Thursday, January 2, 2014

God is God, and We are Not

Today is the fourth day in our 52nd (final) week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 37-39; Revelation 21; Psalm 103.

As we're drawing to the end of our year of Bible reading, we're also coming to the conclusion of two great books.  Today, I want to focus on the end of the book of Job, and tomorrow, I'll finish up the book of Revelation.

Probably the biggest challenge to faith that people experience is the problem of suffering.  Click here to read an article I wrote on the problem of suffering.  People say, "If God loves us, then why does He let bad things happen to people who deserve good things?"  Or, they ask, "If God is all-powerful, then why doesn't God stop bad things from happening?"  So, because bad things do happen, they come to the conclusion that either God loves us but is incapable of preventing bad things, or that God is capable of stopping our hurt, but doesn't love us enough to act on our behalf.  Neither of these conclusions could be further from the truth.  Yet, our questions about suffering remain.

I love Job 37.5 (ESV), which says:

God thunders wondrously with his voice;
    he does great things that we cannot comprehend.

At the end of the book, rather than giving some trite answer, the author says that there are some things that we will never understand.  The mystery remains.  People have been trying to figure it out for thousands of years, without any satisfying solutions.  Other than this:  God knows what He's doing, and we don't.  Verse 13 (ESV) says:

Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

Whether this or that or the other thing...this means that we can never know the purposes of God.  We can, however trust that God is in control.  We can also trust that whatever He does is good.  Verse 23 (ESV) says:

The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.

Chapters 38-41 are my favorite chapters in the book of Job. After listening to all that Job's friends have to say, and after hearing Job's testimony about himself, finally we have the opportunity to hear God speak.   For several chapters, God questions Job about the man's very limited knowledge. God wonders whether Job is omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent the way that the Lord is.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding (38.4 ESV).

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it (38.12-14 ESV)?

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth[b] in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth (38.31-33 ESV)?

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars
    and spreads his wings toward the south?
 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes his nest on high (39.26-27 ESV)?

Of course, the obvious answer to these questions is a silent shrug, a bowing of the head in humility, and a contrite, "I don't know."  In 41.4, Job answers the Lord by saying:
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.

In the end, we can't know the answer to the problem of suffering, because God is God, and we are not.

                 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent[a] in dust and ashes (42.1-6 ESV).”

God rebukes Job's friends for answering foolishly, for giving their trite opinions and trying to determine the indeterminable.  In the same way, we need to be careful when we try to figure out why we, or why a loved one, is suffering.  The best thing is to simply trust and praise God through it, knowing that God is mighty, and God is loving. 


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