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June 7 - Job 38-41 - "When God Speaks"
MPC 7th June 2009.
1. For the greater good?
A number of years ago in a remote part of India, two gods were summoned to appear before the local court. The reason: a dispute as to whether they were the rightful owners of a 1.4 acre piece of land, or a local man name Manmohan Pathak. Most of the locals said the land belonged to the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman, who were worshipped at the temple on that land. But not Mr Pathak. So the judge decided that the only way to settle the dispute was to get the parties together. So the gods were summoned. But how do you get a god to appear in court? Well, they first tried to send summons to the gods... but the summons were returned as the addresses were found to be incomplete. Apparently you can't just send a letter to "heaven". So there was a follow-up attempt. Take out a newspaper ad. Because that's what gods do just after the finish watching Kerri-Anne Kennerley. They flick through the newspapers. Needless to say the gods didn't turn up. Now what would it have looked like if the gods did turn up? Would they submit themselves to a human court? Couldn't they just say - I'm a god, I want the land, I don't care who owned it, I want it now.
Now God is about to speak in the book of Job. What will he say? After 37 chapters of hearing about Job's suffering, and knowing that Job did nothing wrong... Are you waiting for the person with all the power, with all the authority to step into the court room and admit his guilt... to admit he was wrong... to say that he did it for the greater good? Are you waiting for him to vindicate Job, and admit it wasn't a flawless plan? I don't think you can help but think that. Because I think we think it's true. Will God tell Job what he did and explain his reasons, so that Job can feel vindicated?
Well, he doesn't. In fact, God doesn't even answer Job's questions. Instead of having some answers for Job, he's got a few questions of his own. Here comes God in thunder and lightning... 38:1-3 And here are 6 big questions that God asks of Job.
Question 1 - Where were you Job when I created the world? Verses 38:4-7
When I first brought the world in to being, when he laid down the laws that govern the world, and when he decided in his goodness and justice what would and wouldn't occur... Surely you were there when I set the planets in motion, when I set all the stars in the universe up, when I set your star up and aligned all the planets just so... so that the earth's rotation would sustain life... You who have such a brilliant grasp on the world and its goings on... Where were you Job? Surely you were there if you understand enough to bring a charge against me.
Question 2 - Have you ever explored the depths of creation? Verses 38:16-21
Maybe you weren't there at creation, but surely you've had enough time to uncover the mysteries of this world. You've lived so many years Job. Have you climbed Kosciusko yet Job? And you've explored the depths of oceans? I know you had a lot of sheep and a few kids, but I'm sure you found time before you started a family to do a bit of caving and explore my creation. You've seen everything there is to see haven't you Job? Surely you'd do that before bringing a charge against me.
Question 3 - Do you understand the mysteries of creation Job? Verses 38:22-30
Surely you can explain Quantum Physics to me can't you Job? What about anti-matter? Let's just start with the brain maybe - how does that store and retrieve memory? Or here are a few more mysteries Job - why do people watch A Current Affair? Why are Kylie Minogue songs so catchy? Surely you know the answer to all these things Job if you're bringing a charge against me.
Question 4 - Can you control creation Job? Verses 38:31-38
Can you control creation Job? Do you know how to make the planets rotate, and how to make them stop? Do you know how to control asteroids so they don't end life as we know it? Can you even control your family and livelihood Job? Can you protect them from the ravages of this world? Surely you can do that, and have done it if you are going to question me who can does do it? Surely you're questioning from a position of knowledge and authority and not ignorance.
Question 5 - Do you know enough about creation to care for it? Verses 39:1-8
Do you even know enough about creation to care for it Job? You know about sheep and cattle, but do you know that your cattle are polluting the atmosphere and making the planet warmer? Do you know what effect your farming and grazing has on the countryside? Do you know what effect the Humvee you drive has on the atmosphere? Do you know what effect your hunting has on the food chain in your area? Do you know what effect that cane toad you imported to eat that bug has on the countryside you're in? I'm sure you do don't you, otherwise it would be a little bit stupid for you to be telling me how to look after the creation I built.
Question 6 - Can we attribute the majesty in creation to you? Verses 39:19, 26
Do people stand on Mt Coot-tha Job, look out at the city of Brisbane in awe because of you? Do we visit Dream World and to stand in awe of the might and majesty of the tigers you created Job? Are we amazed at the work of your hands at how cute a puppy can be, or how awe-inspiring a crocodile can be? Surely if you are going to stand before me and question me Job, you are a man of great power, great knowledge, great understanding and great insight into creation... so much so that you know enough to know where I am going wrong. Is that right Job?
The answer to these questions is obvious isn't it? It would be the same answer we would have to give if God asked us. Of course Job wasn't there at creation... of course he isn't able to understand the entire universe... of course he can't control all the elements of creation. He is just a man. A man who is innocently suffering, but he is still just a man. But look to see what God's issue with Job really boils down to. Job 40:6-14.
Is Job going to find fault with God because of Job's lack of understanding? (40:8)
This isn't one man questioning another. This is a mortal with all his limitations questioning a God without limitations. God was there at creation, he does understand the mysteries... and he does know how to look after his creation. He knows what justice is, and he knows how to implement it. Perfectly. And yet Job's conclusion is that the suffering he has experienced has brought God's justice and goodness in to question.
And you can understand why he's come to that conclusion. We do exactly the same thing. What is the first response often when people suffer? How could God let this happen? A reasonable question. A natural reaction. Especially when we are in pain, and you don't see anything but our own pain. But at some point we need to stop and consider that we see but a fraction of the workings of the world. We see a pin prick on a mosaic. Yet we make up our minds about God's goodness and justice based on our limited picture. I remember a couple who went overseas as missionaries and who had to come back early for a number of reasons. They didn't want to come back, it was painful for them, and it may be that to this day they struggle with that experience... But if they hadn't, they wouldn't have been giving the seminar I went to, I wouldn't have been challenged about what I was doing with my life, and I probably wouldn't be where I am today. But they don't know that, and they may never.
Now I don't claim that these circumstances of suffering and inconvenience were set up to shape my life... But I want to acknowledge that I see such a small part of the world, that there's no way I can honestly make fair and right judgements about how God is governing. And yet all too often our first reaction is to fault God for his bad governance of the world whenever we experience or whenever we see suffering. But the problem is not with God. The problem is with our understanding.
Are we really going to find fault with God for our lack of understanding?
And just to ram the point home to Job, God says this. Verses 9-14. When you have the power to bring down the proud, deal with evil, crush the wicked, understand the interactions and effects of governing an entire world... When you can do that, come and speak to me, and I'll explain to you why things work the way they work. I'll explain why I allowed this to happen to this person, that to happen to that person, why I allowed your suffering, and why I allowed your happiness there. The point at which you become my equal, that you can control creation, that you can actually begin to grasp the complexities of the world I created... come back and see me and we'll talk.
Now that is a confronting answer. God is not avoiding the question. He's not taking the fifth amendment. He's not even trying to explain his actions. He just tells Job that he does not exist to answer mankind's questions. Now that may not be a comforting thought for you. Because you may feel like Job deserves an answer. And I suspect there are going to be times in your life where you feel like you deserve an explanation to your suffering. And in an age of answers, we are under the impression that God is our personal Wikipedia. And we're wrong. God does not exist to explain himself to us. In fact, quite the opposite is true. We exist to explain ourselves to Him.
Do you believe that? Are you willing to concede the possibility that you don't understand the world entirely? Are you willing to concede that God can be just... even when you don't know how? That is, are you willing to question, to explore answers, to be angry at God, to be disappointed at God, to be any emotion under the sun... but at the end of the day come back to him and say - "I don't know why this is happening, I don't agree with why it's happening, I can't see a purpose for this happening... but I'm willing to acknowledge that you know a whole lot more than I do... so I'll trust you."
And what's interesting as you probe God's answer to Job, the issue really works its way to one question.
Are we willing to trust God as God? Or would you like to replace him yourself? It's the question God asks at every point in his interaction with mankind. Just remember the very first people mentioned - Adam and Eve. How were they tempted? They were tempted to question whether God actually knew what was best for them, when he hadn't explained all the details. Don't eat the fruit, or you'll surely die. How? They weren't sure... and so they came up with their own solution. Their issue: they did not trust that God had their good at heart. They thought he was holding out on them. They were not willing to let God be God. They wanted to be God. History is littered with the same problem - mankind wanting to be God. Are you one of them? Do you want to be God? Or are you willing to let go of that responsibility?
It's not a call to stop thinking. And it's not a call to stop questioning. And it's not even asking for blind trust.
Blind trust assumes you can know nothing about God. But it seems to me, the accusation that trusting God is blind trust implies that you need to know all things about God in order to trust Him. But it is possible to know enough about God to have confidence in Him... even while you don't know everything. When Jacqueline goes out each day with the boys, I'm not always sure what she's doing and where she's going. But it's not blind faith in assuming that she'll be back at the end of the day, just as she has every other day of our married life. I know she loves me. I know that while I'm difficult to live with she's going to put up with me, because that's what she promised. It's not that I know every thing she does or thinks... but I know her. That's not blind faith... that's earned trust.
Trust in God is only blind faith if you have no idea what God is like. And while there are many, many things we don't understand about this world... what God is like is not one of them. You cannot accuse God of apathy and insensitivity to suffering when he allows His own Son to be mocked and die so that the very people who crucified him might have the chance at life. That's the kind of God we're dealing with. Will we know everything? Never. Do we know enough? Absolutely.
At the church I attended after I became a Christian, there was a lady who had a disease which over time meant she lost use of her muscles. I never knew her when she was able to speak, but from what I learnt of her she was an incredible lady, with an incredible mind, and an incredible love for God. Her husband as well was a man of great faith. He cared for his wife over many, many years as her health declined. And he never did it in seclusion or in bitterness. It was a small church, and he preached occasionally, and had a driving passion for God's work throughout the world. And even as he watched his wife die before his eyes, and even as he sought to understand what reason God could have for taking someone who had served him so faithfully... he trusted in God's goodness, and he served Him with a passion that put my apathy to shame.
My point: It is possible to serve God without knowing all the details. Even when it's tough. We aren't God. We are his creation that he has brought back to himself at the cost of His son. One day he may choose to tell us why He has acted the way He has. But that is for Him to offer. Not us to demand.
We have the privilege, through Jesus Christ, of being his children.
But He is still God.