What’s the Point of Suffering in Obscurity? — Vaneetha Risner

The angels and demons are constantly watching to see if I treasure God.

When I initially heard this idea, almost 15 years ago, it changed me. Radically.

At first it was unsettling to think that I was constantly being watched. Yet it became strangely comforting when I realized I was not alone in my suffering. That there was a greater purpose to my being faithful than I could see.

Over the years, I had often wondered if my private suffering had much meaning. I understood that public suffering, such as the faithfulness of the martyrs, inspired believers and unbelievers to see the value of God. But unseen suffering, that no one else on earth was aware of, seemed pointless.

Or at least it seemed pointless to me.

If no one ever knew what I was going through, how could God use it? If it didn’t inspire others to love Jesus more, did it really matter? If no one was there to observe it, what was the point of a godly response?

And yet as I heard Pastor John Piper unpack the book of Job, I saw that my response to suffering mattered. Not just for me, but because a watching world, a world that I could neither see nor hear, was waiting to see how I would respond to trials.

The book of Job begins in the throne room of God. Satan is mocking God, claiming that Job treasures Him for what he has been given. Satan claims that if God takes away what Job has been leaning on, Job will curse God to His face. In essence he implies, “God, Job doesn’t really love you. He loves your blessings. He worships you not for who you are but for what you give him.”

This is a great assault on God’s value. And after the worst has happened to Job, Job’s wife falls into despair and tells Job to curse God and die. This appears to be a great victory for Satan.

At this point, Piper conjectures that tens of thousands of angels watched in dismay, wondering what Job would say as well. But when they heard Job declare, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Piper imagines that 20,000 angelic arms went up, proclaiming, “Yes Job! God is more valuable than your health. Thank you for holding fast.”

God’s glory is on display for the angels and demons and the rest of the world when people demonstrate that their hearts are satisfied in Him alone rather than in His gifts. When we declare that God is more precious than our health, our happiness, even our very lives, we highlight His supreme worth to a watching world.

That message helped me through years of struggle.

I speak and write about suffering, and sometimes my words inadvertently make it sound wistful and romantic. Almost noble. Talking about crying myself to sleep sounds a lot more beautiful than feeling nauseous in a dark, lonely room, with an empty box of Kleenex, and a raging headache from sobbing.

There’s nothing even remotely appealing about raw pain. When no one sees or knows and no one seems to care anyway. When you wake up every morning with a cold numbness that permeates your soul and makes you feel completely dead inside. When every day seems harder than the day before, and you wonder how much longer you can go on. When life seems grueling and gritty and even gruesome and death seems like it would be a welcome relief.

And yet, in the midst of crushing circumstances, we know something else in going on. Something bigger than we can imagine. Something that puts our pain into a larger context.

My life isn’t just about me. It’s about God and His glory.

And because of that, my response matters. Even when it seems that no one on earth is watching. Because there are beings in the heavenlies ever watching.

Ephesians 3:10 says, “…through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

So God’s intent is that through the church -you and me- His wisdom will be made known to the powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.  The angels and demons learn about God through watching us respond to affliction.

The spirit world is looking on when we hold our tongue though we’re tempted to speak unkindly. When we lie suffering in an empty room and no one even knows. When we want to curse God and die and yet choose to bless God and live.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s message at True Woman 2010 addressed this very topic. Joni, who is a quadriplegic, had been lying awake in bed at 2 AM, nauseous from chemo and wondering if it was all worth it. But suddenly she realized, “Something unseen and electrifying is abuzz in my dark room. The unseen world and all the heavenly hosts including powers and principalities are watching me. They are listening to me and as I respond, they are learning about God and His character through me.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to press on because I know my life is on display. We don’t suffer for nothing and we never suffer alone… My response to hardship is never isolated. It is not true that no one cares or notices. The stakes are high and God’s reputation is on the line. It’s all for God’s glory.

Joni went on to say, “When the spirit world sees God’s strong arms hold you in your weakness, the Father gets the glory. The spirit world watches us persevere under pressure and they think, ‘How great her God must be to inspire such loyalty through such suffering.’”

Joni’s talk reminded me afresh that my life is being lived before an untold number of ‘beings.’ Every day I have the opportunity to show the surpassing value of Christ to the unseen watching world.

I can glorify God when I am unfairly accused and choose to respond with grace. When I am worried about a loved one and choose not to fear. When I am wracked with physical or emotional pain and choose to praise God anyway.

These choices all matter. Because a heavenly host is watching. Not to judge or condemn us. But to see if our God is worth worshipping. If He is worth living for. And even more, if He is worth dying for.

So let us press on. Fight with joy. Be faithful.

Our lives are on display.

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