Tag 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.

Preparing for Affliction


In his treatise exhorting believers to the duty of meditation, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) sets forth the following proposition on the benefit of meditating on eternity,

“There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings.  Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto.  If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or another be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them.  Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory.”

What he is saying here, in a way that only Owen does, is that for believers, key to preparing for the coming sufferings, afflictions, and trials of this world is continual meditations on eternity.

Similarly, note the words of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Here we see the relationship between affliction and eternity, namely that the former is preparatory for the latter.  How so?

  1. Affliction is preparatory because, as we have seen with Job, it is a refining, purifying act of God to further cleanse the believer of defilement, strengthen faith, and develop perseverance (see Romans 5:1-5).
  2. Affliction is preparatory because due to its temporary nature, we anticipate its conclusion, knowing that it will not last forever.  Therefore by their very nature afflictions cause us to look forward to a day when they will end and eternity will begin.  This is sometimes called having an eternal perspective.

Similarly, in this passage we see that our focus should not be on the temporary, earthly, and visible things of this world, instead our focus should be on the eternal, heavenly, and invisible (at present) things of the world to come.  Having this focus constantly and consistently, as Owen states, prepares us for the arrival of affliction. It therefore does not take us by surprise, nor does it sink us into depths of despair, though we certainly may have “fear of and aversation* from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear.” Nevertheless we persevere knowing that the suffering and sorrow is only temporary.

Finally, moving from a general statement on the positive benefits of meditating on eternity to a more specific look at what exactly that entails, we may note at least three objects upon which to set our minds

  1. The Restoration of All Things
  2. The Renewal of our Earthly Bodies
  3. The Christ of Eternity

For our first point we note that we must allow our minds to fix upon the restoration of all things, namely that this world, which is fading away, will one day be restored such that it will no longer be subject to the fall.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21-22 

Second, we must allow our minds to fix upon the renewal of our earthly bodies.  “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”” 1 Cor. 15:50-55

Finally, and most importantly, we must allow our minds to fix upon the Christ of eternity, for we shall finally see Him as He is.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Our best preparation for affliction is to meditate on our eternal state in glory, as such it is also the best object of our meditations during affliction. Turning to Owen for the final word, we read,

“Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”


*turning away in dislike

For additional study and meditation, read Revelation 21.

Stop Asking Why


Why is it when tragedy strikes the first question asked is Why? Why is it when personal affliction hits the first question asked is Why? Why is it when a gunman enters a church, the first question we want answered is why?  Why is it when storms hit, the question we want answered is why?  Why is it when a child has cancer, we want to ask why?  Why do we keep asking why?

One theologian has posited that we keep asking why because

“Our minds crave an answer.

Why do we ask why?

We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories. We are moral creatures inhabiting a moral universe and our moral sense of meaning is the faculty most perplexed when overwhelmed by horror and grief.”

While quite frankly I have difficulty digesting such grandiose statements, for him at least, he is summarizing what he sees as the innate desire in humans to ask why in the midst of grief.  Another has offered his own opinion on the matter by beginning his best selling book with the following, “There is only one question  which really matters: Why do bad things happen to good people?”  He then spends 8 chapters attempting to answer this question.

In the book of Job, two parties wrestle with the “why” question in the case of Job’s affliction.  Because of this, the book has often been viewed as having the answer to why suffering exists in the world and more broadly why evil exists, sometimes called theodicy. These two parties, Job and his friends, wrestle with the question of why and reach their own conclusions.  The latter, as has been stated before, concluded that the answer to why God afflicts must be directly related to sin.  Broadly this is true.  As a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and in this way all affliction is the product of sin.

However, specifically, as in the case of Job, this is not true, at least not necessarily.  Job was afflicted, but there was no direct correlation with sin, either hidden or open, that was the direct cause.  In the case of Job, his wrestling with the why of his own affliction left him questioning the justice, wisdom, and ultimately the goodness of God.  Job’s conclusion, or answer to the why question, was that God arbitrarily afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous for no apparent reason.  Conversely, He also blesses the unrighteous.

With the arrival of Elihu into the verbal fray at chapter 32, we have yet a third party arriving to address the question why.  For the first time, the knot of this tangled difficulty begins to be loosened somewhat as he provides at least some reasons, unmentioned previously, for why God afflicts.

However, as Yahweh appears on the scene in chapter 38, the question, or rather the answer, to “why” never even remotely comes up.  For essentially 37 chapters, and in reality who knows how much actual time had elapsed, we have been waiting for an answer to the question of why Job was allowed to be afflicted, if he was righteous.  Extrapolating this question from the context to our present reading of the book, and we may say that we too, along with Job, often find ourselves waiting for an answer to the question “why?”.  Why does God afflict?  Why does suffering happen?  Why are there disasters, disease, and death?  Surely God must answer our interrogations because of our perplexity, grief, and moral creatureliness, as the theologian cited above stated.  Right?

Absolutely not!  In fact, God’s first address to Job is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “  God’s answer to the why question begins with a who question, specifically, who are you to ask why.  The answer to Job ‘s inquisition in simple terms is also the answer that the Apostle Paul gives in Romans 9 for those who like to question the Almighty, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?'” Romans 9:20  Contrary to the two views from the theologian and author above in our introduction, we don’t ask why because we are moral agents looking for moral categories in a moral universe.  We demand answers to why because we are immoral creatures living in a fallen world who have failed to come to terms with the WHO.  In order for Job, and by necessary consequence us, to answer rightly this question of “who” we must see ourselves in light of Who God is.

This is precisely how God answers Job in His four chapter long rebuke.  God, fully aware of the questions that have been levied against His character responds, not by self-justifying His wisdom for why He has chosen to act in a particular way, but answers by reestablishing in the minds of His hearers WHO it is that is acting.  The why matters very little, contrary to the author cited above.  In fact, as finite, sinful creatures we would rarely be satisfied with the why even if God should condescend to answer it.  Instead, as God in His majestic wisdom knows, most often our question of why is due to our failure to properly recognize the WHO.  This WHO in the book of Job begins with God as Creator.

Building upon this, God establishes Himself as Sustainer of all that He has created.  Far from being a cosmic clock-winder that simply starts up creation and is hands off the daily operation, God informs Job that it is He that sustains creation.  In doing so, God also highlights several of His attributes, namely His sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, justice, and most certainly His freedom. Perhaps it is this last attribute that causes the most consternation among those who experience affliction or witness calamity in general because it firmly asserts that God is God and we are not, therefore He is free to do as He pleases and answers to no one.

The answer to the why question begins with a “who”, namely who are we to ask such a question. This who necessarily drives us to ask WHO God is and provides clarity for us to view ourselves as finite creatures and God as infinite Creator.  When affliction strikes, and it will, or when calamity happens again, and it will, may we be less prone to ask why and more prone to seek the WHO falling on our faces before the Almighty in recognition of His supreme wisdom to order the creation as He sees fit.  Let us then rest in His justice and goodness knowing well that He has divine freedom to do as He pleases.  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?  Most Assuredly this is so.