“The night is long, and I am full of tossing till dawn.” – Job 7:4b (ESV)
Sooner or later, everyone is confronted with sleepless nights; everyone interrogates the bitter darkness with questions, questions that all too often go unanswered. The body begs for rest but the mind denies those desperate pleas for repose. Thus we are condemned to count off the seconds till the rising of the sun as the mind descends into insomnia’s madness and the soul into sleepless misery. A variety of questions can cause this ensnaring restlessness, but all of them have a single undercurrent running through them: “why?”
Not too long ago I was accosted by a situation that sent me reeling into such a state. The emotional pain I was in was more intense than anything I could remember. It had been years since I cried myself to sleep, but I did at this point. It was a struggle to simply make it through the days, much less the nights. I have matured beyond the point of becoming enraged to the point of threatening to reject God as I once did when He allowed enormous pain into my life, but that does not mean I let Him off the hook either. I was resigned to struggle through since it was apparently God’s will for my life at the time, but I desperately wanted to know why. I couldn’t see any reason; my painful circumstances did not appear to have any true purpose.
It is not an accident that as I was going through this experience, I was also beginning a study of Job in one of my classes. The similarities between my situation and his were striking, although admittedly my pain was nothing like his. Like Job, I wanted God to explain himself. It did not appear that I was experiencing what I was going through for any sin of mine; I still do not believe that what happened was simply a consequence of any decision I made. Neither did it appear that there was some deeper purpose to what was going on. It was not suffering for a greater purpose, it was simply suffering. I did not lose my faith in God, and neither did Job, but both of us cried out for answers.
Not surprisingly, we both also received the same answer. Make no mistake; I’m not claiming that God stormed out of the clouds asking me “Where were you?” in the divine version of 20 questions He played with Job in the final chapters of the book. But in my spirit the answer was the same, and as Jesus’ answers often were in the gospels, the answer to me was a question itself. It’s essentially the same question that faced Job: am I willing to let God be God even when I’m hurting enormously and don’t understand what He’s doing?
I really had to wrestle long and hard with that. I’m happy to say, though, that it was eventually settled, and it wasn’t even really a contest. God had never let me down before; why should I have any reason to believe that the unchanging God would change now? And who was I to call God out anyway? After all, it is what I had signed up for. I’d given God my life to do with as He pleased, and I wasn’t going to back out when what pleased Him didn’t please me.
Eventually the pain faded, and things overall have worked out. There was no miraculous intervention, no moment of monumental clarity into a deeper meaning. I just moved on. Now that some time has passed and I look back, I realize that there wasn’t some hidden purpose or meaning God was trying to show me. The struggle was the purpose. Barring some future revelation of meaning, I firmly believe that the only reason God let me hurt was to test how I would respond, so that I would have to answer that question. And you know what? My faith is stronger for it.
James 1: 2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).” This passage (including the following 14 verses) is all about shifting our perspective on unmerited pain in the life of the believer. While we aren’t promised they’ll be fun, we are commanded to take joy in trials because they build our faith and turn us into the people that God desires us to be.
We can be expected to be put through trials for no other reason than to test our faith. We can also expect that this will in turn strengthen us. Because of my experience, I was able to look into the eyes of the students in sophomore Sunday School class I help teach and tell them in full confidence that what James says is true, not just because it’s in the Bible, but because I had lived it.
Yet while this is very important, praise God it doesn’t end there! The Bible also teaches that while sorrow may last the night, joy comes in the morning! This also I have lived enough to see. In our trials God has not abandoned us to the dark, never to see the light of day again. Our pain, no matter how intense or enduring, can only ever last for a time. No matter how black the night, we will always again see the dawn, even if the next rising we see is of the Son himself at the final and eternal dawn when dark will be no more. Hallelujah!
How beautiful then is our promise, for we are always in a win-win scenario. We cannot lose! When life is good and blessings abound, it should be a season of joy; when life seems to be lost in sleepless misery, it should be a season of joy; the season of joy never ends. So then brothers and sisters, let us not be deceived or deceive ourselves! Every good and perfect gift, even the gift of trials, even the gift of pain, comes down to us from the Father of light and all its forms, with whom there is no variation or shadow of change. Let us trust God to be God, even when we cannot see any rhyme or reason to what He is doing. In this we can have full confidence: He will never leave us or forsake us to the unending night of the dark side of the moon.