“Have a nice day” is a classic Americanism. Many of our day-to-day interactions end with, “Have a nice day.” Often the people saying it don’t really mean it, but they say it anyway. So what does it mean to have a nice day? I would guess it is to have a day that is, well, nice – a day that is void of any problems, a day in which there is no sickness, no conflict and no hardship. It is a day that is basically nice.
That is how some people like to think of God. They imagine him almost as a Santa Claus-like figure smiling benignly from heaven who wants us all to be healthy and wealthy and fat and sassy. But that is not the picture the Bible gives us of God. I am not suggesting that God cannot bless us with health or even a certain degree of wealth. Nor am I suggesting that God will not bring happiness into our lives, because he will. But it is not God’s objective simply for us to have a nice day.
Now, some would suggest that if you are not having a nice day, if are suffering, if you are going through hardship or if you are sick, then it is a result of your own sin. They even would suggest that if you just had more faith, this would not be happening to you.
These ideas, while wrong, are not new. In fact, they go all the way back to the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. Job was a real man with real problems who had a real God that he turned to. The Bible tells us that Job was a man of integrity, a family man. He was also a wealthy man. And he was indeed a great man of God. But in one day, Job lost everything, including his 10 children. Job was not having a nice day. In fact, the day he was having was incomprehensible.
Job went from being one of the wealthiest men in the land to having nothing. Everything he had worked for in his life was gone. But the worst news of all was hearing that his seven sons and three daughters had been killed. I can say, from personal experience and from having walked with other parents through the death of a child, that this is the worst thing that could happen to a mother or father. No parent ever wants to outlive their children.
So how did Job fare up under all this? The Bible says that he praised God (see Job 1:21–22). There is a lot we can learn from Job’s story, and we would do well to learn from it, because it is not a matter of if, but when some kind of calamity, hardship, trial or sickness will strike you or someone you love. Not only can we learn from the book of Job how to persevere in our own trials, but we can also learn how to bring comfort to others who are going through times of great difficulty.
Job had lost his possessions. He had lost his children. His wife was still around, but he might have wished he had lost his wife after what she said to him. And then, just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, he lost his health. He found himself covered with boils. He was in the midst of scraping them with fragments of a broken pot when his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to visit. They had traveled a great distance to see him, and when they saw Job, “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12–13 NIV). That was the perfect thing to do. Job just needed someone to be with him. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply be there – be there, and say absolutely nothing.
These three were silent for a while, but more than made up for it later. Hallmark would never hire these guys to write sympathy cards. Their conversation with Job went on and on, largely full of human logic and human reaction to suffering. And then God intervened. He brought all the lame explanations to a halt and essentially said to Job, “Excuse me, but I kind of missed you when I was creating the heavens. Were you there? I didn’t notice you there.” God basically put Job in his place and declared his glory. You see, Job did not need an explanation about God; he needed an encounter with God. Why? Because when we see God for who he is, we will see our problems for what they are. If we have a small God, then we have big problems. But if we have a big God, then we have small problems.
God is ultimately in control. The word “oops” is not in his vocabulary. But why does God allow these things to happen? And why does he allow them to happen to someone like Job?
One reason is that suffering helps us grow stronger spiritually. The Bible says, “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 2:2–4 NIV).God allows hardship in our lives so that our beliefs, the things that we hold on to, will transfer from the realm of theory to the realm of reality. We can start living out our lives in the real world. God can allow these things to make us stronger in our faith.
God can also use suffering in our lives to prepare us for a special task. It just may be that God is allowing you to go through something now for something he wants you to do in the future. Perhaps the hardships of today are preparing you for greater opportunities tomorrow.
Calamity comes into every life – the righteous and the unrighteous, the godly and the ungodly. But the good news is that the godly can see God use their suffering to strengthen them spiritually and give them the ability to comfort others. But what is the consolation for unbelievers? What do they have to show for their suffering? Not much. The comfort is in Christ. The hope is in God. And that is where you need to be putting your faith.