I remember, when I was four, my parents telling me we were going on holiday to Ibitha. That was before Ibitha had dodgy night life, and before I'd even heard of dodgy night life. So I was very excited. I was then told we were going to the doctor's where the nice lady would 'just do something' and I'd get some Smarties. I was very suspicious. I went into the nurse's room, saw the needle and lashed out at her. So I didn't get the Smarties. But I didn't get the injection either. When you don't know all the facts, you can't understand what's going on. And you leap to all the wrong conclusions. When you don't know about inoculations, you assume that strangers coming at you with needles (let alone sweeties) are very bad news indeed. You conclude they're out to hurt you.
As you'll know, if you've been here for this sermon series, the book of Job is about a believer in God who is hit by awful suffering. He doesn't know all the facts, because he's not God. So he can't understand what's going on. And he goes through huge struggles which take him right to the brink of concluding that God is not good after all. This morning, we're looking at the end, where Job's struggles with God get resolved. It's two weeks since we looked at chapters 38-41; you might be new anyway, so let's re-cap. Please do follow in the Bibles. Job 1.1:
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
That doesn't mean he was sinless. But that he sought to live for God and avoid sin. Then 1.6f takes us behind the scenes into heaven. 1.8:
The LORD said to Satan [the Bible says the devil is real], 'Have you considered my servant Job?' There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'
'Does Job fear God for nothing?' Satan replies. [His accusation is that Job is loyal to God simply for what he gets out of God. A bit like someone who's married for money. 'He's an ulterior motive believer,' says Satan. Verse 11:] 'But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.'
So, the LORD allows Job's faith to be tested. And chapters 1-2 describe the bereavements and illness that hit him. Now as people reading about Job's life after the event, we know the reason for his suffering. We know it's not punishment for sin but a test of the genuineness of his faith, which God knows he'll come through. But Job doesn't know any of that. All he knows is that life hurts. Chapters 3-37 then show us Job's struggles. Struggles within as he tries to think and pray. And struggles with three 'friends' who try to tell him he's being punished for something he's done. But he never curses God. Never turns away from God. In fact, his faith throughout is mind-blowing. Look at 6.8. He's praying that he might die:
"Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, 9 that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! 10 Then I would still have this consolation-- my joy in unrelenting pain-- that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. (6.8-10)
Imagine having the faith to pray that in terminal illness. 'Lord, take me soon, rather than let me deny you because of this pain.' Job has faith. And precisely because of that, he has huge struggles with God. He doesn't end up saying, 'Well, I guess God's not all- powerful, after all - he just couldn't help this happening.' Nor does he end up saying, 'Well, I guess God's not just, after all.' But he does say in chapter 27: 'God… has denied me justice.' (27.2) Ie, 'I still believe that he is all-powerful, and just. But I question his goodness to me.' And he basically says to God, 'I want you to explain yourself.' Flick on to chapter 38. Verse 1:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? (Job 38:1-2) .
'Counsel' is one of the Bible's words for the plan that God has for his universe. God has a plan. And it's good. But Job doesn't know what God knows. He's like the four year facing the nurse with the needle. He doesn't know enough to understand that what's happening is ultimately for his good. And he needs to - as we need to - accept how little a human being can know. Which is why God questions him:
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand? (38.4)
Job is hard to preach on. Because God doesn't ask us these questions so we can analyse them. He wants us to answer them. And you need to slow down over parts of the Bible like this, and answer what God asks; because then you find you begin praying - at least thinking things over in God's presence. (I guess that's why the book's so long. It takes a long time to work through suffering. And you return to the same questions over and over again.)
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand? (38.4)
'Well, Lord, I guess I didn't exist. I guess it was just you there. I guess I came on the scene quite late. So I guess I shouldn't expect to know everything. Certainly not to tell you how to run the thing.' The other key question God asks is in 40.8:
Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
God knows and we know that Job's right to say this isn't a punishment for something he's done. But God asks: 'Are you really prepared to say that the alternative is that I am unjust? Should you not rule that out as unthinkable, and be prepared to live with no answer, rather then that answer?' Which brings us to chapter 42, where three things dawn on Job.
First, it dawns on Job that WHATEVER HAPPENS, GOD HAS PLANNED IT TO HAPPEN
Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:1-2)
Job is hemmed in by that truth for a start. 'Lord, I know you can make anything happen and stop anything happening. So I am where I am in life because you planned me to be here.' And that's a reassurance. I may not know what the plan is, but I know this is planned. It's not out of control. It's not second best.
Secondly, it dawns on Job that THERE ARE SOME THINGS WE WILL NOT UNDERSTAND - EITHER AT THE TIME, OR EVEN IN THIS LIFE
[Verse 3. Job says to the LORD:] 'You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.'
We talk of something obscuring the view. It means we can't see something properly. And Job remembers the question God has asked him: who are you to criticise my plan, when you as a mere man have such an obscured view of it? And the point dawns on Job. God knows the whole plan down to every detail. It's as if the entire past, present and future of the universe lie before him like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
Whereas Job (like us) just has a few pieces of knowledge - he knows a tiny bit about God (through the Bible), a tiny bit about himself and a tiny bit about life. It's like having a handful of pieces from a 5000 piece puzzle. You simply can't know the whole picture from that. Or even how the few pieces you've got relate together. And when suffering comes, we can do one of two things. On one hand, when suffering comes, we can trust what we do know of God and walk on by faith. We can hold on to the pieces that God has revealed about himself in the Bible, and say, 'These are 'givens'. I'm not going to question them. God is all-powerful. God is just. God is good and loving. He has shown himself to be all those things. I'm going to keep trusting that he is all those things, even though right now I can't see how he is being all those things.' On the other hand, when suffering comes, we can throw all the pieces up in the air because we can't see how to fit them together. 'I can't see how this piece(God's goodness) fits with this piece (my experience). So out goes my faith in God's goodness.'
Job basically did the first of those. He held onto the pieces that the Bible says are 'givens' - God's power, God's goodness, God's justice, along with his experience. But at times in the book, he reminds me of a toddler doing a jigsaw puzzle. You know how they'll take two pieces that don't actually join, and try to mangle them together. And when they won't go, they try to chew the edges to help them fit. Job came close to chewing away some of the edges, to try to make things fit in his mind. He came close to thinking God was less than totally just, less than totally good. Instead of backing off and saying, 'I don't understand how these pieces all fit together. I'm just going to hang onto each piece as God has revealed it.'
I was once nearing the top of Mount Snowdon in North Wales. The conditions were dreadful. And we met the most negligent people leading a group of disabled folk up the mountain. They had no adequate equipment, and one blind girl especially was hysterical, and I suspected, hypothermic. She'd sat down and refused to go anywhere. She'd stopped trusting anyone she was with, and I could see why. She had not just an obscured view of the situation, but no view. And we had to talk her into coming to the top with us. We told her a few things - who we were, that we knew the mountain well, that it was 15 minutes to the top, and we could get her down on the train. That's all the pieces she had. She had a choice. Either: to refuse to move because she couldn't see her way out of an appalling situation. Or: to trust us who knew more to lead her. And to our relief she trusted us and let us lead her.
And that's the picture of our walk with God which dawns on Job. We humans know very little. But we have the pieces God has revealed. And we New Testament believers have a piece Job didn't yet have. We know that God sent his own Son to die for us to forgive our sins and bring us back to himself. So when suffering came to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? [All of which they were experiencing - they were all 'pieces' of their jigsaw.]… No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 5.8, 8.35-39)
Whatever pieces of suffering we're trying to puzzle out, that's the one piece that is fixed to the centre of the table: 'God loved me enough to send his Son to die for me.' However contradictory the other pieces of my experience seem, that piece is a given. And nothing can change it. And I must work out from there.
Thirdly, it dawns on Job that YOU CAN KNOW GOD, YET HAVE LITTLE HUMILITY TOWARDS HIM.
[Verse 4. He says to the LORD:] "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:4-6)
'My ears had heard of you,' says Job. Before this part of his life, he'd learned a good deal about God. And it wasn't just 'head-knowledge' - he did live out his faith. 'But now,' says Job, 'my eyes have seen you.' I take it that doesn't mean his physical eyes. It's like the book of Hebrews talking about Moses' faith: 'By faith he left Egypt, not fearing [Pharaoh's] anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible [ie God].' (Hebrews 11.27) And he saw him by faith. And similarly, Job says:
'My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.'
Ie, now I've been through this suffering and struggling, I can 'see' the LORD more clearly. I know him better. The school of the Bible tells us what God is like. The school of suffering leaves us saying, 'Yes, I now know for myself that God is like that.' If we'll let ourselves be taught. Just turn back to chapter 33. After Job's three friends speak, a fourth character speaks, and there is wisdom in what he says to Job:
For God does speak--now one way, now another-- though man may not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, 16 he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, 17 to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride ... (Job 33:14-16)
And by chapter 42, Job has perceived God more clearly. And there's just a hint in those verses in chapter 33 about one good purpose of the suffering from Job's point of view. We know it's not a punishment. We know it's a test of Job's faith, which will bring glory to God as he passes it. But there's a hint here that it's also preventative medicine against pride. Job was rich, a leader, a VIP in the community. It would have been easy even for a man as godly as him to become proud and spiritually self-reliant. But through his experience, he comes to the point of saying, verse 5:
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
'I despise myself' doesn't mean he hates everything about himself. It means he is appalled at the attitude to God that's come to the surface during his suffering. He's accused God of various things. He's questioned God harshly. He's demanded explanations of God as if God was accountable to him. And he realises that although he has basically kept loyal to God, there's been a proud attitude beneath. And that's what he repents of. Repentance can mean to turning away from a particular sinful action. But more deeply, it means turning our attitude around. From seeing myself as the centre of the universe - where God is there to serve me and my agenda. To seeing that God is the centre, that he owes me nothing, that everything I have from him is sheer grace on his part, and that he is to be served simply because he's God and I'm just a creature. By verse 6, Job's struggle is resolved. God hasn't given him the answers he wanted. But he's given him the attitude he needed.
Fourthly, THE END
Then what are verses 7-17 doing there? Well, two people's characters have been dragged through the mud in all this - God's, and Job's. So in verses 7-9, God's character is cleared. Verse 7:
After the LORD had said all these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.' [Encouraging to see that even though Job said some borderline things, God could read the rightness of his heart.]
These friends had quite falsely been saying God was punishing Job. It's an appalling slur on God. So in verses 8-9, God orders them to bring a sacrifice through which he'll forgive them. And then in verses 10-17, Job's character is cleared. Verse 10:
After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him came and ate with him n his house. They comforted him and consoled him [which is a reminder that even when there's no fresh suffering, past suffering leaves wounds. Verse 12:] The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first… (42.10-12)
Why? Some people are cynical about the end of Job. 'It's just the predictable Hollywood outcome,' they say: 'It had to be happy.'
No. It had to be just. Right had to be vindicated - and seen to be vindicated. God blessed Job to clear him of the charge that he had sinned secretly in some particular way, and was being punished for it. That had been an appalling slur on Job. Yet everyone had mocked him when he protested his confidence that God was on his side. And God silenced the mockers by blessing him again. What's the message of the end of Job? Well,
Whatever happens, God has planned it to happen; There are some things we will not understand - either at the time, or even in this life; and You can know God yet have little humility towards him.
And perhaps most obvious of all: the end is when everything becomes clear. When you can see everything in retrospect and understand exactly what God was doing. And when people who mocked your faith will be proved wrong, and God and believers will be vindicated. And for us, that won't happen until heaven.