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Dear Friends in Christ,
From 1990-2002 I was a member of the South Atlantic District Mission Board. We were to establish mission churches here in Southeastern United States and the English speaking islands in theCaribbean. I was also a member of theWELSnational Board for Home Missions. For twelve years I went toMilwaukeethree times a year for meetings. The national board was big. It had two reps from each district board. We had over thirty members on that board. It was cumbersome.
We met all day Saturday, after church on Sunday into the evening, and from 8 AM on Monday to three o’clock in the afternoon. I would catch a plane and be home Monday night. I was always exhausted to catch up on church work when I got home. The Board for Home Missions oversaw national policy and funding and made the final decisions where we would start missions.
What made the meetings so long was the desire of some of the members to beat a subject to death. I served on the board for twelve years. During that time, there was one person who came from the West. He was really sharp. When we discussed something on the agenda, he would listen but in the end he would get the floor and say something wise. It brought the discussion to an end. He was the one who made sense. When Mark spoke everyone listened.
After seeing this a few times, during a recess I pushed him against a wall and threatened him that if he didn’t offer his solutions earlier I would flatten the tires of his car. I was joking, of course. We laughed.
When I think of the book of Job, I think of that time I spent on the Board for Home Missions. A lot of time is spent listening to Job and his babbling friends trying to explain why Job was suffering. Cut to the chase. Just listen to God. Today we continue our series on great questions in the Bible – the question that God asked Job “Where Were You When I Laid the Foundations of the Earth?” 1) The question was 1) asked of finite man, and also 2) asked by our infinite God.
Job was a godly man, but a sinner like all of us who lived in a sinful world. He was not immune to trouble and trial. Job was up to his eyeballs in it. It doesn’t get much worse. In a very short time his children died in a storm; he was robbed of his wealth; his health took a nosedive. His friends came to him. At least they didn’t avoid him like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Yet Job wished that they had stayed away. His friends Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz didn’t have a very good bedside manner. They were blunt, opinionated and judgmental. Their conversations got ugly. For thirty one chapters they volleyed back and forth with accusations against Job where his friends accused Job of hiding some sin. Job fought back with every fiber of his being. In fact, Job got pretty self-righteous.
In chapter thirty two a bystander by the name of Elihu got into the fray. While his explanation of Job’s situation makes a lot more sense, it didn’t hit the mark completely either. They needed my friend Mark to bring an end to the babbling. Actually they got someone better; they got God. He finally speaks …in chapter 38.
A lot of people, we include ourselves in that category, like to question God about what he is doing. We like to ask, “Why? Why did that happen? Why me? Why my family? Why my friend? You know the times… when the 42 year old mother of six kids dies unexpectedly or even expectedly and the oldest child is eleven. Or the five year old contracts cancer or some chronic disease and is slowly destroying his/her body. Someone loses the job and there are no prospects for the future. You know the stories. You have a story. Why, Lord? Why?
We complain about it and utter our frustrations. We babble just like Job and Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz. We offer our opinions and dissatisfaction. We shake our fist at God and offer a better way of handling things. But what we must remember is that we are finite people. We have limits to the length of our time on this earth. We have limits on the wisdom we have. We don’t always know what is good and right. Hey, we are human!
If man is so wise to think that God is not doing things right, remove the planks from your own eyes first, sinful people. Listen to some of the foolish laws are part of law in some states. There is a law inMissourithat forbids you to drive with an uncaged bear in your car. Oh really? InNew Jersey, once convicted of DUI a person can’t get personalized license plates. Is that a deterrent? That’s like spanking with a pillow. I know we have Ohioans in our congregation. It is illegal to get a fish drunk inOhio. I guess that means you Ohioans need to remember not to fill your aquariums with vodka. If there are foolish laws like that, how can people give advice to God how to run this world?
So let’s get a bit more serious about the foolishness of people. I will never understand why we have to show a photo ID to get on an airplane, or to cash a check somewhere, or get prescription drugs, but the Department of Justice says it is illegal to demand an ID to do something so important as to vote. There is a law that says that if you break an egg of a bald eagle you can be fined $250,000, but our government wants us to pay for the abortion to kill an unborn human being. It is safer to be an unborn eagle than an unborn human being.
So God addresses Job and his “all-wise” friends. If you are so wise friends, if you think you know everything and how things should run, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God challenges Job and his friends. After he asks “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” he follows that with 76 more questions like a machine gun in a tense battle. They come fast and furious. They leave the reader breathless. They must have left Job breathless. If you are so wise, then answer these too.
My wife Judy is a prolific reader. Most of my life, I have only read non-fiction. My favorite book is the Bible. I have read the Bible many times. Besides the Bible I read theological books almost exclusively. I also read a lot of online newspapers…all non-fiction. Not long ago, I picked up a book of fiction written by an author Judy loves to read. I was blown away. Since August I have read three of his novels. Like any good author he keeps the reader in suspense. I found myself wanting to skip to the end of the book to see how the plots all played out.
In many respects that is what you probably should do with the book of Job. Job and his friends say a lot of useless things in trying to figure out why Job is suffering. What you really want to do is not hear human solutions but God’s. That comes in chapter 38.
When he does speak, he doesn’t get Job to sit around a table with a glass of lemonade to explain very pedantically why the suffering. He doesn’t explain whether Job was being punished or chastised for some sin as his friends had. He simply rattles off questions for Job to answer. The answers are obvious. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of earth? Tell me if you understand! Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? All those question began with a “Can you?...” or a “Do you know?...” or something similar. Each was a very strong rebuke of Job’s presumptuousness that he thought he God was unfair and that God needed a better way of taking care of the world.
Yet those seventy plus questions that God asked dealt with things that Job could observe but not explain. Only the Lord could really give the answer. There were questions about the creation of the world and about the forces of nature. There were questions s about the wonder of rain, dew and ice, the movement of the stars and clouds, the abilities and instincts that God implanted in animals. At the end of it God simply asks Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? In other words leave the control of all things to the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He’s bigger than you; he is smarter than you. Instead of registering complaints against God, instead of finding fault with the Lord, it wiser to zip the lip and let God do what he does best – to be God.
While God gives us the Bible to tell us what we need to know about himself, that doesn’t mean the Bible tells us everything there is to know about God. That is something that we all need to think about. How can an infinite God be self contained in 31,103 verses of the Bible? How can all there is to know about an infinite God fit into a finite brain? Paul was taken into heaven to be given a glimpse of what we have in store for us once God decides that it is time for us to take to final step. He said I heard inexpressible things. Human language has no words to describe it. If human language can’t describe the place where God lives, how can we think human language contain all the words to describe God. There are things that are hidden about God. St. Augustinecompared to know God like trying to empty the ocean into a hole in the sand along the seashore.
But he does reveal what he wants us to know. Even much of that is beyond complete understanding. That’s why he invites us to believe and not understand. What do I mean by that? God reveals himself as Triune, but don’t we scratch our heads wondering how God can be three and yet one? Don’t we wonder how Jesus can be both God and man? How can he know all things and yet grow in wisdom and stature? How the blood of Jesus actually pays for the sins of the entire world? How His body and blood in the Heavenly feast that we are about to enjoy? We don’t understand it other than to know that God can do anything.
When God acts or allows things to happen, we won’t understand all the reasons why. God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” What he wants us to know is revealed in the Scripture.
He wants us to know that he loves us. He says it again and again. “God is love; “God so loved the world.” The Bible says, “God demonstrates his love in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Let me illustrate. A congregation gathered on Good Friday. The pastor said the sermon theme was entitled, "The Love of God." It was later in the evening and there was darkness. There was a crucifix on the altar. In the darkness the pastor announced said only four words, “the Love of God.” One by one he lit candles at the altar to break the darkness. Candles were placed in strategic places. The first he lit spilled light on the crown of thorns. The second and third candles spilled light on Jesus’ left hand nailed to the cross and then his right hand nailed to the cross. The fourth candle made the wound in his side visible. The pastor announced one more time - The love of God. Nothing more needed to be said.
While our God did indeed say, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" he also says that he "so loves the world." This same man, Job, who questioned God and even requested a trial in the celestial courtroom of the Lord to defend himself, repented, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” The Lord who knows all things, the Lord who is eternally wise, is also our God of love. He will do what he will do. But he will do for the people of his church in love.