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.

No comments:

Post a Comment