February 15th, 2006


Suffering and worship

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

—Romans 5:3-5

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.

—Job 1:20

Job's response to devastating losses, juxtaposed with the truth of this passage from Romans, leads me to conclude that many of us have little idea what it means to worship. Our imaginings might include hand clapping, repetitive choruses, swaying banners and crowds, and liberal use of the phrase "the Lord." Or they might be quieter, with closed eyes, soft music, lots of candles, and quiet reverence. Indeed, worship does not necessarily exclude any of that. But Job is doing something else here.

I could go on and on, both because I have a lot of thoughts on it and because I can hardly be sure of most of them, but I think our lack of understanding often boils down to three factors (separately or in tandem):
  • Real suffering, however it may manifest, is kept so far from our faith that when it comes, it not only undoes us (as it does Job), but also undoes our understanding of God.
  • Our other efforts toward worship are so feeble, sporadic, and unfocused that they simply do not have the substance to hold up when faced with real suffering.
  • We imagine God to be something less than He is (and usually, if we're honest, someone less than we are).
Put another way, we disconnect the big stuff (either avoiding it or wallowing in it), we focus on the small stuff, and we don't deal with God as God.

That's why real hope, and suffering endured in its context, is so incredibly beautiful. It's the fresh air we need in our cramped personal dramas (and even an open door through which we can leave them). We know it when we see it, and even in the midst of weeping and wailing, there is also worship, because God is God and we are coming to bring the whole of ourselves before Him.

Suffering and worship: Addendum

Another thought that was in my head this morning, but momentarily escaped:

One of the reasons we don't fully understand the relationship between worship and suffering is that we imagine worshipping in spite of suffering. That's not Job's way, or Jesus'. We must instead learn to worship in our suffering. And while this seems very challenging, I really think one of the biggest obstacles to worshipping Him this way is the former screwed-up notion. Once that's dismissed, we're free to cry, "Abba, Father."