Sunday, April 23, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 49, The Lord Asks Job If He Understands Creation

The Lord is asking the questions now and He displays His infinite intelligence by describing His works of creation.

"Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken." (Job 38:12-15) The Lord points out that He sets a limit to everything. Every night must end. The wicked who do dark deeds during the night are brought to a halt by the arrival of morning. By the same rule, Job's trial will also have an ending point. Things are not out of control; the God who keeps the universe in order has Job's life under control. The dark night of his suffering won't last forever.

"Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this." (Job 38:16-18) Job, like all of us, sees such a small portion of God's work. There are depths in the seas and creatures living there that no eye but God's has ever seen. There are strange and wonderful aspects of the universe that even the most brilliant physicist can't understand. Yet Job has questioned God as if they are equals. He has demanded answers from God as if God is a man like him. You may recall the other day we talked about the dangers of thinking God is like us, of losing our awe and reverence for Him. In his pain and doubt, Job tried to bring God down to his level, but God can't be brought down to man's level. He can't be made to be like us. He can only extend the offer to lift us up to a higher level, to make us more like Him.

"What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:19-21) The Lord asks, "Do you know where I store the light during the night? Do you know where the darkness sleeps while the day shines forth? Do you have any idea how I control all these things, day after day and night after night? Surely you do! You are so ancient! Surely you remember how I created these things!" Job possesses the wisdom of an elder in the community, of a godly man, but this is nothing in comparison to God's knowledge. Job's methods of reasoning are nothing like the Lord's because he is unable to see events from the Lord's perspective. As God said in the book of Isaiah, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isaiah 55:8)

"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?" (Job 38:22-30) In my background study I found a commentary on Job by a lady named Kathryn M. Shifferdecker and she makes the statement that God is saying all these things to remind Job he isn't the center of the universe. In Job's mind, everything revolves around mankind. But God says here that He waters the deserts where no man lives. He makes grass to sprout where no person will ever see it. He makes sea creatures no human will ever lay eyes on. While it's true that the universe and the earth are especially engineered to support life, and human life in particular, the creation does not revolve around man. It revolves around the God who created it and who holds it in place. Ms. Shifferdecker sums up God's speech beautifully, "Is this an adequate response to Job's suffering? It is not, in a conventional sense, very comforting. God would probably fail a present-day pastoral care class. Nonetheless, these speeches of God at the end of the book of Job accomplish something profound. They move Job out of his endless cycle of grief into life again. They enable him to live freely in a world full of heartbreaking suffering and heart-stopping beauty, and to do so in a way that reflects God's own care for the world."

"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion's belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?" (Job 38:31-33) The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that the Creator sustains all things (holds all things together) "by His powerful word". (Hebrews 1:3) When the Lord spoke into the darkness, "Let there be light," everything came into being. He set the stars in place and told the planets what their orbits were to be, and they are still obeying His word, doing exactly what they were commanded to do. Can Job even begin to do such a thing? Is anything truly within his control? Is anything truly within anyone's control?

I used to be a real control freak. My life was ruled by all sorts of obsessions and rigid behaviors. Everything had to be done in a particular way (my way) and it had to be done on schedule. Woe to anyone in the household who didn't fall in line with my compulsive ways. On top of these unhealthy behaviors, I was in danger of destroying my health with anorexia because my weight and appearance was something I thought I could control in a world that felt like it was out of control. I denied anything was wrong with me, refusing to admit that it wasn't normal for a woman as tall as I am to weigh less than a hundred pounds. I was destroying my life and making myself and my marriage miserable. Eventually the Lord had to step in and take action. I went through an exceedingly painful time in my life. I had to accept that I wasn't in control of anything. I had to face the fact that my obsessive behaviors weren't preventing anything bad from happening; bad things happened to me anyway. I had to learn to live and even thrive in a world that often feels like it's out of control. By methodically pulling one rug after another out from under my feet, the Lord showed me that all my methods of controlling my life were nothing but illusions. He was my security. He was the bedrock at the bottom of everything. The world did not revolve around me and I was not the one holding it together. It was a long and hurtful lesson but those are the lessons we don't forget. Like Job, I learned to live freely in a world of heartbreaking suffering and heart-stopping beauty, trusting that even when things seem out of control, the God who set the stars in the sky is holding everything holding me together.

God's speech is intended to bring Job out of his obsessions about himself and his situation. It reminds him there is Someone bigger than he is. It tells him there is a higher purpose to the things that happen in this world. Job, in his misery, has been unable to think about anyone or anything but himself. God calls him to step up his faith, to expand his mind, to acknowledge that God is so much bigger and so much more intelligent than he ever imagined. It's as if God is saying, "Think about something other than yourself, Job. Climb out of this pit of despair and breathe in the fresh air again. Enjoy the beauty of the creation. Cherish your life on earth, not because it isn't fragile and fleeting, but because it is. Embrace the uncertainty. Let go of your desire to be in control of everything. I am your security. I am in control of all things; you don't have to be."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 48, The Lord Speaks Out Of The Storm

We have studied thirty-seven chapters filled with questions. Job has questioned his friends and his God. Job has been questioned by his wife and his friends. But now, at the height of the thunderstorm, God shows up and asks His own questions without answering any of Job's, or at least without answering them in the way Job expected.

"Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 'Who is this that obscures My plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'" (Job 38:1-3) The Lord addresses Himself directly to Job, perhaps because Job is the only one of the men who has addressed himself directly to God. "Words without knowledge" have been spoken by all four of the men, but Job is the only one of them who has questioned God and His motives. God answers Job's questions with questions of His own, and in them we get a sense of the unfathomable "otherness" of God. God wants us to know Him and enjoy fellowship with Him, but at the same time we must never forget how completely different He is from us. You may have heard the expression "familiarity breeds contempt" and I think there is a danger in becoming a bit too chummy with the Lord. The danger is that we might begin to think He is just like us. We run the risk of losing our sense of awe and respect for Him. Jesus Christ truly is our friend, but He is also the holy Word of God for whom and by whom all things were created. Job and his companions have been speaking about God as if they know more about Him than they actually do, but now this God shows up and reminds them that He created the universe and everything in it without man's help or advice. He has existed since eternity past and has needed no one's counsel. Man was, in fact, formed on the final day of creation. If God had needed man's help for anything, He would have made him first, not last.

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone---while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7) At first glance God's answer to Job seems cruel and uncaring. He passes over all of Job's questions and appears to be saying, "Who are you to question Me? Where were you when I created the world? Can you even explain how I did it? Would you understand it if I explained it?" But we don't want to miss the fact that God has answered Job's chief prayer. All along Job has earnestly desired a meeting with God. He has begged to speak to God and to have God speak to him. As Bible scholar David Guzik points out, "God has now appeared to Job. Job's greatest agony was that he felt God had abandoned him, and now he knew he was not abandoned."

If we read God's reply as a rebuke for Job's questions and doubts and confusion, we are missing something indescribably beautiful. God sees straight to Job's heart and realizes that, more than anything else, he needs to know God is still involved in his life. He needs to know God sees him and hears him and is willing to take the time to interact with him. Of course Job would still like all of his questions answered, but would hearing the tale of God's conversation with Satan have helped him? Wouldn't knowing that Satan regularly appears in the presence of God to accuse believers of sin and faithlessness have made Job feel even less secure? If God explained to Job that the loss of his children and his livelihood and his health were intended to prove his faithfulness, would that comfort him at all? God's purpose in these tragedies is, at its core, somewhat unknowable by the human mind. I freely admit to you that I don't really understand what God is doing in the book of Job. We are willing to try and accept on faith that God allowed things to happen to Job in order to fulfill a greater purpose, but the explanation we are provided in the book doesn't answer all our questions. The more we think about it, it seems we keep coming up with even more questions, not fewer questions. And maybe that's what would have happened to Job if God had appeared and started explaining Himself. Would Job have understood or would he simply have come up with more and more questions? Would God's explanation have given him what he really needed: the assurance that God is still with him and still loves him? When God shows up and speaks directly to Job, He clearly states that He has heard Job's words. He's had his eyes on Job this whole time. He's had His ears open to Job's cries. He's heard Job's prayers. And the answer to those prayers is, "Here I am! I have not abandoned you! I have never left you for a second!"

Now that Job knows God is still with him, God reminds him that He is always in control even when the world seems out of control. Job may never understand the reasons for his circumstances, but now he will never doubt that anything happens to him outside of the will of God. He may not be able to comprehend God's reasons, but he knows that God has reasons. The One who created the universe and governs everything in it is in control of the circumstances of men's and women's lives. "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?'" (Job 38:8-11) The God who holds the sea in place is able to hold us together even when it feels like our world is falling apart.

When things haven't gone our way, when we are hurt and confused, what is it that we really want? Is it the answers to all our questions? Or is it the assurance of God's love and His presence with us? Doesn't it seem like we can get through anything as long as we feel the Spirit of the Lord with us in our troubles? When we have the sense of being wrapped securely in His loving arms, don't we find the courage to keep on putting one foot in front of the other? As long as we have the confidence that our God is with us, that He is for us, that He will provide everything we need to make it through our trials, we are able to keep from giving up. God knew this was what Job really needed and He provided it by showing up in person. I've been through several dark chapters in my life and I don't know how I would have made it if God hadn't shown up. If He hadn't spoken to me through the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit, I would have fainted and given up. He didn't answer all my questions but He comforted me with His love. He strengthened me when I felt like quitting. He held me up when I couldn't walk on my own. This is what He does for Job today. He doesn't answer Job's questions of "why", but He does answer Job's most earnest question. Job had wondered in his heart, "Is God still with me? Does He see me and hear me? Does He love me?" The answer to that, in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm and awesome whirlwind, is a resounding, "Yes!"

Friday, April 21, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 47, The Winds Of Change

Elihu is still speaking today but there is a change in the atmosphere. A storm is approaching. I picture the men sitting outside in the stillness of an afternoon that has turned dark, hearing the sound of far-off thunder and seeing the flash of lightning in the distance.

Elihu uses the imagery of a thunderstorm to describe God's power. "He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how He spreads out the clouds, how He thunders from His pavilion? See how He scatters His lightning about Him, bathing in the depth of the sea. This is the way He governs the nations and provides food in abundance. He fills His hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach." (Job 36:27-33) I grew up in rural Southwest Virginia and I remember being able to tell whether an approaching storm was going to be a short summer rain or a heavier thunderstorm by how the cows behaved. If they kept grazing in the fields, I kept playing in the yard. But I knew it was time to get inside the house if they lined up and headed for the barn. Elihu points out that even the cattle respect the power of the thunderstorm.

Elihu is drawing a comparison between the mighty thunder of God's voice and the loud thunder of the storm. He thinks Job does not fear God nearly enough. "At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of His voice, to the rumbling that comes from His mouth. He unleashes His lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of His roar; He thunders with His majestic voice. When His voice resounds, He holds nothing back. God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding." (Job 37:1-5) Elihu is asking, "Job, how can you not quake in fear at the sound of His thunder? How can you accuse God of treating you unfairly? How can you be angry with Him? God is in control of all things and He does as He pleases; who can question Him?"

"He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour.' So that everyone He has made may know His work, He stops all people from their labor. The animals take cover; they remain in their dens. The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; He scatters His lightning through them. At His direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever He commands them. He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water the earth and show His love." (Job 37:6-13) Elihu says that when God sends a storm that stops man's work, this reminds man of the presence of God. I think he is suggesting that the storm of trials that came into Job's life was intended to remind him of the presence of God. Job had not forgotten God, but Elihu still believes he had.

"Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God's wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes His lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of Him who has perfect knowledge? You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, can you join Him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?" (Job 37:14-18) Elihu asks, "Job, can you even begin to explain how God orchestrates the weather? How then would you understand His reasons for your troubles if He explained them to you? You keep asking Him 'why', but He doesn't owe you an explanation. God is sovereign. God has the right to do with His creation anything He wishes. Your job as a man is to bow to His will and accept whatever He sends you."

"Tell us what we should say to Him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness." (Job 37:19) Job has said over and over that he wants to meet with God face to face. He asks for a fair hearing in God's courtroom. But Elihu wants to know how a man could even begin to put on a defense before such an intelligent Judge. He thinks, "What could a man say in the presence of God? Face to face with such awesome holiness and power, wouldn't our minds simply go blank? How could we even begin to talk to Him?"

"Should He be told that I want to speak? Would anyone ask to be swallowed up? Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean." (Job 37:20-21) Elihu asks how he would gain an invitation into God's courtroom. And why should he want to go there? He says, "Would anyone ask to be swallowed up? Looking on His righteousness would kill me! No man can see God and live! I could no more look Him in the eye than I could stand and stare straight into the sun."

"Out of the north He comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in His justice and great righteousness, He does not oppress. Therefore, people revere Him, for does He not have regard for all the wise in heart?" (Job 37:22-24) Elihu has made a beautiful metaphor of the storm in comparing it to the thunderous and unfathomable power of God, but as usual he has fallen short of true wisdom. He proclaims that God is beyond our reach and cannot be known. And while it's true that our reach is shortened by our mortal feebleness and our sins, God's arm is not shortened that it cannot save. (Isaiah 59:1) What we could not do for ourselves, God did for us. His own brilliant mind and His own mighty arm performed the work of salvation. Elihu envisions a God whose holiness burns like the heat of a thousand suns, before whom no man can stand, and this would be entirely true if no plan of salvation had ever been conceived in the merciful mind of God. But this God who is so far above us was willing to humble Himself to reach down and take hold of us and pull us to safety. The Lord Jesus Christ, King of all kings and heir to all the treasures of God, set aside His glory to come to earth and become a man. He did not look down on man or think of Himself as so much better than humans, but in every way He took on our image and infirmities.

Elihu is wrong. He may have meant well, but he is wrong when he says no man can know God. God wants to be known. He deeply desires a relationship with human creatures, so much so that even before the first cell was made of the first human body, Christ had already agreed to die for us! Tomorrow this God, whom Elihu believes would never lower Himself to speak to man, is at last going to have His say.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 46, Elihu's Speech, Part Six

I think I will be so glad when Elihu has finished talking, but today he continues on. He tells Job that God does not answer him because he is wicked.

"People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, and teaches us more than He teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?' He does not answer when people cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked." (Job 35:9-12) Elihu suggests Job has had no regard for God and that God has not answered him because he's a wicked man.

"Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. How much less, then, will He listen when you say that you do not see Him, that your case is before Him and you must wait for Him, and further, that His anger never punishes and He does not take the least notice of wickedness. So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words." (Job 35:13-16) He thinks Job is not sincere in his worship of the Lord.

"Elihu continued: 'Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God's behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one who has perfect knowledge is with you.'" (Job 36:1-4) Elihu claims to speak on God's behalf. He doesn't want Job and his friends to reject his words because, in his mind, they are the words of God.

"God is mighty, but despises no one; He is mighty, and firm in His purpose. He does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights. He does not take His eyes off the righteous; He enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever. But if people are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, He tells them what they have done---that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil. If they obey and serve Him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge." (Job 36:5-12) Job's tragedies are all the proof Elihu needs to believe he is an ungodly man. He says, "But you don't have to be! God is so high above us, yet He doesn't despise us in our ignorance. He is gracious to give us knowledge if we ask for it. If you will repent and live right, God will reward you."

"The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when He fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. But those who suffer He delivers in their suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction." (Job 36:13-15) Elihu states, "The godless remain angry toward God even when He disciplines them for their own good. The man who rejects God will die in shame. A man like that is as bad as one who participates in pagan temple orgies; he is a disgrace."

Elihu advises Job that God is chastising him for his own good. "He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food." (Job 36:16) The Lord does indeed work hard to woo us away from the ugly fruits of our sinful labors. He offers us a better way of living. Because He loves us, He wants us to follow Him instead of worldly things.

"But now you are laden with judgment due to the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes. Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction." (Job 36:17-21) Elihu says, "You could have had prosperity and the blessings of the Lord! But instead you followed after riches and were willing to do unrighteous things in order to get them. All your money is gone now; what use was it to you? It didn't prevent God from bringing judgment on you for your sins."

"God is exalted in His power. Who is a teacher like Him? Who has prescribed His ways for Him, or said to Him, 'You have done wrong'? Remember to extol His work, which people have praised in song. All humanity has seen it; mortals gaze on it from afar. How great is God---beyond our understanding! The number of His years is past finding out." (Job 36:22-26) Elihu magnifies the name of the Lord and urges Job to join him. He thinks perhaps Job has made a big deal of himself and has made far too little of God. Once he gets things in the proper perspective he will be much better off. This principle is true, although it doesn't apply to Job's particular situation since he has remained faithful to the Lord.

The bigger we make ourselves, the smaller we make our God. And the opposite is also true: the bigger we make our God the smaller we make ourselves. Elihu is correct when he insists that man needs to keep things in proper perspective. God deserves to be exalted. Who is like Him? There is a very valuable nugget of advice in Elihu's speech today when he says, "Remember to extol His work." How much bigger would God seem to us if we remembered to extol His work every day? What if we woke up and praised Him for the sunrise? What if we gratefully breathed in the fresh morning air and thanked Him for the beautiful planet we live on? What if we learned how to recapture the wonder of childhood when we lived closer to the ground and every tiny flower and every blade of grass seemed like a miracle? We have a God so great that He made all these things. He simply spoke the word and an entire universe sprang into existence out of nothing. Is He not big enough to handle all our problems? Let's remember to extol His work today. He has created all things, including us, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He loves us so much He came up with a way to redeem us so we could live with Him forever. A God this great deserves all our praise.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 45, Elihu's Speech, Part Five

Elihu continues to suspect Job is a sinner, and he points out that man must come to God on God's terms, not on man's terms. Yesterday he concluded by saying that God punishes the one who turns from Him, and today he says that God judges the one who does this, "They caused the cry of the poor to come before Him, so that He heard the cry of the needy. But if He remains silent, who can condemn Him? If He hides His face, who can see Him? Yet He is over individual and nation alike, to keep the godless from ruling, from laying snares for the people." (Job 34:28-30) Like Job's three friends, Elihu thinks God brought Job down because he was a wicked man.

"Suppose someone says to God, 'I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.' Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent? You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know." (Job 34:31-33) Elihu says, "If you don't repent, how can God reward you? How can God forgive you?" This would be good advice if Job had any unconfessed sin in his life. If his troubles were due to his own foolishness, the best thing he could possibly do is bow humbly before God and admit to his failures and ask the Lord to help him.

"Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, 'Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.' Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies His words against God." (Job 34:34-37) Job already knew people were whispering behind his back. According to Elihu they are saying that he is foolish and without any spiritual understanding. They say, "It's bad enough he's been such a sinner that God had to punish him so severely. But he remains in his rebellion. Even now he refuses to repent."

"Then Elihu said: 'Do you think this is just? You say, 'I am in the right, not God.' Yet you ask Him, 'What profit is it to me, and what do I gain by not sinning?'" (Job 35:1-3) Because he's done his best to live a godly life, Job feels he's received unfair treatment. He has wondered whether it would have made much difference if he had not tried to do what was right. Would the outcome have been the same? Would he have been better able to take his tragedies if he had earned them? Elihu doesn't believe Job should ask such questions.

"I would like to reply to you and to your friends with you. Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you. If you sin, how does that affect Him? If your sins are many, what does that do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself, and your righteousness only other people." (Job 35:4-8) Elihu thinks Job is making a big deal out of himself. He asks, "Can anything you do really hurt God? Can anything you do help God? Your actions affect the humans around you, but you can't harm or benefit the God who is so high above you." This is a rather pointless statement and it's untrue. The Bible tells us that our sins grieve the Holy Spirit of God. (Isaiah 63:10, Ephesians 4:30) The Lord is wounded by our sins and I think the main reason is because he sees us hurting ourselves with our sins and hurting those around us. God loves us and He mourns over our rebellious ways in the same way an earthly father mourns for a wayward child. Elihu makes it seem as if God does not care whether we are good or bad; he concludes that we are pretty much worthless to the Lord either way.

Elihu's God is a God of vengeance, not a God of mercy. He would not have known what to make of the prophecies that later came of a suffering Servant who would pay for the sins of mankind. He would not have been able to understand the mission of the Redeemer. It would have been unthinkable to him for God to come in the flesh and dwell among humans, to take on our sins, to receive our punishment, to be wounded for our transgressions. He would have said, "No! This is impossible! God is too good. He's too holy. We aren't worth it to Him. We either come to Him in full obedience, making ourselves righteous by good works, or we don't come to Him at all. Why should God do any of the work? We aren't worth it!"

But the Lord thought we were worth it. The Easter holiday may be over for this year, but we can experience the mercy and grace that is Easter every day of our lives. Christ said, "I love them too much to be without them. I will do anything it takes to make them whole. I will bear their wounds and wear their stripes. I will bow my back under the heavy weight of their sins. They are worth everything to Me."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 44, Elihu's Speech, Part Four

Elihu is really on a roll now and today he repeats some of Job's own words back to him and makes fun of them.

"Then Elihu said: 'Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning. For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good." (Job 34:1-4) Elihu says, "We are a bunch of smart men. We are able to judge for ourselves what is right and what is wrong." I'll have to disagree with him, because the Bible says, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) We can't always use our own judgment. Our carnal minds will lead us astray, which is why we must be led by God's word instead.

Now Elihu mocks Job's words. "Job says, 'I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.' Is there anyone like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with the wicked. For he says, 'There is no profit in trying to please God.'" (Job 34:5-9) He accuses Job of being the most wicked of men. His words are a sharp contrast to those of God, who said of Job, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8)

It's true that Job wonders why he bothered to live a godly life if it didn't prevent tragedies from coming. Earlier in our study of Job we compared his words with those of the psalmist Asaph who wrote, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments." (Psalm 73:13-14) In time Asaph realized he was looking at his situation all wrong, but for a while he felt like Job and said, "What good is it to live a godly life? It hasn't spared me from troubles."

"So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays everyone for what they have done; He brings on them what their conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. Who appointed Him over the earth? Who put Him in charge of the whole world? If it were His intention and He withdrew His spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust." (Job 34:10-15) The companions of Job believe that all troubles are punishment. They think it would be unrighteous of God to visit sorrows upon a godly man, therefore Job cannot be godly because God would not afflict him if he were. They completely reject the idea that God might allow hardships for purposes other than punishment.

"If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say. Can someone who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One? Is He not the One who says to kings, 'You are worthless,' and to nobles, 'You are wicked,' who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of His hands? They die in an instant, in the middle of the night; the people are shaken and they pass away; the mighty are removed without human hand." (Job 34:16-20) Elihu points out that God judges the ungodly and shows no favoritism even if the ungodly person is rich or influential. I think he is trying to insinuate Job expected special treatment from God because he had been wealthy. He's making the accusation that Job had been living an ungodly life but considered himself immune from judgment because he was an important man in the community.

"His eyes are on the ways of mortals; He sees their every step. There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness, where evildoers can hide. God has no need to examine people further, that they should come before Him for judgment. Without inquiry He shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place. Because He takes note of their deeds, He overthrows them in the night and they are crushed. He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following Him and had no regard for any of His ways." (Job 34:21-27) Job has been expressing his desire for a hearing before the Judge, but Elihu says that God has the right to judge without a hearing. God sees and knows all things and He doesn't need to hear any testimony. But Elihu, like Job's three friends, seems oblivious to the fact that the wicked often prosper for a long time on the earth. He keeps talking about how swiftly justice is meted out on the wicked, but quite often it seems to take a long time before the Lord brings wicked people down.

None of Elihu's words are helpful and I'm sorry to say we have more of his useless words to get through before the Lord finally interrupts him in Chapter 38. If nothing else, we can learn from Elihu's example what not to say to someone who is hurting.

Monday, April 17, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 43, Elihu's Speech, Part Three

Elihu criticizes Job for speaking against God. He feels man has no right to question God or to complain that God is not answering. He states that perhaps God is already answering Job, but he is not listening.

"But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal. Why do you complain to Him that He responds to no one's words? For God does speak---now one way, now another---though no one perceives it." (Job 33:12-14) Elihu is going to point out that God speaks to no one in an audible voice from heaven, but that He does speak in other ways.

"In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword." (Job 33:15-18) Elihu says, "During the daytime you may be too busy to realize God is trying to get your attention. It's possible for men and women to fill their waking hours so full that there is no room for God. This is why He sometimes has to speak through dreams and visions."

"Or someone may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in their bones, so that their body finds food repulsive and their soul loathes the choicest meal. Their flesh wastes away to nothing, and their bones, once hidden, now stick out. They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death." (Job 33:19-22) We know that Job is sick in body and suffering from a lack of appetite. Elihu suggests that this illness is being used of God for a purpose. Job has accused God of being his enemy, of maybe afflicting him for some private amusement, but on this point Elihu displays some wisdom. God is not Job's enemy. He doesn't hate him. He hasn't allowed afflictions into his life just so He can have His own private reality show. Elihu believes suffering has a purpose in the believer's life, although as we will see in the next section, he thinks Job's suffering will be relieved if he will repent of blaming God.

"Yet if there is an angel at their side, a messenger, one out of a thousand, sent to tell them how to be upright, and he is gracious to that person and says to God, 'Spare them from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for them---let their flesh be renewed like a child's; let them be restored as in the days of their youth'---then that person can pray to God and find favor with Him, they will see God's face and shout for joy; He will restore them to full well-being. And they will go to others and say, 'I have sinned, I have perverted what is right, but I did not get what I deserved. God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.'" (Job 33:23-28) In the original Hebrew the angel or messenger in verse 23 would be more correctly translated as a mediator or interpreter. In Chapter 9 Job expressed his wish that someone would help him speak with God, "If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together." (v 33) Elihu says, "God does deal with us in this way. A mediator speaks to Him on our behalf and says, 'I have found a ransom for him! I have redeemed him! Hear his prayer of repentance.'" Elihu uses this example of conversion wrongly in Job's case, since Job has not strayed from the Lord, but it remains a beautiful picture of the way Christ intercedes on our behalf. God the Father hears our prayers of repentance because God the Son has asked him to. God the Father grants us pardon because God the Son has paid our ransom.

"God does all these things to a person---twice, even three times---to turn them back from the pit, that the light of life may shine on them." (Job 33:29-30) Elihu tells Job, "The Lord gives a person second and third chances. Maybe even more! When a man keeps going the wrong way, the Lord brings affliction into his life to correct his ways, but this is not because God hates anyone. It's because God wants to save our souls. He loves us too much not to discipline us."

"Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me; speak up, for I want to vindicate you. But if not, then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom." (Job 33:31-33) There have actually been some nuggets of wisdom in Elihu's speech. None of them apply to Job's particular situation, but he's made a few good points about the way God sometimes uses affliction to get our attention and about the fact that there is a mediator between God and man. The problem is, none of this is going to help Job because he already knows these things. They have no bearing on his own circumstances because he knows he hasn't brought his suffering upon himself. He wants to believe there is a purpose for his pain. He could probably stand his tragedies if God would only speak up and tell him the reason for them. But so far all he's heard is useless advice from men who think he is an unrepentant sinner.

Job's longing to understand the reasons for his suffering remind me of a line from a song (the link will be provided below) that says, "I want to believe there's beauty here." And I think that's a very profound statement. In our suffering, don't we want to believe there is beauty? Couldn't we stand it a little bit better if we believed beauty could come from ashes? Our Maker knew we would need promises to hold onto in the tough times, and that's why He gave us so many. In our pain and confusion we have to believe what the word of God says instead of relying on the way we feel. Our feelings will deceive us. Because we are weak and fragile, our troubles can overwhelm us. But God has given us the promises in His holy word so that we will have something unshakable to cling to even in the midst of the storm.

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