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Out of the Ashes

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After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite did as the Lord commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life.

(Job 42:7-17, NLT)

I heard a story about a man who left his house one day for exercise. As he jogged down the street, he was approached by a man in a mask who had a knife. The man cut the jogger and took his money. Moments later the jogger was found on the sidewalk. Emergency Medical Services soon arrived and took him by ambulance to the nearest hospital. After a brief evaluation in the emergency room, he was rushed into surgery, where he was approached by a man in a mask with a knife who cut him and took his money.

Suffering is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I believe the purpose of the Book of Job is to help us frame our questions about suffering. Is God fair? Is God just? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the righteous suffer? But the answers to those questions are incomplete in this story, especially when everyone lives happily ever after. I’m happy for Job and others whose suffering concludes with a sigh of relief, but for many, if not most people, it doesn’t end that way.

Job helps us frame the questions, but the real answers we seek come from Jesus.

Think about some interesting parallels.

Jesus faced a test from Satan following his baptism.
Jesus met popular acclaim in the early days of his ministry, which was short lived.
Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, while his three friends slept.
Jesus was betrayed, then denied.
Jesus was falsely accused.
Jesus was offered up to the crowds in a popularity contest with a felon, which he lost.
Jesus was beaten, then crucified.
Jesus was buried.

Surely there are one or more items on that list that you can personally identify with. But for the Christian, Jesus rose from the “ashes” of death to proclaim his victory over sin, death and the grave. And because he is risen, we know that we, too, shall rise from the ashes of our suffering. Our happily ever after may not come in this earthly existence, but we can be confident that in eternity, we will indeed rise from the ashes.

There is no singular answer as to why people suffer. Bad things do happen to good people. But the story of Jesus is the ultimate good news story. Bad things happened to him so that good things can happen to us!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series from the Book of Job. My prayer for you is that you maintain hope in the midst of whatever you’re facing today, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith!

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Out of the Whirlwind

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Affixed atop my county courthouse is a statue of Lady Justice. She presides over those who enter each day, reminding them of two important things. There are the balance scales which symbolize fairness and equity, promising that all judgments will be based on the evidence. Then there is the blindfold, suggesting that justice is impartial.

Throughout the story of Job the reader sees the challenge that Job wrestles. He desired justice. He went so far, in fact, that he requested that God appear in a court room and present his case so that he could defend himself.

Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written, Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it to myself like a crown. “I would declare to Him the number of my steps; Like a prince I would approach Him. (Job 31:35-37)

After about 35 chapters of banter between Job and his “friends,” God had enough. Chapter 38 begins with God speaking to Job out of a whirlwind. If Job had an iPhone, the text message would have included an angry emoji. God posed 67 unanswerable questions about creation, the rhythms of creation, and the restraint of evil. God’s questions were so powerful that Job was left speechless. God had no interest in hearing Job’s challenges. Neither was he interested in telling Job why he was suffering.

God’s line of questioning revealed Job’s problem, pride. God said, “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?” (Job 40:8) I believe that Job was so good he could no longer see the goodness of God. But when God speaks, you listen. And you learn. And Job learned three important lessons.

First, he learned that God is sovereign. “Then Job replied to the LORD: ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.” (Job 42:1-2)

Second, he learned that he had spoken from ignorance. “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:3-5)

Finally, Job learned that he needed to repent of his pride. “I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:6)

It is important to recognize that Job repented before his restoration, leading the reader to believe that Job would have been content to live the rest of his life in his current state of suffering and never utter another argumentative word in the direction of God again. The good news for Job is that he will soon rise from the ashes. The bad news? He would never know why he suffered as he did.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Searching for Wisdom (part 2)

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God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

When we evaluate our suffering through the lens of justice, we are left with questions that focus on fairness, equity, and whether or not we are deserving of such pain. How could a good and loving God allow such tragedy? Why do bad things happen to good people? Those discussions are endless and unsatisfying.

It should be pointed out that some of our suffering may be the result of poor judgment or wrong behavior. And I believe that when those cause and effect relationships are in order, they are recognized. The majority of our questions are directed toward those instances when we cannot establish the cause and effect, such as in the case of Job.

There is an alternative, and that is the way of wisdom. When we look at suffering through the lens of wisdom, three things become evident that may be helpful to the righteous sufferer.

First, there is the consequence of creation. When God created the universe he set forth laws that are immutable and absolute. The creation account of Genesis 1-2 describes an ordering of creation, complete with these laws of nature that have been in place from the beginning. Take, for example, the law of gravity. Sir Issac Newton is the scientist credited with its discovery. And each of us is fully aware of the absolute truth of gravity. What goes up will, without a doubt, come down.

Second, there is the consequence of free will. Not only did God create the universe with laws that are immutable and absolute, he also gave the power of free will. In the same creation account, Adam and Eve, securely situated in the Garden of Eden, are given just one rule with outlined consequences. Don’t eat from the one tree. That was it. They had one rule, and they broke it.

Which brings me to number three, the consequences of the fall. Things went sideways at a breath taking pace following Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey. And the repercussions of that choice impacts each one of us today. The “fall” continues to make its presence known in our lives on a daily basis, and ultimately results in our physical deaths.

So how do we move forward in a positive fashion?

We begin by acknowledging the wisdom of God at work in the world. God is the source of all wisdom, and he is the place to begin. In addition to that, we can cultivate awe and wonder. Contemplating God’s vastness helps our hearts to know that the God who created all things also is the God who sustains all things. God is great enough to hold the universe in his hands, and personal enough to call me by name and know the number of hairs on my head. Which means he can be trusted. And when I learn to trust God, I can then come to him in my moments of pain and suffering and be loved by him.

Think of a small child who falls on the playground and skins his knee. He hobbles to his parent with tears in his eyes and reaches his arms to the sky, signifying his desire to be picked up and held. The parent sees what has happened and immediately sweeps the child up and holds the child. Few, if any words are spoken. The child is in pain and comes to his parent knowing that he will find comfort, compassion and strength to carry on. Healing will take place, but there may be a scar to serve as a reminder of the hurt. But the deepest memory will not be the pain. It will be the comfort felt in that deep and profound moment of suffering.

I am aware that large books have been written about suffering and that this is merely a blog post from a sermon I delivered. For me, though, the lens of wisdom is a valid way to approach our personal pain, and I hope you find it helpful.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Searching for Wisdom (Job 28:1-28)

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In the middle of Job we find the wisdom chapter, Job 28. It serves as an intermission between Job’s dialogues with his three friends and his debates with a fourth friend named Elihu. In this chapter you will find Job searching for some sensibility as he evaluates his suffering. He cannot grasp why his calamity has happened, so he searches for wisdom.

I grew up in an era where a popular phrase was, “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t (fill in the blank). For Job, the modern scientific and technological advance was mining for ores and gemstones. The first 11 verses of this chapter is a wonderful description of what human kind could accomplish through brains and brawn, tunneling deep into the earth to discover and retrieve the natural resources hidden from the surface. He states, “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? No one knows where to find it, for it is not found among the living” (Job 28:12-13, NLT). In other words, “They can mine the depths of the earth for natural resources, but they can’t explain why I’m suffering!”

Job noticed that this elusive wisdom cannot be discovered in the skies nor beneath the surface of the waters. “It is hidden from the eyes of all humanity. Even the sharp-eyed birds in the sky cannot discover it. Destruction and death say, ‘We’ve only heard rumors of where wisdom can be found'” (Job 28:21-22, NLT). Job had searched high and low, and was left empty.

But then there’s God.

God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

The story of Job shows his struggle to find justice. In this chapter, however, he is concerned with wisdom. What if we took the old narrative about justice and fairness and instead, looked at our suffering through the lens of wisdom? I’ll take that question up in my next post.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Job’s Complaint (Job 3:1-26)

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1 At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. 2 He said:
3 “Let the day of my birth be erased,
and the night I was conceived.
4 Let that day be turned to darkness.
Let it be lost even to God on high,
and let no light shine on it.
5 Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own.
Let a black cloud overshadow it,
and let the darkness terrify it.
6 Let that night be blotted off the calendar,
never again to be counted among the days of the year,
never again to appear among the months.
7 Let that night be childless.
Let it have no joy.
8 Let those who are experts at cursing—
whose cursing could rouse Leviathan—
curse that day.
9 Let its morning stars remain dark.
Let it hope for light, but in vain;
may it never see the morning light.
10 Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb,
for letting me be born to see all this trouble.
11 “Why wasn’t I born dead?
Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
12 Why was I laid on my mother’s lap?
Why did she nurse me at her breasts?
13 Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace.
I would be asleep and at rest.
14 I would rest with the world’s kings and prime ministers,
whose great buildings now lie in ruins.
15 I would rest with princes, rich in gold,
whose palaces were filled with silver.
16 Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child,
like a baby who never lives to see the light?
17 For in death the wicked cause no trouble,
and the weary are at rest.
18 Even captives are at ease in death,
with no guards to curse them.
19 Rich and poor are both there,
and the slave is free from his master.
20 “Oh, why give light to those in misery,
and life to those who are bitter?
21 They long for death, and it won’t come.
They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.
22 They’re filled with joy when they finally die,
and rejoice when they find the grave.
23 Why is life given to those with no future,
those God has surrounded with difficulties?
24 I cannot eat for sighing;
my groans pour out like water.
25 What I always feared has happened to me.
What I dreaded has come true.
26 I have no peace, no quietness.
I have no rest; only trouble comes.”

After sitting in silence for seven days with his friends, Job broke the silence with a powerful and disturbing monologue. Picture him sitting in the dirt. His past is lost, his future is empty, his present is painful. How did Job arrive at this dark, emotional state?
Think about it for a moment.

Time had passed and he has had time to think. As kids say today, “he’s stuck in his own head.”

His friends demonstrated they believed his situation was hopeless. Seven days, after all, was the ancient period of silent grief for one who had died.

Maybe he thought his wife was right after all. She had encouraged him to “curse God and die.” Maybe?

The memory of his past was gone. There was no sign of reflection about any of the good he experienced before his profound losses.

Finally, heaven was silent. Where was God? Where is God?

Job conveyed an image of complete and total hopelessness regarding his present state.

Reflecting on these piercing words of grief, what can we apply from his words as we think about our own suffering? I think we’ve all had our moments of feeling lost, helpless and hopeless.

First, his story and his words are a strong reminder that Christians are not exempt from suffering. Jesus, the man of grief, acquainted with sorrows, experienced suffering. And if Jesus wasn’t exempt from suffering, who are we to think we should not have to suffer in life? (Isaiah 53:1-10)

Second, Christians are not exempt from questions and feelings during suffering. Again, Jesus expressed some strong words himself when from the cross he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Finally, though Job does not know his end, we know ours, and because of Jesus’ resurrection we shall rise again! We have hope, not because we are good, but because Jesus is God and was raised to life on the third day, obtaining victory over sin, death and the grave!

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our suffering because he suffered.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our questions because he had a few of his own.
And the good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our final outcome in life because he is risen!

Categories : Job, Unfair
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With Friends Like These…

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His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong. When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. (Job 2:9-13, NLT)

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Often, people tend toward two extremes. Some will say wrong things, while others will say nothing out of fear of saying wrong things. Job’s suffering was great, and the conclusion of chapter 2 provides some helpful advice that we can put into practice.

Let me begin with the positive responses. First, Job’s friends came to be present with him. They didn’t avoid him and the suffering he experienced. Second, they were authentic. They threw dust in the air and demonstrated concern by tangibly showing their grief. Rather than exhibiting the stiff upper lip, they tangibly mourned alongside him. Third, they were silent. They didn’t speak a word. After all, what could one say? Finally, they stayed. For a full seven days they sat with him.

If you know the story of Job to any degree, you already know that the silence would eventually be broken and words would be spoken. Job’s wife and his three friends would all respond to his suffering in four unique ways, none of which proved helpful.

Take Job’s wife, for example. Her response was accusatory. In so many words, she demanded that Job either give up his claim to righteousness or give up his life. Blasphemy was viewed in ancient culture as punishable by death. They believed God would strike one down for cursing his name.

Job’s three friends spoke as well. There is Eliphaz, the prophet. His response to Job was based on experience and observation. He said, “My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same” (4:8). Next is Bildad, the traditionalist. He surveyed Job’s suffering based on the traditions handed down from previous generations. “But those who came before us will teach you. They will teach you the wisdom of old” (8:10). By far, Bildad the traditionalist was the most vicious speaker of the three. That leaves the third friend, Zophar the rationalist. He believed that the answers to suffering are found in reason and logic. His words are pragmatic, redundant, and cliche. “Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea” (11:7-9). Sounds like a bumper sticker, doesn’t it?

Job’s wife and friends shared the same conviction expressed from different angles. That is, the belief that Job was being punished for some sin he committed. They also believed that if he would appease God his suffering will end. And Job refused to have anything to do with any of it.

Which left Job with one final loss–his relationships. He is alone in his suffering.

It’s always easier to diminish God than it is to increase faith. Job is grasping for faith which is hard to do when you are suffering. It’s even harder to do when you are alone.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Would You Rather?

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When my kids were younger we’d play a simple game called “Would You Rather?” The point of the game is simple. You’d be given two options and would have to choose one over the other. For example, would you rather lose your eyesight? Or your sense of hearing? Another example might be, would you rather be the poorest person on earth with excellent health? Or be the wealthiest person on earth with terrible health?

As I read Job chapter 2, I think Job would rather be the poorest person with excellent health. In chapter 1 he lost all of his material possessions and all ten of his children in a quick and sudden series of tragedies. But he still had his health, and he still maintained his faith. But check this out:

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:1-8, NLT)

Job’s suffering had reached unparalleled levels. In the first “test,” he experienced external loss. But in this second test, his loss touched him physically. Those who have experienced loss will acknowledge that there is a big difference between tolerating loss and tolerating pain.

The accusation of Satan was relentless. Having lost the first round, Satan redoubled his efforts by claiming that deep down, Job (or any of us, for that matter) only cared for himself. The idiom “skin for skin” can be understood as “life for life.” In other words, Satan wagered that if Job had to pick between his personal faith and physical suffering, he would pick himself. Guaranteed. Furthermore, he inferred that Job had not really been tested, given his clean bill of health.

So Satan was released to harm Job with the limitation of taking Job’s life.

A careful reading of the text reveals at least three ways Job suffered. First, and most obviously, he suffered physically. Scholars have debated for centuries what this illness may have been. Some suggest leprosy, others elephantiasis. No one is certain, but Job is described as covered with boils, which would have inflicted a great deal of pain and discomfort.

He also suffered materially. If you think about it, the medicine of choice in ancient times was olive oil. But like today, medicines cost money. Having lost everything financially, Job is reduced to “self-medicating” and does so by taking the refuse of the common man, broken pottery, and using that broken shard to lance and scrape the boils hoping for relief. Think for a moment how your suffering could be compounded without access to health insurance!

Finally, he suffered socially. Job is pictured as sitting in ashes. I believe these were the ashes of the local landfill which served as the location of burning piles of garbage as well as the home of those declared “unclean” due to their physical disease.

Its hard to identify with such suffering. But Jesus can. There is no mistaking the amount of physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross, where he is pictured as stripped of the only earthly possession he claimed–the clothes on his back. Jesus not only suffered in destitution, he suffered alone, having been crucified on the outskirts of Jerusalem near the local garbage dump. (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Jesus identified with Job’s suffering, and he identifies with your suffering, whatever that may be. No one is comforted by stories of those who have it worse than you, for your suffering is your suffering and it is difficult. But we can all be helped by the stories of those who have walked similar roads, for it is in knowing those stories that we are reminded that we are not alone.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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From the Los Angeles Times:

Trifecta of opioids, alcohol and suicide are blamed for the drop in U.S. life expectancy

An epidemic of despair is disproportionately claiming the lives of rural white Americans in the prime of adulthood. And for a second year in a row, their deaths by drugs, drink and self-destruction have caused life expectancy in the United States to fall.

That milestone, suggests an editorial in a respected medical journal, marks a sustained reversal of close to a century of improving health for Americans. And it raises a puzzling mystery: What is causing the despair, and what will restore hope and health to these battered Americans?

The opioid epidemic, which claimed the lives of 64,000 Americans in 2015 alone, “is the tip of an iceberg,” a pair of public health scholars wrote in the journal BMJ.

In an even larger public health crisis unfolding in the United States, death rates from alcohol abuse and suicides have also seen sharp increases in recent years, wrote Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonweath University and Laudan Aron of the Washington-based Urban Institute.

Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24%. And mounting evidence has shown that deaths linked to alcohol abuse are rising as well among white Americans.

Nowhere are these trends more dramatic than in rural counties, where decades of social and economic changes have made the lives of white Americans less secure than their parents’, Woolf and Aron wrote.

About 15% of the nation’s population — some 46 million persons — lived in counties outside metropolitan areas in 2014. In a January 2017 analysis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that those living in nonmetropolitan areas were more likely to smoke cigarettes, to be physically inactive and obese and to suffer from high blood pressure than were metropolitan county-dwellers.

Fully 18.1% of rural Americans lived in poverty, compared with 15.1% of those living in and around cities. And people in rural counties reported less access to healthcare and a lower quality of healthcare than did those in metropolitan counties.

In October, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that, while premature deaths were down among all American adults between 1999 and 2015, nine of 48 subgroups studied saw increases in early mortality. The lives of non-Latino whites, largely in rural or small or medium metropolitan counties, were mostly being shortened by suicide, drug overdoses and liver disease — a condition closely linked to alcoholism.

That study’s data showed steep declines in deaths due to HIV infection, cardiovascular disease and motor vehicle crashes among African Americans and Latinos and in urban and suburban areas. But those declines were more modest or nonexistent among whites living in any setting. And they were offset by dramatic increases in drug overdoses and suicides in whites, no matter where the victims lived.

The authors of the BMJ essay note that the roughly 15-year run-up in drug deaths and suicides has not been seen in black Americans.

While the racial gap in health is narrowing, African Americans’ rates of premature death have always been starkly higher than those among whites, Woolf said. And it may be that the uptick in “deaths of despair” seen in whites will eventually be detected among blacks as well, he added.

But Woolf said it’s also possible that black Americans have some “resilience factor” that white Americans do not. Perhaps, he said, African Americans’ response to the discrimination, structural disadvantages and health inequities they’ve long endured has buffered them from following whites down their path of self-destruction.

At the same time, the despair of whites is “unclear, complex, and not explained by opioids alone,” Woolf and Aron wrote. In once-thriving communities outside the nation’s metropolitan areas, industries have collapsed. As steel mills and coal mines have closed, timber production has gone bust, and automation has left rural communities behind, their economies and their residents’ health have suffered.

The result is a national phenomenon that has been unfolding for at least three decades. Relative to life expectancy in other affluent, industrialized countries, Americans’ once-commanding lead in longevity began slipping in the early 1980s. By 1998, U.S. life expectancy had fallen below the average for industrialized countries. It is now 1.5 years behind that benchmark.

“It’s really sad that a baby born today will likely live less long than one born even a year ago. It’s not the direction you’d expect the richest country on Earth to be going,” Woolf said.

But economic collapse might be too easy an explanation for rural white communities’ epidemic of despair, said Woolf, who has studied the urban-rural health divide across the country. More important might be the fraying of communities’ social fabric that followed.

“Poverty rates don’t capture the frustration and hopelessness people experience when they can’t get ahead or can’t give their kids a better life,” Woolf said. When the social fabric of a community is frayed, its residents may be more inclined to salve their woes in self-destructive behaviors, he added.

A look at broader U.S. trends and policies may also shed light on the roots of some Americans’ despair, Woolf and Aron wrote. During the three decades during which U.S. life expectancy has slid, the nation’s educational performance weakened. Its social divides (including income inequality) widened. Its middle-class incomes stagnated. And its poverty rates exceeded those of most rich countries.

“These are all factors we know are important to health,” Woolf said.

If policy makers wanted to reverse the trend of shortening U.S. lifespans, “they would promote education, boost support for children and families, increase wages and economic opportunity for the working class, invest in distressed communities, and strengthen healthcare and behavioral health systems,” Woolf and Aron wrote.

At the end of the day, Woolf said, “it’s probably not a good time to make policy choices that don’t invest in helping these people. A policy agenda that’s focused on improving value for shareholders is not really going to bring relief to these families and communities.”

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Give and Take

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Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.
(Job 1:20-22, NLT)

In one day, within a matter of moments in fact, Job went from one of the greatest men on earth to the least of men. He lost his entire wealth, his servants and his family. The loss Job experienced in incomprehensible. We know people who have lost material possessions. And we know people who have tragically lost a child. But to lose all one owns plus all of their children in quick succession is beyond anything we can imagine.

How would you respond?

How did Job respond?

Job responded by defaulting to his spiritual preparation. The man who was noted for his close relationship with God turned to Him for comfort in an act of worship. Job had invested in spiritual resources throughout the course of his life, and had spiritual resources to draw from in abundance when the bottom fell out of his life.

If you closely examine his worship, you’ll see that Job came to God authentically. His body language speaks of his sincerity. There were no masks, no cliches, and no “pat answers.”

In his expression of worship he also acknowledged God as the source of his blessings. He didn’t take credit for what he possessed. Neither did he indicate that his wealth and family was the sum of his identity. The blessings he enjoyed came from the hand of a generous God.

At the same time, Job affirmed God’s right to repossess the possessions and blessings he had bestowed. He didn’t blame God, nor did he call God unfair or unjust. The Lord who had given is the same Lord who reserves the right to take.

Job’s vulnerable act of worship reveals his belief that when life is hard, God remains the same. That’s a powerful lesson for those of us who experience loss. Job worshiped as sincerely during the dark night of his soul as he did when all was right with the world.

If I were to offer a takeaway from this portion of Job it would be this. Don’t let all that’s wrong with life keep you from worshiping all that’s right with God. He may not have understood. But he didn’t abandon faith. His bank account may have been depleted, but his spiritual reserves would carry the day.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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One Day:: 2

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One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

(Job 1:13-19, NLT)

Even though Satan is the chief mischief maker in the universe, he cannot operate beyond the boundaries established by God. Having established the boundary of Job’s physical life, Satan left the presence of God and began reeking havoc. In one given day, Job lost everything. His flocks, his servants and his children were all swept away by bad guys and bad weather. None of those forces would have been perceived uncommon in Job’s day, but to happen all at once would have left him devastated. Through it all, the hand of God was concealed and the hand of Satan unsuspected.

What do we make of Job’s situation thus far? What lessons can be applied?

First, life should be lived with a profound sense of humility. Life is a gift that we cannot afford to take for granted. We are not entitled to any of the blessings God has granted. We didn’t earn them and we certainly cannot guarantee that they will remain a part of our lives by our own efforts. As the famous holocaust survivor Corrie TenBoom once remarked, “I have learned to hold on to the things of this world very loosely because it hurts too badly when God has to pry my fingers apart.”

Second, we must cultivate the spiritual resources we need today so we will have those resources available to draw from when tragedy strikes. Think of it as retirement planning. Those who are wise have and continue to plan for retirement by putting resources away for the future. When retirement comes, they are able to do so because they have prepared in advance. The same principle is true of spiritual principles. Job had cultivated a life of character and integrity, fearing God and turning from evil. Because of the spiritual resources he developed as a routine part of his life, he had those resources to draw from during his time of devastating loss. Not even God can draw something from you that you have not intentionally invested. If we have not made those investments into our spiritual lives, we will find ourselves spiritually destitute if and when we need to make a significant withdrawal. We’ll see more evidence of Job’s spiritual investments in the next section of this story.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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