Devotional Day 28
As an example, brothers and sisters, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcomes of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you do not fall under judgment.James 5: 10-12
“the endurance of Job”
Job is an excellent example of extreme suffering. It’s hard to complain about our own discomforts after reading what he underwent. His story also included enduring the verbal attacks of his “friends,” emerging when they could not understand or justify the situation without blaming Job. He was an example of faith being tested and maintained his refusal to curse God. Yet he also displayed an example of emotional verbal expression of his anguish, his questions, and his feelings of betrayal and abandonment.
Job didn’t stoically accept all that happened without complaint. The Bible included that long dialog in the book of Job for a reason. While it ended with God’s revelation of His power vastly outweighing our doubts, Job was not condemned for his emotions and questions. Instead, it was his friends that were judged, “kindling God’s wrath” (Job 42:7). Job, in his newfound state of humility, was the one to pray for their forgiveness.
Wrestling with the “Why” of Suffering
While this is just a short, simplified summary of the book, which ended with Job’s restoration and generous material blessings, the reference does help us see what James is talking about. Speaking against our friends, especially those in suffering, can kindle God’s wrath. Instead of assuming that struggles are the fault of the person in pain or punishment from God, we should be displaying love on practical and emotional levels. (We can give credit to Job’s friends for the first seven days of supportive silence!)
In the midst of suffering that we may never fully understand, there is room for crying out in despair. Yet there is also hope in God’s sovereignty and the promise that the testing of faith will not last forever. God is compassionate and merciful. He doesn’t enjoy seeing us suffer, but allows it, and in doing so stretches our faith, helps us see what doubts lie beneath the surface, and shows the contrast between our temporal worries and His eternal power.
“Do not swear…”
The example of Job immediately precedes the command not to swear, which may be for good intentions or evil desires. It is in times of distress and pressure that we are tempted to swear or curse. Satan’s intent was to get Job to curse God; even his wife told him to curse God. But refraining from doing so was a key display of righteousness.
Job also gives an example of never knowing what might happen tomorrow. If we swear based on our current position, resources, and responsibility (e.g., “I swear I’ll pay it back to you by the end of the month!”), then face extreme loss, suddenly we may not be able to fulfill a binding oath. After many years of wealth, Job learned that he could not depend on material abundance, which disappeared in a day.
The uncertainty of life doesn’t mean we should never make commitments, and doesn’t give us permission to back out of promises. Our reliability and integrity are at stake. We must follow through on our answers, doing what we agree to do. We also need to stand firm on our refusals, not letting a bit of pressure cause us to give in, and so becoming known as a push-over. Chapter 4 gave us a good clause to include in any big plans: “If the Lord wills,” or more commonly said today, “Lord willing.”
Preparedness: Expecting Challenges
While the discomfort felt during a pilgrimage is nothing compared to the suffering faced by Job, El Camino remains an example of endurance through trials leading to blessing. Some routes to Santiago are significantly longer and more challenging than the one we took, and many face obstacles along the way that are beyond expectations.
A times our own preparedness and choices along the way can influence the presence or absence of physical challenges. Dean and I had read all the recommendations for good shoes/boots and the right kind of socks (I never knew the value of quality wool socks for long-distance hiking!). We learned the value of breaking in the shoes before beginning the pilgrimage, and the importance of taking off shoes when stopping for coffee to aerate our feet. I was very grateful (and surprised) that neither of us had any blisters along the way.
In contrast, we met a man along the way waiting for a taxi, his feet completely bandaged with gauze, not even able to wear shoes now. He recounted spending the first couple days pushing himself to go as far as he could and never taking his shoes off. Soon enough he had blisters, which eventually progressed to large pieces of skin separating from the foot itself.
When finally going to the doctor, they ended having to cut away dead skin, and he was left unable to proceed on foot. Preparedness and self-care might have made a significant difference, but in his current state, empathy was needed more than condemnation. He was still determined to get back on the path once his feet had recovered sufficiently. I’m sure he made some adjustments to care for his feet.
For others, factors outside their control impeded their progress. One pilgrim described attempting to walk El Camino Norte (one of the older but less commonly used routes), but being repeatedly hit by stormy weather. Rather than giving up on the pilgrimage, she decided to come down to El Camino Portugues (our route), re-starting at Porto, and now only one day’s journey away from Santiago de Compostela. Her endurance kept her on the pilgrimage, even if it did not go as she originally expected or planned. I can imagine that if she had sworn to complete El Camino Norte, it would’ve been even more distressing to face such hindrances. But with flexibility and faithfulness, she finally reached her goal. She was blessed to both endure and adjust in the face of trials.
We will all face challenges along our life’s walk, some more preventable than others. When in the middle of the trials, it’s not as important to place the blame, whether judging ourselves or others, as it is to discover how we can endure, adjust, and learn. Sometime that requires confession of our own faults, but other times it demands acceptance of that which we cannot understand or explain. In both cases, we can always turn to the Lord of compassion and mercy, trusting Him to help us move forward.
Thank You, Lord, for Your compassion in the midst of our experiences of pain and uncertainties. Help us to do our best to prepare for the trials that lie ahead, while recognizing that many will be outside of our control. Increase our capacity for endurance, trusting You instead of depending on our own intentions and expectations.
- Think of a time when you or someone close to you faced severe or unexpected trials. How did you address the “Why?” questions of suffering? How the reactions of people around you helpful or unhelpful?
- What are effective ways to support one another in the midst of trials?
- Spend some time thinking about the suffering and endurance of Christ. Express gratitude for the love He demonstrated in His sacrifice. Ask Him what He want you to know about your own trials.
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