Night Vision (Jul-Aug 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Rusty Tugman
July-August 2002

Finding God’s light in the darkness of disappointment

In 1858 the Illinois legislature, using an obscure statute, sent Stephen A. Douglas to the United States Senate instead of Abraham Lincoln, even though Lincoln had won the popular vote.  When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”  When faced with disappointment, many of us find ourselves in the same position as Abraham Lincoln – unsure of our response.  Do we laugh?  Do we cry?  Or do we simply give up?  

C.S. Lewis was once asked the question that eventually appears on every believer’s radar screen, “Why do the righteous suffer?”  His reply was, “Why not?  They’re the only ones who can take it.”  From a Christian perspective, dealing with disappointment is a good news/bad news story.  The bad news is that a relationship with God does not exclude us from discouragement, tragedy, heartache, pain, or suffering.  The good news is that a relationship with God equips us to handle disappointment in positive and constructive ways.  Yet, in the midst of distress, many of us wonder if, as C.S. Lewis suggested, we can really take it.

This is precisely why the inspired word of God includes the story of Job, God’s faithful servant who gained the dubious honor of being the world’s foremost expert on human suffering.  In his honest, no-holds-barred tug-of-war between faith and suffering, Job teaches us the value of working through our difficulties instead of being dominated by them.  His experience accurately reflects the observation of Helen Keller who said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Those of you who have read the book of Job know that, despite his candid laments toward God, Job remains faithful and God rewards him by giving Job twice as much as he had before.  Because we know the ending, many of us fail to grasp the full impact of Job’s experience.  In the midst of his immense emotional and physical anguish, Job does not know how things in his life are going to turn out.  He does not know that he will have more sons and daughters and grandchildren.  All he knows is the incomprehensible pain of burying all ten of his children.  Job does not know that he will be twice as rich as he was before.  All he knows is the paralyzing anxiety of financial ruin.  Job does not know that his reputation will grow and that his faith will inspire a multitude of generations.  All he knows are the callous accusations of his friends who say that his suffering must be the result of some hideous secret sin.  Job does not know that his relationship with God will be stronger and deeper and more satisfying than ever before.  All he knows is that God seems to be absent and uncaring.

We don’t have God’s eternal perspective in which to view our life’s story.  Consequently, all many of us are able to see at this moment in time is a marriage that’s failing, a family divided, a bank statement that exposes debt, an addiction that seems unconquerable, an illness that appears incurable.  It has been said that “those who know the path to God can find it in the dark.”  Even though Job could not see too far ahead, he found the path to God through the darkness of disappointment.  Along the way, he imparted a valuable lesson to fellow travelers like you and me.

Job learned that trusting God is more important than understanding God.  The intense dialogue between Job and his friends not only reflects his inner turmoil, but also reveals his chief desire – an explanation for his suffering.   When God breaks his silence and speaks to Job “out of the storm,” he does not answer one of Job’s questions.  He doesn’t even concern himself with Job’s heartfelt cry, “Why?”

To the casual observer this response from God seems uncaring.  But if we look closely at God’s communication with Job, we find that when God speaks out of the storm, his intent is to calm the storm.  In order to do that, God must go beyond Job’s questions to the core issue that forms the basis of his inquiry: trust.

God could give Job an explanation for his suffering, but Job, being human, would be incapable of really “getting it.”  Understanding why will not bring Job’s children back to life.  Understanding why will not restore his financial security.  Understanding why will not erase the pain from his heart or the nightmares in his head.  And so, instead of giving answers, God gives Job peace by reminding him that he is in control. Trusting God equips us with the proper perspective from which to view disappointment. 

Like Job, I too know the pain of burying a child.  I too know what it is like to be angry at God.  I too have “shaken my fist” at God.  I too know the pain that gives rise to the bitter cry, “Why?”  And I too have found that trusting God is more important and valuable than understanding how God works.  Trusting in God’s promises and provision has enabled my wife and me to rise up from the ashes of tragedy and look forward to each new day with anticipation and joy.

In the darkness of disappointment, we can still find the path to God.  Job and others like him have blazed that trail to prove that it can be done.  And the first step is trust.  “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

Rusty Tugman is the Community Outreach Minister for the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, TX.  He and his wife Mitzi are the proud parents of Cooper Hammer Tugman who went to be with God on July 1, 2001.

  

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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