The Sighs of a Suffering SoulPastor Lutzer | February 26, 1995
In the blackness of depression, it’s more important that God sees us than if we can see Him.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Has your soul ever sighed? You know, that deeply felt belief that God has abandoned you right in the middle of your darkest night. Job felt it, and his soul sighed.
Taking various passages from the book of Job, Pastor Lutzer walks us through four sighs of Job’s suffering soul. Depression. Despair. Regression. Betrayal. Through all of these, Job must have been crying in heart, “God, why me?”
But suffering tests our faith. It purifies it and strengthens it. And for those who’ve made it through the darkness, and have had their faith strengthened, they no longer fear the next dark night because they’ve proven that God is with them.
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Tragedy is all over the place. It not only happens in the lives of the unconverted but in the lives of Christians as well. And oftentimes there are people who go through those experiences in which it seems as if God has deliberately hidden his face. There are times when it seems as though the manifest presence of God, that sense of wellbeing, and that sense of peace that often accompanies us, is gone. It may happen because of a series of tragedies. It may happen in your life because of your background, the rejection and the abuse that you received. It may happen because of illnesses in your home. There are times when it seems as if our emotional light goes out and we are caught in turbulence and despair and depression.
I feel sorry for people who live almost their entire lives feeling depressed, but there are people just like that, and sometimes the cause is because of unresolved guilt and anger, but oftentimes that may not be the cause. It may simply be the circumstances of life that have fallen in on the human soul.
Well, as you know, this is the fourth in a series of messages on the book of Job. And last week we dealt with Job’s friends, you remember, and I gave you three mistakes that they made and why it was that God was not pleased with them at the end of the book.
Well, because the book of Job is so long and because we have only eight messages that we’re going to spend, it’s not possible for us to go speech by speech. You know that you are supposed to be doing that in your own reading. But what I’d like to do today is to look at the sighs (that is sighs) of the suffering soul, and this morning’s message, because of the nature of it is going to necessitate that we read some of the book of Job, and in reading it we are trying to come to grips with how deeply Job felt that God had abandoned him. And in the first part of the message what I want you to do is to try to absorb into your own life the depth of Job’s pain, which was very deep, and his sense of abandonment.
Four sighs of the soul! First of all I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Job 10:18 where he says at the end of one of his speeches that we commented on last time, “Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. Are not my days few?” (And he’s speaking to God here I take it.) Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer (God, if you just took your hand off my life if things weren’t so bad, let me die.) before I go ck darkness.”
“God, in light of the fact that I did not die at birth, which would have been my preference in retrospect, let me die now. First of all, I wish that I had not been born, but having been born it would be best for me now to simply sink into death.”
By the way, Christ said regarding Judas, “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” There are some people f they had never been born. All people who do not know Christ as Savior, and who die without his protection and his righteousness, it can be said of them, “It would have been good for them if they had not been born.” It may not have been good for God because he has a purpose for them, but it would have been good for them if they had not been born. But all those who know Christ as their Savior, or in the Old Testament who were in contact with God through the means prescribed, which certainly is true of Job, those people can never say, “It would have been better if I had not been born.”
Thirty thousand Americans every year commit suicide, believing it had been better if they had not been born. Christians need not sink into that kind of despair because they know that God has a purpose, and they know that what is happening to them does not happen randomly but God is in it. Just think of what we would have missed if Job had died here. Think of what he would have missed if he had died here. There was a purpose and even though that purpose is still obscure, and will be somewhat more revealed at the end of the book, blessed is the person who does not say, “I want to simply sink into death.”
I have a friend who, when his wife had been involved with another man and eventually left him, said, “When I would go to sleep at night I always hoped I would not awake in the morning.” Death sometimes seems like a welcome friend when you are going through that trial, but even he now has a new life, a new ministry, and God has blessed him abundantly. It’s a good thing he didn’t die after he went to sleep during those dark and difficult days.
But first of all there is then the sigh of depression when the weight is so heavy upon you, you see no light and the only light at the end of the tunnel seems to be the lights of an oncoming train. There is no way out.
Secondly, there is the sigh of despair. Turn to Job 23 for the sigh of despair. This is one of the greatest soliloquies in all of literature. Years ago I memorized it in the King James Version of the Bible so if I find myself quoting it you’ll notice that the text that I learned is a little different than the New American Standard (the English Standard Version) but Job here is just caught up in this whole idea of what it would be like if he could actually talk to God. He visualizes God in the courtroom. God is the great judge and what he’s saying is, “If I could only talk to him directly, if I could only plead my case.” Like somebody said to me, “You know, I’ve got a ten page letter already written for God that I’d like to leave on his desk, if only he would read his mail.” And Job is struggling with this whole question. He’s saying, “If I were to come to God and plead my cause before him, first of all, would he give me the time of day or would he simply write me out?”
“Even today is my complaint rebellion. My hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find him that I might come to his seat. I would present my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn the words, which he would answer me, and perceive what he would say to me. Would he contend with me by the greatness of his power? (He gives a little bit of hope here.) No, surely he will pay attention to me. There the upright would reason with him and I would be delivered forever from before my judge. I don’t think he’d wipe me away but then on the other hand who knows? I mean a God who is so great and a God who can take my children and allow me to live with ten fresh graves on the other side of the hill, and then who can come and who can have me stripped of my health so that I am sitting on an ash heap in pain and itching from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, who knows what he will do? But then he begins to say it’s all futile anyway because I can’t find him. “Behold, I go forward,” he says, “but he is not there, and backward but I cannot perceive him, and he hideth himself on the left hand that I cannot behold him, and he hideth himself on the right hand and then I cannot see him. Where is God, now that I need him?”
Sure, it would be nice for me to present my cause before him, but how do you make contact? His telephone seems to be always busy. The receiver is off the hook. I send him faxes but I don’t get any little slip of paper in return saying that it arrived, and I’m not sure whether or not he is reading his e-mail.
How do we know that God is there and that we can somehow approach him? That is a problem, and he’s saying, “I am filled with futility because I thought I knew God when things were going well, and now that things aren’t going well, I am not sure about him anymore.” In fact, one of the great lessons of the book of Job is to see how he changes his conception of God, and by the end of the book his conception of God is going to be so changed that his old conception is going to be literally long away. What he says is, “This is the sigh of despair. God is as far from me as the farthest star. I don’t even know where he can be located so that I can present my cause.”
There’s a third sigh. First of all we notice that Job longed for death. Job longs for God, and since he is blocked in either of those pursuits, he now longs for the past. In Chapter 29 he begins to long for the good old days. He says, “Oh, if only I could go back to the way in which things were.” I’m reminded of the teenager who prayed, “Oh God, I pray that this accident might not have happened.” Well, it was a little late to pray that, and time does not change.
Notice in Job 29:1 it says, “Oh that I were as in the months gone by, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone over my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in the prime of my days when the friendship of God was over my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, and my children were around me, when my steps were bathed in butter (that’s a euphemism for being wealthy that I could have used butter to bathe my steps), and the rock poured out for me streams of oil! When I went into the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square, the young men saw me and hid themselves and the old men arose and stood and the princes stopped talking. They all said, ‘Look it there. There’s Job.’ And he walked with a spring in his step and with a sense of determination, and they said, ‘He’s that wealthy man, and he’s got all those nice kids, you remember, and he’s the one, you see, whom God has blessed,’ and everyone stood for him. The youngest men saw me. They hid themselves. The old men arose and stood. The princes stopped talking and they put their hand on their mouths. The voice of the nobles was hushed and their tongues stuck to their pallet, for when the ear heard, it called me blessed, and when the eye saw it gave witness of me because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper.”
You see, Job says, “I was involved in helping those who were poor. I was not selfish. The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart to sing for joy.”
Verse 18 says, “Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest. I am going to die being healthy, wealthy and wise and I shall multiply my days as the sand, and my root is spread out to the waters, and dew lies all night on my branch. My glory is ever new to me’ and this is the way in which I am going to die.”
Oh God, why can’t it be now as it was then? And he begins to struggle with the fact that the past is gone. The glory days are gone, and look at what happens to his friends. Notice in Job 30:9 he was a great hero. He was honored in the town square, and he says, “And now I have become their taunt. I have even become a byword to them. They abhor me and they stand aloof from me, and they do not refrain from spitting in my face.”
I want you to know that your trial today not only reveals a lot about you it also says volumes about your friends. This past week I read an entire book. You may be surprised to know that is somewhat new for me because I have this terrible habit of reading books halfway through and then leaving them half read, and after I read it halfway through I get to reading another one and read it halfway through, but this one I read right to the end. It was given to me by Richard Dorch of PTL, and the name of the book was Integrity, and he tells the story of his own imprisonment and all that he went through and all those shenanigans that we remember many years ago. Now here’s this man who has instructed millions in righteousness on television and there he is in jail. One of the first things that was said to him by somebody was, “We are waiting for you. So you’re the rat,” and he was called names during his sixteen months in jail, and despised. And one day he walked onto a floor that was being cleaned by one of the prisoners who cursed him out, and Dorch said, “With tears in my eyes I pled for forgiveness, and he only became more angry.” But interestingly Dorch said that very, very few friends stood with him during that calamity. Where were all the people who thought he was so wonderful when things were going well?
Two years ago I had lunch in Los Angeles with a friend of mine who had to resign the ministry because of sin in his life, and there he was in such despair. I remember he said to me, “I wish that I could find a rock that I could sit on and do nothing but meditate for a whole year and ponder the meaning of life.” I mean the man’s wife had left him, he had to resign from his congregation and the job he was involved in folded. I have never seen a man in such despair. I said, “Are people from the church ministering to you? Are they coming are they praying with you?” and he said, “No one from the church has contacted me except one man, and that was over some legal matters.” I thought, “Oh, how easily we abandon our friends when they no longer make us look good and when we see in them no longer any particular use for us.”
Job said, “The people who stood in the town square and held their mouths shut as I walked by out of adoration now spit in my face.” He is no more of any value to us. This is known as the sigh of retrogression. “Oh, that I could still be like I was once was in my nest.” But God has stirred up his nest and he can’t go back.
One last sigh, and that is in chapter 31 h of betrayal. Job just really feels betrayed, not just by his friends, but by God, and what you do is you go through this passage, and I won’t read it to you. Years ago I preached on this and I counted fifteen times the word “if” occurs. Yesterday afternoon I read it and I could only find the word “if” thirteen times, and I said to myself, “Oh, that it would be as in days past when I could count up to the number fifteen. Oh, for those days when I could actually see clearly, but I looked at this text and I realized that what he is saying is, “If I was wicked and suffering like this I would understand it because I’d be getting my just desserts, but I was a man who showed compassion.”
I am amazed at the compassion of Job here. He said he took care of those who didn’t have clothing. Let’s pick it up in Job 31:19. “If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering,” then in effect he’s saying, “If this happened to me I’d understand that I deserved it.” Or let’s look at verse 21. “If I had lifted up my hand against the orphan because I saw I had support in the gate.” Notice verse 22. “Let my shoulder fall from the socket, and my arm be broken at its elbow.” In other words, “I would be getting what I deserved if I had not been kind to the orphans, not taken care of the widows, and not done what I should do in the land, but I’m doing all these things and God strips everything from me.” He feels betrayed. It’s basic inequity. It just isn’t fair, and you and I know that.
Here are wicked people who spend their lives in the service of the devil and they’re healthy, wealthy and wise and they go on living, and here are people who take care of their lives and they serve others, and they still have the flower of youth, and suddenly they are snatched away by an accident or by cancer, and the whole thing seems as if it is topsy-turvy and there is no sense to it.
So I have a question to ask you today. Where was God when all this was happening? Where was God during that deep dark tunnel that seemed never to end? Well, I want to give you three lessons that we can learn so far that Job was beginning to learn, and there are little bits and pieces and hints that he was beginning to learn it, even though God eventually will come on the scene, and those are the messages that I hope indeed you will be here for as God comes and finally reveals himself.
But notice a number of things. First of all, suffering tests our faith. Look at Job 13:15. He makes this remarkable statement, which must have been music to the ears of our Lord. He says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The King James Version says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
Do you realize how much that means to God? You see, in Job 23:10 (I didn’t read that far when we were looking at that great soliloquy I wanted to save that verse until now) he says, “Behold I go forward but he is not there and backward, but I cannot perceive him.” He says, “I cannot find God,” and the very next verse says, “He knows the way that I take and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, why all this bit in the Bible about faith - the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perishes.” Everything seems to follow in believing God and trusting him against incredible odds. Why is it so important to God that we trust him? And the answer quite simply is God enjoys being believed. He enjoys being believed. If there’s anything that delights the heart of God it is when people believe him and believe that he is on their side even when he appears to be doing things, which are really contrary to that love. That’s why faith is so precious. And what God is doing, you see, during these experiences is he is taking all of our lights and snuffing them out so that we might turn to the light of his son. Suffering tests our faith. It kicks the props out from under us that we might look to God and God is trying to take that faith, however small it may be, and even that faith is energized by his grace, and God says, “This faith is very, very special to me.” Suffering tests faith.
Secondly, suffering purifies faith. It purifies it. To carry on the imagery that when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold, you know that as gold is separated from the ore in which it is found, little bits of gold are here and there in ore, and when it is heated to a high temperature then the gold comes to the surface. But even when the gold comes to the surface and is made into a liquid, it may not yet be pure, and I’m told that one of the ways in ancient times at least that they noticed that the gold was finally becoming purified was when it was so clear that you could look into it and it would almost be like a mirror. You could see your face. That’s what God does. He puts us into that kiln. He turns up the thermostat. His hand is on the thermostat, but he does it that we might be purified, and when Christ begins to be seen, when the image of Jesus is seen in our trials, God is satisfied.
Yesterday my wife read a letter that came to us from some of our friends, and she read this letter to me. And I said, “You know there’s a paragraph here that I could use in the message tomorrow.” Now you need to understand this couple. They have children of their own but they also adopted a child at the age of seven-and-a-half who had been so terribly abused, that even though they ministered to this child in great love and parental acceptance, at the age of fifteen this girl had to be hospitalized. And after being hospitalized she tried to commit suicide, and right now, even as I speak, part of her brain has been damaged, and she has been severely handicapped as a result of her attempted suicide.
Also that experience happened just as they were planning a wedding for one of their daughters, so here’s a fifteen year old who tries to commit suicide, and then they have an older daughter who, just days later, was married. So you have this wedding going on, and you’ve got all of the concern and the agony that surrounds this tragedy.
She says, “During the month of December I fell into depression. I had been struggling with depression before this. Mentally I was thankful for the many things God had done but this did not change my feelings. I could not see the Christian physician that I was supposed to see,” and so forth. But then she goes on to say, “I was encouraged by my father (that is her earthly father, a man who incidentally my wife and I know did it repeatedly and within a number of days I continued to do it despite my feelings, and God is so good that he turned my emotions around for my family’s sake.” Now if you were to meet these people you would see even in their countenance Christ.
I had breakfast on Saturday with a couple who have been through their share of tragedy with immorality in the family and heartache with children and just a host of things, and then both of them are physically going through times of difficulty, a stroke on the part of the man, and heart difficulties on the part of the wife. And with tears in their eyes the only thing that they could talk about is the faithfulness of God and the wonder of his promises to them.
Suffering, my friend, purifies faith. It purifies faith. I wish that there would be a way to get at the purification process without suffering. Sometimes it can be done without suffering, but seldom.
We have a friend in Canada, bless his heart, who is not a greedy man. He’s a very kind and generous man, but he encouraged people to get involved in buying a certain stock on the stock market because this particular commodity was going to go up and up and up. And many missionaries even took money out of their banks and they bought some of these stocks that were going to go up and up and up. And you know what they did? They did go up and up, but then they began to fall and fall, and people said, “Well, we know that eventually they are going up,” and so it began at 22, went to 44 and then within days was down to two, which is not a good investment if you are following my story.
Do you know what this man did? He went to the bank and he borrowed money. He sold his home, and took all of his money and used it to pay off every single person whom he encouraged to invest in that particular stock so that every Christian got his money back. Now what this meant was that this man lost all of his money in the process, but when we were eating together what was so beautiful is now they are in a small apartment rather than in a home, because the home had to be sold. He said, “You know, we would not have traded this experience for anything.” He said, “The things that God has taught us through this experience (even though he wasn’t legally obligated to sell everything he had but felt he had a moral obligation) and the things that God has done in our hearts we cannot even talk about ”
Do you see how God does it? Suffering tests our faith. Suffering strengthens our faith, and another lesson to be thrown in at no extra charge is when people ask your advice as to where to invest their money, be very, very careful. Now if you come up to me afterwards and say, “Pastor Lutzer, I’ve got lots of money and I wonder where to invest it,” I encourage you to do that though because I’ll tell you to give it to Moody Church and at least you’ll know that it’s secure and you’ll meet it again in heaven, so I do sometimes give advice, but I am very, very careful beyond that.
Now, hurrying along, finally suffering strengthens faith. It does not strengthen faith at the time. In fact, you might find that your faith has been totally eroded and exploded, but eventually it strengthens faith. At the end of the day you come out stronger, perhaps not through the process, but when the refining time is over you are stronger than ever.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that people who have gone through the night and have found God’s hand to be with them in the darkness no longer fear the next night when it comes because they have proven that God is with them. And having walked through one difficult experience, and experiencing the blessing of God, when the next difficultly comes they are able to accept it with greater confidence because suffering strengthens faith.
Jesus, in Gethsemane, went through a time of deep emotional darkness. You remember he said to the disciples, “My soul is sorrowful even to the point of death.” Now that did not mean that he was separated from God. In fact, he said, “Father, if it be thy will let this cup pass from me.” God was still his father and he knew what he was up against. It was not just Gethsemane. It was the cross that he was facing, and there on the cross, so far as I remember, the only time in all the Bible when Jesus did not call God father but simply called him God, he said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And in the black night of the emotional convulsion that he was going through he was forsaken by God because the sin of the world was laid upon him and he became legally guilty of all of the evil things that you and I have done. But the good news is that because Jesus Christ was rejected by God, the Father, for those moments on the cross, you and I, if we believe in him, will never be rejected or abandoned by God. Never, never, never! “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. I am with thee withersoever thou goest” no matter what happens, no matter what people say, no matter your circumstances, whether those circumstances are those that other people have brought upon your life, or whether they are circumstances that you have responsibility for because you have blown it. If you are a child of God, God walks with you through all of your private soliloquies when you agonize, even as Job did.
One day Jesus said to the disciples, “You know, I want you to get into this boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” Jesus, the Bible says, went up into a mountain to pray. He was there alone and you know the rest of the story. A huge storm comes up and this is the worst storm that the disciples have ever encountered, and it’s so difficult that they get four miles from the shore but can’t make it to the other side. And then you know Jesus came to them walking on the water. But here’s the question I want to ask you. Christ came at about four in the morning. During those hours in the evening and after midnight going through his whole hassle, could the disciples see Christ? No, not at all! In fact they never even recognized him when he was walking on the water. They could not see Christ. Christ was up there in the mountain.
I want you to know that Jesus Christ who is omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient knew the longitude and the latitude of that little boat. He knew the force of the winds. He knew the height of the waves. He knew every word that was spoken among the disciples during their struggles. He knew those words, even those that did not come out of their mouths. He knew their heart rate. He knew all of the details that attended to them, and he knew the outcome. He knew all that though they could not see him. And my point today is that in the blackness of depression, when a whole series of bad events come into your life, one after another after another, and you say, “God, I can’t take this anymore,” I want you to know that at the end of the day it is much more important that God see us, than that we see God.
You read the book of Job chapter after chapter. Job is longing to see God, and he does not see him till the end of the book, but I want you to know that God was with Job there in the ash heap. God knew the extent of the pain that the boils would bring upon him. God knew the deep grief of Job’s life who had just experienced the death of his ten children. God knew all of these circumstances and he was listening to the conversations. He knew exactly what was happening, and he says to you and to me that when you go through that dark night, it is not so important that you see me, but in the depths of your soul, believe that I see you, and I’m not afraid of that night, and I will guide you through it, because if you accept Christ as your Savior you will find that I will never leave you nor forsake you. And when I have tried you, you’ll come forth as gold, which is so precious to me I’m willing to turn up the heat so that you go through the process of purification.
He is with us in the good times of life. He is with us in the bad times of life. He is with us in the storms of life. In the blackness of your night God is there. God is there.
Let us pray.
And our Father, today we pray for those who have been listening to this message who need to be reminded that they are not walking through their tunnel alone. They perhaps, with Job, say, “Oh, for the good old days,” of “If I had been bad I’d have deserved this, but look at what happens when I try to serve God. Everything goes wrong.” There may be some listening who would long for death. “Oh that I had never been born.” This moment, Lord, help them to understand that you are well aware of their circumstances. Their little boat is known completely to you, and we ask, oh Father, for the comfort of Christ at this moment. And for those who have never received Christ as Savior and have never believed on him (they believe in you generally but not personally through Christ), make this a day in which they trust the Savior so that they can then enter into all the promises that you give to those who believe. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.