Thursday, November 29, 2012

God the Wise: Meditations on Job's Hope

Having now finished reading the book of Job, and then re-reading several of the ending chapters, I offer a few observations that I hope will help in getting to the bottom of the book's message(s).

1. Currently standing at the forefront of my mind is the notion that all of the torture from God, via Satan, that Job interpreted as God's hostility, was actually evidence of God's love. This is not expressly stated within the book, so I'm a bit slow to begin with it. However, I have also been studying Hebrews 12. As I look at the two texts side by side, this is what I see. In other words, the reasons Christians use to justify our unbelief in God's love as He has declared and demonstrated it are the very things that prove it. This is easily illustrated by the human parent-child relationship in which a loving parent goes to great lengths to protect his child from ruinous thought and behavior and deliver her unto blessing. God has made this lesson necessarily plain in the world because it is so abominably hard on us to learn abstractly.

2. God's hard dealings with Job began in a conversation between God and Satan. I do not pretend to understand the connection here, nor have I given it much time. But it is certainly worth mentioning and should be considered in the light of the many New Testament texts that connect humans and their activity with the mighty unseen creatures before whom we live. (i.e. Lk 22:31; Ro 8:38; 1 Co 5:5, 11:10; 2 Co 12:7; 1 Ti 5:21; He 1:6)

3. The Heavenly Father, like His Son, does not always give a humanly sensible answer to the question He is asked. When God finally spoke to Job (Job 38-42), He did not answer Job's particular questions; and didn't even mention Job's suffering. He talked a lot about Himself. God, being wise, speaks the words needed, not requested.

4. God's timing is His own. Job has poured out his heart to God over and over and over again with no reply. We read this for 37 chapters. Then, without explanation, we read, "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind. . ." (38:1). I don't know.

5. I have heard folks try to pinpoint Job's sin. In a way it's quite incredible that one might read Job's story and then insist on finding the wrong for which Job was punished. That he was being punished at all seems to run counter to the book's message. And yet Job "repents" (42:6); but of what in particular? Some use 16:12 and 42:10 to argue that Job was selfish, and therefore punished. But this appears to me far from the truth. And God never indicts Job for such a crime. The wrong activity Job will eventually confess (42:3) is speaking of God and God's ways without adequate understanding. I tend to think this was also the sin of those of Isaiah's day (Is 6:5), but not in exactly the same way. But this sin occurred during his weakness while suffering. It was not the reason for the suffering. The reason for the suffering is not altogether clear to me. But it occurs to me that God does bring hardship upon His people for training purposes, not only in response to unrepentant sinning (i.e. 2 Co 1). Our pain is planned, not arbitrary. And it's aim is maturity and perseverance and holiness and greater usefulness (2 Co 1; 2 Ti 2; He 12; Ja 1)

6. If you want the New Testament commentary on the point of Job's story, there is one verse on the subject, James 5:11. It reads, "We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful." I'm wondering, concerning those of you who have read Job, is this what you took away, that God "is full of compassion and is merciful." I confess that was not my first impression. We should consider this further in a future post.

7. Job's friends were wrong about him, and worse, about God (42:7-8). It's good to see Job vindicated. Such justice on earth is not altogether common to God's people. It is easy for us to look at a life and/or a situation and think that had the hurting person done this or that or the other, that he or she would not be in such hardship. We don't know that. We don't know very much at all, about each other or about God. And that's my final word here. Job knew God. Job was a righteous man (1:1,8). And at the end of his ordeal his confession is that he doesn't understand God's ways terribly well. This should give us pause in evaluating our own hardships, and before making judgments, or even speculations, when we consider others who suffer. It would be better to seek to comfort and relieve them first, and save our advice for much later, or for never. Job's friends appear to do him the most good when they are simply sitting with him, and mourning with him, in silence (2:11-13; Cf 2 Co 1 & Ro 12:15).

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