Thursday, January 6, 2011

Beware Lest You Defend God!

You would think I'd have titled this, "Beware Lest You OFFEND God." But we need to be just as wary of defending him, lest we end up, in doing so, after all offending him. That's what Job's friends did. Here's the story.

In the book of Job, Job's "comforters," his friends who came to visit after all the disasters described in Chapter 1 had come upon him, didn't like the way Job was talking about God. They felt as if Job was accusing God of sending suffering his way without due cause, so they leapt to God's defense.

"God," they said, "always rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in just the ways we describe. Therefore your suffering, Job, has come upon you due to wickedness in your life."

But Job refuses this view, instead pointing out what we might call the difficult providences of God. He speaks directly to God about it like this:

"What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark?" (7:17-20)

Now, these words of Job's must have sounded blasphemous to Job's friends, and they likely would to us, too. So they set about vigorously "defending" God (as we might). But the truth was, Job was on to something that his friends had missed. Job knew that God does not stand in need of misguided defense, as Job's friends tried to provide. Job was seeing and commenting on the whole thing in a more truthful way (although with limited understanding) than his three comforters. His view of God as the sovereign "instigator" of his suffering was spot on:

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (12: 17).

Even the dumb beasts, even the bushes, could have told Job's friends that God, the sovereign ruler of all things, had brought "all this" about! Duh!

What did God want to teach Job, and all Job's friends, about himself? He wanted to teach them that he is Ruler, and that he is good. That he is sovereign, and that he is merciful. That his ways are higher than ours and past finding out, yet that he is willing to draw near to us. Job wishes for an "arbiter," or umpire (Job 9:32-33) to "lay his hand on us both" (that is, on both him and God, should Job be allowed to bring his unhappy case before God for trial). The New Testament tells us that God did indeed send just such a Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 9:15, 12:24) to do what we weak and unrighteous people could never do: make us righteous by his own blood, and forever successfully plead our case before God the Judge! So we see that the God who sometimes sends affliction is the same God who sends mercy. And he does it all for his own purposes, for his own glory, and for those who are his, their good.

Puny man cannot accuse or defend God. Here is how Job rightly puts it to his friends who are so eager to "get God off the hook" :

"With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land... he makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away...

"Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out?... He will surely rebuke you, if in secret you show partiality!" (Job 13:1-12).

And here is how God finally speaks to the issue, putting it this way to Job's friends:

"My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has... my servant Job will pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7-8).

Beware of "defending" God! :)

No comments: