I don’t know of anyone who would say that God has broken his own rules. But neither do I know anyone who hasn’t had issues with God. As a number of us have already acknowledged, when we talk about our struggle to “forgive God” we don’t really mean we think God has sinned against us. What we mean is that God has allowed pain and loss into our lives that has frightened, confused, and disillusioned us. Sometimes we can even acknowledge our anger with God.
A number of you have helped all of us by weighing in on this subject. I deeply appreciate your honesty and attempts to put such an emotional issue in perspective. And as I continued to think about how difficult the issue is, I decided that I didn’t want to move too quickly past the Old Testament story of Job that I referred to in my last post. So once again, here’s the way I read a story that, I believe, is designed to push us toward God rather than away from him–in the middle of the kind of pain we are talking about:
What was the backstory? Job’s problems began with a mysterious meeting in heaven that he didn’t know about. In this meeting, God calls the angels into his presence and Satan shows up in the crowd.
When God asks the Devil what he has been doing, Satan says he has been walking back and forth in the earth. The implication seems to be that the enemy of God has been observing the rebellion that he, himself, helped to start.
God asks Satan if he has considered Job who, according to the King of heaven, is an exception to those who have turned against him. (1:8)
The Devil has noticed Job. But he has his own take on what is happening. Job, according to “the accuser,” is no fool. He’s the pride of heaven only because he’s on the take. He remains faithful because God has built fences of protection around his family, his health, and a business to brag about.
In response to the accusation, God allows the Devil to test Job’s motives with a series of personal losses. Within days, Job loses his children, his business, and his reputation in the community.
Job’s first responses show his deep trust in God. He says things like “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:21-22).
Job, however, has his limits. Grief is one thing. What pushes him over the edge is when his friends raise questions about his integrity.
What are his friends thinking? Three of Job’s friends think they know why he is suffering. They are convinced that “you reap what you sow” in life, and back one another up in arguing for a direct correlation between Job’s losses and some secret, moral failure he is refusing to admit (Job 4:7-8). Over and over they press the same logic. God doesn’t make mistakes. When we suffer, we are getting a return on the bad seed we have planted.
Job is furious with his friends accusations. And when they continue to gang up on him, while the heavens remain silent, he begins to lash out at the sky claiming that God himself has wronged him.
That’s the anger and the argument that I referred to in my last post. But let’s take Job’s story to the end.
What was God’s surprise ending? Only when God finally speaks out of a whirlwind does the argument between Job and his friends come to an end. Now it’s God’s turn to talk. And talk God does.
What’s so interesting about heaven’s response, though, is that God doesn’t tell Job why he let him suffer. Neither does he blame Satan for what happened. The Lord of heaven doesn’t even thank the three friends for trying to defend the honor of the Almighty.
Instead, in a surprise move, God begins to ask a series of questions like, “Where were you when I created the world? Can you understand how I did it? Can you do what I’ve done?” Then God talks about the weather, the ever-changing wind, and clouds that gather waters and then release them on command. With closing arguments that seem to come from nowhere, and then from everywhere, the great Judge of the universe presents a compelling series of physical exhibits.
The implication is clear: “If I am powerful and wise enough to create Orion in the night sky, a wild ox, and an ostrich, can you trust me in the trouble I have allowed into your life?”
Job’s anger is softened. The accusations of his friends is overturned. The witness of the natural world to the immeasurable wisdom and power of God is enough to bring Job to his knees and to his senses. Job admits that he has said more than he has known. Then he adds, “I have 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” (Job 42:5-6)
And now as we are tested, an eagle soars overhead. A tree pushes roots deep into rich earth while lifting its branches to the sun. A wolf howls. The wind shifts. A full moon lights the night. And the story of Job waits to be remembered.
What important questions are raised by the story of Job?
1. What motivates a friend of God? This comes from Satan’s accusation that Job, was being bribed by God to be his friend.
2. Why do some people suffer more than others? This question comes from the 3 friends wrong assumption that there is a direct proportional correlation between sin and suffering.
3. Where does trouble come from and why?— If from Satan, how could a good God allow him to do it?
4. What is really happening when God seems to abandon his people? From Job’s feelings of abandonment.
5. What do we need to know to find new perspective and strength in our pain?— From the temporary silence of God, and his eventual answer.
Now, with this review of one of the most important stories of the Bible, do you find anything here that can help us in our own struggle? Does this story give any indication of how we too can come to terms with God over the terrible losses and disappointments of our life?