lifetime dealing with the numbing and destructive effects of leprosy in undeveloped countries of the world said, “If I had to summarize the grand design of pain in one phrase it would be this: Pain is directional. It hurts not in order to cause discomfort, but to demand a change in response to danger” (In His Image, p.258).
So perhaps I need to revisit my feelings. Maybe I need to open my ears and shut my mouth. Could it be that God is willing to risk temporarily being thought unkind or unjust in order to prove that he is ultimately and eternally compassionate and merciful?
Lord, just what is it you are saying to me? Help me hear! Amen.