Have you noticed that when life is good, we tend to have no questions, but when life is bad, we have no answers? Job says, “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune” because the secret of successful living seems, in happy times, so perfectly obvious, so clear and easy, that anyone who happens to be struggling with life appears ignorant and foolish. “Poor wretch!” we think to ourselves. “Why can’t he see the stupid mistakes he is making? If only he would do this or that, things would turn out well for him.” No matter how wise and good a person may have been in the past, when misfortune strikes we tend to see it as exposing the victim’s hidden faults. If a man has a heart attack, then he was probably working too hard. If our neighbor goes bankrupt, then he probably had it coming to him. Whatever our theology might be, in any tragedy there is just something in our finite minds that immediately looks to human causes.
The problem is that if human beings are going to be held responsible for everything bad that happens to them, then the plain corollary is that we also have the power to effect our own good. The problem is, such a watertight system of cause and effect, leaves no room for dependent faith, no room for the gospel. Error replaces sin, and divine mercy is represented as human virtue. Job defines this humanistic idolatry as, “those who carry their god in their hands.” The god of these people is only as strong as their own strength, only as wise as their own intellect and only as good as the tangible blessings they acquire.
The truth is, in our own strength and power, there is nothing we can do about suffering. We cannot reason our way out of it, run away from it, or do anything whatsoever to relieve our circumstances on our own. Yea, I know we try to do it all through drugs, suicide, alcohol, adultery, and a myriad of other evil things. Some try to overcome the situation with their “holy” pursuits. We figure that if we can pray enough, have a positive-confession and do many other “righteous” things, we will come out of it. I am very much in favor of a positive confession, an affirmative attitude, prayer at all times, and the absolute authority of the Name of Jesus. That being said, there are times when we are powerless to help ourselves, it is up to our God to help us. When we adopt this kind of stance under conditions of trauma, we will discover the highest kind of faith.
Obviously, this kind of passive strategy can be abused. We are required to “put on the full armor of God,” and “To pray without ceasing.” The point is that no amount of discipline, positive thinking, or holy worry can in itself, add a single hour to our life or an ounce of happiness to our heart. The admission of personal powerlessness is fundamental to faith, and this is where the difference lies between Job and his friends. His friends believe that not only is Job able to help himself, but that they too can help him. This is the primary flaw with our modern day “counseling.” In the words of Psalm 60:11-12, “The help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory.” As Job puts it, “To God belongs wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:13).
Whatever power we appear to exercise is only for a season and within a very limited sphere. The President of the United States is President only for a term, and in his own home, he may have no authority at all. In our not too distant history, we have seen that they may not even have authority over their own behavior. The general who commands thousands of troops might be totally powerless to command enough discipline to reduce his waistline, and he might end his days in a hospital bed being ordered by women in white. Some may believe I have a way with words (although some believe too many words), but when it comes to dealing with my own kids, I may at times be quite inept. As Thomas Millar writes in his book Biochemistry Explained, “Man has a will to power, but he has no real power. Any one of us could get leukemia tomorrow. How’s that for being captain of your fate? We are all just children trying to grow up. We think that means getting power. What it really means is learning to accept the powerless nature of the human condition.” If you can reach that point, you are “two shakes of a tail” away from victory!
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