38 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
Job 38:34-41 New International Version (NIV)
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? 35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? 36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[a] or gives the rooster understanding?[b] 37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens 38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions 40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? 41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?
Dilemmas, Trilemmas… and The Girding of One’s Loins Job 38 (selected verses) Oct 21, 2018
Most of us have faced our fair share of dilemmas in our lives. A situation calls for a decision to be made, with the outcome not being self-evident at the time. Both choices have merit (and sometimes equally so), making the choice that much harder. Depending on what’s at stake, such decisions can be agonizing. Currently this fall many farmers have had to make difficult choices amidst an unknown future. Do I harvest my wheat at 18% moisture in late August, or wait a few days (or weeks, perhaps even months) and try and get it off dry? Do I swath all my cereal crops to avoid the possible detrimental effects of an early snow, or leave them standing in the field in hopes that the snow is not forthcoming, or if it does come, the crops will remain standing in spite of it. Decisions, decisions. What a dilemma.
The situation gets even more complicated when another factor is thrown in the mix, and we need to try and reconcile, or make sense of all three. This is called a “trilemma”, and we find such a situation presented in the book of Job regarding the justice of God, human suffering, and how God rewards and punishes. Premise one is that God is just, and as a manifestation of that justice, God rewards the good, and punishes the evil. This premise is found throughout the Bible, particularly in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 28, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out…etc., etc.). The converse is true for those who do evil; “15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.
Premise two is that Job is a righteous man (not perfect mind you, but in comparison to others of his day…better than most). The text actually says this about the man Job, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” God holds Job before Satan as the exemplar of humanity, and Satan does not contend Job’s righteousness (but rather the reason for it).
Premise three is that Job suffers. As we look at Job’s losses; his wealth, all his children, his health, his honor, and even the sense of God’s presence, I don’t think any would contend with the premise that Job suffered. So how does one reconcile this apparent conundrum? One of the premises must not be true. The fact that Job is suffering is undebatable. One of the other premises must be false. The three friends assume the fault lies with Job, and even though he seems to be righteous, the only way they can reconcile his suffering is that he must have committed some sin, and God is punishing him for that sin.
Job however denies this conclusion and assumes that the fault must lie with God’s application of justice. He laments that fact that he cannot meet with the Almighty and plead his case before Him. If he could, then God would realize that He had not been fair with Job and relent of the suffering He had caused
him. In today’s reading, Job gets his wish, and a hearing with the Almighty. Although not recorded here, Job may well have been the one to coin the phrase, “you better be careful what you wish for…for you just might get it. Although Job may have been thinking he would take the role of prosecuting attorney in this meeting, things didn’t quite work as planned.
We can’t really get at the tone of the speech that God delivers to Job, but as it pretexted with the phrase, “gird up your loins” (or as translated in the NIV, “brace yourself”), one can well imagine what that tone might be. It seems God has a few questions of his own. Most of God’s rhetorical questions/statements focus on God’s role in creation, and in sustaining that creation. Just as in Genesis where we read that God speaks the universe into existence, so His voice continues to inform the clouds as to when and where they do His bidding (we have been praying for this for the past six weeks or more, in hopes that he would tell those clouds to take a break for a while). God’s care is not limited only to the cosmic realm but comes closer to earth as He supplies for the daily needs of both the young lions and ravens.
We don’t hear how this encounter ends in today’s text, but since I’ll be at the convention next Sunday (and I’m not sure what Landon is preaching about), we’ll cover that also today. When the “dust settles” between God and Job, Job no longer contests that God is unjust, and by implication, can deal justly with both with him and the entire universe besides (In Rabbi Harold Kushner best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Kushner concluded that God essentially was not able to intervene in the death of his son). God is both Omniscient (all knowing) and Omnipotent (all powerful) regarding both Job and the whole of creation. In that one moment in time (or several moments, for the speech is rather lengthy), Job realizes that he was out of line in criticizing God’s justice and had become a little to “big for his britches” (or loin-protectors).
Even though God’s response seems firm, we will learn next week that God continues to be pleased with Job, and not so pleased with his three friends. Even though their statements represented the popular wisdom of the day (and much of our day as well), this was the point in the trilemma that needed addressing. Although the righteous often do receive blessings from God, and the unrighteous curses, God is not some kind of cosmic vending machine dispensing blessings and curses in proportion to our good or evil deeds. God causes the sun to rise (shine) and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust alike (Mat 5:45). There are times as well when God allows/causes suffering in particular circumstances to achieve higher objectives. I began to understand this in part years ago when our infant son Mike was scheduled for a brain scan to try and discern why he was developmentally delayed. We had waited some time already for the scan, so when the phone call came for his early morning appointment, we gladly responded, hopeful that the scan would lead to a possible cure for his delay.
As the time for the for the scan approached, he was sedated and made ready. Minutes before the scan was to be taken, the imagining machine was needed for another who had experienced some type of emergency (I can’t remember the details now). Before Mike could get his scan, the sedative wore off, and he was given another dose. As we continued to wait, another emergency patient needed attention, so Mike was bumped back once again. When this patient was finished, the anesthetist asked us to make a new appointment for another day, as he didn’t think giving Mike another dose would be safe. After waiting for months for this appointment, this didn’t seem like an option for us, so we demanded (as much as our personalities can do that) another option. The option that was presented was for one of us to hold Mike’s head motionless for the duration of the scan. One small move would nullify the results.
For what seemed like hours I pressed upon Mike’s head and entire body with mine as to render him motionless. There was a look of sheer terror in his eyes. In that little brain of his I’m sure he thought his once friend had now become his bitter foe. I can still feel some of the emotion of that day some 35 years hence. The suffering he was experiencing in that moment, was for a greater good, although he could neither perceive or believe it. I believe God on occasion does something similar with us. It’s often hard (even impossible) for us to see this at the time-but God knows all and has our ultimate good in mind.
Last week we learned God’s response to suffering in that God entered into human suffering in the life and death of Jesus. Far from being meaningless, random, or unjust, the suffering of God defeated the power of death and the Devil and brought salvation to all who believe. In the book of Job (as is true for much of the suffering that happens in our lives), Job never really discovers the purposes behind it. He does however persist in and through it, and in the end does not curse God because of it.
In the last chapter, Job’s wealth is restored twice over, and he and his wife go on to have ten more children. It seems somewhat crass in our day and age to speak of “replacement children”, but such was Job’s experience. Like the Apostle Paul, Job had now experienced both plenty and want, blessing and suffering, and acknowledged God in both.
In my twenty-one years of farming I never resolved the dilemma as whether I should swath my wheat in the event of an early snow, or leave it stand in hopes of it surviving a possible snow, in hopes of harvesting it sooner once the weather turned, and not loosing a grade or two in the interim. Some years it worked best to swath it early, and other years it was better to leave it standing. Sometimes I made the correct decision, and other years not so much. Even in and through some anxious times, I learned to trust God with the harvest, whether if I made the right choice or not. In my life of suffering I have come to much the same place. Sometimes we bring suffering on ourselves (it’s not really God’s fault that I’m not all that physically fit, and whenever I put in a day of hard physical work I suffer because of it). There are other times however when we can’t draw a straight line between our behavior and our suffering. Just as rain falls on the just and the unjust, car accidents, cancer, and natural disasters happen to both as well.
God has sustained me for these 61-plus years through rain and drought, snowed under crops, and various illnesses and operations along the way. I want to remember God’s provision for me in and through all these times and thank and praise Him for that. Whether you swathed your crops early, or are straight combining them now, most are getting their crops off once again this year. God never promised to be our personal genie or vending machine… but rather a “very present help in time of trouble” …and our Lord. Amen