What I am not going to do in this post is to minimize pain and suffering and provide simple Christian platitudes like, “All you need to do is pray.” Or hang on because this too shall pass.”
I am not going to tell you that your situation will get better if you have found or are blessed with enough faith. God doesn’t play games with us, He doesn’t operate the way the world works.
What I will do is show you how God answered this question for Job. Before we dig into his story I thought this quote it might serve as a backdrop, a foundation, to start the journey of discovery.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C. S. Lewis
If you have never read it, I would invite you to read the entire book of Job. But for our short study time, I will plunge ahead in the book to chapter 38. By the time we get to the 38th chapter of Job, he’s fed up. He has come to the limits of his patience with God. Job has gone through a season of loss that would sink even the strongest believer. He has lost everything from all his possessions to his dignity. Job has no material possessions and on top of that his health is now an issue. Job’s wife left him, and all he has left are a few friends if you could call them that. Now, these so-called friends show up to pay Job a visit. Have you ever noticed that when things are going bad that the misery seems to pile up? With, almost comedic-like timing Job’s friends appear on the scene at his lowest point and begin placing responsibility for every misery right at Job’s diseased feet. Wow, Satan doesn’t let a crisis go to waste.
Now, this situation could have been more bearable if Job had God by his side providing him cover and comfort. However, in Job’s life, God appeared, absent. Have you been there? I know I have. In those moments you seem to be going through the Valley of Baka and God seems uncharacteristically silent. What Job wanted, what we desire is for God to draw closer during those moments of agony but God appeared to be hiding. The God around whom Job had built his very purpose for living, seemed like he was in stealth mode. We discover Job sitting on a pile of ashes, scraping his sores with a broken piece of pottery, Job cries out with anguish at the deepest hurt of all, the silence of God.
The Uncomfortable Questions the Book of Job Raises
The book of Job raises some difficult questions. The kind of issues Christians want the answer to but are afraid to ask or even spend too much time contemplating. Questions like: “Does faith matter if we are going to suffer like Job does?”(Job 1:9) “Why does God tolerate suffering?” “Why do good people suffer while it appears that the people who deserve punishment prosper?”
The Cross Examination
While the book leads us to these questions, God elects not to answer them. God’s response to Job is to cross-examine him. “God is paying Job the greatest compliment that a teacher can give a student. Instead of giving him answers, God only asks questions. Instead of stating conclusions, God presents only the facts. Induction, not deduction is God’s method of teaching. God shows how much He cares for His creation by refusing to violate Job’s freedom or insult his intelligence. He gives him assorted facts and counts upon him to make the connections” – McKenna
1 Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind (Hebrew: searah),
2 “Who is this who darkens counsel
by words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man (Hebrew: geber),
for I will question you, then you answer me!” JOB 38:1-3.
When Job demands an audience with the Almighty, I am not sure he really expected Him to show up. But Yahweh does! He answers Job directly. God answers Job “out of the searah“— the whirlwind or windstorm. In the early portions of the account, Job feared that God would crush him “…with a storm” (9:17)—or that God would overwhelm him with great power but it is not Yahweh’s purpose to crush or to overwhelm Job but to instruct him.
God makes Himself known to us today still. The Ancient One speaks through the sacred writing of the law and the prophets. He makes himself known through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ who is the Word made flesh and through the scriptures. He makes Himself known through the humble preaching of faithful orators.
The cross examination begins with God asking Job the question, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (v. 2). Job came with the idea that he was seeking enlightenment from God. He was not prepared to have the tables turned on him. Never the less God bombards him with a series of questions that he cannot answer, but these questions will serve to give deeper insight into the depth and scope of God.
“Brace yourself like a man“ (geber) (v. 3a).
Whenever we decide to call out God, we should be ready for the answer. The word geber suggests something more than an ordinary man. The Almighty is challenging Job to gird up his loins like a manly man. To gird up one’s loins is to pull up the bottom of the robe and tuck it into the belt. The purpose is to free the person from the constraints of tight clothing to enable the person to move freely, to work or to fight without restriction. God is challenging Job to prepare himself for the confrontation. Brace yourself like a man of action, a doer, a warrior.
“…for I will question you, then you answer me” (v. 3b).
In chapter 13, Job challenged God, “Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you answer me.” Job wanted God to explain to him what sin he had committed to bring this misery on his household. He could not understand why he was suffering. Have you been there? Where you just need to know the reason for all the things that have gone wrong?
I remember 2015 like it was yesterday. One setback and loss after painful loss. It was a faith shaking year. Job must have felt that if I just know what I did to deserve this then maybe I can accept my fate and move on. But now Yahweh turns the tables on Job. He does not give him an answer to the “why” instead it is Yahweh who will do the questioning and Job will do the answering. Probably not the satisfying response that Job needed, but there is a lesson in this for us. Here is the first exchange.
Job 38:4-7 – WHERE WERE YOU?
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Declare, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measures if you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
6 Whereupon were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
These verses picture the master artesian, Yahweh, at work in the creation of the earth. God points out to Job the creation of earth order to show Job his limited understanding.
God reminds Job and us that we were not consultants in the earth’s measurements. We had no part in stretching a line on the earth to ensure that the foundations were precise. Job had not seen the foundations sunk or its cornerstone laid. That whole process is a mystery to Job. In short, God’s message to Job and us is, “I got this. You may not agree with the way things are being managed, but you don’t understand the bigger picture.”
“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” —Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
God combines science and theology here. Think of it this way. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” – Newton’s Third Law of Motion. The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. Your life is not happening in isolation. We tend to only focus on what is happening to us, not the impact our reaction may have on the lives of others. Maybe just maybe you suffering and pain isn’t just about you. It could be you are impacting others for the kingdom or you are being prepared to be used by God to be a beautiful person proclaiming the mysteries of God in a unique way from your life’s experience. Something to ponder.
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