Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Job

Two Problems; One Solution

“Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!” (Job 31:35)

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

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This morning my devotional reading juxtaposed two men, both in deep woe, but for profoundly different reasons. My Old Testament reading concluded in Job 31, which is Job’s last gasp of complaint over what appears to him to be the injustice of his sufferings. My New Testament reading included Romans 7 and 8, where we find Paul crying out in despair over his struggle with sin.

Both men are tormented and distraught; both are crying out in anguish. Job goes through a litany of seven areas of sin, showing how thoroughly he has probed his heart for any evidence of sin as he tries to find a reason that makes sense of why God would let him suffer as he does (Job 31:35-37). Paul, on the other hand, is in anguish because everywhere he turns in review of his ways he finds nothing but sin. He sees sin everywhere in himself. He is looking for someone who can save him from God’s just judgment and the power of sin.

Job sees no sin anywhere in his life, yet he suffers. Paul sees sin everywhere in his life, yet he is powerless to deal with it. Both are beyond distraught.

The answer in both cases is: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a).

Job repeatedly longed for someone to stand between him and God as a mediator (Job 11:33; 16:19-21; 19:25-26). Paul knows Jesus to be just that one, a perfect Mediator, who at the cost of His own life paid our sin penalty (Romans 8:3), whether we are able to discern those sins or not (Psa. 19:12-13). Jesus causes us to gladly cry, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1). Plus, Jesus sends His very own Spirit to reside within us (8:9), to deeply and personally make real our connection and fellowship with God (8:15-17), and to produce through us all that He requires of us (8:2-4)!

In Jesus we find the one and only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6), in whom we may rest as life and its hardships do not make sense. In Jesus we find the one and only sin sacrifice, in which we may rest when our sins overwhelm us. In Jesus we receive His Spirit, in whom we may rest, trusting His empowering to free us from the power of sin.

Truly we cry, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The Course of Character

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“… when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10b)

“Whatever else we may have, if we do not have character we have nothing. It is character that determines destiny. The only failure that matters in the end is the failure to build character. In ordinary life character is formed by overcoming difficulties. . . . We might be tempted to ask whether God can build character without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so.” (John J. Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence, 14-15)

The Means of Our Deliverance

We have problems. God can help. God wants to help.

We want Him to help! And we figure we know just how he ought to go about doing so.

God, however, seldom dances to our tune.

Job had problems. His problems were epic, legendary. He wanted—desperately—God’s deliverance.

Job’s three friends were of little help. God eventually rebuked them, saying, “you have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7).

Once they’d shot their counseling-wad a fourth figure steps to the fore and offers his take on Job, his problems and how he’d been responding to them. Elihu is a somewhat enigmatic figure. Just how are we to view his contribution to this drama? He is unlike Job’s three friends in that they each shared in three rounds of debate with the sufferer, allowing Job to respond after each round (Job 4-31). Not so with Elihu. He offers four discourses aimed at Job and his response to suffering (Job 32-37). There is no response from Job. When Elihu steps down from the mic, neither does God make a response to him or what he’d said. God simply turned to Job and responded to him and what he’d said (Job 38-41). Its almost like Elihu didn’t exist and his speech was inconsequential!

So how are we to understand Elihu and what he said? I can’t satisfactorily answer that weighty matter here. Perhaps in some way he prepares for Job to hear God when he eventually breaks the heavenly silence.

One point Elihu makes is one I think we all need to hear. Sometimes God delivers us, not by removing our adversity, but by sending it. Perhaps God’s willingness to appear at least temporarily passive or disinterested with regard to our affliction is the greatest proof of his commitment to be our perfect Deliverer.

“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15; cf. also 33:19-22).

Perhaps the very thing we feel need of being delivered from is the means of the real deliverance we desperately need. What we feel need of deliverance from actually may not be our greatest need.

The words picture a person “afflicted.” The affliction is not specified, but in context we ought to picture Job. We’re not talking inconveniences here; this is deep affliction. He needs to be delivered, but by what means? Who will do so? And how with it happen?

Elihu reminds us that it is “by their [very] affliction” that deliverance comes. This can only mean that my perceived (and, indeed, real) affliction is not my only or even primary affliction.

Every sufferer has another, deeper problem than the one stealing their attention. The lesser affliction is sent to rescue from the greater affliction.

Just how is it to do so? It does so because it “opens their ear.” It gets their attention. It opens their awareness. There is a willingness now to listen to God, where perhaps there had not been. The sufferer will now consider possibilities that were heretofore brushed aside.

Isn’t this what C.S. Lewis was getting at in The Problem of Pain? He asserted that “God whispers to us in your pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Dr. Paul Brand who spent a lifetime dealing with the numbing and destructive effects of leprosy in undeveloped countries of the world said, “If I had to summarize the grand design  of pain in one phrase it would be this: Pain is directional. It hurts not in order to cause discomfort, but to demand a change in response to danger” (In His Image, p.258).

So perhaps I need to revisit my feelings. Maybe I need to open my ears and shut my mouth. Could it be that God is willing to risk temporarily being thought unkind or unjust in order to prove that he is ultimately and eternally compassionate and merciful?

Lord, just what is it you are saying to me? Help me hear! Amen.

 

The Question to End all Questioning

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?”

(Job 41:11a)

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

(Romans 11:35)

This question is the show-stopper, the debate-ender. This question is designed to silence the objector; to leave him bowed in worship at the feet of God.

God asked this question of Job to silence him, to expose the folly of his rants, to reduce him to worship. Job’s sufferings were epic. He knew nothing of the reasons—afforded to the reader in chapters 1-3—for his pain. He had it right early on when he simply replied, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). When his wife objected, Job asked, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (v.10b). Indeed, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v.10c).

But as Job’s pain persisted his struggles provoked him to question God. His friends’ counsel prodded him further down this fatal path. After his friends’ three rounds of counsel, God finally broke his silence and began questioning the questioner. The New International Version lists 70 questions which God put to Job from chapters 38 to 41. In the midst of all those questions God dropped the show-stopper: “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?”

Paul, good Bible student that he was, took up this divine question at the end of eleven chapters of the most intricate theological reasoning ever penned. He had spent the last three of those chapters exploring the mysteries of the electing love of the sovereign God. But the apostle had hit the wall, the wall beyond which no human inquiry can pass, no human eyes can peer, no human mind can penetrate. Having done his best to answer those who would object to God’s sovereign, electing love, Paul fell silent, threw his hands in the air in a worshipful sign of surrender before the sovereign Lord whose ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33-36). The only thing left after this question was to pronounce the benediction (v.36).

As Paul asks another audience on another occasion: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

The end of all theological discussion, all philosophical exploration, all existential ranting is found in this simple query:

  • Who came first, the Creator or the creature?
  • Who is Giver and who is receiver?
  • Who owes whom?

The wall beyond which we cannot press is God’s sovereign position as Creator and Sustainer of all things. The question leaves us where God intended us to be when He created us, where all His merciful and gracious provisions were design to lead us from the beginning—in worship.

All our questions answered? Goodness, no! All our greatest longings now connected to the only One who can satisfy them? Absolutely.

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