Theology in 3D

Truth for Triumphing over Trouble #4

Layton Talbert | July 6, 2018
Old Testament, Theology

God’s goal is not that we merely survive trouble but that we triumph in it and over it. One of the byproducts of that triumph is when the pressure of trouble, by squeezing us, “diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).

So far we’ve found in Job these three truths for triumphing over trouble:

  1. What we can see is not all there is; there’s a lot going on we don’t know about.
  2. God has the right to remove anything He has graciously given in the first place.
  3. It is unreasonable to expect only unmixed good from God.

That has brought us to the end of Job 2. After Satan’s accusations (Job 1:9-112:4-5) are proved wrong by Job’s responses to unexplained calamity and affliction (Job 1:20-222:10), you’d think the story would be over. Job has passed the tests magnificently.

Being the godly man that he was, Job’s initial, instinctive reaction was to interpret his circumstances on the basis of what he knew about God. That’s a sound, mature, biblical perspective — all the more remarkable since Job had no access (so far as we know) to anything we would call a “Bible.” And yet the story is just beginning. Because the ultimate test of genuine integrity is not immediate reaction under short-term pressure, but endurance under unrelenting long-term strain–when day after dreary day drags on and “the cripple tardy–gaited night . . . like a foul and ugly witch doth limp so tediously away” (Shakespeare, Henry V). Time ticked away with merciless monotony, like a clicking clock echoing in an empty room, with no change, no relief, no definitive diagnosis or prognosis in sight except for those of his “worthless physicians” (Job 13:4). “Months of emptiness,” he complained, “are appointed to me” (Job 7:3). Some of you know what that feels like.

As life slowly bleeds away, Job fixates on one question: “Why?” Specifically, “why should this happen to me?” That’s when he begins to drift, almost imperceptibly at first, from the convictions that grounded his initial response in chapters 1 and 2.

Gradually Job starts re-evaluating his conclusions about God on the basis of his circumstances. Don’t we all? But that’s a very self-deceptive perspective to cultivate — not least because what we can see is not all there is to our circumstances. (Like I said, Truth #1 is really foundational.) Reality is not defined by my perceptions; I must realign my perceptions with what God’s revelation declares to be reality.

But something happens in Job 38 to shatter the stalemate. God finally breaks his silence. Breaks? With a thunderbolt he splinters his silence into a shower of sparks, a hundred stinging questions for Job. Job has been asking all the questions; now it’s God’s turn. And he responds to Job’s preoccupation with the question of “Why?” by confronting him with a bigger question: “Who?”

It’s a double-edged question. First, do you really understand who you are—how small you are, how weak you are, how little you know? And second, do you really understand who I am—who it is you’re challenging and questioning and doubting, and what I am really like?

For the next four chapters (38-41) God confronts Job with the answer to those questions from a dozen different angles. Finally in chapter 42, Job utters a three-part confession:

(1) God, you are absolutely sovereign. I know that you can do anything [you want] and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). I have supplied the [you want] because that is ultimately the point. Job’s language can almost sound like a confession of God’s omnipotence (v. 2a) or even, in some translations, a confession God’s omniscience (v. 2b). But God’s omnipotence and omniscience have never been in doubt. Job is confessing God’s absolute rights over everything he has made, his absolute freedom to do whatever he wants. That’s what Job has been wrestling with ever since chapter 6. Granted, Job acknowledged this at the beginning. Truths #2 and #3 are essentially Job’s acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. But the tedium of time and the erosion of circumstances slowly loosened his grip on what he believed about God. Job finally comes full circle back to the familiar terrain of those initial convictions, now far more deeply felt and deeply grounded than ever before.

(2) God, I have talked too confidently and freely and foolishly about things I really don’t understand (Job 42:3-5).

(3) God, I recant and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). Most translations supply an object (myself) for the first verb (often translated abhor); but there is no object. It seems a logical reading between the lines. But if Job is merely confessing here a sense of self-loathing, then he hasn’t really progressed from his previous plea of “temporary insanity” (Job 40:4-5). The absence of any object, coupled with the context and the way this word is used, suggests that the best translation is the one I’ve given above (I recant). Job is taking back every foolish thing he said, dropping his suit against God, and pleading nolo contender to God’s countersuit against him.

What’s easy to miss amid all this is that God never answers Job’s burning question, “Why?”And yet, Job bows in utter surrender and contentment. And he never raises that question again.

How to condense all that? Here’s Truth #4 for triumphing over trouble: I do not need to know why things happen; I only need to remember who governs my life and submit to whatever he chooses to do. Sometimes that submission means doing nothing but waiting. But the prematurely blinding Milton was right: in the court of a King, “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

If Truth #4 is not the heart of the message of the book of Job, it is very near it.

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