So often when people come to Christ, they’re promised “victory in Jesus.” Shiny, smiling people tell about how they once were unhappy, but now they’re filled with buoyant exultation. Broken marriages are fixed, wayward children are returned to the straight and narrow, and depression is banished for good.
But what happens when Christianity doesn’t work like that?
Exhibit A: Job
Job was deeply devoted to God and his Word. So zealous was Job for his family that he regularly offered sacrifices on their behalf, just in case they had sinned (Job 1:5). Satan chided God for Job’s faithfulness: “Why wouldn’t he be faithful?” After all, Job lived a charmed life. He was wealthy and happy, and his family had it all. So God allowed Satan to test him.
The next day, disaster followed disaster. Overnight, Job had lost nearly everything precious to him. Nevertheless, he responded, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). Job refused to charge God with wrongdoing. So Satan approached God again: “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Sure enough, Job’s body became wracked with sores and pain until his own wife begged, “Curse God and die!” But Job still replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9–10).
In walked Job’s famous counselors. At first, they responded well, spending a week simply sitting with him, refusing to say anything because they saw his pain. What he needed was friendship, not a steady flow of sermonizing. But after the week passed, they began to express their opinions about Job’s problems. It began with Job’s cry of despair, cursing the day of his birth. A deep, dark cloud of depression settled over Job, and he could only wish he’d never been born. Finally, God spoke up for himself:
Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. (Job 38:2)
God’s defense left Job without excuse. In spite of his superior theology, Job’s experience led him to question God’s sovereignty and goodness. Because he couldn’t comprehend how this experience could be reconciled with his view of God, he concluded there was no answer. But God reminded him, as he reminds us all, that just because we don’t have the answers doesn’t mean there are no answers.
Fear of Life
The natural assumption in the face of such suffering is that God is punishing us for our sins. But we know from the prologue that this test had another source. Like Job, we make conclusions based on limited information, trying to figure out why things are happening to us. We don’t have access to God’s filing cabinet, to his inner chamber, and he doesn’t directly tell us why bad things are happening.
But that doesn’t keep us from drawing conclusions anyway. We strike out to rationalize the purpose behind it all. But God refuses to be “figured out” in these matters, and his counsel is hidden to mortals.
For those tied to the high masts of suffering, there’s often a fear greater than the fear of death. It’s the fear of life. It’s the fear of the next morning and the morning after that.
Even if we’re too weak to hang on to Christ, he’s strong enough to hang on to us.
In the face of deep despair, the temptation is great for a believer to either turn from God, assuming he’s acting wrathfully toward personal sin, or to turn toward him, knowing the believer is at peace with God. This is why Job said he would be able to turn toward God in this situation—if only he had an advocate. Gradually, though, he comes to a greater confidence in this mediator:
Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend. (Job 16:19–21)
Even if we’re too weak to hang on to Christ, he’s strong enough to hang on to us. Even though we may not be able to face tomorrow, Christ has already passed through death to the other side and has taken away death’s sting. Like Job, who knew that his Redeemer lives and would see him in the very body that was, at present, covered with bloody and painful sores, so Paul declared:
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Cor. 15:14, 17)
But What If It Doesn’t Work?
Christianity isn’t true because it works. In many cases, in fact, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t solve all of the problems we think it should solve. Those who became Christians because they were told it would fix their marriages, only to land in divorce court, might well give up on Christianity. Those who expected to be free of sinful habits and desires after a conversion in which “sudden victory” was promised may become disillusioned with God soon thereafter.
We’re not called to judge God. He didn’t promise any of us health, wealth, or comfort. Rather, he tells us that we who expect to share in Christ’s glory will also participate in his suffering. Christianity is true, not because it works for people but because nearly 2,000 years ago, outside of Jerusalem, the Son of God was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.
This historical event may not fix our marriages, our relationships, or our messed-up lives the way—or in the timing—we would like, but it saves us from the wrath of God to come. And surely all else pales into secondary importance compared to that great issue. “For it is appointed for a man once to die, and then the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Hope That Works
Christianity offers hope even when it doesn’t work.
Just as Job said that if only he had a mediator, he could lift his eyes to God in his suffering, so all of us can cry on our Father’s shoulder because we have nothing to fear. It’s not his wrath that has sent us pain and suffering if we belong to him, for he intercepts Satan’s designs and then fashions—even sin and evil—into messengers of grace.
And for all of us who are afraid of death, or of life, the good news is that this man is still at God’s right hand, this advocate who pleads our case. His name is Jesus Christ, and if your faith is in this Rock of Ages—this Mighty Fortress—then he will be your friend, both in this world and also in the world to come.