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!"

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