Saturday, November 01, 2008

Christopher Ash on Job, the Christian Believer and Suffering

Loads of things happening requiring much sorting out.

Steam Boat!
Thankful for good food (prepared and cooked by other people) and a few hours of laughter.

Chris Ash promoting his book on Job
Thankful also for Christopher Ash speaking on the Book of Job:

Does Jesus want you to be rich, healthy, successful and powerful? It is easy to mock the prosperity gospel but some parts of the Bible appear to agree with its teachings (eg. Proverbs 3:1-10).

If the world was well-run, shouldn't the godly be healthy and wealthy, and the ungodly die in great pain? Job in Job 21 says that if there's a prosperity gospel, it sure isn't working in this world because the wicked are having a great time in their evil lives.

Job 1:1-5
We are told by God that Job is "blameless". Not that he was sinless but that he had integrity – he was the same inside and out. He feared God and honoured and trusted God. He was a man whose life was shaped by God. Blameless Job was wealthy, healthy, happy and he had a nice family. Just what you'd expect in a well-run world.

We know the story. Satan asks for terrible permission to afflict Job and God grants it. Job is made bankrupt, his children die and his own health is destroyed. But note: this happens to him because he is a blameless believer.

So just how does God treat his friends? And is God worthy to be God? The second question is the nub of Satan's underlying question in the conversation between God and Satan in Job 1:6-12 and Job 2:1-7a: oh God, Job a real believer? No, he's a prosperity gospel believer. He's in it because of what he can get out of it. Take everything away from him, God, and you will see what he really is. No one worships you because you're God. Oh no, they're only in it for the money or health.

Job 2:11ff
So God gives Satan terrible permission to take this all away from Job, and Job's lament is dark and depressing. No one would preach this if they wanted a happy clappy church. (Here Chris rehashed the story of William Cowper and Wilfred Owen.) There's a kind of superficial kind of Christianity that has Jesus singing "It's a happy day" at the tomb of Lazurus or "With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm". Let's grapple with reality. God's people do suffer. And Job is suffering not because he is sinless but he has not sinned that he hasn't repented. He has done nothing wrong in God's eyes.

Job 2:11-13
Suffering can isolate us. Job's comforters are the wisdom of the world come to comfort him. Their silence wasn't much good. It wasn't a silence of sympathy but a bankruptcy – they had nothing to say. Plus this was the sort of thing people would do when someone had already died (see Genesis 50:10 and 1 Samuel 31:13).

Suffering, even trivial suffering, isolates. What more deep suffering. The believer can only look back and wish that he'd never been conceived or born (Job 3:3-10). Deep darkness speaks of the darkness on the cross, the Egyptian plague, the narrative about Judas going out to betray Jesus "and it was night".

Job wants to put life in reverse and wishes it never happened. He wishes he'd died at birth, then he would be at peace and at rest. Job is so very tired. Prisoners never forget the voice of the prisonmaster or slaves of the slavedriver. They are scarred for life, recurring dreams of horror. Job feels that kind of anguish. Why is life given to those in misery?

Job 3:20-26
The believer cannot avoid God. We could import the gospel – "oh it was alright in the end because they lived happily ever after and Jesus came" but that does not grapple with reality. For the believer, the best is not in the past but is yet to be. Still, believers do face times like C. S. Lewis did when it seems as if you are happy and you turn to God, there is an open door. But when you are desperate and full of grief, you turn to God and the door is shut. They can read Bible verses but they cannot sense the presence of God.

Job knows that his life has been given. He doesn't know why. He knows there is a hedge around him that protects him from death and keeps him suspended in a life (of misery) and he knows that God has done it. It is God whom he has to deal with in his suffering.

So Job sits in desolation and grief. Thousands of years later,there was one with 3 friends, but they did not share his grief. That man prayed alone in a darkness deeper than Job's, a darkness never before seen or seen since. On the cross, he gave a cry of dereliction "Why have you forsaken me?" and it seemed that he could not see the future. But he could cross the abyss and plunge into deepest hell. The objective truth is that the Christian believer who feels utter darkness has one who walks with him/her who has been through deeper darkness. This is so much better than the prosperity gospel. Don't settle for shallow teaching.

Suffering is what we can expect in the Christian life. God is kind to warn us of this in his word.

Two surprising marks of a real believer
How can you tell a real believer?

The little conversation between God and Satan sounds like a casual bet. And then down here on earth, Job is bankrupted, loses his children and his health. We think our happiness and fulfillment is important but it is more important that God is glorified regardless (1 Peter 1:6-7, 1 Peter 5:8).

The story of Job is not merely about Job but a foreshadowing of Christ and of the normal Christian life. We read Job not as a spectator but as what will happen to us. Satan is prowling and waiting to attack and perhaps God will let him.

Every church is a mix of people who are and aren't Christian. Some preachers and pastors aren't. Outward form means nothing. How you can tell a real believer is when the difficulties come and they choose a non-Christian boyfriend or girlfriend, when success or health or prosperity is taken away, when precious relationships are taken away.

God tells us what he thinks of the comforters and their speeches (Job 42:7ff). The comforters are essentially wrong even though they seem right. The comfortors' common error is their tidy minds. They think:
(1) God is almighty – everyone agrees with that.
(2) God is just – everyone agrees with that.
(3) Therefore, God must punish wickedness and reward faith and virtue and he must do it pretty soon.
(4) Therefore if I am experiencing suffering, I must be wicked! This is alarmingly close to the theology of many churches.

So how can we tell a real believer? For some, it is that they say that Jesus is Lord or that they love other Christians.

But surprisingly, we see from Job that (1) the believer experiences the problem of pain in a way that the unbeliever shouldn't.

Job 6:2-4
God is the archer and he's using me as target practice. And he's shooting poisoned arrows. What causes Job the most grief? Is it his bankruptcy? Is it losing his children? Or losing his health? It is that he thinks that God has done this to him.

Job 7:17-21
This reminds us of Psalm 8 but here Job is asking why God is picking on him. The pain is that God has done it.

Job 9:21-24
Job claims that he is "blameless" and we might think that he's being stuck-up and self-righteous but God tells us that he's being honest. So is God a dishonest judge? Does he say "hahaha they thought they were trusting me but now I'm having fun at their expense!"? These are impeachment accusations. Very serious stuff.

Job's pain is that God is acting like this. This is the problem of pain. Non-believers say that they can't believe because of all the suffering in the world. But we need to ask them why it troubles them. It is a problem for Christians not a problem for non-Christians. It is a mark of a believer to struggle with this. The comforters are not troubled by the problem of pain. They believe in karma. It is mark of the believer to feel the pain of this unfair world.

(2) The believer is marked by a passionate longing to see God stepping in.

Job 23:2-10
Job longs for the God who seems to hate him. He knows that his suffering is not the end of it. It's like when a girl shouts to a boy "I hate you, I hate you" but actually means "I love you but I want you to prove that you're not the monster you appear to be". At the deepest level, Job longs for God and wants this resolved.

Job 5:1
Eliphaz taunts Job and asks him to give up calling on God but to listen to the comforters instead.

Job 9:3-21a
Job is longing to stand before God but can't take him on.

Job 9:32-35
It is not a fair contest, not a level playing field. If only there was a mediator or referee. But there can't be because God is God.

Job 14:13-17
Job is longing to be dead so that God will get over his anger. And then his PA can make Job an appointment to see God. He has been longing to talk to him.

Job 13:15
Job must trust in God. There is no higher authority.

God and unanswered questions
Job 28
But God doesn't answer why Job is still alive or why life is given to people who have to go through such deep darkness.

Where can wisdom be found? It is inaccessible, and it is priceless. You can pile up the wealth of a wonderful world and won't even get near it. It is hidden from everyone even humans. No one has seen it, no one can find it. Job is right to look for it but he won't find it.

Only God understands. He controls the most "random" and "chaotic" things. He's the source of everything.

But God tells us the wisdom that humans can have: it is not understanding the architecture of the universe but in fearing the architect – a fear of the LORD. An obedience of faith, trusting and submitting to and loving God. Knowledge puffs up. Stop trying to find out why but walk with he who knows why and trust him. (Colossians 2:2-3: all the architecture of the universe is in Christ.)

This is a humbling chapter. God knows the way to wisdom and he knows all the answers. He may not tell us everything but we can be wise without knowing all answers.

Job 40
Think of the most evil thing on earth and the Behemoth and Leviathan laugh at it. Jesus calls their master, Satan, the ruler of this world and he has been savaging the Jobs of this world.

The point here is not that the Leviathan is scary but that he is God's creature. God is more powerful than that. He has power over the Leviathan and death (and it is through death that he had power over death (Hebrews)). Only in the New Testament that we learn that the reason these monsters have power is that we have given them power through sin. We have a strong sense of the overwhelming power of evil but we can't overcome it. But they are God's creatures and he has them on leash (albeit a rather long leash).

In the darkness, we can entrust ourselves to the one who has them on leash. In the darkness, we must remember the sovereign faithfulness of God. God is God and we are not. Previously, Job knew true doctrine but now he sees God – not in a mystical sense but that he understands God more deeply. This then is the Christian experience – to grasp truths more deeply than before.

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