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How Does Pain Help Spiritual Growth? | A Sermon from Job 19:25

This is the third sermon in a five-part series on the book of Job. We look at Job 19:25 and see how Job was still in a dark place. The sermon demonstrates how there are different types of pain and how they each intersect the phases of the spiritual journey through Purgation, Illumination, and Union with God.

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Do any of you remember the 1985 Movie called Brazil, by Terry Gilliam?

It’s a classic dystopian future movie with a quirky twist. What’s interesting about this movie is that the original version that was released in Europe had a really depressing ending. The hero loses, because that’s the point of the movie.

When Universal pictures agreed to release it in the U.S. they forced Gilliam to change it to a happy, Hollywood  ending, because depressing doesn’t sell in our country.

This week, I was faced with a similar dilemma as we come to this third week in our series on Job.

Let’s be honest. Job is a depressing book and do we really want to talk about suffering for five weeks?

Way back, a few months ago, when I was doing a quick overview of the series I saw the focal text for this week and thought, “Whew! At least we can have a little glimmer of hope in the midst of all this darkness.”

Look at Job 19:25. Job says,

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

When we look at that verse through our 21st century, Christian lenses, we automatically think, “Our Redeemer is Jesus and, no matter how bad life gets, we always know that Jesus’ resurrection has conquered Sin and Death and God will make it all right in the end.”

That is true. Here me. That is true. Jesus is our redeemer and God has promised to be with us through the dark times. We talked about that last week.

But, here’s the problem.

That is NOT what Job is saying here.

If we took the time and really read closely in the context, Job is actually in a dark pit of despair when he says these words.

Let me explain.

Remember that the big chunk of Job that runs from chapters 3-31 is a series of conversations between Job and his three so-called friends. All four of them believe that the only reason a person suffers is because of sin.

The friends accuse him of sin. Job defends his innocence.

Job 19 is right in the midst of this dialogue.

Job hasn’t learned the lesson yet. He is still stuck in his dilemma.

“He’s saying, I know I am innocent. God is torturing me. I don’t understand why. Someday, someone will Vindicate me, be my redeemer, and stand up for me to prove that I’m innocent, but I’ll probably be dead and gone by then. Woe is me.”

That’s a depressing and dark passage.

So, do I give you the Happy Hollywood, Sunday message, or do I speak the depressing truth about this passage.

Since Job is still stuck in his big questions about suffering and pain, I decided to take this week as an opportunity to talk about the bigger topic of pain and how it fits into the process of spiritual growth.

There are lots of different kinds of pain and some pain actually does have a purpose.

You can see that I have four tables set up here. I want to use them to walk through the process of how we grow spiritually and show how pain plays a part along the way.

There are four basic moments, or phases in our spiritual development.

The first one is the Wake Up call.

Wake up

I want you to look at this list. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. He calls these the work of the flesh. These are the things that plague us.

Fornication. The Greek word is pornea. This is any kind of sexual immorality.

Impurity of all kinds

Licentiousness, the idea that you can do whatever you want and no body better judge you

Idolatry

Sorcery, the manipulation of elemental forces to get your own way

Enmities and strife, just liking to cause trouble

Jealousy

Anger

Quarrels

Dissension

Factions

Envy

Drunkenness

Carousing

Just to name a few.

Every single one of us wrestles with at least two of these, I guarantee it.

When these things go unchecked in our lives, they enslave us and put us to sleep, and neutralize us for being able to live into the life of the Kingdom that Jesus invites us to live.

The first step of spiritual growth is the WAKE UP phase.

99% of the time it requires some form of pain to wake us up.

C.S. Lewis said, in The Problem of Pain,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

When you cheat on your spouse, you leave a trail of pain and suffering.

When you gossip and back bite and stir up trouble, you cause pain and suffering.

When you betray your family and friends to get your next fix, you cause pain and suffering.

And eventually the world comes crashing down on your head.

At that point we have a choice.

Do we listen to God, or keep doing what we’re doing?

It requires confession, repentance, and reconciliation.

When we respond to God’s Wake Up Call, then we enter into the next phase of the process.

This is The PURGE.

Purge

God takes the bleach, the sand paper, and the chisel and scrapes and grinds away the junk in our lives that is keeping us in chains. We must take on a warfare mentality in this phase and battle against the demons that rage around us.

This is hard, painful work.

But, eventually, we find victory.

By God’s grace and mercy we realize that we have been forgiven, that God has always loved us and actually wants us to live in freedom. The freedom we have is not to live to gratify the works of the flesh, but it is the freedom to let the Spirit of God flow through us and produce fruit.

This is the way of LIGHT.

Light

It is what Jesus talked about when he said in John 15, “if you remain in me you will bear much fruit.”

This is a wonderful way to live.

I bring this up because I want to make something very clear.

The painful process of these first three phases is the wisdom of Proverbs and it is right and good.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what I’ve been saying during this series on Job. I am not trying to devalue the book of Proverbs. God has created the universe with wisdom. The works of the flesh are foolish and stupid, and they do lead to destruction.

The works of the flesh are not the ways of Jesus.

They are not compatible with the Kingdom of God. And we must be careful as followers of Jesus to think, Oh, God’s all about Grace and Forgiveness, so I can party as much as I want.

NO!

God loves you so much that he will beat the Hell out of you. He will allow the consequences of your foolishness to crash in on you. And he will love you through all of it.

OK? Proverbs is good and true. And sometimes, pain is God’s correction for a foolish child.

But, what happens when the light goes out?

What happens when we have passed through the PURGE and we have been experiencing this amazing season of fruitfulness and spiritual excitement, and then the bottom drops out,

The child dies,

We lose our job,

Cancer withers our bodies,

And we haven’t been fostering the works of the flesh?

This is what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.

This is the suffering of Job.

I quoted C.S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain earlier.

He wrote that book when he was a single man. He was an academic and he thought very logically.

But then he got married to a woman named Joy, and they were very much in love. Then Joy died of cancer and Lewis experienced a pain that he had never known.

It is fascinating to listen to the ways he discusses pain and God after he had experienced it. That’s what this book called A Grief Observed is all about.

Here are some quotes.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

“This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.”

Today, in this third week of our series on Job, we stand here, in the Dark Night of the Soul.

There is a fourth phase of spiritual growth.

It is called UNION.

Union

It is that place in which we realize that all the striving and struggling that we went through isn’t actually the point of life. It is a place when we come to a deep sense of relationship with God that can sit with the unknowing.

That is what Pastor Mark is going to teach us about next week.

So today, here is my challenge for you.

Where are you in this process?

Is God giving you a wake up call? Do you need to confess and purge and taste the freedom of life in the Spirit? If so, talk to us.

Or, are you in this space with Job.

If so, know that the Hollywood ending is true for us. We, as followers of Jesus, can know that our redeemer does live. We know that God is with us every step of the way. Pain and all.

Amen.

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