This week Kirsten, myself and the kids have been enjoying a fantastic week at Word Alive 2016 in Prestatyn. The morning Bible readings on Job were truly excellent and the evening celebrations looking at some of the ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel have been equally superb.
For anyone at Word Alive 2016 who would like to go over some of the talks or for those that weren’t at the event who might find them useful, here are my notes from the event. This post has my notes from the morning Bible readings in Job.
Job reminds us the realities of living in a fallen world. But the cross and resurrection changes everything. Job shows us that realities of suffering point us to Jesus coming into our fallen suffering world.
In a Godless world, people have some options…
But the Christian can confront it directly, knowing there is a good Sovereign LORD at work in and through it.
The prologue (1:1-5)
Job was a godly man. Blameless does not equal sinless, rather it indicates integrity. Job is truly a great and godly man.
In heaven (1:6-12)
Straight away we are being told that there is more than meets the eye. A heavenly cabinet meeting… and the enemy, the accuser is also there.
God affirms Job’s godly character. Satan does not. Satan seems to think that Job’s piety attend from his comfort and blessing from God. So God allows Satan to afflict Job.
The Bible is clear that God exists, God is good and sovereign. It also tells us that Satan is real and evil and temptation are dangerous. The Bible is not a philosophical book. It is a practical book; it tells us exactly what we need to know.
On the earth (1:13-22)
The events of v13-20 are truly terrible. And so, given this, v21-22 is so astounding. Job still worships.
In Heaven (2:1-6)
God points out that he was right about Job, but Satan reasons that it is because God did not allow him to go far enough.
On the earth (2:7-13)
Job has been driven outside by his suffering and illness. His wife (who has lost everything and her family too) pleads with him to give up on God, yet Job refuses. “Are we to take good from God and not bad?”
Job’s friends see him and sit with him in silence for a week. Maybe the silence of sympathy turned into the silence of bankruptcy… what do you say to someone in Job’s situation.
Job speaks (3:1)
In the end, Job breaks the silence and curses the day he was born… but not his God. He is still a believer, but his faith has not brought comfort. If anything, it has made it worse.
Yet in the midst of it all, we get a glimpse of all that Job can’t see: God gives Satan enough rope to glorify His name!
In the face of suffering…
True faith rejects simplistic solutions
Ideas like karma, or ‘reaping what you sow’ are too simplistic – life does not work like that. Other ideas like cynicism are entirely inadequate and don’t allow for a God allowing bad things for glorious reasons.
True faith clings on to God
Job knows nothing of the heavenly conversations… and yet he clings to God. His suffering shows that God was right, that Job’s faith is priced to be the real thing – and God’s name is glorified. This is a very hard truth, but a very wonderful truth when we see it lived out in the lives of others.
True faith experiences real anguish
Job experiences genuine anger and anguish. There is joy and peace and hope in believing in Christ, but sometimes there is sadness and anger and bitterness. True faith means declaring God’s goodness through treats and even with gritted teeth.
When faced with suffering, there is always one overarching question… Why?
At this point in Job, he still doesn’t know the answer to the question ‘why’, but that question is found throughout Job’s words in chapter 3.
The friends respond, but more out of frustration or contempt for Job’s apparent godlessness and sinfulness (for why else would he be suffering?).
The theology of the friends can be summed up in the words of Eliphaz in 4v7-8. It is essentially moralism. And because of this, the friends are annoyed by Job’s questioning of God. To them it is just hot air (v1-2).
Bildad’s response is typical of the friends worldview.
A declaration of principle (v3-7)
He asserts that God acts with complete justice, always. God’s judgements are always right and, therefore, Job’s family must have sinned. “You reap what you sow.” But Job is still alive and so there is still time to repent.
An appeal to tradition (v8-10)
The wisdom of ancestors agrees with this principle. All of the godly ancestors were people who were blessed for being righteous.
An illustration from nature (v11-19)
Just as papyrus grow without soil, so
God does not reject one who is blameless. God is just and God upholds the righteous.
A critique of Bildad’s sermon
Bildad and his friends speak very well (it contains some of the best poetry in the whole of the Old Testament) and they speak lots of biblical truth.
The problem is that they have applied it in wooden and inappropriate ways. They essentially lacked three things.
They lacked reality
Job’s denial of sin and his protestations of innocence should have caused the friends to stop and think. The friends have a system and Job must fit the system. But the reality is that the friends system needed to be made to fit Job’s particular situation.
The words of the friends are like when we turn proverbs into laws. The words of the friends might generally be true, but they are not hard and fast laws. Yet that is how the friends are treating their worldview: it is generally true so must always be true. Job recognises this and highlights it in 6v21.
Some people are prone to wanting things nearly ordered and put into distinct categories, reasons, etc. Such people need to be aware that sometimes there is mess and confusion and that neatness and completeness might be hidden or unknowable by us. The certainty in these situations come that the LORD does know. And that is where we must reside: content with not knowing why but comforted that God alone does know.
They lacked humility
The friends thought they knew it all. They could not allow for the fact that they had got it wrong (or even that they might have got it wrong).
Human reason is limited. We cannot always see ask the facts or what is really going on. There might be something we are not aware of. It is essential that we always keep this in mind and adopt humility in the face of suffering that prevents us from thinking we know all the facts and have the definitive answer.
They lacked sympathy
They care more for their theological system than they do for Job. They do not particularly listen to Job and essentially just say the same things over and over again. We must not fail those who we speak to about suffering by lacking sympathy.
The first step is to listen, to honour their trust in speaking to you by listening and understanding what they say. Then we must resist the temptation to fix things with human, moral or practical fixes. Instead, we cannot go wrong by pointing them to Christ and the suffering of his Gospel.
What does faith look like when put through the mill of suffering?
If Job has ended at the end of chapter 1 or chapter 2, it would be a profoundly discouraging book for Job looks like a perfect example of faith in suffering.
In Job’s responses, we see two marks of faith under the pressure of suffering.
Mark #1: Anguished confusion (v1-22)
Job is responding to Bildad’s accusations in chapter 18 that essential state that Job is bound and destined for hell, and his suffering is the beginning of God’s judgement.
Yet Job is deeply frustrated by his friends accusations, but even more so the confusion of God’s treatment of him and lack of reason or explanation given by God (v1-6).
Job knows that he is righteous and so he cries out to God… but he hears not even a whisper from Him (v7).
Humanity is good at keeping on the mask of ‘coping’. Job happily takes it off and declares his anguish and confusion at His God.
Suffering desolates (v7-12). It brings humanity low. Sin drags us down and the LORD humbled us in suffering. True faith does not ignore or disregard this… it embraces it and finds expressesion for our anguish and sorrow in it.
Suffering also isolates (v13-20). When we lose our health, money and status, people distance themselves from us and even ridicule us. Even when surrounded by people with us in suffering, we look through the prism of our pain and see people in terms of those that are suffering like us and those that are not.
Job ultimately knows that God is behind all his suffering (v21-22). Yet God is not the one who has stretched out his hand against Job. He has allowed Satan to stretch out his hand against Job. God is in control but not responsible/culpable for Job’s suffering.
God is Sovereign and in control of all things. Yet God stands behind good and evil in different ways.
Job has not surrendered to unbelief. Doubt is to unbelief what temptation is to sin – a test but not a failure.
Mark #2: Resolute conviction (v23-29)
Job longs for his words to be recorded so that his declarations of innocence might be vindicated even after his death. His emotional cries of anguish so far turn to more certain declarations of his hope in the LORD.
His hope is in a redeemer from heaven to intercede for him with God (v25).
Job’s conviction is in a redeemer who lives who will stand on the earth (even in the dust of Job’s grace and declare ‘here is a righteous one’.
And this redeemer is none other than the one seeming to standing against Job: God himself (v26-27).
As Christians we must live on the line of what the Bible says to us. We must not love above it, expecting too much note on earth of what is ours eternally. We also mustn’t live below the line, neglecting the grace and blessings that are ours now, in Christ.
If Job, hundreds of years before Christ, can declare ‘I know my redeemer lives’, then how much more can we be sure of our redeemer now that he has completed his glorious redemption on the cross and from the grave.
When we face suffering and accusation against us, whether warranted or unjustly given, we know Christ has died for us and we are His. There is now no condemnation (Romans 8), and in all things we are conquerors in Christ (Romans 8v37). Our life, good or bad, now finds its place in Romans 8v28: ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him’.
Job 38, 40-42
What can be said in the face of suffering?
Most people (often Christians) resort to dogmatic moralism.
There is a general link between sin and suffering. Suffering in the world is a consequence of the Fall. But we cannot link individual suffering with individual sin in every instance.
Job and his friends speak and reply, speak and reply… and all the while Heaven is silent. Even Elihu’s words (chapters 32ff), as helpful and as representative of God’s words as they might be, he still is not God.
Then chapter 38 v1… the LORD, the covenant God, speaks out of a storm. He is no mere god; he is an awesome God and yet he is interested and cares for individuals.
When God speaks, he makes no reference to the words and questions of Job and his friends. Instead, he asks Job questions (over 50-60 in total). This might seem deeply unsatisfactory for Job, and yet it seems to satisfy Job. This is because he gets what he needs: not philosophical answers but an encounter with the living God (v5).
When we suffer, all we need to know is that God is there and he cares.
In the speeches of God, we see three things that satisfy our need to know that God is there and that he does care for us.
God’s wisdom (ch 38)
Job is not punished by God, but he has not spoken entirely rightly of God. It is not our opinion of God that is under scrutiny, but rather God’s opinion of us. Hence God’s rhetorical questioning in chapter 38.
The things we fear (disorder, chaos, etc) are under God’s control. God’s describes it as a baby that he had birthed and put in nappies and placed in a play pen (v8-11)!
Job is reminded just how small and insignificant he is, how far larger is the universe than just our joys and woes… and even then, God knows all this intimately.
When we have a hard time, our vision seems to narrow. We need to broaden our vision to see our insignificance and yet that we are known intimately even so.
God’s power (ch 40-41)
God has a wise plan, and nothing can stop him fulfilling it.
Again, God uses rhetoric to make his point: have a go at welding your power, Job, and see how you get on. God even started that he will hand over power if Job does a good job (v14)!
The LORD references two beasts: Behemoth and Leviathan. These are cosmic, supernatural forces of good (Behemoth) and evil (Leviathan). Is Job (or his friends) able to manage these forces? No. God is.
No power can prevent God fulfilling his plans. Even Satan is like a pet on a lead.
Job and his friends have no place for Satan in their discussions, and no place for the cosmic supernatural struggle of good and evil in their worldview. Job acknowledges this. Job is satisfied by God’s answer, even though the LORD’s words probably raise even more questions!
Job comes to a place of self surrender, rather than self pity. At the beginning of the story, Job is so intent on justifying himself that he implicitly implicates God with ill intent without factoring in the bigger picture of the true scope of God’s great plan and the true might of God to bring it about.
Encountering God and seeing him for who he is changes everything (42 v5)
God’s grace (ch 42)
God’s plans are good. The friends, although they may speak truth of God, they do not seem to have a relationship with God. They do not speak of or seek for God’s grace, his infinite goodness. Whereas Job, although he has spoken out of turn, he speaks of and seeks for God’s character.
God acknowledges this (42v7). He even allows Job to intercede for his friends (42v8). Job has a relationship with God, and in his suffering, God listens to the cry of Job’s heart rather than the protestations of his mouth.
Job is fully restored and, although the ending may seem too Hollywood-neat, it points to the fact that God’s plan for his glory ends with his glory affirmed and his goodness and justice fully realised. This is true for us in Christ, and the ending is yet to be realised for us… but it will be one day.
The New Testament gives Job as a model of perseverance in faith in the face of suffering, and Revelation paints the ending for the suffering of creation and the people of God. And so we have been given what Job has been longing for: a vision of the living God who is Sovereign over all things and yet personally involved in the hearts and lives of his people.