Wednesday, September 19, 2012

God the Free: Meditations on Job's Hope

"Oh, that I had one to hear me. . .
Oh, that the Almighty would answer me. . .
The words of Job are ended."
Job 31:35 & 40

It seems that Job was accustomed to God's fellowship and leading. But now, during his unspeakable suffering, God is silent, and absent. Job feels abandoned. Who wouldn't? And while he suffers the wicked prosper (See chs 21 & 24, for examples). Job is not suffering along with the wicked, as one might in a famine. He is hurting while they are celebrating. They continue to gain while he continues to lose. This reality overwhelms his powers of reason and his sense of justice. His children - dead. His property - destroyed. His health - devastated. His friends - useless. His reputation - ruined. His income - lost. His wife - perplexed. His God - missing. This is not hell on earth. But it may be as close as anyone has ever come to it.

Job's longing: "Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness; Just as I was in the days of my prime, when the friendly counsel of God was over my tent; when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me" (29:1-5).

Job's reality: "God has afflicted me. . .Terrors are turned upon me and my prosperity has passed like a cloud. And now my soul is poured out because of my plight; The days of affliction take hold of me. My bones are pierced in me at night, and my gnawing pains take no rest. . .God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry out to You, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You only look at me. You have become cruel to me; With the strength of Your hand You oppose me. . .You spoil my success" (30:11, 15-22).

Soon after this last expression of desperation, Job offers his final effort to move God to mercy. And so, the words of Job are ended.

All of this together reminds me of a scene from the life of John the Baptist, for whom my blog is named. He is imprisoned for truthful prophesying. And while there he sends someone to ask Jesus if He really is the expected Messiah. Perhaps John's suffering for the sake of righteousness has gotten him thinking that if Jesus were the Messiah, then His people wouldn't be unjustly punished, and suffering would cease; Since Jesus is here, vindication of His people is also here. So why am I in prison for my faithfulness while wicked Herod lives it up in luxury (See Mt 14)? The last part of Jesus' answer to John's inquiry is relevant here. After affirming His messiahship Jesus adds, "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me" (Mt 11:6).

There is similar instruction given to Peter after he learns of his impending death at the hands of evil men (Jn 21:19). The text says that, "Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays you?' Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, 'But Lord, what about this man?'" In other words, Peter has just heard some terribly disturbing news confirming his suffering to come. And now he asks Jesus to speak about how John's future is laid out. Jesus answers Peter this way: "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." Probably not what Peter wanted to hear, because misery does not only love company, but sometimes misery needs it.

God is free absolutely. He is free when Job suffers while the wicked prosper. He is free when John the Baptist is imprisoned and then beheaded while evil Herod celebrates. He is free when the Apostle Peter is crucified while the Apostle John dies of old age. And He is free when you and I cannot make any sense of our situations or see any good in them. And that divine freedom will be a horror to us, even an offense to us, if we do not believe that the free God is also the good, wise, and just One. That's the fight. That's the call of the Scriptures and the meaning of saving faith -- indestructible confidence in the free God. May God grant what He demands. That's our only hope.

So what to do? Pray, pray, pray, and seek to be transformed by the Scriptures into right thinking and confident lovers of the free God. It is the grace of this God and the intercession of His Son that sustains faith through suffering (Lk 22:31-32; 2 Co 1:1-11 & 12:1-10). This God runs the world, His way. If that way offends me then I am not blessed, says Jesus to John and to us. And if I can't handle well  my hardships in the light of the ease in which others often live, then I can't follow Jesus, says He to Peter and to us.

"Free and merciful Father, grant us an unoffended faith and the blessing that comes with it; Grant the faith that follows Jesus hopefully and gladly in a world littered with injustice, hardship and mystery. In His name, and for His sake and glory we ask. Amen."

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