Sunday, August 26, 2012

God the Just: Meditations on Job's Hope

"Now if it is not so, who will prove me a liar, and make my speech worth nothing?"
Job 24:25

Yesterday morning, after making an in-home speech, I asked the above question to those in the room (my wife and daughter). I confess with Job that the copious amounts of injustice I see eat away at my bones, and my sanity. Please don't hear me saying that I'm innocent. Please don't hear Job saying that he is innocent either (See ch 9, & 13:23). Job's battle never concerns his innocence in a general sense, but in the sense that his "friends" press upon him -- that he has by particular acts of unrighteousness earned the particular sufferings doled out to him. Their doctrine of suffering is horribly flawed in its content and its oversimplification. It is not true that the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, as by some automated mechanism. And it is also not true that reward and punishment are wholly meted out in this life. The reality is that there is a Person behind all of the rewards and punishments. And His purposes are regularly mysterious and beyond our finding out. They are also carried out in eternity, not just this present time. This is not a simple thing.

In chapter 24 Job speaks of the mystery mentioned above. His desire is that "wickedness should be broken like a tree" (v20). But of course it isn't. Not only do the wicked prosper in a way that seems to indicate that "God does not charge them with wrong" (v12), but the righteous suffer at the hands of these same evil people. The chapter contains a list of sins Job sees from those who "rebel against the light" (v13) along with Job's desired punishments for them (v18-21). Job's complaint here has not changed. He still believes that when he "cries out concerning wrong, he is not heard", and that "there is no justice" (See 19:7). And he asks that God would "look away from him that he may rest" (14:6). Amen.

I am under the impression, correct or not, that most of the Christians I know have never had deep feelings like this. The explanation for this is a lack of suffering. A lack of suffering is a good thing if God has determined that one not suffer though they practice righteousness. But a lack of suffering for "playing it safe" is a terrible and sinful thing. The Apostle Paul has told us that all those who want to live a godly life will suffer persecution [usually from within the church (2 Ti 3:12)]; and that his Christian suffering was so severe and prolonged that he came to believe that death was the only way out (2 Co 1:8-10). Job came to believe this too (10:18-19, for example).  Jesus has said to us that following Him will bring loss (Mt 5:11-12), even great loss (Mt 10:24-39; Jn 16:1-2).

God says that suffering and trial make us better, useful, mature, and godly (See Ja 1; 1 Pe ; 2 Co 1, etc). And some of these trials we bring upon ourselves by our faithful obedience (See 2 Co 8; Mt 5, etc). In other words, there are demanding but beneficial consequences that come with the Christ-life. But many who profess Jesus as Lord do not feel the weight of these consequences because they live like pagans, striving for what they understand to be the most secure path, risking neither dollar nor reputation nor relationship. These are the cruisers, and the users. Apparently, to these, God exists for them. And this belief is at the heart of what's wrong with the church in America. It's not the adulterer, the drunkard, or any of the other more glamorous sinners that plague our congregations. It's the American Christian coward, who would rather do anything than suffer, who never does a truly hard thing, who does nothing that remotely resembles sacrifice, and who couldn't even begin to define biblical faith. These are those who say that evangelism and giving, for example, are "not their gifts", and imagine heaven as only an extension of their present condition. No wonder the Apostle Paul spends two chapters commending the Macedonian Christians for their eagerness to sacrifice (2 Co 8-9). It's just so rare, and so beautiful.

As I wasted time yesterday ranting to my wife and daughter on the horrors of such cowardice, I named names that my wife would know. And I made a judgment, though not an authoritative or ultimate one. I said that I sincerely love these people, but that I have trouble respecting them. They cruise (in my estimation). They give the minimum, and sit on piles of money they don't need while legitimate needs go unmet. They take the easy gigs only, while God demands that His people "go to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (He 13:13). And they will, in this life, take the better vacations, drive the better vehicles, and have lots of friends; but at what cost? Have they (or I) "strived for the faith of the gospel and suffered for Jesus' sake" (Php 1)? Have we known God (Php 3)? Or have we gained the world, but lost our souls (Mt 16:26)? I don't know. I am not their judge, or mine (1 Co 4). But this I know, that "God draws the mighty away with His power; He rises up, but no man is sure of life. He gives them security, and they rely on it; Yet His eyes are on their ways." (Job 24:22-23).

May God make us faithful.

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