I have been reading through the One Year Chronological Bible for my time in the word, and Job comes up chronologically right after Genesis. Some scholars actually believe it was written before Genesis. It was a timely read, and although I have read it before, it seemed as though I was reading through a different lens; maybe an older lens? I would say ‘mature,’ but Donna may question that 🙂 Either way, I was intrigued by Job’s honesty and dismayed by the ‘Christian Cliche’ of Job’s prosperity gospel friends. As humans, we hurt. Pain and suffering knows no color, social-economic, gender or ethnic barrier. Suffering is part of the human condition. It’s the dark ugly part that we try our best to anesthetize and make it better. I had previously met with a young man for 6 hours, who is struggling to understand the pain and suffering he sees in the world, and how a ‘good’ God could let this happen. I am meeting again this week with him, so pray for that interaction. His questions are real and relevant. None of which I haven’t asked myself. And in the end, there aren’t any air-tight answers. Sure there are cliches, we all work with, such as ‘God has a plan for your life,’ or ‘all things work out for the good of those who love God,’ but in the moment, those comments, though biblical ring empty. Truth is often the first thing to go for the depressed. I was asked last night in our small group, that as a pastor and counselor, what do you say to those that have had their heart ripped out? The answer? Not much! I was trained, as well as experience being the best tutor, to say nothing; just be there, and empathize, because words can’t change the circumstances.
Thousands of years ago Job was crying out in immense pain, and just like we do, he defended himself and questioned God, which is why I love the bible. There is hardly any religious literature that shows their ‘heroes’ as vulnerable’ and is allowed to question God like we see in the bible (Especially in the Lament Psalms), but unlike the bumbling, petty Greek gods who are questioned and challenged such as Prometheus, God answers Job in ways that only a powerful, infinite God could answer a weak, finite human, ‘who are you to question me?’ God answers Job with…
“…Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?“Job 40:7-8
We, humans, have a massive propensity to question God like we are His equal. It’s our desire for justice that drives us humans to seek justice for wrongs including the ‘wrongs’ we believe God is up to. We do so, without seeing the nature by which we judge good and evil, which is flawed and arbitrary. We don’t allow God to judge, based on His perfect character, because we feel like ‘know’ what is right and wrong. Job fell into that trance until he encountered the true God, and Job records his thoughts…
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”Job 42:2-6
In the end, God’s answer is I’m God and you’re not. It’s not that satisfying when we are hurting, and desire to put God on trial, but in reality, it is the only satisfying answer. His answer (Chapters 38-40) is that “I got this, I am in control. I’m bigger than you can imagine!” He is in control, we are not, and He knows what’s best for His entire creation, we don’t. That might not be satisfying, but in truth, what worldview presents a better answer for our pain? This is ultimately what I asked the young man I am counseling, and is struggling with all of the pain and suffering in the world. You can reject God, become an agnostic or an atheist, but where does that ultimately lead you? Does it assuage your fears, depression, and the world’s problems? It may have a momentary release from guilt or responsibility, but does it really solve the problem? The same pain and suffering exists, but now there is no one in control, and therefore no ultimate hope. God does not answer Job, He does not give Him reasoning, but He gives Job something more than that; HOPE.
Our church started a series on Isaiah 40-66, which is a great segment of scripture, and knowing that the first 39 chapters were about Israel’s suffering due to judgment because of their sin, the latter half of Isaiah is the comforting hope that in the end, God wins, He comforts his people, He re-rights the wrongs, by taking care of what humans need the most, a restored relationship with the creator of the universe. All of chapter 40, like chapters 38-40 of Job, remind us of how immense, and powerful and great God is, and then ends with Isaiah 40:31, which says, “…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” This is what we have, waiting on God, and trusting Him in that moment, knowing that He does love and care for His creation, and is making it whole once again; we have HOPE through our pain, not always answers.
I’m reminded of a story John Piper tells in his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching, of a time when he was preaching on holiness from Isaiah 6, and he found out later that a young couple just found out that their child was molested by a close relative and it had been very traumatic. Conventional wisdom would say they didn’t need a sermon on God’s holiness, they needed comfort. This is what Piper writes…
“I didn’t realize that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message. I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, “Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?” Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after a service. “John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on.”John Piper. Supremacy of God in Preaching, pg. 14.
God, and His glory, and His purposes, and His sovereign control is what we need to hear, whether we understand why God did what He did, which we may never know. This is God’s answer to His messed up creation, sadly for many, whose faith has been shipwrecked it’s not good enough. In the end, we all suffer one way or another. Some worse than others, the question is where what or who do you go to for relief?