Friendly Fire?

Has God ever performed a controlled burn in your life? Did you see it as a controlled burn or punishment for something you did wrong? Remember Job, he had no skeletons in his closet. Yet, God tested him. Could underbrush (life’s circumstances and poor choices) in our lives be choking out spiritual growth, and preventing restoration? Could God be well within his right to perform a controlled burn in a believer’s life?” Dr. Larry Crabb states, “God ordains afflictions and trouble, but always for the purpose of setting us free to serve Him in a New Way of the Spirit (Hebrews 12:5-6). That Spirit, on His timetable, shines the spotlight on grace and lets us feel Him pour the Father’s love into our hearts no matter how we fail and struggle.”

Do you recall the Yellowstone Park fire in 1988? If so, you probably regarded this fire as a tragedy. Why? Well, acres upon acres were scorched to a black sooty mess, and thousands of animals were killed and burned out of their homes. But, even in the light of this tragedy God used this natural event to bring about rebirth and restoration. Look below and see the before and after with your own eyes.

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I wonder; if God can turn the destruction and suffering of a tragic burn, like the Yellowstone fire, into re-birth, new growth, and restoration: Could he not harness and use that same power to perform a controlled burn in the lives of His Children? Could Job’s suffering have been a God orchestrated controlled burn? We may never understand if or why God employed a “Controlled Burn” in Job’s life. However, to consider the possibility we need understand the method and purpose of a controlled burn. The primary goals of a controlled burn are: underbrush removal, provision for new growth, provision for rebirth, and total restoration? A controlled burn “Is a technique sometimes used in forest management, farming, or prairie restoration.” A controlled burn provides restoration by “stimulating the germination of desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest.” Controlled burns, responsibly and effectively clear thick life choking debris out from under healthy life giving trees. If left unmanaged, underbrush becomes hazardous to abundant life. On many occasions underbrush hazards have allowed lighting strikes to rapidly progress from a manageable fire to an unmanageable fire. A controlled burn is perfect for eliminating hazards, making way for new life to flourish. A controlled burn is purposefully planned, masterfully directed, and always watched over with vigilance. The Yellowstone fire of 1988 was not a controlled burn. However, God still used it to produce a life giving environment.

I am of the opinion, no amount of right living or good behavior lessens the impact of Christian suffering. Suffering is part of Christian life. For example, those instances of suffering in Christ’s life stand in testament to the necessity of suffering. Christ was completely good and completely perfect yet suffered horrendously. Christ was clear as he spoke these words to His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” If the life of Christ doesn’t convince us that reliance upon individual goodness is futile. We need only take a look at the life of Job.

From this point forward I will assume most people reading are familiar with Job’s story. I am quite familiar with the story and find myself returning to Job’s lament often. Do I visit Job’s plight to support my need for goodness or relief from suffering? No, I visit Job’s example to expose my daily need for God’s Grace. In my opinion, Job endured a level of earthly suffering shadowed only by the suffering of our Savior. Some people ascribe suffering to a person’s actions or inactions. I’m not so sure I agree with this thinking. Upon reading the Book of Job I asked myself two questions. Did Job bring suffering upon himself? Did he suffer because goodness escaped him? If Job did something to warrant suffering then the author omitted it. The biblical account of Job’s life seems to portray Job as a good man. The author of Job is very clear when he states, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job, this man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” In this same ancient dialogue God himself said, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Certainly God would not permit Job to suffer for no reason. But that appears to be what he did? Notice the word “appears.” Just because something appears one way to our human senses does not mean that’s God’s intent. Who can truly know God’s intent? No one only God himself. I believe the human perceived unfair suffering in Job’s life was God’s way of saying, “Who are you, my creation, to question the fairness of anything I do or do not do!” God says to Job:

Be strong, like a man!
I will ask you questions,
and you must answer me.
Would you say that I am unfair?
Would you blame me to make yourself look right?
Are you as strong as God?
Can your voice thunder like his?

Did you know there are Christians whom do not understand why God allows suffering? I often hear faithful men and women say, “How can a loving God allow this or that to happen?” Why do people say these things? Could it be because they stand firmly rooted in their humanness and observe God’s actions through natural eyes; instead of supernatural eyes? Are we accusing God of unfairness to make ourselves look right? Are we accusing him because we’ve made a promise to a loved one, a promise we aren’t capable of fulfilling? If we remain in our natural thinking how do we get past God’s conversation with Satan? This conversation:

“Have you noticed my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him. He is an honest and innocent man, honoring God and staying away from evil. But Satan answered the LORD, Job honors God for a good reason. You have put a wall around him, his family, and everything he owns. You have blessed the things he has done. His flocks and herds are so large they almost cover the land. But reach out your hand and destroy everything he has, and he will curse you to your face. The LORD said to Satan, All right, then. Everything Job has is in your power, but you must not touch Job himself.”

Was this a setup or was God being God? Since God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent can we rightly suppose that God knows what He is doing? Let’s assume God has a message for all believers via Job’s story. In light of Job’s story, I believe, faithful godly believer’s can expect to suffer periodically and at varying degrees. Believing otherwise, usurps emotional preparation, and ripens the climate for loss of faith. I think the length, type, and degree of suffering Job endured was an example of God performing a controlled burn. What could God have gained by a controlled burn in Job’s life? Could God’s willingness to perform a controlled burn in Job’s life have given Job an opportunity to access a higher level of faith? A faith that says, “No matter what happens to me, I will not deny nor renounce God.”

I think God wants us to observe Job’s seemingly unfair story and understand that no matter the trials we face, our faith in God will see us through. I think, the more unfair a situation is the more receptive we are to God’s Grace. Furthermore, I submit, not only did God perform a controlled burn in the life of Job, but in Christ’s life as well. He performed a controlled burn in Job’s life to teach us the truth about constancy of faith through all trial and suffering. Whereas, Christ’s suffering was allowed to provide humanity the opportunity for salvation, reconciliation, and redemption. God was glorified when Christ voluntarily accepted suffering and death by way of the cross. And God was glorified when Job held on to his faith as he endured the suffering doled out by Satan. Due to Job’s persevering faith, in the face of a God ordained controlled burn, God’s grace was poured out upon him. By grace alone Job’s family, livestock, respect, reputation, and personal possessions were restored two-fold:

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD gave him success again. The LORD gave Job twice as much as he had owned before. Job’s brothers and sisters came to his house, along with everyone who had known him before, and they all ate with him there. They comforted him and made him feel better about the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave Job a piece of silver and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life even more than the first part. Job had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand teams of oxen, and a thousand female donkeys. Job also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first daughter Jemimah, the second daughter Keziah, and the third daughter Keren-Happuch. There were no other women in all the land as beautiful as Job’s daughters.

What if, for the sake of humanity, we surrendered our incessant human need to understand God’s use of suffering? What if we accepted the fact we were never meant to reach a divine plain of understanding? If we were to somehow reach this divine plain wouldn’t the burden of omniscience excise our humanity? Wouldn’t that make us God? Why can’t we be content with being a human that believes God always knows best? Couldn’t one’s incessant drive for divine understanding be dangerous to his or her faith? I think so. Why? Because it plants a seed of doubt in one’s mind. This seed of doubt is often fertilized by a worldly desire to know what God knows. This did not work well for Adam and Eve. I doubt it will work well for us. Discussions about human suffering outside the light of divine providence are extremely dangerous. The danger comes when we ruminate over our lack of divine knowledge. We tend to get angry with God when God won’t let us in on his reasoning. It is sad to say, but many Godly people have walked away from faith in God because of this conundrum. It seems the majority of cases concerning a believer’s waning faith or complete loss of faith involve the suffering or death of a loved one. Should the divine mystery of suffering and death be a surprise to believers?” Did not God, in the beginning, sternly and compassionately warn all of humanity? Did he not say, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die?” Death and suffering are inescapable. As we stand in the shadow of the cross we should be more than able to accept this truth. Humans were never meant to understand the mystery of suffering and death. Nor were humans to question God’s use or timing of either, no matter the magnitude of emotional pain.

Our willingness to concede the divine need-to-know as it pertains to suffering may actually open our limited human mind to a limited understanding of suffering. I believe God performs controlled burns in the lives of his children because he loves us. He wants to rid us of the things which obscure His Image in us. God loved us so much that he sent his Son. He sent his Son not merely to die on a cross. No, much more was needed to fulfill God’s plan, and Christ’s suffering was the more needed. Think about it; Christ was sinless, approved, accepted, and personally sent to earth by his Father. “Christ was sent to the earth to do what”, you ask? He was sent to do the Father’s will. Oh, and to save us! Suffering was always part of the plan. Hear what the Prophet Isaiah says:

 “Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath subjected [him] to suffering. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see a seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10)

You say, “Ok, but that’s Christ he is God.” Yes, this is true. However, it was not Christ’s divinity that cried out for the cup to pass from him. No, it was his humanity which cried out to his Father, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” To which, I am sure God took careful notice. However, for our sake God provided no relief to His suffering Son. He couldn’t there was too much at stake. “What was at stake” you ask? The salvation of humanity was at stake. I believe it was God’s providential inactivity to Job’s suffering that foretold of His love for all. Do I believe God was pleased when he heard Job say “Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?” No, I do not. But, I am sure God’s love for Job was not diminished by Job’s words. Why? Because God knew Job’s outcome well before Job was tested. Likewise, God knows our story before and after he tests us.

Even though I believe individual goodness has no bearing on suffering. I do, however, believe the way a Christian responds to suffering either positively or negatively projects the level of God’s righteousness within. I believe the restoration God provided for Job parallels the restoration we receive when we put our faith in Christ; especially in times of testing. Our only comfort through personal suffering is to trust God and become wholly dependent upon him. Many times I have heard the claim: “It isn’t fair.” Well, fairness in and of itself is not fair. The human conception of what is fair is subjective, and therefore not applicable. On the other hand, God’s position towards fairness is objective, meaning, his will–will be done. His only begotten Son is the prime example. The mystery of suffering and God’s timing belong unquestionably to God. For us to labor further would be futile.

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