I Sure Would-A Been Peeved

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. …
Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? … Tell Me, if you know all this.      Job  38:4,17-18

A Louise Allen Harris wrote about a farmer’s disaster a number of years ago:

After a hailstorm which severely damaged the tobacco in our section, I met one of the worst-hit growers.  “Any of your crop saved?” I asked.
“But you did have it insured?”
“No’m.  Not a penny.”
“I’m sorry,” I commiserated.
“Yes’m, thank you.  ‘Twas bad.  Had-a been anybody else but the Lord had-a done it, I sure would-a been peeved.”

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the Bible or not, it seems that everybody knows about Job to some extent. He sure had ample reason to be peeved.  After a pretty comfortable life and a sincere faith expressed in his daily activity, in what seemed a matter of days he had lost all his children, all his fortune, his health, and then was lectured by very judgmental friends.

Everything was suddenly, horribly out of control, torn and tossed about by the storms of life and finally, like seaweed dredged up from the bottom and spit out to wither on the shore, he was left devastated and destroyed.  He was an innocent victim struggling to understand what many could agree was the unfairness of life, and behind that, the betrayal of his God Who commanded all life.

Although he never gave place to his wife’s advice to “curse God and die” [2:9], it didn’t mean that he couldn’t complain about his lot in life and earnestly wanted to challenge God’s way of doing things.  If only God would show up, “then I would defend my ways to His face”  [13:15,18,22, 24, 23: 3-7; 31:37].  And the thing was is that he was righteous!  One need only to think of Paul description of what he had in his standing before God in Philippians 3[:5-6]:

circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Paul wasn’t the only one who could be described as “blameless”:  Abraham was [Genesis 17:1], David said he was [Psalm 18:23], and God Himself said of Job to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” [1:8] – God even repeated the description in chapter 2[:3].  So what gives?  Why is someone who is so approved also so besieged by Satan?

The scene before the throne of God in both chapters one and two is essential.  It was not Satan who came and challenged God, but rather the Lord Who pointed Job out – simply put, the Lord manipulated Satan’s nature of rebellion.  What was God’s intent?  We must realize that Satan will never see the error of his ways, he will never repent, he will always strive to be the equal – or more likely, the greater – of God.  So this isn’t being done for Satan’s benefit.

On the other hand, it isn’t as if God has to prove to Himself that He can win over Satan, sort of like the child on the playground saying, “Nyah, nyah, I’m better than you are!”  Mankind expects that God should be that way – you look at the pantheons of the Greeks, Romans, Norse, Egyptians, and others, so often the supreme gods constantly lord their superiority over the others.  In fact, human-created gods are simply big humans with all of fallen human nature represented in them, but unfortunately with superpowers.  Well, after all, it is the best that humans can come up with.

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So if God isn’t trying to call Satan to repentance, and if He isn’t egotistically trying to assert His power as if someone might think less of Him, what then is going on in Job’s first chapters?  Since the story really begins at the throne of God “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD” [1:6; 2:1], the challenge against Satan and evil is not done in a smoky backroom, but rather is put on display before all creation – it is meant to be seen by all.

The question posed in Job’ opening chapters is whether, if you remove all the supposed props holding up a person’s faith, will there be any substance to that faith left?  It really isn’t that far from the communist attitude which refers to faith as merely a crutch, an opiod for the ignorant masses.  Nor is it far from where even many Christians are at.  Earnest Gordon, as he recounted his experiences in the Japanese prisoner camp on the River Kwai, told about many Christians who simply abandoned their faith when despite their prayers and worship the expected rescue by God dragged into years.

So it was an accomplishment when Job did not succumb to the rejection of God as his wife suggested, and as the communists would expect.  Nor did he succumb to the vindictive “big human” god as his alleged friends suggested.  Yes, he griped and complained and wished he had never been born.  Yes, he felt that the Lord was being very unfair and narrow-minded.  But God was always there, always a part of his world, even if Job wasn’t given the hearing he expected he should have.  He still knew that the goodness, grace, mercy, Covenant, steadfast Love and all of God’s Glory would not only be eventually fully revealed, but also that he would indeed face God one day:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!  [19:25-27]

Job’s faith had indeed triumphed in that he did not reject God nor ended up with a shredded faith.  It was not a failure despite criticizing the Lord.  Still, although counted “blameless” by God Himself, he still was far from perfect, in fact, he was very wrong.  Just as with “blameless” St Paul as the unconverted Saul had persecuted and even murdered Christians, God needed to also step in to set the path straight for Job.

The biggest issue was that Job really had no idea what was going on in the bigger picture.  Although he was an essential factor in what God was demonstrating to the universe, Job could only see a narrow slice of the story.  Although we today know more from the first chapters, God never told him what all the suffering was about.  Perhaps Job was not told since it might have tainted the genuine expression and dogged determination of his faith and turned it into something contrived – “playing to the camera” as we might put it today.

The hard lesson in this is that God didn’t owe Job an explanation – nor does He owe us explanations for trials put into our lives.  If He is indeed the Definition of goodness, the Source of eternal grace and mercy, the Fountain of steadfast love, then that is to be what we cling to as Job did, rather than criticizing God’s assumed rationale as we often do.

In the lesson from Job this morning, after all has been said, God now steps in and displays to him the majesty of His creative power as well as of His management of all creation.   In other words, when you consider the power, wisdom and goodness which is reflected in creating from the smallest bit of matter to the greatest of the galaxies, even the enormity of space itself – do you really imagine that the finite human mind is really capable of figuring out God and His ways?  Granted, Job and his friends probably didn’t know as much as we do today, but still the questions stands: really, who are we to think we can second guess this God?

Then, it is interesting that the Lord challenges Job, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?”  It is a remarkable question, considering that earlier Job had rejoiced that his Redeemer lived and that they would meet.  Like with us who face death – the death of loved ones and of ourselves – this is the side of the gates of death which Job was familiar with in the death of his children.  Yet like with us, Job was given the ability to look through the gates to the Redeemer Who stood just on the other side.

We are fortunate in that we have the added-on concrete evidence of the Redeemer because of the very solid Cross and the tangible empty tomb.  The Redeemer has already come and has destroyed the rebellions and sins which would have left the repentant in the depths of death’s despair.  What a wonderful thing it is to stand with Job and have the confidence of seeing beyond “the doors of the shadow of death”!

And therein lies the vindication of Job’s and our faith, which holds so tightly to the God we see on the Cross Who truly does forgive sins and Who has grace, mercy, faithfulness, and steadfast love to spare.  And therein also lies the answer to Satan’s challenge that believers will merely fold up when blessings have been taken away – because like Job we have a confidence which depends entirely upon what God has promised and has been fulfilling since the beginning of time: this hard concrete world, as magnificent as it is, can’t hold a candle to what is to come when our Redeemer greets us face-to-face.

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