Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job, Day 31, Job Feels Distanced From God

Today's chapter reminds me of a verse from a Casting Crowns song called "East To West" that says, "Time and time again Your truth is drowned out by the storm I'm in." The storms we go through in life can make us feel like God is far away, even though He isn't. We know the truth of God's word but it can be hard to feel His presence when we're fighting grief or depression or anxiety. This is the condition we find Job in today.

"Then Job replied: 'Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!'" (Job 23:1-3) I've spent several long nights of my life in a panic, pacing the floor, in the grip of anxiety so strong that it blocked everything else out. It made me feel so small and so far away from God. I knew the Lord said He would never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), but what I wanted most was to actually feel like He was right there in the room with me. I could believe in my mind that He was there, but I wanted the comfort of feeling His presence. This is where Job is in today's chapter. I am sure Job has spent most of his life feeling like God was with him, but right now he's too overwhelmed to feel His presence. His problems are dreadful and they are right in front of him all the time, whereas God cannot be seen with the eyes. Job is weary in body and mind and the only thing he can think of is somehow finding God and feeling close to Him again.

"I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me. Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me. There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my Judge." (Job 23:4-7) Job's friends have judged him harshly. They've accused him of sins he hasn't committed. But there is a higher authority who knows Job is innocent of these charges. Job believes if he could stand before his Judge, the Lord would agree with him that his current problems are not the consequences of anything he's done.

"But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him." (Job 23:8-9) Job is tireless in his search for the Lord. He won't rest until he sits at His feet. What a wonderful example this is of a person who, though angry with God and confused about his circumstances, refuses to renounce the Lord. We really only have two choices when confronted with adversity: turn away from the Lord or draw closer to Him. Like Mary the sister of Lazarus who sat at the feet of Jesus, Job has "chosen what is better". (Luke 10:42) He will not stop seeking God. Right now he feels like he's groping blindly in the dark, but he won't give up, because this might be the day his searching hand is suddenly clasped by a bigger hand than his.

"But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold." (Job 23:10) This is one of my favorite verses in the book of Job. This is something anyone can say who refuses to stop following the Lord no matter what. Job has found himself in the furnace of affliction, but his fiery trial is not intended to consume him. The Lord is using it to make a good man into an even better man, in the same way a metalworker heats gold until the impurities rise to the top to be skimmed off. What comes out of the metalworker's crucible is a finer grade of gold, more beautiful and honorable, so pure that a smooth sheet of it is able to reflect its surroundings like a mirror. Job is going to come out of his trial an even better man than he was when he went in, more able to reflect the character of the Lord, the better to honor Him.

"My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread." (Job 23:11-12) It's possible to become bitter when we know we've been living right but are enduring hard times. I believe Job does feel some bitterness but at the same time he understands something very important. The only thing worse than going through hardships is not learning anything from them. If he doesn't come through these dark days with a better understanding of the Lord, what has he gained? What is there to take away from all this? Even though his troubles have not been caused by sin, there's still something to be learned from them. There's still an opportunity to grow closer to his Redeemer. If he misses that opportunity, then it's all been for nothing.

"But He stands alone, and who can oppose Him? He does whatever He pleases. He carries out His decree against me, and many such plans He still has in store. That is why I am terrified before Him; when I think of all this, I fear Him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face." (Job 23:13-17) Job says, "It's so dark I can't see Him! I don't understand what He's doing and I don't know if He's through with these trials or if there are more to come. Yet I will not remain silent. I feel forsaken and alone, but He must be somewhere nearby. I will keep on calling for Him."

We won't always understand what God is doing in our lives. We may find ourselves assailed by fear, as Job was, at the idea that God will do as He pleases according to His purposes. This must be why the Bible tells us so many times not to fear. This must be why the word of God urges us to trust Him. If we can hold fast to our trust in Him even when we don't understand what He's doing, we will find our fears easier to manage. If we can obey the command not to live in fear, we will find it easier to trust the One who loves us. These two principles work together in the life of the believer. Job is struggling against doubts, fear, anger, and bitterness. But he keeps on trying. He keeps on seeking the Lord, refusing to give up no matter what. This is why when his trials are over he will come forth like gold.

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