Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living Without an Explanation

Part 5 of Why?

Text: Job 38-42

You can listen to this sermon here.

“‘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” (Job 42:3). 

God Is Not Our Personal Assistant

In the 1960s, Elisabeth Elliot wrote a fictional novel entitled No Graven Image. The story is about an American missionary in South America named Margaret who devotes her life to translating the Bible into the language of an indigenous tribe. To make a long story short, Margaret fails to finish her translation.

Elliot had difficulty getting her book published because publishers didn’t think God would allow Margaret to fail. They must have forgotten about what had happened to Elliot’s husband Jim. He was a missionary who was killed trying to contact a tribe in Ecuador. In the book, Margaret’s only consolation is stated on the final page of the book: “God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.”

Margaret had been worshiping a God of her own creation—a God who was supposed to act like her personal assistant. Many Christians have this same concept of God. To them, God exists to do what they think is best. What the book of Job tells us is that the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God is not our personal assistant.

No Explanation

When suffering comes into our lives, we ask, “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why?” And Job wanted an explanation from God. [1]

God did finally answer Job: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1). But God didn’t give Job an explanation. (He never told him about dialogue between him and Satan.) The reason for Job's suffering remained a mystery to him. The same is often true of us when we experience suffering. How can we endure suffering without an explanation? 

God Is Greater Than We Can Imagine

God asks Job, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?” (38:31). The answer, of course, is no. God is not only sovereign over the earth; he is sovereign over all the universe. The psalmist declares, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4; cf. Isa. 40:26). Do you know how many stars are in our galaxy? Some astronomers say 100 billion; others say 400 billion. And do you know how many galaxies are in the universe? At least 100 billion. God’s is greater than we can imagine!

Questioning an Immeasurably Great God

Some people say, “If God is so great, why doesn’t he prevent suffering?” But if God is so great, maybe we shouldn’t question God. We aren’t as smart as we think we are. We’re like little children who say silly things (e.g., “Dad, if you really loved me you’d let me play on the street!”).

God said to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (38:2). In other words, Job wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. God spoke to Job twice (38:1-40:2; 40:6-41:34). After God finished speaking the first time, Job said, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). And when God finished speaking the second time, Job said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). Job was saying, “I’m not as smart as I thought I was.” And he repented of his pride: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).

The Immeasurably Great God Loves Me

God asked Job, “Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (40:8). The NIV says, “Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” But isn’t that what happened? Jesus was condemned so that we could be justified. “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

God is greater than we can imagine, so we can trust him when we don’t have an explanation for our suffering. 

Not only is God’s wisdom and power great, but his love for us is great! God is not only a sovereign God (“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted,” 42:2); he’s also a suffering God. If I suffer and say, “I don’t deserve it!”, I should remind myself that Jesus suffered without deserving it.

God Loves Me and He Knows What He's Doing

Most people want a complete answer for the question of suffering. Answering the question of suffering is like knocking down bowling pins. We can knock down a few pins [i.e., give some answers], but we’re not going to knock them all down. [2]

Even if I don’t get an explanation for my suffering, I can have confidence that God loves me and he knows what he’s doing.

[1] Job also wanted vindication, which he got in 42:7-9.
[2] There are several biblical answers to the question of suffering, such as (1) God allows people to make evil choices; (2) God can use something bad to do something good; (3) suffering can make us better.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue

Part 4 of Why?

Text: Job 14:1-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands” (Job 14:14-15). 

We Need Hope

Near the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there’s an exchange between the hobbit Sam and the wizard Gandalf that goes like this:
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”  
“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. [1]
We ask the same question that Sam asked: Is everything sad going to come untrue? Is there ever going to be a day when all of the bad things in this world come to an end?

Many survivalists believe in the “Survival Rule of Threes.” According to this rule, you can’t survive more than three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food, and three months without hope. We need hope. We need the expectation that things will get better.

Job says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (v. 1). In other words, life is short and difficult. Is there any hope for us? Is everything sad going to come untrue?

If a Man Dies, Shall He Live Again?

Job says, “There is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease” (v. 7). But is there hope for Job? “But if a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?” (v. 10). Job thinks that there’s more hope for a tree than for a man.

But then Job begins to think about the possibility of life after death: “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come” (v. 14). The Hebrew word translated “renewal” means “a new vigorous life in a restored body.” [2] Job desires vindication. If his vindication doesn’t happen in this life, maybe it could happen in a new life after death.

But is this just wishful thinking, an “impossible dream” [3]? What we often forget is that sometimes impossible dreams do come true.

God Longs for the Work of His Hands

Where did Job get this idea of a future resurrection? [4] He thinks it might be possible because of God’s love for him. He says, “You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands” (v. 15). Is there any hope for us? Yes!

There’s hope for us because God loves us. 

God made the first man and the first woman to love him and be loved by him. But when they rebelled against God, they were afraid and hid from him. God found them and said to them, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).

But the story doesn’t end there. God longed for the work of his hands, his creatures made from dust. Jesus—God the Son, the second person of the Trinity—became like us so that he could die for our sins. He suffered so that one day our suffering could come to an end. God is “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). He is putting together this broken world—including the part of his creation that he loves most: us.

All who of us who put out trust in Jesus are given the hope of a future resurrection. We will one day be raised from the dead as Jesus was raised. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [i.e., Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [i.e., Jesus]” (1 Cor. 15:50).

We Have Hope

Imagine that you could see the future and you knew when every bad thing would happen to you. If you had this knowledge, I think it would be hard to get out of bed in the morning.

We don’t know when, but we do know that bad things will happen in our futures. But we can get out of bed in the morning because God has given us hope. Things are going to get better. Because of God’s love for us, we have hope because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In The Jesus Storybook Bible, the final story is about heaven. Part of the story goes like this:
And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying, because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see—I have wiped away every tear from every eye!” [5]
Yes, there is hope for us. This life is not all there is. There is something more, something better. Everything sad is coming untrue.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 246 (emphasis added).
[2] John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT), 236.
[3] David J. A. Clines, Job 1-20 (WBC), 338.
[4] Keep in mind that the doctrine of the resurrection wasn’t fully developed when Job lived.
[5] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 347 (emphasis added).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Be a Miserable Comforter

Part 3 of Why?

Text: Job 2:11-4:8

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7).

What Should We Do or Say? 

In this world, there is lots of suffering. Every second, one person dies in this world. Job is a book about suffering. When people suffer, they ask two questions: (1) Why has this happened to me?; (2) How do I get through this? If one of your friends was going through a time of suffering, and he or she asked you these two questions, how would you answer?

When our friends suffer, we want to bring them comfort. This is what Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—wanted to do. They “made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (2:11). But Job’s friends didn’t comfort Job. He eventually said to them, “Miserable comforters are you all” (6:2). We don’t want to be miserable comforters like Job’s friends. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people?

Job's Miserable Comforters

Job’s suffering was so great that he wished he had never been born: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (3:3). Job needed comfort. At first, Job’s friends didn’t say anything: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him” (2:13). But when they finally did speak, what they said didn’t bring comfort to Job.

Eliphaz was the first to counsel Job. He said, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:8). Eliphaz believed that Job was reaping what he had sowed. But Eliphaz was wrong. [1] The book of Job begins by telling us that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). What Eliphaz said is what you hear in a lot of churches: “If you just have enough faith, you’ll prosper!”

Tears and Truth

When Elijah the prophet was depressed, he said to God, “Take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). How did God respond? Before God spoke to the prophet, he sent the angel of the LORD to cook a meal for Elijah (vv. 5-8). People usually need more than just words. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people? 

To bring comfort, we must provide a mixture of tears and truth. [2]

When Lazarus died, his sisters Mary and Martha needed comfort. Jesus gave them truth: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He also gave them tears: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). [3]

Who That Was Innocent Ever Perished? 

Eliphaz said to Job, “Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (4:7). Has an innocent person ever perished? Yes, Jesus. “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, Jesus proved Eliphaz wrong!

When people go through a time of suffering, they need to know that they are loved. The cross proves to us that God loves us.

Show Them You Love Them

But people who suffer also need to know that their friends love them. Usually, when disaster strikes, what the person needs is not a lecture or pat answers. They need a mixture of tears and truth.

Joseph Bayly was a Christian writer who had three children who died at early ages. In his book The View from a Hearse, Bayly wrote this:
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go way. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go. [4]

[1] Jesus corrected his disciples when they asked about a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3).
[2] This thought (and a few others in this sermon) was borrowed from Tim Keller’s sermon “Miserable Comforters.”
[3] By “tears” I don’t mean that we must always literally cry, but we must show genuine concern for those who are suffering. “Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
[4] Joseph Bayly, The View from a Hearse, 40-41.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Curse God or Trust God?

Part 2 of Why?

Text: Job 2:1-10

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (vv. 9-10a). 

Curse God? 

When a Christian suffers, s/he asks, “God, why did you allow this to happen?” The suffering Christian can go from asking that question in faith to asking it in anger.

When suffering comes, there’s the temptation to curse God. That’s what Satan wanted Job to do. That’s what Job’s wife said he should do.

  • “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:11). 
  • “Stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (2:4). 
  • “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (2:9). 
 Job said to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [i.e., disaster]?” (2:10). But most people would say, “No, Job, you’re the foolish one.”

What a Loving and Sovereign God Can Do

Job’s suffering was great: “Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea” (6:2-3). To curse God would have been the normal response for Job, but it would have been a foolish (i.e., short-sighted) response.

God is able to take something very bad and use it to do something very good. 

God did this with the cross. Peter said to the people of Jerusalem: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). The cross was something very bad, but he used it to do something very good: save us. The crucifixion of Jesus was the worst thing that ever happened, but it was also the best thing that ever happened.

Something Good?

How can something good come out of our suffering? Did something good come out of Job’s suffering? James writes, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job” (James 5:11). If Job hadn’t suffered, he wouldn’t have been remembered. (Just the other day a TV hockey announcer describe a player as having “the patience of Job.”) Job’s faithfulness to God in the midst of suffering has inspired countless people through the centuries.

When we suffer, we have the opportunity to show people that the gospel really does change lives.

When Life Falls Apart  

When life falls apart, why shouldn’t we curse God? First, we shouldn’t curse God because we have proof that he loves us (i.e., the cross). Second, we shouldn’t curse God because God is able to take something very bad and use it to do something very good (e.g., the cross).