April 14, 2016
People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire. Job 5:7
Smithsonian magazine never fails to provide interesting articles, both online and in print. A few weeks ago, for instance, I read a piece explaining why rockfalls happen in Yosemite National Park.
The article began with mention of a 1996 incident in which 80,000 tons of granite slid down onto a trail, taking out about 1,000 trees, a bridge and a snack bar along the way, as well as killing a hiker and injuring several others. The author noted that around 60 to 70 of these kinds of occurrences happen each year in the park, usually due to some obvious cause, such as a storm or an earthquake. But the 1996 event, as well as other seemingly random rockfalls—appeared to happen for no apparent reason.
But now scientists think they know why.
For over three years, two geologists used an instrument to study a large chunk in Yosemite still attached to the main rock at the top and bottom but separated by about four inches in the middle. They observed that every day when the air heated up, the rock also got warmer and expanded away from its anchor. When the temperatures cooled at night, the slab contracted back. In summer, it progressed more outward; in winter, inward.
The constant motion is destabilizing the rock, which means that eventually it will fall off, perhaps triggered by another event, like a storm—or maybe not even that. Looking back on data from past rockfalls, the geologists noted that around 15 percent of them occurred not during severe weather events, but on warm, clear days—just when you’d least expect them.
Have you ever had a delightful day utterly ruined in a moment? I have. Things are going along smoothly, we’re feeling great, then suddenly—boom! Out of the blue we’re blindsided by “rockfalls,” which can be as small as a nasty comment or as huge as devastating, life-altering news.
That’s how it must have been for Job, as we read in the biblical book of the same name (and yes, he was a real person—see Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and James 5:11—and his story is not allegorical). Job wasn’t perfect—none of us are (Romans 3:23)—but the Bible tells us he was in good standing with God (1:1). He had a large family and prosperous business, considered “the greatest of all the men in the east” (1:3). Yet in one day, he lost it all (1:13-22).
The record doesn’t sugar coat his physical and mental suffering. Job wishes he’d been stillborn (Job 3:11-13) and longs for death (17:1). He feels hopeless, helpless and abandoned (17:15,19:6-20, 30:27-31). He begs God for relief and demands to know why He’s doing this to him (Job 13:20-14:22). It’s that last issue that perhaps plagues him the most (23:14-16).
And while he’s at it, Job also wonders why God doesn’t punish the world’s real evildoers (24:2-24).
Those who should have consoled Job instead make him feel worse. His wife tells him to curse God and die (2:9-10). Three friends come by to “help.” Mostly they insist he must have done something wrong to deserve his calamity (8:1-7). Job calls them out as “sorry comforters” (16:1).
In short, Job’s piled-on anguish causes him to doubt everything he thought he knew about God and about life.
God finally breaks His silence to answer him—in a way (chapters 38-41). He rhetorically asks Job a series of more than 70 questions to point out Job’s ignorance in the face of His own all-consuming greatness.
How absurd that Job should become the critic of the Creator (38:2, 40:1-2), God says. Does he rule the sun and moon, snow and rain, or the animals? No, Job can’t even tame nature, so how dare he demand an accounting from the One who can (41:1-11)? Criticizing God’s ways was, in effect, trying to usurp His power and position as Lord of the universe (40:8-9).
In the midst of these questions, Job realizes he has no answer (40:3-5). And when God is finished speaking, the only reply he can give is this: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (42:2-6). He asks forgiveness for his pride, arrogance and rebellion, acknowledging that God truly is Lord of the good days and bad.
There are many lessons in the book of Job, many more nuances than I can parse out in one blog post. Perhaps the biggest, and the hardest to come to terms with, is that we don’t always know God’s purposes. We don’t know what goes on in the unseen world. The first two chapters of Job detail the root of Job’s misery—the devil. The Bible says he’s our adversary (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:10) and opposes everything God stands for (Isaiah 14:12-17, Ezekiel 28:11-15). Why God initiated the conversation that led to Job’s being tested, and gave Satan permission to do so isn’t revealed (1:6, 12).
Nor does God feel the need to explain. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” God states in Isaiah 55:8-9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Job’s wife’s reaction was that God was capricious, mean and unfair. That’s a conclusion in direct opposition to the Bible’s overarching message. If God really were callous and unjust, what’s the explanation for all the good Job had? Job replies to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10). In his journey of suffering, he discovers all over again, as we must, that assuming God blesses the righteous and afflicts the wicked is faulty theology. Matthew 5:45 tells us God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” That’s frequently called “common grace”—although there’s nothing common about it! It’s the work of a good God who provides for all, regardless of how they feel about Him.
Finally, Job’s “friend” Zophar flat out declares that Job’s suffering is his fault, because of something he did, and he is just getting what he deserves. All he needs is to repent and everything would be fine again (11:1-6, 13-15). Again, that reasoning flies in the face of a good God. Certainly just as our parents had to correct and punish us for our misdeeds, God sets up consequences to our disobedience to Him. The ultimate punishment for those who refuse to heed Him is eternal death (Matthew 25:31-46). But Job chapters 1 and 2 explicitly state that Job did nothing wrong, so the conclusion that all suffering is caused by sin can’t be universally true. The Bible clearly says that God’s desire is always reconciliation, not retribution (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Another lesson to be learned from these “sorry comforters” is to not be one. When we comfort others, it’s not our place to try to discover the reason behind the woes. Our job isn’t to find the answers, but to listen, offer a shoulder to cry on, help the sufferer work through the pain, and assure him or her that God is there.
Here’s how the late Charles Ryrie sums up the takeaway from the book of Job: “If we know God, we do not need to know why He allows us to experience what we do. He is not only in control of the universe and all its facets but also of our lives, and He loves us. Though His ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension, we should not criticize Him for His dealings with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”
On good days, you might nod your head in agreement. If you’re in the midst of turmoil right now, maybe that’s not a wholly satisfactory explanation. I get it. A perfectionist control freak like me prefers neat and tidy answers I can fully wrap my head around.
I think that’s where the phrase “leap of faith” comes in. Trusting in a good God when life is hard isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know why things happen is tough. But among God’s many promises to us is this: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The apostle Paul found that out, too, when he asked the Lord to take away some persistent affliction: “My grace is enough for you,” God answered (2 Corinthians 12:9). And with that, we mere mortals have to be satisfied.
Oh, we may have to wrestle through difficult times to get to that place of trust—again and again and again, as our emotions, like a rock slab, expand and contract. And that’s okay. As the old hymn says, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”
Trust is the only answer that brings relief and makes sense of suffering—trust in a sovereign God whose purposes are beyond our understanding, trust in His perfection and justice, and not our own inadequate righteousness. The first step to developing that trust is to “seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); that is, to restore a right relationship between yourself and God by accepting His gift of salvation through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).
So when the rocks fall on a sunny day, you’ll be ready.