How Do I Overcome Bitterness From Suffering
How do I overcome bitterness from suffering?
Job 3:1-Job 5:27
Title: How Do I Overcome Bitterness from Suffering?
Text: Job 3.1-5.27
Kurt Cobain ended his life about 10 years ago (4/1994). filled with bitterness and anger. He was the founder and lead singer of the group "Nirvana." His violent suicide prompted a lot of questions. "Why? He had it all…a great career, dedicated fans, plenty of money, a beautiful wife and a 19 month old daughter…So why did he kill himself?"
To many it made no sense. But Kurt Cobain simply lived out his beliefs to their logical conclusion. He was a professed humanist and nihilist. He believed that there was no God and there was no meaning or purpose to life. He was the center of his own universe, and he was bitter so why stick around. His poetry (music) clearly showed what he believed. Kurt Cobain pioneered grunge rock, which has given us the alternative rock of today. This music is opposed to anything mainstream.
Cobain was very vocal about his bitterness from being a child of divorce and moved from house to house and eventually without a home. He felt that life was rotten and meaningless and his music often spoke of his anger and disillusionment. One of his songs was called "Nevermind." Its recurring line was "Oh well, whatever, nevermind." Another song that he wrote was never released because it was too objectionable. It was called, "I Hate Myself, And I Want To Die." That’s bitterness.
Friends of Cobain say he often acted without reason. He was constantly on an emotional roller coaster. But his dips into despair got deeper and deeper. Once, a member of his road crew asked him why he was moping around so much.
Cobain replied, "I’m awake, aren’t I?"
Cobain had no idea he was in the midst of a spiritual battle. He believed the lies of Satan: nihilism. He had passion, but for nothing. He had a void in his heart that nothing he pursued could fill, and he believed that nothing could or ever would.
He had no purpose, no meaning, so he played it out to its logical conclusion, death (Edited from Scott Weber, Sermon Central).
Today we’re going to look at another man in the midst of bitterness. But Job somehow found meaning and purpose in his bitter suffering. Job’s poems were quite different. Although he expressed his bitterness, especially in today’s text, he also held out for hope in the Lord. Later in the poem he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19.25-26, NIV).
There’s an old saying that says “trails make you bitter or better.” When they make you bitter you continue to suffer and others continue to suffer. When they make you better, you’re equipped to help others when they suffer. You find purpose in everything God allows to happen.
Thus far in the book of Job we’re seen that God is all-powerful. Satan can only cause suffering that God allows. We tacked a few questions:
• Can I prevent suffering? No, even the righteous suffer.
• How should I respond to suffering? Expect it. Be honest about the pain and live by faith and God’s power.
Worship while you mourn. Thank God for what He’s given. Maintain your integrity and surround yourself with supportive friends.
Throughout this series we’re seeing that there is always a Mystery to Suffering. We want answers. God makes it clear that Job wasn’t meant to understand all of the mysteries of suffering. The book of Job won’t answer all of our questions, but the lessons from Job’s suffering, and the attempts of his friends to comfort him, help us answer some of our own questions.
Today we’re going to answer the question: How do I overcome bitterness?
1. UNDERSTAND THAT BITTERNESS DESTROYS US
We don’t have to look at Job’s bitterness for very long to see how utterly destructive bitterness is. After seven days and seven nights of silence, Job finally speaks in chapter 3.
This begins a long poem. It’s a 40 chapter poem with Job responding to each of his three friends. Then, just when you think his friends are running out of ideas, a fourth friend lifts us up with some better advice. Then the Lord of the universe dramatically speaks at the end of the poem. Yet some things still remain a mystery.
We’ve covered a chapter a week for the past two weeks. We’re going to pick up the pace a little in the coming weeks, sifting out some redeemable principles from Job’s friends. It’s important to realize that not everything recorded in Scripture is true. It’s accurately recorded, but much of his friends’ advice is later proven to be false when the Lord speaks.
It’s human advice from Job’s well-meaning friends. But they didn’t have access to the behind the scenes information that we have. They couldn’t see suffering from the perspective of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and the promise of eternal life though his sacrifice.
Their main flaw is they think you always reap what you sow. Sometimes we don’t get what we deserve, instead we benefit from God’s grace... Other times we don’t get the reward that we deserve on this earth, instead we’re pruned to make us stronger, as Jesus spoke about (John 15).
We’re often uncomfortable with extended periods of silence. There’s also a lot of pressure on the first speaker. The words that break a period of silence have to be good. You can’t be silent for that long and not have something profound to say. But what could his friends say. What can you say to someone who’s lost his fortune and his family? And now he’s covered with sores and scabs. He’s an outcast. People used to come to him for help and guidance; now he’s sitting in a pile of ashes in the city dump scraping himself with a broken piece of pottery.
What do you say to a man like this? Job relieved the pressure. He spoke first.
Here’s Eugene Peterson’s rendition of what Job said: “Then Job broke the silence. He spoke up and cursed his fate: “Obliterate the day I was born. Blank out the night I was conceived! Let it be a black hole in space. May God above forget it ever happened. Erase it from the books! May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, shrouded by the fog, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception - the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac. Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness - no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever! May those who are good at cursing curse that day. Unleash the sea beast, Leviathan, on it. May its morning stars turn to black cinders, waiting for a daylight that never comes, never once seeing the first light of dawn” (Job 3.1-9, Message).
Job’s bitterness spews forth, but he never curses God. He curses the day of his birth, but he doesn’t curse God. He wonders why he was born to suffer so much. He wishes he had not been born. He isn’t blaming anyone yet, he’s just wishing he didn’t have to go through it. He’s also careful to let us know that he’s usually not one to curse anything. He says “May those who are good at cursing curse that day” (Job 3.8, Message).
“Some ancient magicians…believed they could rouse Leviathan, the sea-monster…who would perhaps swallow up the sun” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary). Job refers to this and wishes it would happen. Hundreds of years later, Leviathan is in the ancient Canaanite epic of Baal. The Lord addresses him as a serpent to be destroyed in Isaiah and Revelation
(Isaiah 27.1; 51.9-10; Revelation 12.7-9). (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary). Job stumbled on to Satan’s involvement but he didn’t know it.
Job has to be shocked by the depths of his own bitterness. He doesn’t know what to do with it, so he’s speaking irrationally, this is what happens when we’re filled with bitterness. “A curse is usually directed to the future, but Job is in such despair that he utters his curse upon the past. It is a completely futile curse…the past cannot be changed” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary. IVP, 1994). We can’t go back in time like in the movie “Back to the Future” and change things.
Bitterness asks irrational questions. Lot’s of why questions. “Why didn’t I die at birth?...Why were there arms to rock me?...I could be resting in peace right now, asleep forever, feeling no pain, in the company of kings and statesmen in their royal ruins…Why wasn’t I stillborn and buried with all the babies who never saw light?...Why does God bother giving light to the miserable? Why bother keeping bitter people alive? Those who want in the worst way to die, and can’t, who can’t imagine anything better than death” (Job 3.11-14, 16, 20-21, Message).
We all know people who’ve asked some tough why questions of God. Perhaps we’ve asked a few of them ourselves. You’re in good company. Jesus asked a penetrating why question on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27.46, NIV).
For Job the final question is, why can’t I just die. Why can’t I experience some relief from this suffering? Where is Dr. Kevorkian when you really need him? But Job didn’t go that far. Mrs. Job doesn’t sound so bad after all…she’s known for her famous words: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2.9, NIV). Job longed for death and relief. But he kept his integrity. He wanted God to end his life, but he wasn’t ready to take his own life.
But at the same time he feels abandoned by God. “The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever - death has invaded life” (Job 3.25-26, Message).
How do I overcome bitterness? Understand that it destroys us. And…
2. ADJUST MY EXPECTATIONS
A couple weeks ago we saw that Jesus said we should expect suffering in the world.
We become bitter and depressed when we feel someone has let us down. This is where our faith is really tested. Do we still believe in God when He doesn’t meet our expectations? Notice I said our expectations. Sometimes the problem is we’re expecting something that God never promised to deliver. Great suffering puts an end to belief in traditions.
One author “criticized Christians for believing not in God himself, but for believing only in their beliefs about him. Great suffering puts an end to belief in beliefs. So far, Job is still holding on to his belief in God” (David Atkinson, The Message of Job. IVP, 36).
We know of God’s goodness, but how does that square with the mystery of suffering? Is God really looking out for our well-being in the light of all this pain? It’s easy to feel that we’re being singled out; that we’re the only one who has ever suffered like this. This may be true for Job, but only God knows.
In the midst of his difficulties and his calling the apostle Paul adjusted his expectations. He said, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6.7-8, NASB).
What do you say to help a man like Job with his bitterness? Job’s friends tried to help alleviate the bitterness by figuring out what happened. God couldn’t have let him down, so what did he do? Or what did his kids do? As I said earlier, the advice of Job’s friends is not from God. Much of it is later proven to be bad advice, but there are some redeemable words.
3. HELP OTHERS WHO ARE IN NEED
It’s very difficult to help those who are bitter. If you try to tidy up their kitchen they may take it as an insult that you don’t think they are neat enough for you. You put out fresh flowers to brighten the room, but a couple days later the flowers are dying, how depressing! (Edited from David Atkinsom, Message of Job, 40-41).
Eliphaz brings the most comforting message of the first three friends. The fact that he spoke first probably means he was the eldest of the three. “The essence of Eliphaz’s first speech to Job is: You are a pious man…There is, therefore, no need to lose heart; for the innocent never finally suffer. You are suffering now because you are not perfect and you need some ‘correction’ and ‘discipline’ (5:17); but that will soon come to an end” (DA Carson, New Bible Commentary. IVP, 1994).
Here’s a few words from his two chapter poem: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (Job 4.2-6, NIV).
In the process of reminding us what a good man Job has been, Eliphaz reminds us of what Paul said in the NT. Paul opens his second letter to the Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Corinthians 1.3-5, NIV).
When you try to help someone who is bitter you will almost always get it wrong. They are difficult to help. But if you can get them to help someone else, they will help themselves. God wants us to use the comfort we’ve received in the midst of suffering to comfort others.
Sometimes the Lord brings comfort by alleviating the suffering. Other times He gives us the grace to endure it as Paul discovered when he pleaded for the Lord to remove his suffering. The Lord told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthains 12.9, NIV).
What can you do to help? Pray and encourage. You may not be able to help alleviate someone’s suffering through your prayers, that’s up to God, but you can share how the Lord gave you the grace to endure.
Later in this letter Paul describes some of his suffering: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4.8-12, NIV). Paul saw good in his own suffering…It was an opportunity to help others…it was actually brought about because he helped others.
When you help others who are in need you stop focusing on your own problems and see how God will use all things for good. God will give you words to minister to them that will also minister to you.
How do I overcome bitterness?
• Understand that it destroys us
• Adjust my expectations
• Help others in who are in need
4. APPEAL TO GOD FOR HELP
Eliphaz encouraged Job seek God’s help: “If I were in your shoes, I’d go straight to God, I’d throw myself on the mercy of God. After all, he’s famous for great and unexpected acts; there’s no end to his surprises. He gives rain, for instance, across the wide earth, sends water to irrigate the fields. He raises up the down-and-out, gives firm footing to those sinking in grief… So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you! Mind you, don’t despise the discipline of Almighty God! True, he wounds, but he also dresses the wound; the same hand that hurts you, heals you” (Job 5:8-11, 17-18, Message).
He was doing well until he got to the end, when he tried to speak for God.
Have you ever encouraged someone to pray and things went downhill from there? Sometimes they became more upset because we sound trite: “Just pray about it.” They’re also looking for empathy. They may get upset because they’ve already been praying. It may be because their too bitter to pray. Rather than telling them to pray, sit down and pray for them and with them.
Sometimes you need to do the praying for them. Jesus does this for us. He’s our High Priest continually praying to the Father on our behalf. The Bible says He lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7.25). Romans 8.26 says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit prays for us when we don’t know how to pray.
We not only need to pray for things to get better, we need to pray for their heart to be renewed. The external things may have been better for years and some are still carrying a burden of bitterness. Nothing will change unless your heart changes. Your heart won’t change until you humble yourself before the Lord and acknowledge that He’s Lord.
Listen to what the Lord says he will do in Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 36.25-27, NIV).
Billy Graham tells a powerful story of how the Lord changed the heart of a very bitter man.
“A woman in an African nation came to Christ and grew in her commitment and devotion to the Lord.
Over the years her husband grew to despise and hate her new devotion to Christ. His anger and bitterness reached a climax and he decided to kill his wife, their two children and himself. He was tired of the bitterness.
But he needed a motive. Since he was a banker, he decided he would accuse her of stealing his precious bank keys. Early one afternoon he left his bank early and headed for the Tavern. His route took him across a footbridge over the Nile River.
He paused above the river and dropped the keys. He spent all afternoon drinking and carousing.
Later that afternoon, his wife went to the fish market to buy the evening meal. She purchased a large Nile perch. As she was gutting the fish she was astonished to find her husband’s keys in it’s belly. How had they gotten there? She did not know; but she cleaned them up and hung them on the hook.
Sufficiently drunk, the young banker came home that night and pounded open the front door shouting, ‘Woman, where are my keys?’ Already in bed, she got up, picked them off the hook in the bedroom, and handed them to her husband. When he saw the keys, by his own testimony he immediately became sober and was instantly converted. He fell on his knee’s sobbing, asked for forgiveness, and confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior” (Edited from Tony Britt, Sermon Central).
When you appeal to God for help he can help you and others overcome bitterness!
Next week we’re going to learn how to overcome the anger from suffering.