‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 7. God is Too Big to Argue with
Job 42:1-6 Then Job replied to the Lord… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Ongoing: In a quest to make some sense of this world of uncertainty, a stop off in the book of Job must be essential. Thought of as possibly the oldest book in the Bible we might be unwise to declare it factual history or simply an allegory. We really don’t know, but whichever it is it conveys some amazing truths for a book of such antiquity. Be honest, it is not easy to read, in fact I think I have found it the most difficult book in the Bible to read, perhaps it is simply because the arguments that Job’s friends often put forward are only partial truths or even no truths, yet I found many years ago, doing a verse by verse study of it, thoroughly rewarding. So what are the main things that appear to come through in it, things that might help us get a clearer picture of the world of existence that we know? Here are some:
God the Initiator: One of the apparently awful things about this book is that Job’s sufferings appear to be initiated by God. Chapters 1 & 2 give us this picture of heaven as a place where God meets with his angelic beings and considers humanity. God trusts Job and He wants us to see that trust at work. He extols Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8) We must assume He knows how such a statement of truth will provoke Satan. He Himself will not cause Job’s misery but having pointed Job out as outstanding, He must let Satan test him (and yet again reveal Satan for what he is!).
Satan the Adversary: The writer of Job presumably knows of Satan’s part in the Fall but he sees Satan as there in heaven, one of the heavenly beings, allowed in the courts of the Lord, but still an adversary who takes whatever opportunities he is given to spoil the works of God and harm mankind. Yet in the incredible wisdom of God he is allowed to do that, to become a bringer of discipline or judgment, even on God’s behalf. He is allowed to stir up pagan attackers to bring death (Job 1:15,17), to use the elements to bring destruction (Job 1:16,19), and to bring sickness (Job 2:7)
Job the Enduring: The first wave of these things destroy Job’s property and family and we read, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:20-22) What maturity. I came from nothing, I’ve been returned to nothing. If that is what God decrees, so be it! Then it comes very close and he is afflicted and when his wife seeks to incite him to curse God, he replies, “He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10)
Meaning? But if you think this is easy, think again, for this is what the large part of the rest of this book is about, his struggles to cope with this and make sense of it and, of course, the truth is that from his earthly point of view there is no sense in it. When we put it in the context of the first two chapters, we see a heavenly conflict going on that goes to the very heart of why God should create mankind, perfect and with free will, knowing sin will come out of that free will. Can any good come out of that original decision? Is it possible for there to come a relationship between holy God and fallen mankind? When things go wrong on this fallen world – as they surely will, catastrophes caused by the weather, catastrophes caused by the sinful acts of men killing men, catastrophes of illness and death – can out of these things any good thing come? That is at the heart of the arguments of this book.
The Motivations of Arguing: Why do the following chapters happen, why do these conversations ensue? Job’s three friends hear of his plight and determine to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” (Job 2:11) When they first see him they are devastated at his state (v.12) and then, bless them, they sit with him in silence for seven days. Amazing! What empathy. So often when we are in such depths of despair all we want is someone to be there. But then Job can’t hold himself in any longer and he expresses the anguish he feels by cursing his very existence (Ch.3). It is a very human response to such overwhelming anguish. That is too much for one of his friends: “who can keep from speaking?” (4:2) He gently chides him and says, remember who you have been, “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6) And so it begins. Job in his anguish seeks to justify himself while his friends work on the basis of ‘no smoke without fire’, and it goes on and on getting more and more theological.
Life can be a storm: Eventually God intervenes and speaks, “out of the storm.” (Job 38:1) Interesting! No mention of a physical storm. Earlier Job had said, “He would crush me with a storm,” (Job 9:17) and later, “You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;you toss me about in the storm,” (Job 30:22) and later Elihu uses the same sort of language, “His thunder announces the coming storm,” (Job 36:33) and so now in 38:1 and later in 40:6 we have this phrase, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” We have used this picture of storms on the Sea of Galilee to portray the world of uncertainty and confusion that we experience so often in this fallen world, and here it is used again. Job has been battling a sea of uncertainty and his friends really haven’t helped.
God who is too big to argue with: And so we come to the crisis point of this book, God has come to declare His verdict but before He does, He does something quite unexpected, He does NOT justify Himself. Instead He simply declares His greatness as Creator of all things (Ch.38-41). Does that explain all this? Only in as far as He shows Himself as the all-powerful One who made everything we know, but that doesn’t explain Job’s anguish. Look at how it concludes. The Lord chides Job’s three friends: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7, repeated in v.8) Wow, despite all his rantings, despite the Lord quelling him with His might and majesty, he is still in God’s good books we might say today. Indeed the Lord restores him in such a way he is even far better off than he had been before. Job has come through triumphantly.
But what about? But what about the truth, what about the suffering? OK, you won’t find it in the text but as I have pondered this over the years, and only seen it just recently, I conclude that when God goes on at great length about His power, wisdom and might, as the Creator of all things, it is as if He is saying for those who will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand, “If I have all this, do you think I make mistakes?” What????? Yes, look, the Bible declares God is perfect and my definition of ‘perfect’ is ‘cannot be improved upon’, i.e. everything about God and everything He thinks, says or does (or doesn’t do) cannot be improved upon. I often find myself saying it, but I am certain that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over existence – and my life in particular – with all of His vision, knowledge, wisdom and insight, we will never ever be able to criticize Him for any of it.
And So? So the big difficulty in all this is that at this moment in our existence we cannot see all of that, we are in a sea of uncertainty, even a storm of uncertainty and that, as we said before, is where trust comes in, that God is there, He is love, He doesn’t make mistakes, He is working for our good (Rom 8:28), He has got a plan for our lives (Eph 2:10) and He has provided all we need in Christ and by His Spirit and our hope is secure awaiting us in heaven. Yes, we may have read all that in His word and heard it preached many times, but when we’re in the middle of the lake in the middle of a storm that threatens our very lives, that is the time for trust, that is the time it becomes real! And whether you like it or not, may I say this very gently, I believe trust is one of the most important things God is seeking to work in us as He matures us, and trust is observed as we remain in peace, secure in His love. May we each know it. Amen.