History, like statistics, will tell you anything you want it to say, if you torture it enough.
“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
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.