This morning we are continuing with our studies in the Old Testament book of Job. We have come to chapter 38 and we are to look at 38 verse 1 to 40 verse 14. I am very conscious that there are some here this morning who have been away for much of the summer. And there may be some new folk. And you haven't heard what's been said on previous occasions about Job. Let me spend, therefore, a little bit of time on some introduction and then recapping what we have learnt so far in our studies in Job.
Luther said that Job is 'magnificent and sublime as no other book of Scripture.' That is high praise indeed. Why is it so sublime? The great reason, surely, is that it deals with the problem of suffering - a problem that is universal to all human beings of whatever culture or of whatever time. It deals with the question: 'why do bad things happen to good people'. In chapter 1 verse 1 - right at the start of the book - we are told that Job was 'blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.' Yet terrible things happened to him.
I wonder if there is someone here this morning and you know all about this problem. It is not that you are going through some difficult experience now. But in the past something happened; and you let that destroy your faith in God or at least erode it. That is what happened on a global level (or at a cultural level) in the West earlier this century. The First World War for many people was so awful they could not see how a God, if there was a God, could have allowed it. So they drifted away from faith in Jesus Christ. That is what regularly happens with individuals in churches all around the world even today. They have some bad experience of their local church - their local minister, a leading member of the congregation, or something else that upsets them - and they drift away not just from the church but from Jesus Christ.
Suffering is a subject that raises not only philosophical or theological questions. It is also something that is so immediate. You only have to look at your TV screens or the pictures in the papers to see unimaginable suffering - at this very moment - in East Timor. And there are people here this morning that are going through very difficult times. So what do you say? The book of Job never denies the fundamental biblical principle that sin, ever since the Fall, leads somehow and sometime to suffering. Suffering, in that sense, is due to sin. That is why heaven, where sin is excluded, is such a glorious place where God's people will experience no more suffering. God, we are told, in Revelation 21.4:
... will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
But now things are so different. So what is the problem? One problem is that people draw wrong conclusions. They accept the fundamental principle that in general you reap what you sow. They know that in general going God's way leads to what is good; and going against God leads to what is bad. But they then draw wrong conclusions. They fail to see that life is not as simple as they imagine. So some say that every instance of suffering is due to the sin of the sufferer. But the bible says, 'No! You can't draw that conclusion.' Jesus had to teach his disciples this lesson. John 9.1-3:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
Sometimes there is a direct connection between sin and suffering. But so often it is indirect. It is due to the sin of the world - the total rebellion of humankind. Take those East Timoreans - many of whom are Christians. They are suffering terribly. Yes, it is due to sin that they are suffering. But it is nottheir sin. It is the sin of the Indonesian, predominantly Muslim, military forces.
This was the problem with Job. Job was suffering. He lost his property, his children and his health. His friends said this must be due to his own sin. But Job knew that even if he was not perfect, he was no worse than others. How did he deserve this suffering? The book of Job is therefore a book to help you think through these issues - issues that are timeless and will always be with everyone this side of heaven. What then have we learnt about suffering so far in our studies?
First, in chapters 1 and 2 we have learnt that God is testing Job. God is working to a plan. But this is not made known to Job himself. Job was, as it were, flying blind. He knew nothing of the divine plan. All he knew was that he lost his property, his children and his health. All he had was a terrible experience. It would have been easier if he knew he was being a 'test case'.
And isn't that a problem with us? So often we do not know the whole story from God's perspective. He has a great plan and that is being fulfilled even while we suffer and through our sufferings. One day we will see it. How important it is to trust him in the meantime, even in the dark. Remember Joseph in the Old Testament and what he said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery: (Gen 50:20)
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
And remember that great New Testament verse, Romans 8.28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Secondly, we have learnt - and this comes through from the whole book - we have learnt that godly living is no guarantee against suffering. Rather it is through suffering that God trains and equips his people. Certainly this was happening with Job.
Thirdly, we have learnt the lesson about drawing the wrong conclusions. That is what Job's friends were doing. Last week, we heard about Eliphaz. So in chapter 22 verses 4-5 he says:
"Is it for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you? 5 Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?"
As the sermon title put it, that was Cold Comfort and wrong.
And fourthly, we have learnt so far from this book that there are no easy answers to the problem of suffering. Yes, there is a problem because in general good actions should lead to good results. But it doesn't always work out like that - immediately. And sometimes it seems as though God allows the best to suffer most. And the cross of Christ is the ultimate proof of that.
So much by way of introduction. How then is Job helped to face his problems? That is what we are going to try to discover in the minutes that remain this morning. In short the answer is that Job was given a new or renewed vision of God. For him the problem was not solved. Rather, it was marginalized. It still existed. But it became a secondary matter to Job. He had a new perspective. So his suffering was no longer as crippling as it had been before.
He could now live with it because he saw, in a wonderful way, THE GREATNESS, THE SOVEREIGNTY AND THE GOODNESS OF GOD. They are my three headings for this morning. And seeing God in a new way, he could trust his problems to him. They didn't go away - certainly not at this point. But he could now live in a totally new way.
First, then THE GREATNESS OF GOD Look at chapter 38 verses 1-11
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?
God is not giving Job answers; he is just asking him questions? He is making Job stand back and realize that the God who has created this universe and all that exists, is bigger than any one, including Job, can understand. Of course, Job wasn't there at the dawn of creation. This is just the way God is teaching Job about his own greatness. And this is not just greatness at the dawn of creation. Our God is no 'deist' God, who creates the world and then sits back and lets it run on under its own steam by its own natural laws in a mechanical way. No! God's greatness is seen in his continuing control of the world. Look at verse 12 of chapter 38:
"Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place."
It is 'new every morning' that God's greatness is evidenced. And 38.25:
"Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm."
He knows all about the fact that my wife and I were hoping for a sunny day yesterday, but had to sit on a Northumberland cliff top, having a bite to eat in the mist and in the cold! Nor is God just concerned with the inanimate world. Chapter 39 verse 1:
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Chapter 39 verse 5 is about 'the wild donkey'; verse 9 is about 'the wild ox'; verse 13 is about 'the ostrich'; verse 19 is about 'the horse' and verse 26 is about 'the hawk'. You need to look at these chapters on your own. They give you a picture of the awesomeness of God.
The 14th century Christian, Julian of Norwich once imagined God as having in his hand a small object like a nut. 'What is that?' she asked. 'Everything that exists,' was the reply. How important that we never diminish the greatness of God, and never have a God that is 'too small'. There is a danger as we can see in chapter 38 verse 1 of uttering words without knowledge' and 'darkening counsel'. You must never set limits to God. There are no limits to God's knowledge and no limits to God's presence. As the Psalmist says,
'You know when I sit and when I rise ... Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD ... Where can I flee from your presence?' (Psalm 139)
That is why your response must be simply to praise God for what he has revealed of himself. But what God reveals is not just his greatness.
Secondly, there is THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
One of the problems with the Job's friends and one of the problems with many people since is that they think of God just as a lawgiver, or in Bob Fyall's words, 'a heavenly policeman'. He is simply an agent of law and order. And on this understanding because everything works by strict rules, Job must be guilty. But what the bible teaches and what Job is having to learn is that at the heart of the universe is not a cold mechanical deity. What we have is a loving heavenly Father. In verse one of chapter 38 God, in the original, is given his name Yahweh - or Jehovah. The word 'LORD' in capitals in the NIV shows that God is being referred to by this covenant name - Yahweh. In chapters 1 and 2 God is referred to as Yahweh. But not often in the other chapters of Job. But here he is referred to as the LORD, (Yahweh - Jehovah) the God who has revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and supremely in Jesus Christ. And he is the God whose people, the nation of Israel and now the church, are those to whom, and through whom, he has chosen to reveal his purposes for the world. And this God, as the bible shows, is sovereign over history and all the events of history. Nothing happens without his permission. Yet his absolute sovereignty is not incompatible with freedom in the world. This is a mystery but it is a reality. Look at verse 9 of chapter 39 for freedom in the animal world:
"Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will he stay by your manger at night? 10 Can you hold him to the furrow with a harness? Will he till the valleys behind you? 11 Will you rely on him for his great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to him?"
The answer is, 'No!' And as Job began to be shown the greatness and the sovereignty of God, he would begin to realize that God knew all about his situation and was in control. He would have realized the truth of those words of Jesus that 'even the very hairs of your head are all numbered' (Mat 10.30). Do you believe that - that God knows you to the very last detail? If you really believe that, of course, you should trust him.
Some people this morning may never, ever, have got to that position of trust. In the words of Job 40 verse 1 you may have been spending much of your life 'contending with the Almighty'. You have been trying to 'correct him.' How unbelievably foolish! Our God is the almighty Father. I have had problems with my computer this week. I don't understand much about the circuitry. So trying to tell God what to do, is like me telling the computer engineers what they should do to my computer. That is the way many - in fact millions - treat God. They seek to correct him and tell him how to manage the world. You only really begin to trust God and receive his benefits when you're like Job. In verse 4 of chapter 40, after he'd been shown so much of the greatness and sovereignty of God he 'answered the Lord' in these words:
"I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer - twice, but I will say no more."
Who needs to do that this morning? It is easier now that God has revealed himself in Jesus. You can see that Christ died for you and bore your sin on the Cross. You then, like Job, admit your situation and your blindness to God's truth. You receive his forgiveness and the strength of his Holy Spirit to live a new life and face life's problems. Let's move on.
Thirdly, there is THE GOODNESS OF GOD
In these chapters God is not only communicating his majesty and his providence as he takes Job on a tour of the universe. He is also communicating the glorious extravagance and even the fun that there is in the universe. Verse 13 of chapter 39:
The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
For all the contradictions and even the tragedies in nature - for example, even the poor ostrich, verses 14-15:
lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, 15 unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them
for all that, the natural response to the glories of nature is to praise God for his good creation. It is fallen; but it was created good. So when you are on holiday in a beautiful part of the world, it is evidence of our good creator. The Psalmist says:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Ps 19.1).
And look at Job 38 verse 7:
the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
I must conclude. I do so with a question. Who needs a new vision of God? That is what Job needed. His problems then were put into a right perspective.