Category Archives: Job

The Balance between Despair and Hope

 

In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.

Knowledge of God and Self

 

In the Scriptures we are often confronted with the Principal of Recognition.  First, we come to recognize who God is, e.g. “In the beginning God” and then we come to recognize ourselves, e.g. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 1:26; 6:5

This is clearly on display in the Book of Job, particularly if we examine the latter chapters where Yahweh speaks, revealing more of His character in bringing Job to an increased knowledge of Whom he has to do (Hebrews 4:13).  Subsequently, Job’s eyes are illuminated to see himself now with respect to God; the creature in light of the Creator.

This principal is not limited to Job, but spans all of Scripture and the examples are many.  It is evident with Moses (Exodus 34:8); Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28); as well as in the New Testament with Peter (Luke 5:8) and the Revelation given to John (Revelation 1:13-17).  In each example, and there are others, we see how man is brought to a recognition of his own unworthiness, own sinfulness, in the light of God’s own holiness.  We may refer to this revelation as knowledge of God and it is with respect to this knowledge that we have a greater knowledge of self.

Writing in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin comments

“man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself (Vol. 1, pg. 37).”

and again

“we must infer that man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty (Vol. 1, pg. 39)”

Bringing the mind to a knowledge of God, through His general revelation (creation) and divine revelation (Scripture) should cause us to be struck with fear and reverence and then gratefulness that this same God would ever, by grace, condescend to call us (believers) His children.  Consequently, as Calvin says, this contemplation of God should cause us to consider ourselves, that we may humbled before him, realizing our sinfulness and weaknesses.

This was the path that God lead Job down, may it also be our path as we come to know more of God and more of ourselves.

Job 42:1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

12 Purposes for Affliction

 

Throughout the course of the monologues and dialogues in the book of Job there are at times points of wisdom and clarity and at other times less than helpful opinions and poorly applied theology.  Utilizing one of our interpretive keys of holding onto the good and leaving bad, as it pertains to the speeches, allows the reader to comb through them gleaning truths that are rightly applied in the case of Job’s affliction and similarly may be applied to situations of affliction in our lives.

One such example are the references to God’s purposes in bringing about affliction.  Sometimes these occur as a passing reference intermingled in the midst of rambling speeches, which may be largely unhelpful, while other times they are the focal point as part of a larger discourse on God’s good designs.  Below is a list of these occurrences with a brief discussion providing context of the speaker and their implied purpose

1.Job 5:17-18.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”

Ironically, the first clear explanation of God’s designs in affliction comes from the mouth of Eliphaz, Job 5:8-16, in the first response to Job.  Here, Eliphaz offers advice for Job to seek the face of God, which is followed by an excellent discourse on the wisdom and supremacy of God.  In verses 17-18, cited above, the direction shifts towards the circumstances of the afflicted as a result of the discipline of God.

Here, as in Proverbs 3:11-12 as well as Hebrews 12:5, God has designed affliction to serve as a disciplinary action for His children.  Remember that this discipline is not punitive, but corrective.

2. Job 17:9

Yet the righteous holds to his way,
    and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.

Though perhaps more obscure than the previous purpose, we find in the midst of Job’s lament from Chapter 17 that his affliction is being observed by others, the righteous, who see him as an encouraging example of perseverance in the midst of affliction.  God’s design for affliction among His children is to be exemplary, either as a model for how to suffer or to serve as a warning to others.

3. Job 23:10

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

Here we see the refining purpose for affliction, to purify the child of God, burning off the dross of sin resulting in a purer gold.

4.  Job 30:11

Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
    they have cast off restraint in my presence.”

In this next example, we find the words of Job concluding that his case of affliction has served to humble him.

5.  Job 33:17-18

17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
    and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
    his life from perishing by the sword.

In this passage, God’s mouthpiece for declaring His purposes in affliction shifts from those brief mentions in the speeches of Job and Eliphaz to Elihu.  This begins a string of declarative purposes for affliction by him, perhaps providing us another clue as to the helpfulness of his speeches.

In this first purpose for affliction from Elihu we find that it serves as a corrective to turn a child of God from wickedness, pride, and ultimately death (as a result of sin).

6. Job 33:27-30

29Behold, God does all these things,
    twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
    that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Again, a word from Elihu, he now states the purpose of God in affliction is preventative, specifically from total destruction of the soul.  Not only that, but to set the soul on the path of life.

7. Job 34:26-27.

He strikes them for their wickedness
    in a place for all to see,

because they turned aside from following him
    and had no regard for any of his ways

Our third purpose from the mouth of Elihu provides for us, in context, a focus now upon the wicked, or more clearly, the apostate whom God afflicts because they have turned aside from following Him.  As we know, affliction is not limited to the righteous, nor is it exclusive of the wicked, but God applies it to both according to His own plan and purpose.

8. Job 36:10-11 

10He opens their ears to instruction
    and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
    and die without knowledge.

Here our context, again in a speech from Elihu, shows God’s purpose in elevating the righteous to the status of kings, yet then by necessity afflicting them to expose pride.  In essence, when God pours out blessings on the righteous and they in turn become arrogant and prideful, God is pleased to afflict them in order to instruct them and turn them from their sins.  Interestingly, with this particular application of affliction we find that it has a tendency to bring one to a crossroad.  On the left, the response of the righteous to God’s affliction by listening and serving Him resulting in a complete, full life.  On the right, the response of ignoring God, resulting in death (here by the sword) and dying without knowledge, perhaps affirming their false confession of faith.

9. Job 36:15-16

15He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
    and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
    into a broad place where there was no cramping,
    and what was set on your table was full of fatness.”

Again we read the words of Elihu and find now God’s purposes in affliction described as discipline and educative.

10. Job 36:22

21Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
    for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
22 Behold, God is exalted in his power;
    who is a teacher like him?

As this speech from Elihu concludes, we enter into three less direct descriptions of God’s purposes in affliction beginning here with its use as a teaching tool.  In our cases of affliction, as with Job, God uses it to teach us about Himself first, and then subsequently about ourselves.

11. Job 37:7

He seals up the hand of every man,
    that all men whom he made may know it.

The second implied purpose from Elihu’s latter speech is to hedge in man.  Sometimes God may use affliction as a form of restraint, in a sense to protect us from ourselves.

12. Job 37:13

Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

Finally, the context for this last purpose places us in the midst of a section describing God’s superintendence of nature.  We find here the whirlwind, cold, ice, clouds with moisture, and lightning.  God’s usage of these may be for correction, for (maintenance) of the land, or simply for love.  In short, nature is at his beckoning call to do His will as He sees fit.

Certainly we may search the Scriptures and find further examples of God’s purposes in afflicting either His saints or the wicked.  But suffice to say, those who have walked away from Job unsatisfied with answers to why God afflicts the righteous, have simply not seen clearly both the explicit and implicit purposes described throughout the book.  Drawing our minds to these will provide comfort and wisdom for those occasions when we are faced with our own afflictions.