Holding on to Your Faith in the Midst of Suffering: Job
The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina
Now before I jump into Job, I want to step back and say something from the Book of Philippians. There is a troubling dimension to the New Testament and the Old Testament when it comes to talking about prosperity and God meeting all of our needs and so on. And we all love Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
So there’s a New Testament version of one of those sweeping promises that bother us in the Old Testament when it talks about the righteous experiencing so much benefit and so much freedom from difficulty. One of you pointed out to me some verses I passed over in the book of Job that talked just like Eliphaz, which basically say, “If you’re righteous or if you love God, then every need will be met.” Every need. So the question then rises here and by implication elsewhere, What is a need? What is a need? Do you qualify the word need or do you qualify the word every? Or you say, “I’m not a Christian because things go bad for me. It doesn’t feel like every need is being met all the time.”
Abundance and Need
Now there’s an answer to that question right here in the context, and I’ll just direct your mind to it. Go back up to Philippians 4:11–13:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I remember growing up, we would memorize verse 13 — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me — and never look at the context. I think I was probably 29 years old when I saw the context: “I can do all things — including hunger.” Has anybody ever expounded that verse to you? If you’re in Christ and you have his power, you have the wherewithal to hunger — that is, to go without food. Or, to use another phrase there, to be abased, be lowered, be crushed, be ignored, be belittled, have less. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. I can be without food. I can be without clothing, and I can be without esteem. I can do all things through him who strengthens it.”
How to Be Brought Low
It always had the triumphalist echo in my growing up: “I can do all things” means I will have clothing, and I will have food, and I will have a esteem, and I will get victory. That’s what the all things meant in my mind. And in the context, that’s not at all what it means. Paul lists his trials in life in 2 Corinthians 11:24–29:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
Those are the all things for which he has strength to endure, in addition to having learned how to have abundance. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). So we have a contextual argument that the every need of Philippians 4:19 cannot contradict verses 11–12. And therefore, every need does not mean all the food you want, and all the clothes you want, and all the jobs you want, and all the relationships you want, but all that God deems fitting for you to have for his glory.
Now if that’s a faithful handling of this contextual teaching, then we have a biblical handle to go with some other very hard texts like Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What should we eat? What should we drink? Where with all shall we be clothed? Don’t be anxious to those things; the nations worry about those things. But you seek the kingdom and all these things — clothing, food, drink will be added to you. How much? What about in Sudan. How much? The answer is: all you need to glorify God. Which may mean none.
When John and Betty Stam were martyred, they were in their underwear and it wasn’t glorious. Their heads were chopped off in their underwear. I read that in their biography: that they were taken out early in the morning, caught off guard, forced out of their house, humiliated to the core, paraded through the streets, and bowed down. She was forced to watch as they chopped off her husband’s head, and then they chopped off hers. So were all things added unto them as they sought the kingdom in China? Were all things added unto them? Romans 8 says it another way:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:33–37)
And in all these things — famine and nakedness and peril and sword and persecution — we are more than conquerors. So as she watched her husband, in his underwear, get his head chopped off, if she had faith at that moment, by grace — which I believe she did — she could close her eyes and say, “Conqueror; conqueror. In all this, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)
I want you to go away with a theology that can handle that and not feel like you’re just grasping at straws. But you have texts like Philippians 4:11–19. And you have a Jesus who not only says, “All these things will be added unto you,” but some chapters later says, “Many of you they will kill” (Matthew 24:9). “Be faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10). You have Romans 8; it doesn’t get any better than the Great Eight. The Puritans used to call it “the Great Eight.” The Himalaya of the Bible is the Great Eight. There are a lot of Himalayas in Luke and Romans.
Strength to Endure
Well that’s a preface, just to try to give you some categories for handling texts in the Bible that seem to be so sweeping in their promise of blessing — like, “My God will supply every need.” He will, but he defines need; we don’t define need. And when he supplies it, we bow submissively and thank him for giving us all we need to glorify him. A need is what you must have in order to so live that God gets the glory. He knows what you need.
He will not let you be tested beyond what you are able. Don’t just use the word tempted there. That reduces the meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:13 too low. They’re the same word in Greek: testing and tempting; there are no separate words. And if you use the word testing, you see that it broadens it out. He will not let you be tested beyond what you are able — not just tempted. We think tempted means: “He won’t show me a pornographic magazine that I can’t turn away from.” Well, that’s a small application. But if you say tested, then we’re talking about relational collapses, and health collapses, and job collapses, and everything that you could possibly be tested by. He will not let you be tested beyond what you’re able to because every need that you have will be met. The need to endure, the need to glorify him in and through the famine, the nakedness, the peril, the storm, the hardship, the calamity. He uses those words.
Suffering in Job
So now we go back to Job 38–42. Let me give you a little summary now. Job’s been lying in unrelieved misery for months. Remember that word months that we saw in chapter 7 — sores all over his body, seven sons and three daughters dead, all of his wealth taken away, a wife who, temporarily at least, has given up the faith and suggests that he should curse God. And he has three friends who start well and finish badly. And he, at the beginning, also starts well.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Grace was given to Job to be so triumphant and do so well so that all the angels rejoiced, and Satan was chagrined, and the test was passed, and God was valued above children, and valued above a believing wife, and valued above animals, and valued above his health; God was valued. So he stayed with God, and he affirmed God, he blessed God, and he vindicated and justified God, and all heaven rejoiced. And many people, no doubt, in his circle of relationships, marveled at the worth of God in the life of Job.
Then it gets dragged out, and these friends of his begin to simplistically deal with his suffering in terms of a principle of justice: that if you’re a big, bad sinner, you get big, bad suffering; and if you’re a really big, good person, you get big, good prosperity, and that principle that so many people have for 29 chapters got weaker and weaker and weaker, until it aborted in the silence of Zophar, and was proved to be wrong, and so it didn’t hold.
Arrogant at the Bottom
Then Elihu comes on the scene with his anger, his young indignation, and he poses the problem very differently. He says, “Job, you’re wrong, and they’re wrong. They’re wrong because you showed they were wrong. But you’re also wrong, and you’re wrong in two ways: You’re wrong to talk with excessive righteousness about yourself; you overstated the case, though you’re a good man. And you’re wrong to call God your enemy. He’s not your enemy, and you called him your enemy, and you dishonored him in that. The right interpretation, Job, would be to say that God is your sustainer, your friend, your father, your lover, your surgeon, your doctor, your good physician. And what he’s doing is shaking you through this suffering so that the sediment of remaining sin is stirred up. Yes, he called you righteous. Yes, you were a good man, and all of us have sinned — righteous sinners, we called it — and then he stirs it up in order that it will be exposed, in order that he might, like a good surgeon, remove it, and then you would repent, and you would be much more godly even than you were before.”
There are two basic functions of suffering in the book of Job, it seems like. The first one, in chapters 1–2, is to display the worth of God in the allegiance of these suffering people: to display the glory, the worth, the value, the satisfying excellence of God in the steadfastness, the allegiance, the faith, the trust, the satisfaction of his suffering people. That’s first. And then Elihu gives us a second glimpse as to what God is up to and why one would suffer, and it is that we might be purged of remaining pride. The word pride, which came out a lot yesterday, is going to come out even more this morning as we let God talk, which will confirm the fact that that’s the root sin in the universe. Pride is the root of all other sins.
Adam and Eve got us started in this by arrogantly rejecting the provision of God to take care of them and saying, “We have a better idea of what will make life go well. Life will go better if we know good and evil by eating this tree.” So they became independent, proud, self-reliant human beings, which everybody in this room is — except by the grace of God. We are arrogant, selfish, pushy, we-will-have-it-our-way kind of people. Even the nicest, little sweet ladies in this room are arrogant at root. You have your little, sweet, nice, soft ways of being arrogant — but you are. Even if you’re a nice Southern lady, you are arrogant — except as you have received Christ and he has begun to do a wonderful redeeming work in your life, whether you’re a big, pushy, blustery man, or a nice, sweet, quiet, lady. God has to do the same massive work to overcome what we are and that is proud, and vain, and selfish human beings. I have seen it in my 54 years in every human being — even in the most godly people I know.
All Candidates for Surgery
So you will find God now, as he begins to speak in these chapters, talking about pride, just like Elihu made pride a big deal. And Job, though he was a good man and a righteous man at the bottom, down there is this sediment of pride that will not be entirely gone until Jesus, in the twinkling of an eye, transforms us into the likeness of himself so that we are perfect in the age to come. But right now, we’re not; and therefore, all of us are candidates for surgery, and all of us are candidates for greater sanctification and we should long for it. And we should pursue all the means of Scripture, short of suffering, so that God might not have to use suffering.
I want to clarify something here: you might draw the conclusion for what we’ve said, “Well, we’re back where we started really, with suffering correlating with pride, so that every time I do suffer, I should think, ‘I must have been a really proud person.’” But you can’t do that in this book. You cannot do that because Job is called the best man in the east (Job 1:3). Therefore, the magnitude with which God dealt with him in terms of the suffering is not owing to the magnitude of that sediment. That will not hold; you cannot make that stand. There is no correlation between the magnitude of our suffering and the magnitude of the sediment of our ungodliness.
God simply apportions in his freedom who gets how much pleasure and who gets how much pain. And I don’t think there is any figuring out why one person gets a lot and one person gets a little in this life. You can’t draw the conclusion: “The person that got a lot of suffering must have had a lot of sediment. And the person that got a little, they didn’t have hardly any remnants of corruption left in their lives.” Neither experience nor the Bible will let you make that. We leave the proportion in God’s hands.
God out of the Whirlwind
So now Elihu is finished. He has said was he has to say. Neither Job nor God criticize him. And at the end of his speeches, he hears and he sees a thunderstorm gathering — literally. This is the approach of God, and God is going to speak out of the whirlwind. I don’t know how he did it. But way back then, before they had a Bible, God was going to speak, and he spoke to people of old in many and various ways (Hebrews 1:1). And here he comes and he’s going to speak out of the thunderstorm. Job 38:1–2 says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Now Elihu has just spoken for six chapters. It’s as though Elihu and God have two things to say. First Elihu speaks, and then God speaks. But God speaks to Job, even though the last six chapters have been the voice of Elihu.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’” And you might think that’s a criticism of Elihu because he’s just spoken for six chapters. So God is asking Job, “Who’s that?” That’s not the way you should understand this verse. He means, “Job, who are you to darken counsel without understanding?” That’s what he’s asking. How do I know that? Because in Job 42:3, you have this same word repeated that God spoke in Job 38:2. Now Job is going to quote God with it in 42:3: “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” That’s God’s word to Job, and Job answers, “I have uttered what I did not understand.” So that parallel between 42:3 and 38:2 keeps me from thinking that God was really criticizing Elihu there when he said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
Elihu is done and he’s out of the way. Now God’s got his turn to deal with Job and he says, “Job, what’s going on here, and the way you’ve spoken for the last 29 chapters? For a while you were doing so well, but you have said some really questionable things. You have darkened counsel by words without knowledge.” And now we get to hear God, and we have a lot of chapters here of God talking. I’m not going to just read them through, but I’m almost going to read them, because there’s so much good here, and I want God to be heard here — not me. So we’re just going to go paragraph by paragraph, and I’m going to try to pick out the key question. This is God now, as it were saying, “OK Job, you’ve had me in the dock for 29 chapters, querying me, wondering how I can give an account for myself. Let’s just switch here from it. You get in the dock; I’ll ask the questions. I’ll be the prosecuting attorney here and I’ll query you about a few things.” And that’s what’s going on here.
God of the Dawn
So Job is on trial here now, not God — which is the way it ought to be, by the way. Don’t ever put God on trial in your life. You’re on trial always. And your Judge has justified you. In Job 38:4–7, does some geographic questions here and focuses on the earth: “Where were you [Job] when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.” The answer, of course, is: you weren’t there, and you don’t know how I did. Verses 8–11 focus on the sea, not the earth: “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” Of course, the answer is: God did, not Job. God set the limits to the sea. You don’t know how he did it, and you couldn’t do it if you did know how.
Job 38:12–15 focus on the dawn, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” And the answer there is, “You never did it. You can’t do it and I’ve always done it.” My mind goes back over thirty years to a class with Clyde Kilby in romantic literature, and we were reading Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats and Byron. But he began every class by reading Job, these chapters in particular. And I remember him getting to this. It’s about 34 years ago now, and I remember him getting to these verses. You’ve got to understand that Clyde Kilby was a man who should have been a preacher, but was a literature teacher, and I’m glad he was because I took courses from him, and it made all the difference. If he were at The Cove right now, he would see a hundred times more than I see in the trees, in the birds, in the sky, in the moon, in the shading, in the wind. He saw and he felt, and he communicated to us through his eyes and his mouth what he saw and what he felt. And all of us, at least I, in that class was awakened to reality.
You know, most people are dead. They don’t see anything except their problems. They don’t see birds, they don’t see lilies, and they don’t see sunrises. They see red lights, and slow cars, and broken clutches, and aches in their backs, and they have no sight. What a tragedy. They see television. Kids are just ruined by ten thousand hours of mechanical stuff — just triviality on TV. So they never have eyes for magnificence. There’s no magnificence on television. It’s banal; it’s silly.
He read this and then he quoted Chesterton. He referred to Chesterton, who said, “One of the most childlike things about God is that he does things again and again and again with joy, and never gets tired of them.” One of the marks of a child is: “Do it again, Daddy. Do it again, Daddy. Do it again, Daddy.” And they just never seem to stop, and you’re so tired. And then he said, “And one of the things God does that he never tires of is make the sun come up every morning.”
Now being the naturalist, twentieth-century Darwinian that I was, it never occurred to me that God made the sun come up. It comes up; it just comes up just like a machine. God asks, “Have you commanded the morning? I command the morning every day. Rise. Keep turning. Turn. Every day. Clouds be here, not there. Make this pink, not that orange. Clouds do this.” God’s doing that. God’s doing that. Don’t be a naturalist; be a theist. Believe in God. Believe in God, and that he both created and sustains and governs skies and everything else we’re going to look at here. That’s what this is about: God declaring his Godness over seas and earth and dawn. So if you want to be childlike, get up every morning and watch the sun. I was standing out on the deck in one of the cabins, just waiting and watching. And there came the sun up over the mountains, just like the moon did the other night when I was walking home. What I ought to say at that moment is: “He did it again.”
God of the Rains and Seas
In Job 38:16, God focuses on the depth of the sea. “Job, you have never even been to the bottom of the ocean or around the world, and you think you can argue with God? Now in the last half of chapter 38, he shifts from the world — earth, sea, dawn, depth of the sea — and now he talks about the world above in verses 19–21. God queries Job about the origin of light and dark: “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness?” “You don’t know where light comes from, and you don’t know how to create it, how to do it. But I do, Job.” Verses 22–30 talks about snow and hail and rain and frost: “Do you know any of this, Job? Do you know how to store up hail?”
Have you ever thought about how much a six-inch rainfall for several hours over a space of say ten or twenty miles weighs? How much does that water weigh? I computed it one time. I just did a little computation. I don’t have it in my head, but we’re talking billions and billions of tons of water that probably came down on Minnesota a week ago, around the Twin Cities. My basement flooded. My tenant emailed me and said, “What a storm. That was glorious. However, my study is soaked.” That rain weighed billions of tons, and it was floating in the air with nothing under it but air. Explain that to me. I have no idea how that works. And you can take a scientific approach and say, “Well, it has to do with little particles of dust. And around each little particle of dust, there is a little globule, and it hangs there, and there’s lots of them. And they look sort of white and gray to you from underneath.” That’s an explanation to how billions of pounds of water stay in the air? That’s an explanation? Dust particles and globules? I have no idea how that happens. No human being can make billions of pounds and tons of water float in the air. It cannot be done. But God does it.
God of the Galaxies
In verses 31–33, we have constellations now. Now we’re really high. We’re really high: Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth, the Bear. And God says, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” So he points to these constellations that have names already in those days. And if he knew what we knew today about stars, and about constellations, about galaxies, about our galaxy, the Milky Way — a relatively small one among the billions of galaxies, with our little sun, a modest star among the hundred billion stars in our galaxy, on a circuit around the galaxy, which will complete its first orbit after two hundred million years. Where we are in that, I have no idea. And that’s one. And there are, I’m tempted to say, endless, but I think only God is endless. And therefore, the universe is not infinite; God is infinite. But it sure looks infinite as it goes on for light year after light year after light year. Everybody should get into astronomy to have their breath taken away a little bit, so that we can see and feel the bigness of our God. So that’s what he’s doing here with Job. He just keeps asking him these questions so that Job begins to feel smaller and smaller and more ignorant and more powerless hour by hour as he is queried.
We have rain again in verses 34–38: “Can you make it rain? Do you know how to whistle for the lightning?” I saw the lightning show at 12:30 the night before last. “God, do it. Do it over Asheville. John’s up, and he needs a little encouragement.” “Can you count the clouds with your wisdom? These are my past times. I stretch your mind a bit here, Job.” So whether he focuses on the earth or the sea or the dawn or the snow or the hail or the constellations or the rain, the upshot of it all is: “Job, you don’t know anything and you are impotent. You can’t control any of this. You don’t know where they came from. I’m in charge of these things. And if there are that many mysteries at the physical level, Job; if you know so little about what you can see and get your hands on, as it were, do you expect really to be able to call me to account for the way I run the moral universe?”
Awestruck with God
If Job were alive today, and he saw the scientific advances of computers, and the amazing things that happened since the technological revolution in the last two hundred years, and the computer information revolution in the last fifteen years, I think, God would want us and Job today to say, “All the marvels of skyscrapers, all the marvels of jet travel and space travel, all the marvels of computer and internet, all the marvels of medicine, all the marvels of transportation, all the marvels of video and radio and television, all the marvels that have happened in the last hundred years, are like the digging of a little hole in the beach, and taking a sand pail, and going to the ocean of God’s wisdom, and bringing it and dumping it in the little crevice that we’ve made, while the tide is rising, and will one day just move right over it.” And today, we moderns, we naturalists, we lovers of human nature, we arrogant people look at the marvels of science and we often say, “Wow,” at some new computer program. And it is all first grade for God by about a million times.
God is not impressed with computers. God is not impressed with space travel. He’s not impressed with medical technology. He invented it. He holds it in being, He sustains it. He understands every movement of every electron in every molecule everywhere in the universe, and guides it, and names it. I happen to believe every electron in every atom in every molecule in every constellation in this universe has a name assigned by God, and is keeping its position by appointment. That’s what I believe about God. The reason I do is because the Bible says he’s named the stars. I’m out of my element here, and I love to be out of my element when I’m thinking about what God has done, what God is like. And I think that’s what he wants Job to feel. I think he wants Job to just be breath-taken with God, and bow before God.
God of Fauna
Now we come to the world of animals. This is really strange and interesting. Job 38:39–41 says, “Who provides the raven its prey when its young ones cry to God and wonder about for lack of food? You, Job? Do you provide the bird their food? No, you don’t. I do. I make sure the worm is in its place. I make sure the little bug flying through the air is there. I feed ravens; you don’t.” Job 39:1–4 says, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Job, you’ve got to understand: in the mountains all over the world, there are goats and there are does giving birth. And I am the midwife, not you. I watch over the birth of every kid that’s ever birthed by a goat. I watch it. I care for it. They’re all over the world, and I’m there.” Jesus says, “Not one [bird] will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Every little dead bird in an untouched rainforest in Brazil that dies and goes clunk to the ground, God appoints the time and the fall. God is big. God runs things in the most remarkable way. “Think of it, Job. When a man sees the work of God, does he see all the connections — ten thousand other realities that this relates to? And will you dare to judge me and assess me by your wisdom?”
Job 39:5–8 says, “Who has let the wild donkey go free?” Well, who would even think of asking such a question? God would. “Do you think this donkey is a wild and unpredictable creature, Job? Guess what? I set him loose. I set him loose. I took the leash off this animal. I designed him to be the way. He’s the work of my hand. He’s quite in order. He looks wild, but he’s quite in order. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.” Job 39:9–12 says, “Can you bind [the ox] in the furrow with ropes? He is mine.” Job 39:13–18 says:
The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
For she leaves her eggs to the earth
and lets them be warmed on the ground,
forgetting that a foot may crush them
and that the wild beast may trample them.
She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
because God has made her forget wisdom
and given her no share in understanding.
When she rouses herself to flee,
she laughs at the horse and his rider.
God made her stupid. This is a foolish bird. This is a dumb bird. You watch some animals like this ostrich. And you think: “Well, why don’t you take care of your eggs? Sit on the eggs. Don’t let them be stepped on or taken. And she just goes flapping away somewhere.” And you think: “The world’s out of control.” And God says, “I made her stupid. She’s not out of control; I just want some stupidity in the world.” There are parabolic reasons for this. You watch this animal, and you learn how not to be, and other things.” Do you see the point? The point is: “Job, look at everything. You think some things are out of control. You think some things are chaos and meaningless and foolish. But I’m on top of those things. I’m on top of those things.”
There are a lot of funny animals in the world. I’ll let you in a little secret: I just subscribed again to Ranger Rick. I did — ostensibly for Talitha, my daughter. But I read it first. Actually, I don’t read it much because it’s so evolutionary. But I look at the pictures, and the pictures are all I need. God has created one crazy world. There are just the weirdest creatures out there. And a lot of them live in places where nobody sees them. They’re just discovering them at the bottom of seven miles of ocean, or the top of a mountain, and God’s been enjoying them for centuries, and the angels have been looking and saying, “That’s really weird, God. Way to go.” Fish that spit spiders out of the trees and eat them when they fall in the water. Or spiders who take little bubbles of air down under the water, build their nest at the bottom, and then go up and get air, and bring it down and put it under there, and live down there. What possible evolutionary process would create such a crazy idea of making life so hard for yourself that you bring air on your little eight legs down? And while you’re working to make some little silvery thing, you put the bubble under there, you go up and you breathe as much as you can, and then you go up and get some more. That’s just God lavishing his infinite overflow of creativity on the world.
So I commend National Geographic and Ranger Rick and other books like that just for worship’s sake, to enlarge your capacity for the lavish creativity of God — even stupid animals. I think there are things for us to learn. I don’t think Jesus said “consider the lilies” or “consider the ravens” for nothing.” Consider it; consider it. Look at it. Look at this bird and learn a few things.
Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest. (Proverbs 6:6–8)
Look at the ants; study ants. Do you study any ants?
Job 39:26 says, “Is it by your wisdom that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?” Lions, mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild oxen, stupid ostriches, warhorses, the flight of the hawk and the eagle — the point seems to be through these rhetorical questions: Job, you don’t know anything. And Job, you can’t do anything about these things. You didn’t make them; I made them. You can’t see how they work or change them; I can. So Job, back off and be more humble.”
Upholding His Name
And the Lord said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
So Job is now humbled by God’s speech to him. Again, God challenges him in Job 40:6–9:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
In other words, he puts over against Job’s accusations that God is his enemy, is mistreating him unjustly, God’s power. But is it his raw power? Is the lesson of Job might makes right? “You do what I say and stop questioning him because I’m God and I have power over all these animals and over you.” Is it that simple? I don’t think so. Verses 10–14 says:
Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.
And Job, of course, can’t do any of that. But notice that emphasis on pride. God is not whimsical or capricious or arbitrary in the use of his power so that all he can say when he does what he does is: “I’m God, and I’m mighty, and therefore, what I do is right. Might makes right.” That’s not what he says. He says, “I use my might in a particular way — namely, to abase the proud and exalt the humble, so that the way I work in the world corresponds to the excellence of my name. I deserve worship, and I deserve love, and I deserve allegiance; you don’t, and therefore, get me out of the dock, and put yourself in the dock and worship me. Don’t expect me to doubt your judgments in my morality. I think that’s the final say about God’s righteousness: it is his upholding his own value. What he does accords with his value; that’s his answer. And what Job should do is submit.
Back to Ashes
Now in chapter 42, we’re going to watch Job submit in three regards. Job 42:1–6 says, “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’” So there’s Job submitting to sovereignty: “No purpose of thine can be thwarted. Therefore, the devil hasn’t struck me, and nature hasn’t struck me, no animals strike me apart from your purpose. For no purpose of yours can ever be thwarted.” That’s his first act of submission.
Here’s the second one in 42:3: he quotes God like we saw: “‘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.” This is the submission to the wisdom of God. First to the power and sovereignty of God and now he’s submitting to the knowledge and wisdom of God. “I didn’t understand. Your knowledge is so far above mine. I didn’t know what I was saying.” And his third act of submission is in verses 4–6: “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.”
So Job was in ashes at the beginning; he was submissive to God and saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” He becomes temporarily rebellious and accuses God. And now Elihu and God make their case for what God is really up to in purifying, caring, loving, bringing him back. And now he humbles himself and repents in dust and ashes, and he is restored. God, I think, symbolically for us, restores him all of his children and all of his animals. That’s not to say that everybody who repents will get rich. That’s clearly not the case. That’s not the point of the book. But to say that in the end it will be true. Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
So in the big biblical theology picture, chapter 42, in its restoration, is a promise: Whether in this life or in the next, you will be rewarded. You have never lost anything in the path of obedience that will not be restored to you ten-thousand-fold in the age to come.
Lessons from the Life of Job
So, what are we to learn?
Believe in the absolute sovereignty of God like Job 42:1–2 said. His purpose can’t be thwarted.
Believe that in everything he does, he’s good and right and his knowledge surpasses your own.
Repent, if you should, in dust and ashes, and pray that God would humble you under his mighty hand.
Be satisfied in him and his holy will.
George Müller was the British orphanage founder from over a hundred years ago now. He got answers to prayer in most remarkable ways. He would have nothing to feed these kids, he would get on his face before God and pray, and suddenly there would be a milk truck there. That sort of thing. Then his wife got rheumatic fever, and he prayed and he prayed and he prayed, and she died. And amazingly, he preached at her funeral. And he took as his text: “Thou art good, and doest good” (Psalm 119:68 KJV). And he had three points:
- The Lord was good in giving her to me.
- The Lord was good in leaving her with me so long.
- The Lord was good in taking her from me.
That was his sermon. You should read it. Read his autobiography, and read the whole sermon. Here’s a piece of it that is so crucial: “I miss her in numberless ways, and shall miss her yet more and more. But as a child of God, and as a servant of the Lord Jesus, I bow. I am satisfied with the will of my heavenly Father. I seek by perfect submission to his holy will to glorify him and kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me.”
You know, when I heard your testimonies a while ago, I heard what I knew: this room is filled with pain. We find ways to live with our pain. You know, you can only weep for so many months and years for a wayward kid. After nine years or ten years or twelve years, you have to laugh again. Sometimes you have to lift your hands in worship and praise God sometimes. And so we’ve all learned ways of living with our pain.
And I hope, I just pray, that something in Job here, and what I’ve spoken, along with all the other good things God is teaching you (I’m not the only teacher and the book of Job is not the only book), God will put under you, and enable — all of you — to stay in, and not call God to account, but to say, “The Lord is good in giving that to me, and good in leaving her/him/it with me, and good in taking it from me. I don’t understand it all, but I submit and kiss the hand that has thus afflicted me.
Saints Gone By
Here’s my effort to just help you take affliction and benefit from it. The story of John Bunyan helps. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, he was a Baptist pastor three hundred years ago. He was put in jail. Twelve years he was in jail. His oldest daughter, a little girl, was blind. When she would come to visit him with her mom and three siblings in prison, he said it was like, “Pulling flesh off my bone.” It was like pulling flesh off his bones to take his little blind daughter in his arms and then send her back away. Because he could have gotten out of jail any time he wanted if he had not preached.
Very few people in the world have blessed God for prison. Solzhenitsyn did, remember? Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago. He said, “I bless you, O prison, for having been my life.” He became a believer in prison. Bunyan spoke the same way: the prison became his life. It produced The Pilgrim’s Progress.
William Cowper lived from 1731–1800. He was a poet and a hymn writer. He wrote “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, “Oh, for a Closer Walk with Thee,” and he wrote one of my favorite hymns: “God Moves in Mysterious Way.” What you don’t know about William Cowper, probably, is that he was chronically depressed, and he tried to kill himself at least five times. And God miraculously spared him over and over again. He was put in an institution for a long time where he met God in a powerful way. It did give him some relief, but not much. I really do believe there were constitutional elements to this. There were biological or heretical elements to William Cowper’s struggle with depression, though there were no medications in those days. He fought it through, and the person that helped him a lot was John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace.” These two together produced enough to keep us all singing for a long time. And the hymn that he wrote, until two weeks ago, was hanging on the mantel in our living room, and now it’s hanging in the dining room. And it says,
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Now that was written by a man who tried to commit suicide half a dozen times; he struggle with depression all his life. And that hymn has been feeding my soul for some twenty years, and I bless God for William Cowper’s pain. God has some blessing in my pain. He has a purpose; he has a design for your life; he has a design for your ministry. Your pain is meant to be a blessing to somebody. Just read the first chapter of 2 Corinthians about Paul’s view of his own sufferings for the sake of the church.
And the last thing I want to leave you with is the third story. Even though Christ is not in the Book of Job explicitly, Christ bought, by his blood, every benefit that you receive from the Book of Job. Here is one of the great threats in suffering: our consciences rise up and condemn us, and we feel we must have done something terribly wrong, or the sediment in our life now must be really thick, and it’s going to damn me because I am so guilty for so much pride. And I have been angry at God so many times, or I have spoken badly to people, and lost my patience, and on and on.
The accusation will come, especially as you lie in the hospital bed, and you wonder if this is the hour or tomorrow will be the hour when I stand before the living God of infinite holiness, who has hell for unbelievers and heaven for believers. And we wonder if we’re in that category. I just want to make sure you hear loud and clear the gospel here. I’ll take one verse to get it to you. Second Corinthians 5:21 says:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The gospel is a story of the Son of God who leads an absolutely flawless life of righteousness. So that we, who have lived a life of continual sinning, may have a substitute, not only so that the death can become our death, but the life can become our life. And the life of righteousness we fail to live, that righteousness can be given to us, and the death that we did live out, or the sin, can be put on him. And he lives our life, and he dies our death, so that we may experience his life forever, and in him have God’s favor forever, that having died with him, we will not have to die forever in hell.
The gospel is a grand exchange that God wrought outside of us and our subjective self-condemning hearts — outside of us in history — on a mountain called Calvary, where a righteousness was performed for all his people, and the debt was paid for all his people, so that all of our guilt is paid for, and all of our failure to be righteous is supplied in the righteousness of Jesus.
And then the big question is: How do you get connected? And the answer is Romans 3:28: “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Faith, trust, give it up, be helpless so that when your suffering comes, and all the accusations arise, that your sediment must be too thick or you must have done some terrible evil, you will not only have Job to parry those accusations in measure, but in the end — in the end — your final hope will not be that you have lived an adequate life. Your final hope will be you have an adequate Savior.