It has been said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But I’d like you to consider for right now that at some point—maybe involving death and or taxes—you will feel overwhelmed at some point in your life—perhaps at many points. I guess this is why Job’s story still entertains our thoughts and stirs our spirits to this day. Usually it’s his patience that gets all the attention, and although seeing tough times through to their conclusion is usually of great benefit, there are situations where Job’s other, often overlooked qualities could be of great usefulness.
Yesterday we heard Zophar advise Job to get his act together, to make himself innocent, and then to attempt to approach God to find hope in his direst of circumstances. “First, lay aside your burdens, Job, make yourself worthy, and then go to God.” Job’s response to this advice begins in chapter twelve and continues through the following two chapters. In twelve, Job refutes Zophar’s belief that prosperity and blessings are signs of a right relationship with God, and he goes on to question the belief that any human being has the ability to earn a place in the divine presence. Afterall, “God raises nations and beings them down.”
In this rebuttal, Job does something that we often are afraid to do, he questions the nature of suffering and blessing and God’s role in them. “The thugs still rule and provoke God, and yet they remain in power while in the hand of God; thieves keep their wealth while the righteous suffer.” We usually equate Job’s patience with quiet submission—a stiff upper lip—but during his speech in chapters 12-14, he is anything but. Although he admits that he doesn’t understand why some suffer while others are blessed, nevertheless, chapter twelve is about Job’s confession that God is always God, in good times and in the bad. What can Job possible do in the face of this reality? Well, he can keep on questioning.
In chapter thirteen, Job asks God the question that we rarely ask in other’s company: why is he going through this. Job wants to know why this incredible and awesome God should even bother with a man such as he, “a leaf being tossed about…[or] a fleeting shadow.” He wants to know what the Almighty has against him. “What are my faults and my sins? My misdeed, my sin make known to me!” (15) But Job continues:
Will you harass a wind-driven leaf or pursue a withered straw? For you draw up bitter indictments against me, and punish in me the faults of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks; you watch all my paths and trace out all my footsteps. Though I wear out like a leather bottle, like a garment the moth has consumed. (26-28)
Humility, it appears, is not one of Job’s growing edges. He confesses here who he is when compared to God and in the next chapter the nature of his—and all—human life. To give you’re the Reader’s Digest version, it’s kinda’ bleak—very Ecclesiastes:
For a tree there is hope; it is cut down, it will sprout again, its tender shoots will not cease, even though the root grows old in the earth and its stump dies in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it sprouts and puts forth branches like a young plant. But when people die, all vigor leaves them. When mortals die, where then are they?
Yet God prevails, Job says. God overcomes where all else, especially flesh, fails.
What Job teaches us here is that it is okay for us to ask God the hard questions in the midst of pain and loss. (But don’t be surprised when you hear a hard answer in reply.) That is, as long as our question is preceded by a honest assessment of ourselves and the recognition that we are not God and are in no way deserving. Take that Zophar. For what rises from this is a humility that saves, a humility that rests in God’s mercy and grace. Job declares this when he states the no one “can make the unclean clean:” no one can make oneself holy and innocent. And why is that? Because we are “like a flower that springs up and then fades.”
In his willingness to ask the question, Job is admitting that he hasn’t any answers and cannot possibly solve his problems. He is giving it all to God. But he doesn’t quietly acquiesce to what is happening to him, he doesn’t simply throw his hands up and say, “It’s God’s will.” No, Job rages against that which would overwhelm him. Slumped shoulders and the words “Oh well” never cross his mind.
As children, my parents would take the family to Gulf Shores every year. Although I hate the sand today, back then I might as well have had gills. While other kids were busy building sandcastles and sunning, I was in the water fighting the waves—trying to keep my balance and footing as wave after wave threatened to push me under. I knew it was a battle that I would not win, and would have probably been freaked out if I did, yet I would stay at it until my parents told me to come in.
Job 13:15 reads, “Slay me though he might, I will wait for God; I will defend my conduct before God.” Through his honest self-assessment Job puts himself into a place where he can God and respond. And I think this is what allows Paul to remain faithful in every circumstance.
Beaten, imprisoned and let down by the system in Philippi for doing good; persecuted in Thessalonica by its religious leaders, its government, and the mob because he presented a persuading case for the gospel; and hounded by these same religious elites in Beroea, how easily Paul could have chosen to walk away from Jesus’ calling—after all, as Job and Tanya Tucker would agree, he’s just a man. But as he says to the philosophers on Mars Hill:
The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, 25 nor is God served by human hands because of any need. Rather it is God who gives to everyone life and breath and everything. 26 God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth and fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, 27 so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope and find that God is not far from any one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being…’
To paraphrase: No matter who we are, where we are, or what we are going through, like Job, we can reach out and find God is already there. And because of Christ, we know that although God is infinite and eternal, and we are but a fleeting shadow, a leaf tossed about in the wind, and like the dust of the ground often disregarded and beaten down, we may approach God in any situation or condition to find grace and help in the times of our needs.