Sunday, March 9, 2008

Looking For Answers

“And Job spake and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.” (Job 3:2-3)

What would reduce a man who feared God and hated evil to such bitterness of soul? The answer is easy: suffering. But why would God allow such a good man to suffer? This is not as easy to answer. In fact, I would suggest that there is no answer. Oh, I know; Satan had charged God with “buying” Job’s faithfulness with good treatment, and God had taken the challenge (1:9-12). But are we to assume that this is the scenario when any godly Christian suffers pain or hardship? One thing is for sure; whatever was going on in heaven, Job was oblivious to it. All he knew was that he was living as best he could for God, and suddenly life had become unbearable.

As you know, none of his friends had any good answers, though this certainly did not prevent their offering them. Eliphaz even laid claim to divine inspiration from a so-called “spirit,” when he insisted that Job’s troubles were the result of some sin or sins (Job 4). Still, there was no overt or secret sin they could actually charge him with; and, in the end, God didn’t care for their answers, either (42:7). This kind of reasoning still flourishes in our churches. The first response to calamity in our own or others’ lives is often, “What did I do wrong? How have I offended God?” God does chasten His children, of course, but it would be presumptuous of us to assume we know what form the chastening will take.

Nor, I would point out, did God answer Job’s questions. On the contrary, when He did finally speak to him in chapters 38-41, He didn’t mention Job’s troubles at all. Instead, he reminded him that He was the God of Creation, who from the beginning had worked in ways unfathomable to man. Job was asking “Why?” when he should have been asking “Who?” God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and asks, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (38:4). It is we who are the “Johnny-come-latelies” here. Great preacher of by-gone days, Dr. John R. Rice, used to shake his head indulgently, and say to a crowd, “Some of you were born so late, you’ll never know anything!” Well, when it comes to comprehending the workings of God, that’s true. Occasionally, God chooses to reveal the purpose of a particular trial or tribulation, but He is certainly under no obligation to do so. He is required to answer no man or woman (Matt.20:15).

Are we left then to assume that God, all-powerful and all-knowing, is indifferent to the agonies of men? We fallen creatures got ourselves in this mess; we can jolly well work it out the best way we can. But, this will not do either, because He has said He loves us and gave His Son to redeem us from our sins (Rom.5:8). No, whatever the purpose may be for our heartache, the motivation behind it is love.

One thing we do know: Pain and suffering are sure-fire ways for God to get our attention. Thy may elicit a curse or a prayer, but, either way, our first thought is, “I’m out of my depth here.” In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If anyone deserved an answer to the question, “Why is there evil in the world, and why do the righteous suffer,” it was Job. In the end, God gave Job twice as much as he had before (42:10), but He never told him why He took it in the first place. If this good man was left with unanswered questions, why should we feel we are owed them? I often say that to me “Why?” is the least helpful of all questions, and this is especially true when we ponder God’s dealings with mankind, in general, and His own children, in particular. Why is not important if the “Who” is God.

Romans 8:28 assures us that God always has our best interest at heart, and everything that comes into our lives, no matter how painful it may be, is working for our good. This should be justification enough for any of us. To look anywhere else for an answer is to question God’s love and integrity.

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