Bent and Broken but Better For It?

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape.

Estella to Pip, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, chap. 59

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

Job to Eliphaz, Job 23:10

Estella, “bent and broken” by an abusive marriage, is transformed into something “better.” Now she hopes for the love she once rebuffed and Pip sees her as part of his own redemption. Their suffering prepared them for each other. [Interestingly, the first ending to Great Expectations is not so happy.]

Job began his response to Eliphaz with a declaration that “Today also my complaint is bitter” and God’s “hand is heavy despite my groaning” (Job 23:1). But he knows his suffering is a test of some sort–a bitter one, but one which he will endure though he also protests it.

Estella and Pip can stand on the other side of suffering and value it though they did not enjoy it. Job can sit in the midst of his suffering and recognize it as a refining process though painful and seemingly unjust.

But it takes time to get there, if we ever do. Even Job, in his first response to Eliphaz, protested that “his days have no meaning” in the light of God’s testing (Job 7:16, 18). He boldly declared that he would “speak in the anguish of [his] spirit” and “complain in the bitterness of [his] soul” (Job 7:11).

Yet, somewhere in the process, Job saw something more in his experience than mere injustice. He seems to have always thought it was unfair (cf. Job 27:2) but he did come to see that there was more involved than just that. It had a purpose. Whatever meaning he saw, however, did not deter him from protesting (cf. Job 30).

But all sufferers do not come to terms with some kind of “meaning” in their suffering and neither does their suffering always end up “rosy.”  Sometimes sufferers die in the darkness unaware that their suffering has any meaning whatsover….if, in fact, it does.

Does Sheila’s death have meaning? Does Joshua’s? I think they do, but I am at a loss to tell exactly what it is. Did their losses test and refine me? Surely they did. Did I learn something through the fire? Yes, of course.  Am I better for having been “bent and broken”? Yes, today I am.

Was it worth it?  Honestly, No!  It is difficult to value my “betterment” (even transformation!) as more important than their lives. Here is where my protest arises–my complaint that is sometimes bitter and sometimes angry.

But I recognize that I do not see the whole picture. I don’t know all that God is doing; I could not begin to imagine his mysterious and hidden ways.  All I can do is sit where I sit at the bottom of the bowl, experience my little world, feel my feelings and trust that God knows what he is doing….trust that there is meaning in my suffering….that somehow, someway it is–in God’s grand wisdom–worth it.

Trust. That is the key word.  Trust enables acceptance and dispels fear…but it is a process and it takes time, sometimes lots of time. God is patient. I am his beloved. Let us be patient with each other.



12 Responses to “Bent and Broken but Better For It?”

  1. Profile photo of Keith Brenton  Keith Brenton Says:

    I think in some way we all find death infuriating because – at some level, believer or not – we all perceive that life just shouldn’t be ruined by it; that life is good and precious and just ought to go on and on.

    I know our theology teaches that sin leads to death and death reminds us of that, and that sin doesn’t care who it hurts – and all that may be intellectually satisfactory but no comfort at all to the shattered heart.

    And, frankly, if we think Job’s story ends after the last chapter of the book bearing his name, we’re missing out on an untold number of grieving visits to the family plot where his beloved children were buried.

  2.   Steve Kenney Says:

    Loud and clear. I agree that the world is filled with evil. Awful things happen. To try to link a good outcome or life lesson in each circumstance is ultimately unsatisfying because it removes us from the reality we all experience: there is evil in the world. Bad things happen.

    I don’t expect good things to happen in this world. I believe we live in a world that would kill ultimate goodness if it ever came. My question then is not why there is so much evil, but why is there not more? With the constant assault upon our senses, why do we still protest? Why have we not acquiesced to the fallenness of our world?

    I think our protest is an echo of Eden. We know, even in the face of the worse tragedies, that this is not what God intended. We cannot explain our fallen world, but our hearts cry out to the God of comfort. Sometimes we question; sometimes we accuse. With the benefit of hind sight, we see that he sometimes uses bad things for good purposes, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was BAD! We also don’t find good in every bad event. It seems the life of faith will be unavoidable, “even though he slay” us.

  3.   Warren Baldwin Says:

    John Mark,

    I appreciate your statement, “I recognize that I do not see the whole picture.” That is one of the most frustrating things about life under the sun, as several people have shared with me recently. Sometimes it takes a giant faith, as you have been sharing about recently, to hold onto God’s ultimate purposes for us.

    Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels. What do you mean by “the first ending”? Are there two versions of this book? WB

  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I am thinking of the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” which has become very comforting words to me. I pray that God will grant you stillness not because the memories of what could have been will ever fade away but because of the anticipation of what will be is hastening on.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  5.   eirenetheou Says:

    Whenever i read Job 42, i am moved again to wonder whether “the historical Job” — if we may speak of him in that way — felt justly compensated for his anguish and suffering by receiving from the Lord “twice as much as he had before” and another full set of “seven sons and three daughters.” Did he not wake in the night with a cry — when he could sleep — demanding to know “Why? Why did you allow them to die? What had they ever done to you? What is it with you, that you must prove a point to me by killing my children?” Did God give Job amnesia? What did his wife think, as she bore him another 10 children? Was that her punishment, for encouraging Job to “curse God and die”? We might think that she wished that she had taken her own advice.

    We children of the latter twentieth century come to Job the book with a quite different understanding of human life and human worth than did its authors. They have no concept of the “individual” as we inherit it from the European Enlightenment. They knew death, intimately, in a way that we can only imagine, unless we have lived in the so-called “Third World” or on a battlefield. Indeed, those heroes of nineteenth-century America, whom we love and revere, lived in what we should now think to be a “third-world country.” One couple among my great-grandparents, persons of great wealth in their time and place, brought six children into the world, but only two survived childhood. The other couple gave the world at least five sons; i knew them in their age, and they were hard little men who didn’t die easily. How many of their siblings perished, i have no idea, but the photograph collection i inherited from my father includes many pictures of children and infants laid out on blankets over blocks of ice.

    Yet however intimately Job the person — a historical person in historical time — may have known death, whether he had ever lost a child before he lost the ten children, could he be so inured to death that he could forget his ten children slaughtered by “the hand of the Lord” in whose “hand is the life of every living thing”? It is one thing to think about “the worth of the individual” in the abstract. It is quite another to feel the death of a child, or a spouse, or a sibling, or a parent, and to feel a loss that will never be “replaced” or “compensated.” We may become so numb in the experience of monumental tragedy that we “feel nothing.” We may imagine that Job the person would feel his loss so deeply that he could no longer “feel anything.” Yet how then could Job take pleasure in Miss Dove and Miss Cinnamon and Miss Horn of Eyeshadow and all their offspring in Job 42?

    From human psychology we learn that what we call “primary relationships” universally distinguish us as, indeed, human. Our capacity for primary relationships causes us to grieve over death or injury to a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a beloved friend in a way that we do not grieve over what happens to someone we do not know, or someone we do not know so intimately. Did Job the person have a primary relationship with his children that would cause him to bear inconsolable grief? Were they to him, as in Job the book, mere symbols of his wealth and blessedness? Job’s humanity, however else we may come to think of it, depends — at least in part — on whether he had the capacity for a primary relationship with his children that would cause him grief beyond consolation

    Primary relationship is also a point to ponder at the Lord’s Table, where we remember that God gave “his only son” because of us, to restore us to him. It is one thing to give one’s own life in a great cause; it is quite another thing to give the life of another, indeed our own child, in sacrifice, even for another child. Only God could make right so monstrous a thing, for only God could “raise him up.” Perhaps Job the person could come to see his own restored children that way, but Job the book knows no resurrection — that’s one point of the story. Yet at the Table we have cause to remember that God sacrificed his Son for us, so that we may possess a gift of Life that may never be taken away.

    God’s Peace to you.

    d

    •   Jr Says:

      Remember that Job sacrificed to God in the mornings – on behalf of his children just in case they had sinned the night before. Now one can ask if this had to do with the love Job had for His kids or his jealousy for the name of God (which is actually the main focus of the story – God); but I would say it had to do with both. Job certainly loved his kids for he was a righteous man; and what righteous man doesn’t love his own children? ‘Twould be impossible to be labeled as such (especially by God!), if you ask me.

      Of course, the whole point of the story, contrary to popular belief, isn’t suffering; though suffering is a player. Though it is difficult to argue one point as supreme, Yancey, for one, says the real issue in the story of Job is faith. There was never any doubt in Job’s or his friend’s or his wife’s mind that God had done these things to him; and there should be no doubt in our minds either. Satan is on a leash; as the story and the Bible describes. God is ultimately Sovereign and not surprised by anything. Knowing this; how can Job keep his faith after all that has happened?

      Not to argue the point; “but Job the book knows no resurrection — that’s one point of the story” is a subjective statement. Scholars to this day debate if Job (or the author) knew of any belief or theology on the resurrection. We can debate 19:25-27 all day long in conjunction with the context and mood of the story; I just wanted to mention that the “one point of the story” you referred to is a subjective conclusion.

      Thanks for your words.

      Grace to you –
      Jr

      • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

        I make a similar point about God’s sovereignty, Job’s faith and Job’s integrity in my 1999 Yet Will I Trust Him.

        Whether resurrection is present or not, it is not very clear, but ultimately it is encounter with God that makes the difference not even what one believes about the afterlife.

      •   eirenetheou Says:

        Whether there is a possibility of resurrection in Job the book depends on what the plain words of the text say.

        Humankind born of woman
        is of few days and full of trouble.
        He comes forth like a flower, and withers;
        he flees like a shadow, and continues not. . . .

        For there is hope for a tree,
        if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
        and that its roots will not cease. . . .
        But a human dies and is laid low;
        a human breathes his last, and where is he?
        As waters fall from a lake,
        and a river wastes away and dries up,
        so a human lies down and rises not again;
        until the heavens are no more he will not awake,
        or be roused out of his sleep. . . .
        If a human die, shall he live again?

        This perception of his human condition helps us to understand why Job is determined to live until he is either vindicated or convinced of his iniquity. He has “only one chance at life.” Had we not by faith received assurance of our Lord’s resurrection, then we should, like Job, be “of all humankind, most to be pitied.” If that “subjective,” dear brother, then so let it be.

        God’s Peace to you.

        d

  6.   rich constant Says:

    question: john mark on primary relationships, also on the good intent of god by faithfulness.
    Titus 1.2-3…
    if we are never to die whats all the fussing about.
    if the scriptures are an example of gods unending good intent for the creatures of faithfulness…
    me might do well to examin the martyrs of the 1-3 cent.
    i can’t remember the guys name although i think he lived in Alexandra and couldn’t wait to leave for Rome as to be marted for the lord…
    the early church left quite the legacy of a lost definition of what they considered primary relationship.to say nothing of their understanding of
    of the truth of god and the truth of the world wrapped up in the four fold beast called Rome.
    any way that is 2000 years removed…
    and becomes easy to say,
    although we should not forget the shoulder’s of the saints and the fruit of blessings that we stand on my brothers in times of questions.

    GOD CANNOT LIE
    blessings
    all rich

  7. Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    On the ending of Job….

    I think the climax of dramatic lament is 42:5-6: what he once only heard about, he has now seen. I undersand “repent” as a change of mind, that is, a change from lament to acceptance (even praise). In other words, I would translate 42:6 as “comforted” (and the same Hebrew word is used in 42:11 (as well as 2:11).

    What happens after 42:6 is pure grace. Reconciliation with friends, family and renewed life with his wife, more children, prosperity, etc. None of it was necessary for “comfort”. Job was comforted when he encountered God. The “reward” (if we call it that) is more a type of eschatological reality and certainly not the thing that comforts Job. God comforted Job–not his friends, not his wealth, not more children. More children, I can attest, does not comfort for the loss of another.

    Did Job still grieve even after such comfort? I think so (though the dramatic lament is a self-contained unit and I don’t much like to speculate about what the literary genre does not cover), but it is a grief that lives in the presence of God rather than his absence.

    Thanks, everyone, for you comments.

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      Anyone who reads Job with half of an existential hat on ought to know that his “reward” at the end does not take away the pain of loss. Is Job and are we able to go on living after we find comfort in God? Absolutely! But that does not mean we forget nor that such memories do not continue in grief.

      Actually, I have only heard one person ever try to tell me that by turning to God, I would no longer have any grief. Of course, this person admitted that he had never been through anything that might be labled as ‘catastrophic suffering’ so I just quickly dismissed what he was saying (in a little anger too).

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

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