Thursday, March 23, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 19, Job Begins To Doubt The Afterlife

Today's passage shows us the anguish of Job's soul. He is so depressed he begins to doubt whether there is life of the soul after the death of the body. We will need to remember that Job isn't stating this as a fact but is giving vent to his feelings. as David often did. David was once so panic-stricken and unable to feel the presence of the Lord that he cried out, "I am cut off from Your sight!" (Psalm 31:22) In his extreme fear David believed the Lord couldn't see his predicament and couldn't help him. That wasn't true, but it was how he felt at that moment. In Chapter 14 Job is in a similar mood. We've already found him doubting the goodness of God and now he begins to doubt whether there is going to be anything after his difficult and disappointing life.

"Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure. Do You fix Your eye on them? Will You bring them before You for judgment? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one! A person's days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. So look away from him and let him alone, til he has put in his time like a hired laborer." (Job 14:1-6) Job says, "Our days are as short as those of the flowers of the field. Why do You strive with us? We are so far beneath You. Our lives are but one breath compared to Your eternal existence. Why take notice of us? Why test us and try us, why attempt to make anything of us, why not just leave us alone for the few short days we live on the earth?"

"At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so he lies down and does not rise; til the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep." (Job 14:7-12) He still doesn't know whether or not he will die from his illness, so he compares the life of man to that of a tree and feels man is treated unfairly. Many trees that are cut to the ground will send up new shoots, but once Job's life is cut off he will not do the same. Nothing new and fresh will spring up from his decaying body in the ground. He will be gone from the earth in every way that matters. He appears to envision death as a long period of unconsciousness and seems to doubt whether he will ever awaken. He says this will only happen when "the heavens are no more", and we would assume he believes the heavens will endure forever.

It's understandable that a person facing death might question whether there is an eternal existence. I've often thought that the idea of ceasing to exist seems almost worse than the possibility of hell. We desperately want to exist forever. It's horrifying to contemplate that there might be an end of our personalities and thoughts and experiences. We are created with an eternal soul and deep down we know there is something wrong with the idea of a life that blinks out and is no more. As King Solomon said, God has "set eternity in the human heart". (Ecclesiastes 3:11) We know instinctively that there must be more than this one short life, but I think it would be easy to fall prey to doubts and fears when staring death in the eye. Job's doubts are a result of natural human weakness and I don't blame him for them. Job believed in the goodness of God until tragedies came into his life, but now he wonders if he was wrong about God's goodness. It makes sense that the next thing he would begin to doubt is God's promise of life after death. Although the Bible doesn't say so, I think we can be pretty certain Satan is still working against Job day and night. He's kicking him while he's down. He's attacking him while he's weak. He whispers in the dark watches of the night, "You trusted God to keep you safe from trouble, but He didn't. How can you trust Him to give you eternal life? How can you still believe anything He has said?"

Job struggles to make a statement of faith, trying to comfort himself by speaking aloud the hope of resurrection. "If only You would hide me in the grave and conceal me til Your anger has passed! If only You would set me a time and then remember me! If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer You; You will long for the creature Your hands have made. Surely then You will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; You will cover over my sin." (Job 14:13-17) He clings to his belief in something beyond life on earth. God may allow him to die of his sickness, but there will be rest for him in the grave. A day will come when God will call his name and he will answer. He will stand in front of this Judge before whom he has long desired an audience and will be found to be saved by faith, made innocent by the only One who can make anyone innocent, and his sins will be forever sealed up and out of sight.

Until then Job mourns over what seems to be the futility of life on earth. It's so fragile, so short, so difficult at times. "But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so You destroy a person's hope. You overpower them once for all, and they are gone; You change their countenance and send them away. If their children are honored, they do not know it; if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it. They feel but the pain of their own bodies and mourn only for themselves." (Job 14:18-22) Job ends Chapter 14 by simply rephrasing the first verse of the chapter, "Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble." He contemplates how unfair this seems, "I am like a mountain that crumbles. My life has fallen down like an avalanche. I am being worn down like rocks in a river. My troubles overflow me. I may die before I know the purpose of all this, and while in the grave I will not see what happens on the earth. I am consumed by my pain and grief. Is this how my life is going to end, going down to death with this anguish in my heart?"

Job has resigned himself to the possibility of dying soon. He even longs for death. But he still wants his question answered. Why has God allowed these things to happen to him?

Job will never receive the answer to this question, but he will be granted a reply that sustains him. He will be told some things that make God bigger than ever in his eyes, and those things will enlarge his faith. When we speak of walking by faith and not by sight, this is never more true than when we don't understand our circumstances. It's easy to say we're walking by faith when times are good. After all, it takes very little faith to live for the Lord in the good times. It's in the bad times we learn whether our faith is strong enough to stand.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 18, Job Answers Zophar, Part Three

Job's words of innocence have fallen on deaf ears. His friends have judged him guilty and he is unable to convince them otherwise. They have been no help so he wants to speak to God, the ultimate authority, who knows his heart.

"But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom." (Job 13:3-5) For the first seven days and nights of Job's grief, these three friends sat with him in silence. That was a comfort to Job, but the words that have come out of these men's mouths have done nothing but wound their friend. King Solomon had some things to say about unwise words, "Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues." (Proverbs 10:19) "The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues." (Proverbs 17:27-28) Job says to his friends, "The best thing you could do right now is be quiet. You claim to be wise; prove your wisdom by being silent."

"Hear now my argument; listen to the pleas of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God's behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for Him? Will you show Him partiality? Will you argue the case for God?" (Job 13:6-8) God does not need anyone to defend Him, especially those who lack spiritual understanding. These men have spoken lies against God in saying He is punishing Job for some sin that Job has yet to come clean about. They refuse to believe anything bad can happen to a good person, that there can be no purpose for this, and therefore they speak wickedly on God's behalf. We can only assume these men have never suffered calamity in their own lives. They view themselves as pretty good guys and the fact that their lives have been fairly comfortable is proof to them that they are approved by God.

Job intends to shatter their complacency with these words, "Would it turn out well if He examined you? Could you deceive Him as you might deceive a mortal? He would surely call you to account if you secretly showed partiality. Would not His splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of Him fall on you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay." (Job 13:9-12) Job asks, "What if God turned a spotlight on your own lives as you've turned a spotlight on mine? What might He find? Do you think you could hide sin from Him? Don't you think He will call you to account for feeling morally and spiritually superior to me? These platitudes and proverbs you've quoted to me have sustained me no more than eating ashes would sustain me. You've used God's word to hurt me, not help me. You've taken His word and twisted it to suit the point you're trying to make. If He called you into court, do you think you would be found innocent?"

I think Job's friends are outraged and start to make an angry reply, but he silences them, "Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?" (Job 13:13-14) He intends to finish his speech and then they may say what they will. He intends to conclude his complaints and then God may judge him if he is wrong.

Now Job makes one of the most famous statements in the entire book, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face." (Job 13:15) He declares, "God may take my life, but still I trust Him. If He takes me out of this life, I will stand before Him and be judged not guilty of any of the things you suspect of me. He knows my heart and mind. He knows how I have lived my life. I will be vindicated by the only Judge who matters. It is God who has brought these troubles into my life, yet He is my only hope, my only defender, my only redeemer."

"Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare to come before Him! Listen carefully to what I say; let my words ring in your ears. Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die." (Job 13:16-19) His friends have judged him guilty without any evidence. God will not be so unjust. Job believes when he stands before God, the Lord will pronounce him innocent because he has salvation through faith.

Now Job leaves off speaking to his friends and makes a direct appeal to God, "Only grant me these two things, God, and then I will not hide from You. Withdraw Your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with Your terrors. Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and You reply to me." (Job 13:20-21) Job fears God in a new way. He has always maintained a proper and reverent awe of the Lord, but now he is so terrified of Him he thinks he won't be able to speak up if he stands in the Lord's court. Though he believes himself innocent of anything that caused the awful tragedies he's experienced, he worries that the mighty splendor of a holy God will render him silent.

"How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy? Will You torment a windblown leaf? Will You chase after dry chaff? For You write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth. You fasten my feet in shackles; You keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet. So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths." (Job 13:23-28) Job has been insisting on his innocence, but not the innocence of the sinless. He knows he isn't perfect. The righteousness he has is the righteousness that comes by faith, the righteousness that trusts in God to supply what is lacking, the righteousness that depends on God to make a person clean. This is the same type of righteousness we claim as Christians. We aren't perfect but we trust the One who is perfect to make us clean. Christ supplies what we lack. This is why we will someday stand before God and be declared not guilty. Job, though he lived many centuries before Christ, understood his only hope of righteousness was in the Lord. He knew he had repented of the sins of his youth and that he continued to repent of anything wrong in his life that he became aware of. If there were sins he wasn't aware of, he trusted God to know he was sorry for those too. They were not intentional. Job's whole life revolved around his relationship with the Lord and he dealt with his sins and failures swiftly by repenting of them, not wanting anything to stand between him and the Lord.

Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him." I've known some very fine Christian men and women who, even on their deathbeds, refused to be angry with God. All their hope was still in Him, though He could have healed them and didn't. This is because there is no hope apart from God. He may allow troubles or illness or death, but who else is there who offers eternal life? What other hope do we have? We may not understand His ways, but who else can help us? Who else can save our souls? We may be angry with Him and offended by Him when He doesn't answer our prayers the way we want. But our true security doesn't lie in getting our prayers answered. Our security lies in our relationship with the Lord and in the salvation we receive through Him.

The psalmist Asaph, who once was very bitter when he looked around and saw how the wicked prospered, said after he repented of his attitude, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:25-26) There came a day when many of Jesus' followers were offended by His words and turned away from Him. He then asked the twelve disciples if they too were offended and planned to leave him. The Bible doesn't tell us whether they felt offended or not, but Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) Sometimes this is the only reason we are able to continue clinging to the Lord even when we don't understand Him: there is no place else to go. No one else speaks the words of truth and gives us eternal life. We may be angry and bitter and offended and heartbroken, but the very One who allowed these things to happen is the only One who can help us. I've been so angry and offended at God I might have gone someplace else if there was anyplace else to go. I've been so upset with Him I didn't even want to talk to Him. If He had come to my house and asked to sit down and speak with me, I might have refused to see Him. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us from turning away from God is that there is no one else to turn to. That's why Asaph didn't turn away when he was disgusted by the wicked and envious of their prosperity. That's why Simon Peter didn't turn away when Jesus spoke words difficult to accept and understand. That's why Job didn't turn away when God brought heartbreaking tragedies into his life. It may not seem like much of a reason to cling to God because there's nowhere else to go, but it's enough when it's all we have the strength to do. It's all God expects when we are too confused to make any sense out of anything. It was enough for Asaph and Simon Peter and Job. It will be enough for us too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 17, Job Answers Zophar, Part Two

Zophar has accused Job of scorning the sovereignty of God, but Job's speech today clearly shows that he believes God is in control over all things and that He takes an active part in events on the earth.

"To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His. What He tears down cannot be rebuilt; those He imprisons cannot be released." (Job 12:13-14) Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall according to the will of God. He is in control of nations and their leaders.

"If He holds back the waters, there is drought; if He lets them loose, they devastate the land." (Job 12:15) God is in control of nature.

"To Him belong strength and insight; both deceived and deceiver are His." (Job 12:16) This could mean that both the wise and the foolish belong to the God who created them. Or it could refer to the very situation Job finds himself in: that Satan, like man, belongs to the One who created him and he cannot do anything God does not allow him to do. Satan would have us believe he is God's counterpart, His equal, but this is not true because God has authority over Satan.

"He leads rulers away stripped and makes fools of judges. He takes off the shackles put on by kings and ties a loincloth around their waists." (Job 12:17) God is in control of the politics of the world. He gives authority and He takes authority away. As we learned in our study of the kings of Israel and Judah, at times God provides good leaders to bless a nation, but at other times He provides bad leaders to discipline a nation.

"He leads priests away stripped and overthrows officials long established." (Job 12:19) God is in control of the churches and temples. He is able to defrock those in high positions who have become spiritually corrupt, no matter how long they have been in authority.

"He silences the lips of trusted advisers and takes away the discernment of the elders." (Job 12:20) God is wiser than the wise. Even the most aged and respected of advisers may find their counsel frustrated if it is the will of God.

"He pours contempt on nobles and takes away the discernment of elders." (Job 12:21) God does not show favoritism. He is able to humble the prideful man of high birth as easily as He humbles the prideful peasant. He will not withhold discipline from an elder who has gone astray no matter how well respected he might be in the community. A human judge might be persuaded to be more lenient when persons of wealth or celebrity are brought before him, but God is not impressed by such things.

"He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light." (Job 12:22) The Lord Jesus said, "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." (Luke 8:17) Wicked plans, backroom deals, and deadly conspiracies take place behind closed doors but there is nothing hidden from God. A person might be able to fool his fellow man but he can't fool God.

"He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and disperses them." (Job 12:23) Just think of all the kingdoms mentioned in the Bible that are no more. At one time nations like Assyria, Babylon, and Rome were the greatest and most feared kingdoms on earth. But God sets the times and seasons for the rise and fall of every kingdom. If a kingdom stands today, it stands only because it's God's will for it to stand. If a kingdom falls today, it falls according to the will of God. Man thinks he is in charge of these things, but God controls the nations as easily as a chess player controls the pieces on the board.

"He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; He makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; He makes them stagger like drunkards." (Job 12:24-25) King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is a good example of this. He was so prideful that the Lord humbled him by taking away his reason for a time. Nebuchadnezzar would have been considered legally insane during the years the Lord disciplined him. Have you ever noticed the way some individuals cannot handle power or celebrity or wealth, how they seem to become more and more unhinged as time goes on? We tend to think they have simply allowed their power or their position to go to their heads, but Job suggests such madness is from the hand of God as He humbles the one who begins to view himself as a god. The Apostle Paul warned against being lifted up in pride and believing we have achieved anything on our own without the help of God, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Job concludes this portion of his reply to Zophar by saying, "My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you." (Job 13:1-2) Zophar dismissed Job's complaints and questions as foolishness, as if Job did not understand that all people and all things are in the hand of God. Job replies, "Do I seem blind to you, Zophar? Am I deaf? Of course I know and understand that nothing happens outside of God's control. I know that bad things happened to me only because God allowed them to happen. I'm not any less intelligent than you are; I have sense enough to know that nothing can happen to me unless God says it can."

Job's anguish is not relieved by knowing that the Creator has all rights over the creation. His broken heart is not comforted by the belief that nothing can happen to him outside of God's will. What Job wants to know is why God allowed bad things to happen to him. Isn't that what we all really want to know? As Job says, we are not blind to God's sovereignty or deaf to His holy word. We know He has all power over all things and can do as He pleases. What we don't know is why He sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people. In faith we believe that God is good and that He has a purpose for everything He does, but we want Him to explain His reasoning to us. Something we will have to come to terms with in this Bible study is that God never does explain Himself to Job. The question Job keeps asking remains unanswered. Job has to decide whether his faith is big enough to trust God even when he doesn't understand Him. This is a decision we all have to make. Do we trust God as much in the bad times as we do in the good times? Do we trust Him even when He doesn't answer our questions? Do we still believe He is good when troubles come? Do we still feel secure in His love even when He is silent?

Monday, March 20, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 16, Job Answers Zophar, Part One

Zophar concluded yesterday by declaring Job stupid and lacking in wisdom. Job begins his reply with a sarcastic answer, "Then Job replied: 'Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!'" (Job 12:1-2) Oh, what will the world do when you are gone, Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz? You know everything. How will people live without you to guide them?

Job points out that he knows the word of God as well as they do. Between you and me, Job knew it better. "But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?" (Job 12:3)

Prior to his misfortune, Job was the man in the community that others looked to for spiritual guidance. Now his friends speak to him as if he has denied the faith. "I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called on God and He answered---a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless! Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping. The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure---those God has in His hand." (Job 12:4-6) Job says, "It's easy for you to look down on me while you sit in comfort, untroubled by the tragedies that have touched my life. You judge me a sinner because hardship has come upon me, but what about the robbers of this world? Surely you don't judge them righteous simply because they prosper!"

Job's friends have been rebuking him for questioning God, pointing out that the Creator is sovereign over His creation and has the right to do with it as He pleases. Of course Job recognizes the sovereignty of God; here he points out that even the animal kingdom recognizes the sovereignty of God. "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?" (Job 12:7-12) These men keep quoting proverbs to Job and, though much of their doctrine is sound, it is not helpful. God indeed is sovereign, but telling Job this doesn't relieve his burning need to know why God allows suffering.

It's natural to want to know why a good God sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people. We think it would help if He explained His reasons to us. We believe we would understand His explanation. I'm not sure whether either of those things is true. I don't know about you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if God patiently explained to me in simple terms why some of the things that have happened to me have happened, I would still rather not have gone through most of them. If God sat down and spoke to Job like one man to another, would Job miss his children any less? If God explained His reasoning to him, would Job's festering sores feel any better? If God pointed out all the ways Job is going to grow in his faith because of his financial hardship, would Job worry any less about keeping a roof over his head?

I think the reason we want God to explain Himself to us is not because it will make our circumstances any easier to bear. I think it's because we want reassurance that God is good. In troubled times we sometimes doubt that He is. We worry He might not have our best interests at heart. We want Him to prove to us that He is good by explaining the purpose of our trials. God could do that, and I often wish He would, but would our faith be able to grow in such an environment? Would God still seem as big to us if we could demand an accounting from Him and He had to answer? If God were required to provide us with an explanation for everything He does, would He still seem like God in our eyes? Wouldn't we grow a bit bigger in our own eyes day by day until we began to view ourselves equal with Him? If that happened, though we would still desperately need a Savior, we would not know it. We could not accept it. Our pride wouldn't allow it. And we would be lost forever.

Our worship song link for today is below. It's a song about not always understanding God's plan but trusting Him anyway.
Thy Will

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 15, Zophar Speaks

Job's friend Zophar speaks fewer words than the other two men, but the words he speaks are sharper and more hurtful.

"Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: 'Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce others to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock?'" (Job 11:1-3) These three men are on the hunt for Job's sin like a pack of hounds chasing a fox. They believe they are hot on the trail. They dismiss Job's claims of innocence and, instead of lending him their sympathy and support, they treat him like a man in need of an intervention. They think if they can just attack his defenses long enough he will cave in and admit to something dreadful. Zophar says, "You can't distract us with all these words! You can't silence us. Your claims of innocence mock the Lord and we won't stand for it."

"You say to God, 'My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in Your sight.' Oh, how I wish that God would speak, the He would open His lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.'" (Job 11:4-6) Zophar wishes God would speak up and rebuke Job. He will see his wish fulfilled later on, at least in part. God will speak up but when He does He's going to be very displeased with the words that have come from the lips of Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz.

Zophar doesn't mean that God literally forgot some of Job's sins or that Job has sinned so much that even God can't keep track of them all. What he's saying is something like, "You should be happy your circumstances aren't worse than they are. God hasn't punished you to the extent you deserve. If He punished you according to your sins, you'd be dead." There is a sound basis to Zophar's doctrine in that we all have sinned and we all deserve death. David said something similar, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities...As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." (Psalm 103:10,13) The prophet Jeremiah agreed, saying, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) Of course we deserve the wrath of God, and Zophar is correct in believing so. But he fails to come to the same conclusion as King David and Jeremiah: the Lord would rather show us mercy than wrath. The Lord has compassion on us. The Lord offers us a way to escape the eternal consequences of our sins. Zophar heartily believes in and approves of God's holy right to judge and to bring discipline. This is a side of God's character he can understand, being a judgmental man himself. But he can't understand God's compassionate side because this is a quality he himself lacks. Zophar is a harsh man and he identifies more with a God of wrath than a God of mercy.

"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above---what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below---what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." (Job 11:7-9) Again Zophar has missed something vital about the character of God. King David also came to the conclusion that God's ways and God's thoughts are high above us, but this only made him praise the Lord's love even more. "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:11-12) David exclaimed, "This God who is so high above us, so holy and perfect, lowers Himself to care for us. We are nothing compared to Him, yet He shows us mercy. We don't deserve compassion, but He feels it anyway."

"If He comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely He recognizes deceivers; and when He sees evil, does He not take note? But the witness can no more become wise than a wild donkey's colt can be born human." (Job 11:1-12) Zophar does not believe Job should speak out against the sovereignty of God. Since God created all things, He can do with them as He wishes. Zophar doesn't believe man has the right to question Him. In addition, he tells Job he is stupid for questioning God. He thinks Job has no more hope of becoming wise than a donkey has hope of having a human baby.

Zophar now offers a stern admonishment to repent and make things right with God. "Yet if you devote your heart to Him and stretch out your hands to Him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear." (Job 11:13-14) Perhaps feeling he's distributing helpful advice, Zophar says, "You're a stupid man, Job, but even you can enjoy the blessings of God if you will just confess and turn from whatever sin brought these tragedies into your life."

Job's three friends still don't believe bad things can happen to good people. I wonder what they would have made of the crucifixion of Christ. I have a strong feeling they would have been among the crowd who believed God would have rescued Jesus from the cross if He were not a sinner. They would not have been able to reconcile His fate with their doctrine of believing the one who does good never endures hardship. I think they would have stood with the Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law who shook their heads and condemned Jesus in their minds as a liar and a blasphemer.

Zophar concludes by promising a life of ease and prosperity if Job will only repent of secret sins and live an honest life in the sight of God. "You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor. But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp." (Job 11:16-20)

We've found many nuggets of truth in the words of Job's three friends, but these words have been spoken without love. The Apostle Paul gave very clear instructions in Ephesians 4 how to teach the truth of God, and he said we must teach it "in love". We are to speak the truth, yes, but only in love. We are not to take the holy Scriptures and use them as weapons. Job's friends are like a trio of surgeons performing exploratory surgery without anesthesia. They keep cutting him and cutting him with sharp unmerciful words as they try to get to the root of his problem, which they believe is sin. But the job of convicting a person of sin is not ours. If we teach, we must do it in love as Jesus would, and then we must trust Him to do the rest. Only the Great Physician can take the word of God and perform lifesaving spiritual surgery. "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) We can't beat people in the head with the Scriptures or point our finger at them and shout, "Sinner!" and expect to draw them to Christ. They need to see the love of Christ in us. If the world can't find anything admirable in Christians, how will they be attracted to Christ? The Lord Jesus didn't beat people up about their pasts; He offered them a better future. He didn't produce a list of sins and denounce them and shame the sinner; He simply told them to go and sin no more. They didn't have to return to that empty way of living after they saw the love in His eyes and the compassion in His heart. Why did those whom society considered outcasts and sinners run to Jesus in droves? It was because of the love.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 14, Job Answers Bildad, Part Three

Job's answer to Bildad is really a complaint to God. Bildad scolded Job for his complaints and for being angry with God, but Job begins today's passage by pointing out that Bildad has seen nothing yet. He thinks Job has been complaining too much? Well, Job is nowhere near finished, so he says, "I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul." (Job 10:1)

Have you ever been so distraught that you said you wished you were dead? Job is at that point. He's not threatening to take his own life but is expressing the desire that God would take him on home. He doesn't want to keep waking up morning after morning with the same old problems and the same overwhelming grief. There are people all over the world today who would understand exactly what Job is going through. Sometimes in the news we hear of a house fire in which all the children perished because no one could get to them in time. Or sometimes a plane crashes and a man loses his wife and children who were on their way to visit grandparents. Or a school bus crashes, or a train derails, or an earthquake comes, or a flood rushes in, or a volcano erupts, or a contagious and deadly disease attacks. There are so many tragedies in this fallen world in which a person loses some or all of their family. These people can easily understand how Job feels when he says he doesn't want to live anymore. They would never dare to judge his feelings because they have walked in his shoes. And we dare not judge him either, even if we haven't walked in his shoes, because unless we have we can't possibly imagine such grief.

"I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges You have against me." (Job 10:2) Does a human judge condemn a man without first reading the charges against him? Does a human judge not give a man a chance to defend himself? Job asks a fair hearing of the holy Judge. He says, "Lord, if I have sinned in some way I'm not aware of, tell me what I've done. Don't condemn me without letting me know where I went wrong. What laws did I break? What did I do to cause this suffering?"

Job struggles to understand God's motives in his suffering. "Does it please You to oppress me, to spurn the work of Your hands, while You smile on the plans of the wicked?" (Job 10:3) The gods of pagan nations were thought to be just like humans, except with supernatural powers. Their followers believed they possessed the same faults as mankind. It was thought they were amused and enthralled with the trials of humans and that they watched their daily struggles in the same way a person in modern times might watch a soap opera or reality show. Job is having doubts about God's character. He wonders, "Could my God be like the gods of the heathens? Does He enjoy setting events in motion and then watching how we react?"

"Do You have eyes of flesh? Do You see as a mortal sees? Are Your days like those of a mortal or Your years like that of a strong man, that You must search out my faults and probe after my sin---though You know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from Your hand?" (Job 10:4-7) Job's friends have disappointed him, but after all they are only human. He is hurt but maybe not very surprised that they suspect him of secret sins. But he expected more of God. He asks, "Are You like these men who sit here accusing me? Do You see me the way they see me? I thought You could see all the way into my heart. You know I've been faithful to you. You know I repent as soon as I realize I've made a mistake. You know I've not been leading some kind of double life with hidden sins."

"Your hands shaped me and made me. Will You now turn and destroy me?" (Job 10:8) Job cries out, "Can You destroy the work of Your hands? You knew me before I ever existed. You fashioned me with Your own hands. How can You now turn against me?" David, a man who endured much wrongful persecution from the wicked King Saul, also cried out to God, "Do not abandon the works of Your hands." (Psalm 138:8) Both these men recognized that God creates each life for a purpose. They both also believed in the intrinsic goodness of God. Therefore, they cannot believe God would create a life for the sole purpose of destroying it. Every life, no matter how short, matters to God. Whether a child is born only to live a few minutes, or whether a person endures to a ripe old age, that life is precious and has meaning. Job doesn't fear death; he even welcomes it at this point. His fear is that he will die without ever knowing the reason for his suffering. His life up til now has counted for something. He's been a man of faith, a godly example to everyone around him, a source of encouragement to his friends and family. He has shared his testimony and the word of the Lord, quite likely leading unbelievers to the faith. But what is he to do with his current circumstances? How can he make them mean something? How can he grow as a believer and lend help to others if he can't understand why his trials have come? He's afraid he will leave the earth before he can make anything good out of his tragedy.

I'm reminded of a story my pastor told of someone who was praying for a loved one stricken with cancer. Of course this person prayed for healing for their loved one, as we all would, and this is what we should do because God is able to heal. But then the person said to God in prayer, "Lord, if You won't make this better, at least make it count." Sometimes God doesn't take away our problem no matter how much we pray about it. There are times He reaches down and scoops us up out of the path of tragedy and then there are other times He allows us to endure it. But just think what a double tragedy it would be if we gained nothing from it. What if we didn't allow God to "work all things together for good"? (Romans 8:28) What if we learned nothing, went backwards in our faith, or made no godly impact on those around us by the way we handle our problems? God doesn't always make our situation better, but what if we didn't make it count? I think that would be the worst tragedy of all

Friday, March 17, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 13, Job Answers Bildad, Part Two

Job is angry with God, as we will see today. I've been angry with God, haven't you? I've been angry when He hasn't answered prayers the way I thought He should, or when He hasn't answered them as quickly as I wanted. Imagine how angry and hurt and bitter Job must have been after losing his wealth and his health and his children.

Job doesn't believe God would give him an answer even if he could go before His throne and demand answers. "Even if I summoned Him and He responded, I do not believe He would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me catch my breath but would overwhelm me with misery. If it is a matter of strength, He is mighty! And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge Him? Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty." (Job 9:16-20) Job is giving us his opinion of God's attitude toward him. He feels that God is against him and that there is nothing he can do to please the Lord. We know, of course, that God is pleased with Job and says he is the most faithful man on earth, but Job in his distress doesn't believe God cares for him very much. He has been so careful to live his life in a way that honors God and so quick to repent when he recognizes he has fallen short. If this has not pleased the Lord, Job wonders what more he could have done. If his faithful heart wasn't enough to protect him from calamity, what could he say before God to make things any better? Job says, "Even if I gained an interview with the Lord, something wrong would come out of my mouth. I would stand before His awesome holiness and somehow manage to condemn myself. I am not aware of any unconfessed sin in my life, but I am a weak and imperfect human being and I could have made mistakes I'm not aware of. I may have broken a law I don't even know about. Who can defend himself before Almighty God, the holy Judge and the Maker of laws?"

Job knows he hasn't committed any of the sins his friends suspect him of. We don't know exactly which sins they think he has committed but we can safely assume they are big ones. They believe God is punishing him harshly because his sin has been especially despicable. Job knows he hasn't done the things they think he's done, but he can't be certain he hasn't messed up without being aware of it. King David once asked, "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults." (Psalm 19:12) Job thinks, "What if I stood before God to defend myself only to find out I've sinned in ways I didn't even realize? Who can be certain? His laws are so much higher than man's laws. His thoughts are so different from man's thoughts. Perhaps I've offended Him without knowing it."

Job has lost the will to live. If God decides to take his life, that's fine with Job because he's tired of living. "Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life. It is all the same; that is why I say, 'He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.' When a scourge brings sudden death, He mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, He blindfolds its judges. If it is not He, then who is it?" (Job 9:21-24) In his bitterness Job concludes that God doesn't care about the unfairness in the world. If an illness strikes a community, the death toll includes both the godly and the wicked. Injustice prevails in the courts, so that the wicked often trample the rights of the godly underfoot. Job asks the question that mankind has been asking since the beginning of time, "Why does God let these things happen? If He is all-powerful, why doesn't He stop it?" We know something that Job doesn't know, which is that it's Satan who struck him and his family and his fortune. God didn't do it. But He allowed it, and that is the part that's so difficult to understand. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn't God reward the faithful with nothing but blessings? Why do the same hardships that afflict the wicked also afflict the godly?

These questions torment Job day and night. It's no wonder he can't sleep with these thoughts going around and around in his head, with these questions remaining unanswered. "My days are swifter than a runner; they fly away without a glimpse of joy. They skim past like boats of papyrus, like eagles swooping down on their prey. If I say, 'I will forget my complaint, I will change my expression, and smile,' I still dread all my sufferings, for I know You will not hold me innocent. Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain? Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with cleansing powder, You would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me." (Job 9:25-31) These words are painful to read. Job has tried to cheer himself up but it hasn't worked. Now that he feels God is his enemy, he derives no joy from anything. He cannot enjoy the beauty of this world because he fears the wrath of its Maker. He cannot enjoy the company of his wife because she is even angrier at God than he is. He cannot take comfort in the fellowship of his friends because they think he is guilty of abominable secret sins. He says, "Why should I keep trying? God must have condemned me for something I'm not even aware of doing. My friends have condemned me of sins I didn't commit. What's the use?"

"He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer Him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot." (Job 9:32-35) If his fellow man took him to court and accused him of crimes, Job would be able to put on a defense. He would not fear to speak up in front of a human judge. But how to defend himself before the One who, in Job's tortured mind, is now both his accuser and judge?

Job utters the heart-cry of the ages when he says, "If only there were someone to mediate between God and me! If only someone would step up and bring us together! If only there were someone to save me from my sins and from the wrath of God!" This prayer of Job's was answered when God sent His own Son to save mankind, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people." (1 Timothy 2:5-6) Job, godly man though he was, needed a mediator. You and I need a mediator. We have all "sinned and fallen short". (Romans 3:23) And when it comes to talking about what we deserve in this life, the Bible tells us that we are sinners and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), so we can come to no other conclusion except that God owes us nothing but the death penalty. Does He owe us a prosperous life filled with riches? No, no more than He owed it to a man as righteous as Job. Does He owe us lives of ease and comfort? If Job didn't qualify for a life without sorrows, neither do we. I can't answer the question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" But I can say, on the authority of the holy Scriptures, that even at our best we fall far short of perfection. We are sinners and our works, though some of them are good in our own eyes, cannot save us. By our sins and failures we earned a day of judgment in which we would stand before our Judge and be found guilty.

When we began the book of Job we knew we wouldn't get all our questions answered. Job himself won't get all his questions answered. But there is one question, the most important question of all, for which we receive a firm answer. Job wonders in his heart, "Does God love me?" We can answer that with a resounding, "Yes!" In our own struggles, when we wonder if God still loves us, the answer is yes. Would a God who doesn't love us provide the Mediator who brings man and God together? Would a God who doesn't love us turn His back on His own Son as He hung on the cross enduring the penalty for our sins? Would a God who doesn't love us make a way for us to someday stand before His throne and, as Job says, "speak up without fear of Him"? If God didn't love us and take pity on us, why would He bother to craft the plan of salvation? Why would God the Son be known as "the Lamb slain from the creation of the world"? (Revelation 13:8) As soon as God the Father purposed in His heart to create man, God the Son was a dead man walking. He was condemned. He was on His way to the cross before God ever scooped up a mound of dust in His hands to create Adam. Christ, who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3) loved us so much more than His own life that He was willing to do anything it took to save us. Jesus told His disciples that anyone who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9) and we know by this that the love and compassion Jesus felt for mankind is the same love and compassion God feels. Yes, God loves us! Sorrows may come, but God still loves us. Reversals of fortune may spring up, but God still loves us. Illness may strike us or a loved one, but God still loves us. He proved this love through Christ.

We don't know why bad things happen to good people. We don't know why the wicked prosper while the godly are cheated. We don't know why evil people often live long lives but sometimes godly people are cut down in their prime. While we live in these mortal bodies in this fallen world, we won't receive the answers to all our questions. But when trouble comes, with a childlike faith we can be certain of this one thing and can comfort ourselves with this sure knowledge: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."