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I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Problem of Job


S: Job 42:1-6 Then Job answered Yahweh, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know. You said, ‘Listen, now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

O: People often recommend reading the book of Job as an answer to suffering, but from the very first time I read it, I have disliked it. What is this nonsense about God playing dice with our lives? Making a bet with Satan, of all things, and causing Job all this needless suffering?

The Bible reading plan I’m following took me through the book of Job this month (April), and I kind of gritted my teeth as I went through it, skimming over all the long-winded arguments between Job and his friends, puzzling over the enigma of Elihu, etc. Same old stuff.

But then towards the end of the month, I heard Pastor Tim Keller on Focus on the Family's International Broadcast. The podcast was actually from last year, but I'm about a year behind listening — I had downloaded the MP3s to my PC and have been listening to them slowly when I can during my commute.

Pastor Keller had some good insights that helped me. So this was a real timely “coincidence”. Haha, God’s divine timing again. 😜

People often point out that there’re many good things that God does with suffering. The Bible’s constantly talking about how suffering is a refining fire and we're like the metal ore that goes through and we come out the other side purer. So, if you were to ask, how does God use suffering in our lives, there’re lots of great answers to that.

  • Purifying us
  • Helping us not to put our material possessions first.
  • Removing pride and encouraging humility
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17, where Paul writes, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If there’s no evil & suffering, there wouldn’t be any courage & sacrifice.
  • etc.
But these reasons can’t be all there is to it. After all, not everyone becomes better from suffering. Some people become better, but others become bitter.

When asked why God allows pain and suffering to happen to good people, Pastor Keller replied, surprisingly, “I don’t know”!!!! God has some unfathomable reason or reasons behind it which we can’t see. What is this reason? We don’t know. That’s why we call it unfathomable. Pastor Keller pointed out:

We know that if God is good, He doesn't enjoy our suffering. If He's powerful, He could stop the suffering, but He doesn't. So, if we know … if He said He doesn't enjoy suffering and we know He could stop it, but He doesn't, then the question is, He must have some purpose for us to be going through the suffering, that has to be good, but we have no idea what that could possibly be.

And that's the reason why, if somebody actually says, why does God allow evil and suffering in the sense of, what purpose does He have for allowing evil and suffering to continue, there the answer's gotta be, "I do not know. I have no idea." See, you would never have to sacrifice. You wouldn't have to give your life for someone else. Are we really thinking that sacrifice and courage are, you know, not important things? They're good things. That certainly doesn't feel to me, like enough of a reason for God to allow so much of the stuff that's happening in the world. But you can begin to get a sense of …ok, so because of evil and trouble, there's such a thing as sacrifice, such a thing as courage. Very often people find God because of suffering. People grow into Christlikeness through suffering. You can start to see some reasons. They're not sufficient. But in the end, every time I try to make a long enough list of things I see God doing through suffering, does this justify Him allowing the horrendous pain that we see. No. There's gotta be more reasons that we just don't know about.

And that's the reason why we have to in the end say, "I don't know."

We have to get to the point where, even if obeying God will bring us no benefit at all, we’ll still obey.
When my middle son was around 10, he used to say to me, "Dad, I'll obey you, but you have to show me why this is good idea." That's not obedience. That's agreement and I'm not your father, I'm your consultant. And what you're saying is, as long as I think it's furthering my interests as I see them, as a 10-year-old, brilliant and wise person that you are, who can see the end from the beginning, as long as what you're telling me fits in with my agenda, I'll be happy to listen to you.

And what I said is, "What you're really saying is, you're not gonna obey me." In other words, I am really not your authority at all. You don't trust me more than you trust yourself. You're using me as a way of getting what you want. And as soon as I ask you for something that you don't want, you're outta here.

And basically, as long as you're obeying God and you think you're getting good things from Him, you can't tell whether you're really loving Him. You might be just using Him. What you really love are the things you're getting, not Him.

How do you know when you’ve reached that point?
When you're getting nothing from obeying God, but God Himself, just knowing I'm pleasing Him. I'm getting nothing else out of it and then I know I'm loving God. Then I know that I'm actually serving Him and not myself. We're not using Him to serve myself.
There's no quid-pro-quo.
Until you decide that there isn't a personal benefit, it's really not obedience and trust.

That's probably the point of the book of Job, that because in the beginning of the book of Job, a very puzzling thing to most modern readers, God is having an argument with Satan. And God says, "Have you seen my servant, Job? There is none like him in all the earth." And Satan says, "Does Job serve God for nothing?" In other words, he's not a servant. He's actually not a servant. He's just using you to get things. As soon as you took away the benefits of service, you'd see that he will not serve you. I heard one person say that the theme of the book of Job that God can make men servants.

Part of the answer is that God allowed free will. He didn't create an evil world. He allowed free will and we screwed the world up, that still can't completely answer the question. For example, may I say, in the future, when we're in heaven, when we will love Him perfectly and all evil will be banished forever, won't we still have free will?

The author of evil is Satan and us and moral agents who have chosen to rebel against God. That's exactly right. But it still doesn't seem that God couldn't have stopped it. I mean, I don't see any reason why God … to say He couldn't have stopped it, doesn't seem to fit in with everything else. So, He's still got some plan and He's still got some purpose that I don't know.

So free will is part of the answer, but it’s not the full answer.
Job never was told. You know that one of the things that's most striking about the whole thing is, that when God shows up at the end, He just says, "Look who I am; look who you are" and never tells him, doesn't tell him anything about the dialogue with Satan. [He] doesn't tell him anything about anything. He just gives him no reason at all. And Job says, "Just seeing You, it's enough." But He never tells him why.

However, think about this. What if God had said in the middle of the book, He said, "Listen Job; I want you to know the reason why this is all happening is, you're gonna be someday one of the most famous people in the history of the world?" Hundreds of millions of people will say, "What a great God. What a great man. How much we've learned." You know, you're gonna be one of the key figures shaping the way people think about evil and suffering until the end of time. Then he would've said, "Oh, wow. Really! Okay, I better … stiff upper lip. I'll be okay." He wouldn't have been serving God.

He wouldn't have been serving God at all. What he would've been saying is, "Wow, okay. It's worth it." And he would've pulled it all together and he wouldn't have been doing it for God, which is the point. The point is, he wouldn't have been turned into the servant of God, who loved God for Himself alone. He loved God for Himself alone and that's what he learned and that's what changed the world by the meaning of the book. But in a weird way, of course, Job has glorified God, look it. You and I are talking about him here, thousands of years later. But on the other hand, he couldn't know that, or he wouldn't have actually grown into the man God needed him to be.

I think every instance of suffering, if you're asking the question how do I handle this? How do I face it as a believer? There's a core for all suffering and then there's always certain specific things that are peculiar to that.

So, for example, if you've been betrayed, you have to work on forgiveness. Whereas, if you're a farmer and the crop didn't come in and you're facing the loss of your farm, you see, in some ways, every bit of suffering is different. You're facing terminal cancer, you're gonna die. You have to deal with fear. If you're going through a divorce, you have to forgive. Everything is different. On the other hand, there's a core and here's where the core is I think. I read years ago a book by David Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was a set of sermons. It's called Spiritual Depression: Causes and Cures. He's got one chapter called "In God's Gymnasium." And he's looking at Hebrews 12, where it talks about trials and suffering, which are discipline for us.

The word for God disciplining us and training us through suffering is the word gymnasto, from which we get our word "gymnasium." And he said, it's a workout and here's how he says, think about, if you're doing an exercise, as you're doing it, you feel like you're getting weaker, right? So, let's just say you pick up barbells and you're doing bicep curls. Do you feel like, after 10, that you're getting stronger and stronger? No, you feel weaker and weaker, as you are actually getting stronger, because you're taxing the muscles, which will bounce back.

The important thing in the gymnasium is to simply go through it even though you feel like you're getting weaker and weaker and weaker, just go through it. Do it all. Do it all and when it's all over, you'll find that you've grown in so many ways. The core of suffering is to stay faithful, don't stop reading the Bible. Don't stop praying. Don't stop going to church. Don't stop obeying the Ten Commandments. Don't get into the medicating behavior we were talking about before.

Don't rationalize. Don't get into bitterness and self-pity. Do everything you can in prayer to simply say, "Lord, I'm just gonna take the next step. I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I'm gonna trust You. I'm gonna take the next step and every day I'm gonna go through my paces. I'm gonna go through the normal things that I always did as a Christian, but in suffering, I don't feel like doing; I'm gonna do them anyway, which means of grace Bible study prayer, fellowship, serving other people, worship. You just do it. That's the core.

A human father, when he sees his children learn to do something right, is pleased.
And I think our heavenly Father does that – have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. And then Satan goes out and screws up his life. The next day, you know, like he comes before God again and God says to Satan, "Have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. You've done this and this and this and he's still serving Me."

The end of this, whatever "this" is and we don't know in full what this life is truly all about. We have glimpses of it. We have the Scripture to look at. But when it's all done, if we have pleased the Father's heart, in the end, we've done well.

(For the full transcript of the discussion, go to these links on the Focus on the Family website: [Part 1] [Part 2])

A: So the end of it is that you have to do what Job himself had to do: trust God even when you don’t understand why these things are happening. Just like the little boy had to trust that his father understands things better, and loves him, and wants the best for him, so he has to obey even when he doesn’t understand the reasons. Sometimes God cannot tell us because we do not have the capacity to understand. At other times, like Job, God cannot tell us without spoiling the growth God wants for us. And unlike a human father, God is perfectly loving, and knows perfectly, so He doesn't make mistakes.

P: Father, when things seem out of control, help me to continue to trust and obey. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

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