Archive for July, 2014
On Sunday we wrapped up our series through Job, Out of the Whirlwind, with a final message, “The Latter Days of Job.” By the end of the book it became clear that God had not and was not going to explain to Job the answer to the question for why he was suffering. He never learned about the heavenly conversation between the Lord and Satan that kicked off the trouble in his life.
God didn’t forget. The “why?” question is not a question God is obligated to answer for us. But in the course of the book of Job, God did answer a number of other questions for us. Here are ten.
1. Is God sovereign over suffering and evil?
Absolutely. In the first two chapters we see that Satan, though allowed to pursue many of his wicked purposes, is yet constrained by what God does or does not allow him to do. The book tells us that Job did not sin when he said things like, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” or “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10). As Martin Luther famously said, Satan is the Lord’s Satan.
2. Is God therefore evil?
Absolutely not. Remember, Satan had his sinister purpose to defame God and hurt Job, and while God allowed him to pursue Job he did so for a reason of his own. The Lord was vindicating his name and purifying Job’s faith from residual pride. God is sovereign over cruelty, but God is not cruel. Many verses in Scripture speak to this explicitly (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). The book of Job presents us with a view of God’s sovereignty that is not flat, but complex. The unseen world involves many different players, and yet the Lord is the Lord of them all.
3. Does everyone who claims to speak for God actually speak for God?
Thank God, no. Many people will claim to speak for God and speak falsely about him. This is what Job’s three friends were guilty of, and at the end of the book they are rebuked by the Lord. Sufferers should be patient with those who can’t understand their suffering and say things that are untrue even if from good intentions. And yet where God is spoken for falsely, this should be rejected and corrected.
4. Is my suffering because of my sin?
There are several kinds of suffering presented to us in the Bible. There’s fallen world suffering. The creation is groaning and everywhere around us we see the effects of God’s curse on creation because of sin. There’s foolishness and sin suffering illustrated time and again in the book of Proverbs. Sometimes God gives us over to our sinful desires, and our sins bring with them consequences that God has built into the order of the universe. Then, there’s discipline suffering. This is where God graciously steers us toward repentance. If we have been indulging in sin and we think we’ve been found out, perhaps this is it. But much of our suffering is just random and horrible. This the kind that Job is meant to address.
5. Is God using my pain for some good purpose?
Thank God, Yes. He is always doing that for his children. Job was a better man at the end of the book than before. Job knew God better at the end of the book than before. God is doing a thousand things in our suffering, and one of them is bringing about humility and the purification of our faith, a precious gift indeed (Job 42:1-6; Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
6. Is it okay to grieve deeply for a loss or is that a sign that I’m not trusting in God?
It most certainly is ok to grieve. We should expect any good father to grieve at news of the death of his kids. Job grieved deeply and blessed the Lord through tears. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove his thorn. Deep grief is not incompatible with deep faith.
7. Should I attempt to comfort someone who is suffering incredible loss?
By all means and with much wisdom, Yes: sometimes with silence, sometimes with a hug, and sometimes with space. Sometimes with a note and often with a meal. Always by being available, sometimes with correction if their heart is hardening toward God. But never with a cookie-cutter answer for suffering, or in an academic formulaic uncaring manner. Always with a listening ear, always with a heavy heart, and, always with much patience.
8. Am I alone in my suffering?
No. Job has been there. And many others have gone before you. In fact, suffering seems to be a pretty common theme in Scripture. More than a theme, it is an indispensable part of Scripture’s story of salvation. Ask Joseph, or Moses, or David, or the prophets about suffering. Ask Jesus about suffering. Ask the New Testament Apostles about suffering. You are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, most of whom have suffered greatly (Hebrews 11:1-12:2)
9. Is there hope for the future?
Yes there is. In the story of the Bible there is a pattern of suffering and a pattern of glory to follow. Suffering to glory is the pattern of God’s salvation story. Again, ask Joseph, or Moses, or David, or the prophets. And of course, ask Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
On the topic of the future, when James turned to the book of Job for material he did so to make a point about suffering on the way to glory: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. . . . You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:7–11). So, how should we apply the book of Job? Wait patiently for Jesus to return. How should we apply the book of Job? Say with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
10. Who can separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or danger, or sword, or the loss of our children, or the loss of our jobs, or Behemoth, or Leviathan, or anything else in all creation?
Well, this isn’t exactly a question from Job, but Job’s suffering sure raises the question. The answer? No one can separate us from the love of God in Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?
The book of Job is about the God who is sovereign and good. It is also about the God who is bursting with compassion and with mercy. This rang out with profound clarity on the final page of the book.
Yes, because of Christ, God will graciously do for us in eternity what he did for Job on earth. The latter days of Job are a parable for the latter days of every Christian. Just read Revelation 21-22, a symbolic picture of the new creation. Job knew a restored relationship to God, and we will be God’s people and he will be with us as our God. He will dwell with us. Job had wealth in his latter days, and the new creation will be lined with streets made of gold. Job knew beauty in his latter days, and we will know beauty in our latter days. Job knew relationships in his latter days we will know the eternal depth of fellowship with one another in God’s presence free from sin. Job knew feasting in his latter days we will feast together at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Job knew comfort in his latter days, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Job knew old age in his latter days, and in the new creation there will be a tree of life. In God’s presence we will never die.
In five weeks, we got through the book of Job, but there’s more treasure to find here. For a helpful sermon-like commentary on Job, get Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, by Christopher Ash, and check out Matthew Claridge’s interview with Christipher Ash over at Credo Magazine, published just this week.
It’s always time for a good post on time management. In his article, “Four Lessons in Fruitful Time-Management,” David Mathis has given us some important wisdom for a more fruitful and loving life.
Acts of love don’t just happen.
At times we may experience the power of the Spirit in such a way that some good deed seems to flow naturally from our heart, through our hands, to the benefit of others. But plucking a ripe raspberry from the bush in a moment doesn’t mean that it just appeared. Weeks and months of sunlight and rain, proper nutrients and right conditions, went into the slow daily growth of good fruit. And so it is with our acts of love for the good of others.
There is a process to the production of love, as the apostle Paul counsels his protégé Titus: “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Good works don’t just happen. Meeting the needs of others doesn’t appear out of thin air. There is a process — a learning — to devote ourselves to good.
And one significant “spiritual discipline” is learning to manage our time in the mission of love, both in terms of proactive scheduling and planned flexibility. Previously, we suggested “fairly rigid blocks for our proactive labors, along with generous margin and planned flexibility to regularly meet the unplanned needs of others.” Now to the tune of making that more specific, here are four lessons in fruitful time-management, for the mission of love.
In the rest of the article, Mathis reflects on four lessons for managing our time:
- Consider your calling
- Plan with big stones
- Make the most of your mornings
- Create flexibility for meeting others’ needs
Read the whole thing here.
In Job 5:8–10, Job says, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields.”
Why is God amazing? Rain! Really? Really.
Here’s a reflection by John Piper on rain in his article, “The Great Work of God: Rain.”
If you said to someone: “My God does great and unsearchable things; He does wonders without number,” and they responded, “Really? Like what?” would you say, “Rain”?
When I read these verses recently I felt like I did when I heard the lyrics to a Sonny and Cher song in 1969: “I’d live for you. I’d die for you. I’d even climb the mountain high for you.” Even? I would die for you. I would even climb a high mountain for you? The song was good for a joke. Or a good illustration of bad poetry. Not much else.
But Job is not joking. “God does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number.” He gives rain on the earth.” In Job’s mind, rain really is one of the great, unsearchable wonders that God does. So when I read this a few weeks ago, I resolved not to treat it as meaningless pop musical lyrics. I decided to have a conversation with myself (= meditation).
Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God? Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream. A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water. But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come on the fields from another source. From where?
Well, the sky. The sky? Water will come out of the clear blue sky? Well, not exactly. Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea, over several hundred miles and then be poured out from the sky onto the fields. Carried? How much does it weigh? Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 27,878,400 cubic feet of water, which is 206,300,160 gallons, which is 1,650,501,280 pounds of water.
That’s heavy. So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it’s so heavy? Well, it gets up there by evaporation. Really? That’s a nice word. What’s it mean? It means that the water sort of stops being water for a while so it can go up and not down. I see. Then how does it get down? Well, condensation happens. What’s that? The water starts becoming water again by gathering around little dust particles between .00001 and .0001 centimeters wide. That’s small.
What about the salt? Salt? Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is salt water. That would kill the crops. What about the salt? Well, the salt has to be taken out. Oh. So the sky picks up a billion pounds of water from the sea and takes out the salt and then carries it for three hundred miles and then dumps it on the farm?
Well it doesn’t dump it. If it dumped a billion pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed. So the sky dribbles the billion pounds water down in little drops. And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.
How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh a billion pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that’s the way to ask the question)? Well, it’s called coalescence. What’s that? It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger. And when they are big enough, they fall. Just like that? Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up, if there were no electric field present. What? Never mind. Take my word for it.
I think, instead, I will just take Job’s word for it. I still don’t see why drops ever get to the ground, because if they start falling as soon as they are heavier than air, they would be too small not to evaporate on the way down, but if they wait to come down, what holds them up till they are big enough not to evaporate? Yes, I am sure there is a name for that too. But I am satisfied now that, by any name, this is a great and unsearchable thing that God has done. I think I should be thankful – lots more thankful than I am.
John Piper has written a bit about suffering in the course of his ministry. Any pastor preaching the Bible will, actually. Here’s a nice piece from Piper on suffering, titled, “Trouble: Faith’s Best Friend.”
“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” — James 1:2-3
The testing of your faith through trials produces endurance. What is the opposite of endurance? Well, I suppose the opposite of “endurance” is “petering out”. When faith doesn’t endure it peters out. So if you don’t want your faith to peter out then you need some trials. Because James says it is trials that “produce endurance.”
This is odd. Most of us would say that faith endures in spite of trials, not because of trials. Most of us think that when trouble comes faith is threatened. We don’t usually attribute the duration of faith to the trouble it meets. But duration is what endurance means. James says, faith lasts, faith endures, because it meets trouble and threat.
This is odd. We might be willing to say that faith becomes deeper or stronger through trials. But that’s not the same as saying that faith endures because of trials. That’s like saying a marathon runner is able to finish the race because he keeps getting bumped into. Would any runner say that his ability to endure to the end of a race is enhanced by the number of people that knock him down?
Perhaps. Suppose there was a runner who loved flowers. Here he is, running along at the head of the pack when all of a sudden he is carried away by the beauty of a rose garden beside Lake Calhoun. Forgetting the race and the reward of the wreath, he starts to leave the road and smell the flowers. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, someone (!!) knocks him flat on his back. It hurts so bad that his nose for roses is gone. But suddenly he realizes that the race is still on and only those who finish get a prize. And he is up and running.
And if this happens several times, some clever sports writer might write an article and say, “Hey rose-lover, count it all joy when you get knocked down, because it produces endurance—the only runner in the marathon who finished the race because some ‘fan’ kept knocking him down!”
Maybe it’s us runners who are odd, not God.
And could it be that the health, wealth and prosperity teaching of our day is the enemy of faith because it teaches that faith’s best friend is her enemy?
Heading for the tape with you,
Our citizenship is in heaven, and yet we are embedded in the world. It’s important to know where we are and when we’re living in order that we might praise God accordingly and live wisely as those send here with the gospel.
With that in mind, here are seven articles to read over this fourth of July weekend.
“Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two presidents to sign the document, both died on the Fourth of July in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Adam’s last words have been reported as ‘Thomas Jefferson survives.’ He did not know that Jefferson had died only a few hours before. James Monroe, the last president who was a Founding Father, also died on July 4 in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.”
“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Kevin DeYoung
“I understand the dangers of an unthinking ‘God and country’ mentality, let alone a gospel-less civil religion. But I also think love of country–like love of family or love of work–is a proximate good. Patriotism is not beneath the Christian, even for citizens of a superpower. So on this Independence Day I’m thankful most of all for the cross of Christ and the freedom we have from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I’m also thankful for the United States. I’m thankful for the big drops of biblical truth which seeped into the blood stream of Thomas Jefferson and shaped our Founding Fathers. I’m thankful for our imperfect ideals. I’m thankful for God-given rights and hard-fought liberty. I’m thankful I can call myself an American.”
“Christians Face Abuse Around the Globe,” Robert P. George
“With media attention riveted on the Middle East, it is tempting to assume that persecution against Christians occurs almost exclusively in that region. But assaults against Christians are worldwide, transcending any one regional, ideological, or religious bent. Combating this problem entails a much broader solution. According to the findings of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), evidence abounds of persecution elsewhere.”
“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Jon Bloom
“We know that our democratic republican form of government has its origins in Athens and Rome and various other Western democratic experiments. But where did this vision for the dignity and freedom of all human beings come from? Jerusalem — by which I mean the Bible.”
“Pastors, Politics, and the American Republic,” Jonathan Parnell
“America and its founders. Now that’s a conversation folks can get passionate about, whether in political rhetoric or some Christian circles. However, beyond any dispute on the role Christianity played in those early days, we can say undoubtedly that public opinion in 1776 considered Christians beneficial to the American republic. In short, the consensus was that Christians bring a lot of societal good in a representative democracy. The man who led the way in articulating this benefit was John Witherspoon, founding father, Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton University, among other things. Though he flies under the radar in many history classes, Witherspoon’s influence is significant. And while he embodied the major intellectual traditions of his day, he has a helpful word on the gospel’s influence in society. Witherspoon contended that the contribution of ‘true religion’ to the public order is the morality of its adherents. Or said another way, the gospel’s influence on society comes by the means of transformed lives.”
“American Equality and Ideals,” Justin Taylor
Quoting C.S. Lewis: “I am a democrat [believer in democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . . The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
“What John Piper Said in Washington, D.C.,” John Piper
“More than ever since 9/11, Christians in America, and especially Christians in the U.S. government, should make clear that there is a radical distinction between Christianity, on the one hand, and American culture and the American political system, on the other hand. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, and all other non-Christians need to know this for Christ’s sake.”