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God’s Greatness: a comfort in suffering

December 27th, 2012

How great is God – beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.

Job 36:26

What strange creatures we are! We have an amazing capacity to grasp some truths, yet the seeming inability to follow them to the end in logic. Elihu, the young man who accompanied Job’s three friends, sat in silence as they accused him and as Job defended himself. Elihu then spoke up, and youth will always get its opportunity eventually. He began with greater insight than the others, but then he weakened and in the end disappoints like the others. He was still prone to assume that trouble is the result, and thereby the proof, of personal sin.

But here his insight spoke clearly on three astounding truths about God. First, He is great, or omnipotent. No power can overcome Him. No one can defeat Him. His patience is often confused with weakness, or indecision. It is not, however, because He is neither of these.

Second, He is unsearchable, unable to be understood or found out. When we get to the end of all that we can think or imagine or understand, when all our thoughts, logics, tenets and ideas are stretched to their limits, we still cannot grasp Him. We are like someone trying to reach the stars by climbing a mountain. We claw our way up in knowledge, risking life and limb and sanity, studying the highest ideas of the great thinkers of earth, trying to gain understanding, and at best we find ourselves standing on a rather modest peak gazing at the stars. When we come to the highest our minds can take us, the great galaxies of the nature of God are still light years beyond us.

Third, He is eternal. Our lives are so short, and even if we live to be 100 we feel like our entire life span was as a dream in the night. But God knows no beginning or end. How can I understand Him? How can I grasp His ways? He must show me who He is, but even then I will certainly be unable to grasp Him fully.

These great truths should teach us both trust and humility – trust or faith in Him and humility in our understanding of God and of life, and this is where Elihu failed to followed the logic of his declaration. Because God is a mystery, life is also a mystery. There will be some things that happen to us that we will never fully grasp. It is not that we understand nothing – for God in His mercy has created us with some capacity for understanding – but we never grasp it all, nor can we predict everything.

In the face of difficulty, the great truths of God and His ways encourage us. We cannot always understand all of our trials and difficulties – some, yes, but never all – but God has given us insight to trust Him and to know His purpose. His end goal is to redeem us from sin and to bring us into His presence in peace and contentment and great joy. But in the course of our life, He leads us down many surprising twists and turns, up great mountaintops of joy and down into great valleys of grief.

To the Jewish Nation God said to them, “If you return, O Israel, return to Me” (Jer. 4:1), and this is the crux of our need. We too often miss the blessings of His hand more than the fellowship of His face. We wish to be restored to our position among men, rather than to be renewed by His Spirit within. Whenever the jagged edges of life stab us uncomfortably, whenever they seem to tear at our hearts, then is the time to consider His ultimate purpose. We are like Job, that we spend our energies in justification of self rather than in the worship of God – but it is the worship of God that transforms us, not our attempts at self-justification.

The inward journey of self-doubt and examination is not entirely pointless – we will do it anyway, and I suppose there is a purpose of God in this aspect of our nature – but this period of questioning our motives and actions is at best just a stopover, not a place to call home. Let your sorrow and disappointment, let your pain and sadness bring you to a deeper knowledge of God. There is hope found in Him, eternal hope, that this life will soon pass, and with its passing so will the sorrows and difficulties of life go with it, and eternity looms for us – an eternity of peace and joy and fulfillment with Him.

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God’s Hand in Difficulty

December 21st, 2012

But Elihu … became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.

Job 32:2-3

To me, Job’s story becomes more interesting at this point. A young man, Elihu, had listened to this debate go back and forth between Job and his three friends. Their positions were the old trite sayings that if Job was suffering it must be because of sin, yet Job insisted repeatedly that he had not sinned. Then, eventually, after torturing Poor Job in the name of “compassion” the three friends ran out of things to say. Silence descended upon the scene.

Elihu had the wisdom to see the mistake of both parties. The three friends were wrong in their theology of suffering. We can say that to do good in this world usually brings blessings, and to do bad usually brings problems, but even then not always is this the case – many bad people prosper. But this logic took them further, to the assumption that to have problems in life is proof of hidden sin.

I have known many Christians to have this same assumption about others – rarely it seems about them selves – we are normally more merciful and patient toward ourselves than we are toward others. But I have heard numerous things come from the mouths of believers, that someone’s illness was the result of hidden sin, that a divorce proves the person was a bad spouse, that to be fired from a job must have meant that he did something wrong at work, that to have financial problems must mean that you had not been tithing, etc. We can say that sometimes God disciplines us through events such as these. Sometimes our problems are the results of our personal sin and failures. But to make the assumption that this alone explains our problems or the problems of others is to go in logic where the Scriptures warn us not to go. The world is a fallen world and here innocent people suffer because of sin in general. We cannot know all the circumstances in every case and we are wise if we put off judging others in their problems. God knows what happened. We do not.

In fact, the background of this event shows that Job experienced his trials not because of his sins but because of his righteousness. He had caught Satan’s attention because he was such a good man. Something similar happened to Jesus, even on a much larger scale. He was killed because of His righteousness. The light of the world shone into the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not, and even rose up in rebellion against it. So we are not to assume that people are always suffering because they have done evil; sometimes it is because they have done too much good! (Isaiah 57:1-2, shows the merciful hand of God in the death of the innocent and young.)

But Elihu also had a point with Job, that Job had not really assailed their arguments. While he had, in fact, fought too hard for his own reputation and justification among men, he also seemed to be basically of the same mindset as them. We have to wonder how many times the four of them together had sat down and discussed another person’s sufferings with this same attitude, how often had Job spoken words about others that they were then speaking about him. Was there nothing more to be said? Was there no point on which Job could repent? His own evil had not caused his problems – that is true – it was his goodness. But did this mean that Job had nothing to repent of? All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Furthermore, the Lord had allowed this to come into Job’s life and there would be some benefit found by Job, if he would look.

In Job 33, Elihu waxes eloquent on this theme, that even undeserved suffering may be an instrument of God to draw us closer to His heart, if for no other reason but that it helps turn us from pride: “To turn a man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:17-18). Difficulty helps us be more sympathetic to others, also, enlarging our perspective of life and increasing our understanding of the needs of humanity. The greater mysteries of God are beyond our understanding. (This is discussed later in Job at length.)

Here, however, it will suffice us to contemplate what we do not know about suffering, but what we do know about God. We cannot explain every problem in life with some trite human expression – there is a mystery to us in these things – and we will become judgmental people if we try. But we can let God use what He allows into our lives for His purposes, if for no other reason other than the breaking of our pride and the humbling of our soul before God.

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