The book of Job describes a man who lost his wealth to enemies and his children to death, and his health devastated him so deeply that even his friends could not recognize him. His standing in the community was reduced to mockery. He says, “But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock.” (Job 30:1) Job has been reduced from being one of the most respected men of the ancient world to the brunt of the jokes of crude and vulgar men.
Such an utter loss of all things can be devastating. Indeed, Job’s complaint before God is instructive. “Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favour the designs of the wicked?” (Job 10:3) Job is expressing his frustration with God. He knows that he is not suffering because he has sinned. But he also knows that unethical people prosper while he suffers. He wants to know how God could favour such an outcome.
Of course Job is not the only one to have felt this way. Psalm 73 records Asaph’s struggle as he has been stricken and rebuked while the wicked seem to prosper and be at ease. Asaph says his soul was embittered. (Psalm 73:21) Elijah’s complaint before God is recorded in 1 Kings 19:10. “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Such difficulties are not uncommon for the people of God. It often feels like the wicked win and the righteous languish. In the midst of this common reality, the result is often discouragement. Does scripture give us instruction as we try to navigate through times in our lives when it seems like we have no strength to go on? I think it does.
When Jesus was describing to His disciples the looming reality of His death at the hands of evil men, He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” Those words form the basis of everything that must be done when the child of God is discouraged: believe in God.
For some of us, this seems confusing. We have been told, according to Romans 8:28, that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. But as we look at the reasons for our discouragement, that promise seems hollow. How can these things work together for good? We can’t imagine an outcome that would justify the suffering we have endured, and we wonder if we shall ever experience some kind of satisfactory resolution. But notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples to imagine a scenario in which things worked out well in the end, but to believe in God.
As I think of Joseph, I am encouraged. Sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of sexual crimes by an immoral woman, in prison for crimes he did not commit and forgotten by an advisor to the king who promised not to forget him. But those horrible events would lead to the saving of many lives, and the safeguarding of the promises that God had made to Abraham. But I can’t imagine Joseph ever imagining how his sufferings would work out for the good. Indeed, it does no good for the discouraged to imagine what good might come. Instead, the only fight we have against discouragement is to believe in God.