God’s Perspective (Job 38-41)
Do you ever feel like God isn’t listening to you? That your prayers go unanswered or that talking to God feels a bit one-sided? I expect I speak for more than just myself when I say that I find praying a lot easier than the other side of the conversation: listening to God. And I’ve had my fair share of unanswered questions, and can recall plenty of occasions when I wished to hear a little bit more back from God. Can you relate to that at all? It’s probably how Job felt too…
For dozens of chapters, thousands of words, and what feels like years of time elapsed, Job has been crying out to heaven and pleading for answers from God. What have I done? Why has this happened? This was a crisis of confidence for him, and one in which the questions ran so deep that I think he must have started to question his whole worldview. Sadly today some Christians go through such prolonged hard times that they begin to wonder if it’s even worth following Jesus anymore.
The book of Job is for people in that situation, or indeed for anyone interested in matters of faith and dialogue with the divine. If nothing else, this book shows that the answers do come, God does make good. It’s about so much more than suffering.
So, at last God breaks His silence. Since challenging Satan in the first and second chapters we’ve heard nothing from God. For reasons of His own, God leaves Job to argue it out with his friends. This rings true for me. In my experience God rarely intervenes directly, least of all in an audible sense. When God speaks to us today it tends far more often to be through the Bible, or through words of knowledge. Job had no Bible, so his revelation came audibly. So, after waiting so long, what did he make of God’s reply?
Boy, does God ever reply. God speaks to Job ‘out of the whirlwind’ (38:1) and His answer runs to four whole chapters, 126 verses to be precise. And I’m pretty sure it’s not what Job was expecting. If he was hoping to be comforted and everything explained in nice neat terms, all his questions squarely answered, he was to be disappointed. So, to speak frankly, are we, the readers, for we get none of this. No, the questions go unanswered. The questions were not the point, and never were.
Now I’m not going to go so far as to say Job’s questions were invalid or illegitimate – I think they were natural and completely understandable, and I believe it’s right and healthy to ask questions of God – but the questions missed the point. God’s point all along has been to show Satan that humans would love and honour Him for His own sake, not out of fear or expectation of reward. Maybe revealing it would have invalidated the test, or at least detracted from its outcome?
The suffering was Satan trying to prove God wrong. God’s victory and vindication came when, despite the suffering, Job refused to curse God. He held firm in his faith. But, and it’s a big but, he did overstep the mark. He questioned God, challenged God, and, in his wilder moments of near despair, he vented unfounded frustrations with God. So, God sets him straight.
What can we learn from God’s response to Job? I’ve already written a post revelling in the beauty of the poetry itself, but here I want to look at it from another angle. God was putting Job in his place. Sounds a bit harsh, I know, but that’s where our human perspective lets us down and gives us a crooked view of things. We forget just how great God is, quite how wise and perfectly just. We can’t see what insignificant specks of muck we are compared to the King of Kings, the Creator of heaven and earth and master of the entire universe.
As God Himself explains in Isaiah 55:8-9:
‘”For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares
the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”’
Flipped round and looked at from the human side, I think David came closest to expressing what I’m getting at here:
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have set in place,
what is mankind that You are mindful of them,
human beings that You care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
The point is, we have no right to question God. We have all rebelled against Him, turned away from Him and fallen hopelessly short of His standards. Our very life is a gracious gift from Him, and, but for Jesus, He would be perfectly just in wiping us all out. He nearly did back in Noah’s day, and only relented from doing so thereafter by a mighty act of loving forebearance. Let me put it this way (and this might shock you): Job’s suffering, horrible as it was, still gave him no cause for complaint. God had done nothing wrong in allowing Satan to test him. We are so used to identifying with Job’s situation and sympathising for him that it jars to think that he was anything other than hard-done-by.
God reminds Job of the order of things. God chooses what to reveal and what to conceal. Through the tour de force of the natural world and poetic description of God’s power and ability, we are reminded that God is all of the following: sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly just. He does all things well. In the grand scheme of things our most pressing complaints are trivial. Our most urgent priorities are selfish and small-minded. We are fallible, short-sighted and self-centred. That being so, who was Job, who are we, to question God? Such presumption must be checked and put in its place.
It still seems harsh that after all the suffering Job is spoken to so sternly. But, you know what, he acknowledged immediately that God was right to do so. Job knew he was in the wrong when he was confronted with a perfectly righteous God. Having clamoured to press his case before God for so long, he now falls silent, all his arguments blown to the wind and rendered void. He confessed and repented (42:1-6). Why? Because he needed to.
So do we, if we’ve been questioning God. Easy? No. Necessary? Yes. Even the most righteous man alive at the time, whom God commended on most scores whilst rebuking his friends (42:7-9), was still at fault in some areas. We all need to repent of thinking we know better than God, and of making everything about us and our issues. After reading these chapters we have no choice, like Job, but to bow down and worship. Seeing God like this the correct response is not bemusement, resentment, pride or hair-splitting; it is awe, humility and repentance.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, as we’ll see in the next blog-post, it ends really really well. Prayers get answered. Justice is done. Restoration comes. Job ends up better than he was before. His faithfulness is rewarded, just as ours will be. The road to the reward might not be comfortable – God never promises that it will be – but the reward itself is assured and oh so worth it. Job wouldn’t have chosen this particular route, nor would any of us choose to go through the trials we face. But they are a part of life. They teach us, refine us and build our character. They make us more like God. And being like God means trusting Him. Come. What. May.