I do think that many Christians have scandalized the Lord’s name and cause before the ungodly. Many professors make it appear that there is not much difference between the church and the world, but I believe that there is sufficient power in true religion to lift a Christian right up above the world, and to make him live in such a serene atmosphere that, notwithstanding all the trials and troubles that may come upon him, he will be able to say, as David did when he fled from Saul, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.”
I won’t belabor this episode with a lot of extra remarks. However, I do want to take a moment and discuss how I think this verse ought to be taken to heart by Christians today, especially in the West which has at least a short history of holding up freedom of religion.
As Christians in a secular or secularizing culture, it is important for us to think deeply and carefully about how to represent Christ to that culture. I’ve spoken about what I think is a dangerous and unhelpful battle many wage in the culture war, not because I want to be friends with the world, but because the way many engage with the ungodly culture of the West betrays fear and doubt in who God says He is. Even many who proclaim faith in God’s sovereignty over His creation, when confronted with the foolishness and destruction our culture is putting itself through by its own love of sin find themselves taking up battle where they should not, and fighting in anger rather than serving in love and patience.
“Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:13 CSB
Christians, are we loving our neighbors well? Are we praying for them and seeking to know them and serving them in their needs? If one of the people you are writing angrily about on the internet because of one reason or another suddenly appeared in front of you in distress and in need of the love of Jesus, would you be able to actually give them that?
We need to wrestle with these questions. I know I do. This is why I think it’s important for us to pour ourselves into our ministries where we are. Serve and love your local body. Know the people you live around. Don’t just look for opportunities to give them a sales pitch to church, but be sure that you are walking in a way that reflects the fact that you have been bought with the blood of the Lamb. My prayer for myself, my family, my church, and all of you, is that we will all pursue this humbly and in love for God and neighbor.
“‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ Oh, how I love these ‘shalls!’ There seems something grand in them. “Sin shall not.” Ah, Satan may come with temptation, but when God says, ‘Sin shall not have dominion,’ it is as when the sea comes up in the fullness of its strength and the Almighty says, ‘To here shall you come, but no farther. Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’ If there were not other promise in the Bible but this one and I knew no more theology than that promise teaches me, I would be most happy.”
There is such tremendous hope in Romans 6:14 that I couldn’t help but want to read a sermon on this passage. There are actually two Spurgeon sermons on this verse, and if God is willing I will eventually read the other as well here. But just like Charles Spurgeon, I see in this passage multiple considerations we ought to make when meditating on it.
If sin has dominion, you are under law
Charles Spurgeon chose to begin with reading the passage as a warning to all who would consider themselves Christians, and I think that is a good place to start as well. We all sin. We can’t sit under the words of Paul in Romans and come away thinking that sinless perfection in this life is possible, and it’s certainly not what he teaches. However, he goes to great lengths to distinguish the life of war Christians enter into against their own sin, and the death begetting more death that is the nature of humanity when it lives in its innate, natural rebellion against God, against what the Bible calls “the works of the flesh.”
If we are able to walk in sin with absolutely no pangs of conscience, no battle within, then the warning to draw is that though you may claim Christ, in your heart, you do not know Him. To be in Christ is to struggle against the sinful desires that are a part of our natures, and if that struggle is absent, then we need to hear this as a warning to our inmost hearts: you can’t love sin and love Jesus. You can’t have Christ as a master if you also want to serve yourself.
Hope for the struggle
But the presence of sin as a struggle is not a sign that you are a false believer. That is a way some have read this passage and it is untrue and dangerous to faith. Rather, we should look to this as a tremendous hope and a source of peace. We are going to sin, because we’re still living in the flesh. Not that we are making peace with it, not that we’re throwing our hands up and saying “whatever” to the notion of breaking God’s law, but we’re admitting the truth: we are weak. We are not wholly renewed, even though we have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in leading us to faith in Jesus.
But God also promises that His power is made perfect in weakness. When we trust to the truth that we are not under law but under grace, we can put our sin to death day by day by knowing that the answer to falling to sin is to seek the cleansing of God’s grace and love. In Christ we don’t have an angry judge waiting to destroy us. We have a loving Father who takes His children in His arms, cleans them up and kisses them in love, and sets them back on the right path. We have a patient, gracious God who will absolutely complete the work He began in us, and therefore, we can struggle in hope and rest in grace. This is a hard thing to fully grasp, and I’m not sure we can really understand the full implications in this life, but it’s a good thing to consider, to meditate on day by day.
A directive to our steps
We rest in the hope of Jesus, in the truth that His spilled blood and broken body has paid fully the price of our rebellion before God, and that we will follow Him in resurrection to eternal life. But we still ought to consider the implications of the gospel for our daily lives, our thoughts, and words now. So many people I know believe passionately that the power of Christ to overcome sin is their hope, and yet they seem to operate on the idea that God needs their help day to day to prevent evil from taking over the world.
Our weapons to do battle in the war on sin, in our lives and in our world, are spiritual, and human power is not one of them. Too often it seems like we believe that if this leader doesn’t triumph, if this law doesn’t pass, if this act doesn’t occur, then the hope for the church in the world weakens. And so often we see Christians behaving in very un-Christlike ways towards one another and towards those who do not follow Christ.
You cannot compel the obedience of those who are outside of Christ. You cannot ordain holiness where the Holy Spirit has not moved. And you certainly cannot shine the light of Christ with one hand, while swinging the club of human authority with the other. If we are going to walk in a way that says “I am not under law, but under grace,” then we need to take the path that Jesus led His disciples on. That’s the path that involves taking up our crosses and following Him to a death that has had its true power broken.
I want to leave you all with that thought, and encourage you to think on it especially as you engage with those you disagree with. How do I reflect the grace of God shown to me through my words? I know that I often have much to repent of, and often choose to restrain myself rather than speak. But I pray that the words of Paul, and the words of Charles Spurgeon, will minister to you in the way they do to me, in illuminating the tremendous grace of God for my life.
What is there on earth that is worth fretting for, even for five minutes? If one could an imperial crown by a day of care, it would be too great an expense for a thing which would bring more care with it. Therefore, let us be thankful, let us be joyful in the Lord. I count it one of the wisest things that, by rejoicing in the Lord, we commence our Heaven here below. It is possible to do so–it is profitable to do so–and we are commanded to do so!
The other day I started a Twitter poll to help decide which of two sermons to do for the next Spurgeon Audio, either “The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption” or “The Upper Hand.” But while I was waiting for that to close out, I came across this one after Philippians 4 was brought to mind, and I decided…well, I’m just gonna do this one. I’ll do the others as well, but this was fresh in my mind and on my heart.
It has been on my mind because it seems like the church, at least insofar as it is represented on the Internet, seems to find itself in a great deal of turmoil. Of course, this isn’t new. And this isn’t to say that there are never reasons for there to be concern, but the turmoil I’m speaking of is similar to that which Paul is speaking against in this chapter: namely, a disagreement between two parties that threatens to cause division.
The prescription given to the church by God through His Word for how to handle division is a simple one on its face, but one which we must pursue actively: joy. I think immediately of the opening of John Piper’s book “Desiring God,” where he edits the opening of the Westminster Catechism in a way intended to reveal a deeper meaning: that the “chief end of man” is that we might “glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” The joy a Christian carries with him in life derives from a profound work of the Holy Spirit: to produce the “peace that passes understanding,” that we might hope in the work of Christ. And we do hope–not in a “Gosh, I sure hope so” sense, but in a sense of trusting to the truth of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15:
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.
1 Timothy 1:15 CSB
So when fear creeps in, when division between two people or two groups of believers begins to grow, when we start to believe in one way or another that the work of Christ is not sufficient whether to save or to produce unity in the body, the answer is to look to this truth, and to rejoice. And rejoice again!
So often lately I see Christians online who seem more interested in fighting with one another than in loving one another. A small disagreement grows up into a fierce thorny bush of antagonism. Brothers who once could minister side by side turn their guns on one another, and view any opposition, whether it’s overt atheistic disagreement to minor doctrinal difference, in a way that guarantees that no one not already within the camp will listen to what they have to say.
The apostle Peter writes:
Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear themor be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:13-17 CSB
This passage is not just about apologetics. It’s about being ready to display that joy in a way that reflects its eternal foundation. We don’t hope in beating others in arguments. We don’t hope in perfect unity of opinion. We hope in a living God who can take the heart of our most vicious, arrogant opponent and transform him into a passionate disciple. And because of that, we rejoice, and we answer division, fear, anxiety, and yes even persecution, with joy, peace, and love.
The rest we have in Christ should shine through in how we deal with those we disagree with, especially when it’s another Christian. If you’re too busy showing what you’re against, and trying to build up barriers against those from outside who might invade your space, you are going to struggle to make the gospel clear to anyone who doesn’t already speak your language. But the language of loving others and walking in hope that makes itself known through joy is clear and universal. My good Father has saved me, and that hope is available and urgently needed for everyone. Don’t hide it, but lift up Christ and rejoice in His name!
The Spirit of God never takes the place of the Redeemer, he exercises his own peculiar office which is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us, and not to put his own things in the place of Jesus. The foundation of our hope is laid in Christ from first to last, and if we rest there we are saved. The seal does not always come with faith, but it follows after. I have said this because I am afraid lest in any way whatever you should leave the simple, plain, and solid ground of confidence in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and in that only. Recollect that a man who believes in Jesus Christ is as truly saved when he does not know it as he is when he does know it; he is as truly the Lord’s when he mourns in the valley of humiliation as when he sings on the mountain top of joy and fellowship. Our ground of trust is not to be found in our experience, but in the person and work of our Lord Jesus. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name: On Christ the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”
There are many things about this sermon that are a true blessing to believers. There is the reminder throughout of the amazing Trinitarian work of salvation. There is the admonishment against seeking after or trusting in experiences over the truth of God’s Word, and the encouragement that we can trust in that Word truly.
And truly, we can know that God is working in our lives, and in this world, through His Spirit blessing and transforming us bit by bit into the image of Christ. We need to remind ourselves of this continually. So often lately I see many people decrying this politician or that law or this cultural trend, and saying “If this continues we’re going to lose…” something important. Lose the country, lose the culture. But do we really think so little of the kingdom of God that we are afraid of the decay of a secular political institution? Or that we have to defend ourselves through that institution?
The Holy Spirit abides in us, and that is a sign and seal of God’s promise to complete the work He began in us. Scripture speaks of this and testifies to this truth, and we can rely on it, even when the world and our experiences are shaking our confidence in other ways. We aren’t going to be able to rest peacefully in this world in the sense that we have no cares, but neither should we be striving in a way that says “I don’t trust that God’s power is enough.” And if I may speak very directly, it is my observation that a lot of Christians, even ones who trot out the term “reformed” to describe themselves, are striving in a way that says exactly that.
Jarod and I are going to talk about that a little bit more on the next Kings Highway Radio. But my encouragement and admonishment to my brothers and sisters of the faith, especially in the West, would be this: when you feel the frustration of watching our civilization move in a direction that is ungodly, are you taking that to the Lord, or are you taking that to comment boxes and angry Twitter rants? When you have neighbors that are not believers, that in fact live in ways contrary to what is godly, are you able to love them, or do you hide from them and allow animosity to grow?
Do you mourn the slow death that the cancer of sin brings on our world, and do you pray for God’s will to be done in transforming hearts? Or are you hardening yourself to those outside your circle?
There’s a lot to think and pray about here. I desire to see God glorified in everything, but most of all I desire to see the grace of God seen clearly. I want us to trust to the work of the Holy Spirit not because of some desire for an experience, or for a moment I can point to and say “this is when God worked in me in such and such a way.” I want us to trust to the work of the Spirit for those times when all the ways of the world press against us, and they will. In that time, I pray we will glorify Jesus as a greater treasure than anything else we could have.
The preachers of Pentecost told of the Spirit’s work by the Spirit’s power: conversion, repentance, renewal, faith, holiness, and such things were freely spoken of and ascribed to their real author, the divine Spirit. If the Spirit of God shall give us once again a full and fiery ministry we shall hear it clearly proclaimed, “Ye must be born again,” and we shall see a people forthcoming which are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God, and by the energy which cometh from heaven. A Holy Ghost ministry cannot be silent about the Holy Ghost and his sacred operations upon the heart.
A word of warning up front: sadly, this episode has some audio issues, ones I wasn’t aware of while recording/streaming. I’ve figured out how to correct them for the future, but with our baby on the way and everything else in life, sadly I don’t have time to re-record the entire thing the way I like. I hope the lesser quality does not detract too badly from the actual content of the sermon.
Today we start a series out of a book I found wonderfully free thanks to my Kindle Unlimited subscription. Granted, the book simply consists of ten Charles Spurgeon sermons, but as they are better-edited than many of the other free collections out there it makes my job of reading it somewhat easier. We will be exploring exactly what the title of the book proclaims: Knowing the Holy Spirit. This is a subject that for many, causes immediate controversy and even defensiveness.
Sadly the work of the Spirit is one that has been abused in multiple ways, both in misunderstanding and denying His role and work, to claiming as work of the Spirit actions that make Him not God, not the promised Comforter, not the one who convicts the world of their need for Christ, but one who stirs crowd up into madness and serves our visceral pleasures.
But today I want to couch this sermon in another context. Over this weekend news came out about the truth behind the apologist Ravi Zacharias, about the sexual immorality and sexual violence he had carried out against so many while he was alive, and about the way that his own ministry turned a blind eye to what He was doing and enabled him. Christianity Today had a long and sad article, and conservative writer David French had an even longer, more personal and more infuriating, which exposed not only the depths to which Zacharias sunk in his sin, but the ways in which victims of his behavior were silenced, treated as liars and frauds.
The lie of power
There is a personal reason for reflecting, one that all Christians ought to consider strongly: I know my own sin. I know the lure of sexual sin in my own life, the scars I’ve cut into my own heart as a result of wicked desires, and the ways I’ve hurt others. I know that putting this to death has involved a work of the Holy Spirit in pouring out merciful conviction on me repeatedly, having to drag things into the light before those closest to me and finding, always waiting, the grace of God and His healing. Because of that I have to be all the more aware of the things that lead me to start desiring these things more than the good things of God, and drag them out quickly. I have to be aware not because I’m going to lose my salvation but because I hate what this sin does in me, does to others, does to my intimacy with God I despise it, and I want to see it dead.
What is clear, is that for Ravi Zacharias this wasn’t happening. He didn’t have people who could hold him accountable – it was clear that his own ministry was enabling him to persist in his behavior, financially and otherwise. And when the first signs of problems appeared, they dealt with it not as a time to confess sin and seek the Lord’s face, but to run a PR play and cover things up. So many Christians were take the statements put out by RZIM on their face because we considered him this stately man who was necessary to fighting the good fight for the faith in our civilization.
I think if there’s one thing I want to get across in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in this world, it’s that while humans are called to take part in God’s work, we do not make ourselves indispensable. There is no one that can say, “I’m so important to God’s work that He can’t do without me, no matter what I’ve done.” And in the West we have especially bought into the lie that seeking after popularity and power is more important that seeking after holiness, more important than loving well, more important than humility.
I don’t want to ramble here too badly, but I hope that you will join me in praying for our leaders, whether religious, political, or otherwise. Please pray for the idols of your own heart, that they would be brought into the light and destroyed before they can do the kind of damage Ravi’s did. And please pray that humble service, love for God, and love for one another would become the markers of the American church, more than political activism, more than brilliant oration.
2020 is coming to a close, and with it I thought it was fitting to read a sermon intended to fix our eyes upon the true object of our worship. The audio is a little rough, but I hope this ministers to you as we enter the new year.
He who said, “all things work together,” will soon prove to you that there is a harmony in the most discordant parts of your life. You shall find, when your biography is written, that the black page did but harmonize with the bright one—that the dark and cloudy day was but a glorious foil to set forth the brighter noon-tide of your joy. “All things work together.” There is never a clash in the world: men think so, but it never is so. The charioteers of the Roman circus might with much cleverness and art, with glowing wheels, avoid each other; but God, with skill infinitely consummate, guides the fiery coursers of man’s passion, yokes the storm, bits the tempest, and keeping each clear of the other from seeming evil still enduceth good, and better still; and better still in infinite progression.
The end of the Job series has truly been a long time coming, especially with the delays I’ve had between episodes, and for which I do apologize. But this isn’t a sermon from Job – it’s a sermon on Romans. How can this be the conclusion to Job?
I said way back when I began this series that my intention after all was said and done was to conclude it with a sermon on Romans 8:28, for I can hardly think of a New Testament passage that summarizes the truth found in Job more succinctly. “All things” – how many things? All of them. This is probably one of the rare circumstances where “all means all, and that’s all all means” is actually a true statement. “Work together” – there is not conflict with God’s great guiding hand even in those darkest moments. “Work together for good” – now that is where so many stumble. It isn’t a struggle to think of where this is hard to conceive of. War and peace, working together for good? Murder and life? Tyranny and liberty? These are incompatible ideas, yet the guiding hand of God rules over them all and creates through them a world that glorifies Him as God above all others.
But it’s not just a generic good smeared across creation. It’s good for God’s people, for “those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” God’s grace and mercy shines on all creation, on all mankind, but on those who are in Christ a special goodness shines. We walk in this world as beacons of God’s light, and as salt in a world whose taste has turned to evil.
Giving thanks with Job
Job confessed in chapter 42, after Elihu’s and God’s remonstrances of his self-righteousness, that his wisdom was faulty and his justification lacking, and confessed that his faith was truly in God and His wisdom. After that, after everything he had been through, Job found himself standing before the King and had nothing to say, except to confess that he had been mistaken about himself. And in that, he found God’s grace to abound. Job found that when he confessed that he was “dust and ashes,” that God valued that dust more than he ever could have when looking to His own righteousness. God blessed Job richly with a renewed family and wealth.
So often this year I hear people express frustrations about “2020” as though it is an entity unto itself. Certainly I’ve talked about my frustrations and the exhaustions of living life with the added restrictions produced by the pandemic, and the fear for the future that has resulted from growing economic uncertainty and governments that are using this opportunity to grow their levels of authority. Yet we as Christians, no matter our thoughts on the pragmatic realities of day to day life, must confess that this does not change the truth that all things will work together for good for us. We look at what’s changed about our lives even if we haven’t personally seen the virus touch them and say with Job, “God gave, and God has taken away. Blessed by the name of the Lord.”
Honestly it wasn’t my intention to have this land the week of the American Thanksgiving holiday, yet after reflecting it seemed remarkably fitting. The story of the first Thanksgiving, after all, sees the Pilgrims and their neighboring American Indian tribe coming together for a feast that was intended to give praise to God for bringing them through that first deadly year and helping their colony to begin to grow and thrive. The suffering that our world brings often presses, the injustice of life infuriates and takes away what we believe ought to be ours, yet God promises that even this will serve for good in the end.
Do we walk in a way that reflects that we believe this? I struggle to. I suspect I’m not alone in that. Yet I think this year more than any other, whether we join with family or not, we ought to give thanks to our great God that He has led us through this time and allowed us to better know Him through it, and give glory to Him. Even if you are not living in the United States and don’t join in this holiday culturally, the end of this year is a good time for all of us to reflect on the blessings of God as they are revealed, and in the mercies that are renewed each morning.
A time of giving thanks is a time for all of us to not simply be grateful for the good things we have, though we certainly should be. But more than that, it’s a time for us to reflect on all that God gives us. I look at where I am in my life–with my family, my wife and I with a little baby on the way, with my job, with a whole world of uncertainty from my perspective, but I know I have a God that is both perfectly loving and perfectly sovereign over His creation. For that, I am truly thankful, and I hope that all of us are taking time during this season to reflect and consider that.
I charge you rest not, be not content until by faith you can say, “Yes, I cast myself upon him; I am his, and therefore he is mine.” I know that full many of you, while you look upon all else that you have as not being yours, yet can say, “My Redeemer is mine.” He is the only piece of property which is really ours. We borrow all else, the house, the children, nay, our very body we must return to the Great Lender. But Jesus, we can never leave, for even when we are absent form the body we are present with the Lord, and I know that even death cannot separate us from him, so that body and soul are with Jesus truly even in the dark hours of death, in the long night of the sepulchre, and in the separate state of spiritual existence. Beloved, have you Christ? It may be you hold him with a feeble hand, you half think it is presumption to say, “He is my Redeemer;” yet remember, if you have but faith as a grain of mustard seed, that little faith entitles you to say, and say now, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
The truth of this sermon title is the truth that rings in the heart of every believer when suffering comes. When we find ourselves pressed upon, feeling the pain of loss and doubt, and anger, and we know deep in our hearts that our God is just and holy, we look to this. Not in a “brush the dust off your hands and go on like nothing’s happening” way, because usually that is neither helpful nor practical. We do it in a way that says “My suffering is real. My pain is real. But God is just as real and He will give it purpose.”
I talked before about how the psalms of lament echo this same cry, where they call to God in real pain, in turmoil and suffering that doesn’t fade with the night and vanish in the morning, but continues for years, even generations. They don’t blame God, but they do recognize the truth, which is that God rules over even their times of suffering, and they call out to Him not because they are ungrateful or bitter, but out of faith:
Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever! Why do you hide and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.
Psalm 44: 23-26
I want to share some more from the book I mentioned last time as well, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings:
In what sense, exactly, does the psalmist blame God amid crisis? The psalmist does not “blame” God in the sense of a judge who blames a defendant as he delivers a verdict and dismisses the defendant from the courtroom. If the psalmists had already decided the verdict–that God is indeed unfaithful–they would not continue to offer their complaint. They would have a solution to the problem of evil that silences the questions of lament: that God is not trustworthy, not wholly good. Instead the psalmists blame God in the interrogative, with raw, unanswered questions that cling to the hope of God’s covenant promise: Why am I in this crisis if the Lord’s covenant promise is true? In the context of covenant fellowship, God’s people can cry out to their covenant Lord–in complaint, even in protest and open-ended blame–until God shows his faithfulness according to his covenant promise.
J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament, p. 59
Faith expressed in times of doubt
Job may not fully understand at this point the nature of God’s redemptive plans, but he does have the right target in view. If he were hanging on the side of a mountain, he would have grasped the right handhold. If he were in the water after a shipwreck, he would be clinging to the best life preserver there is: the promise and truth of God’s work to redeem His people. And as Charles Spurgeon said, how much more ought we who live in this time between Christ’s first and second comings look to that in faith?
God does not say to His people, “Ah, you don’t have it so bad, quit whining.” He does not dismiss them or punish them for crying out in need. He listens to them. He has sent the Comforter to minister to His people, and provided His Word to lead them. Let us rest in that, and in who He is: our loving Father, who never leaves us even in greatest darkness and deepest valley. He is our God.
You will all perceive at once that there must be love even in this apparently angry word; that this contention must, after all, have something to do with contentment, and that this battle must be, after all, but a disguised mercy, but another shape of an embrace from the God of love. Carry this consoling reflection in your thoughts while I am preaching to you; and if any of you are saying to-day, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me,” the very fact of God contending with you at all, the fact that he has not consumed you, that he has not smitten you to the lowest hell, may thus, at the very outset, afford consolation and hope.
The title of this sermon is truly countercultural. I say that because I don’t know of any culture that embraces, loves, and celebrates adversity. Hard times are rarely anticipated with the same kind of excitement as a day at the beach or a family holiday. Certainly the kind of adversity seen by Job would not be something anyone would see as a joyful experience that they would desire to pass through.
Therefore we can understand Job’s anger and his sharp words. God’s mercy shines through in that, rather than ignoring an impertinent question or even more justifiably, punishing such a creature, He hears Job’s words and (as we’ll see in later sermons and as we work through the book in Scripture Sunday) even answers him. Whether that answer is satisfying in a human sense is up for discussion in a later episode as well.
Job the self-justified
If you’ve been listening along as we’ve read through Job on Scripture Sunday, you’ve heard the increasing frustrations of Job and the befuddlement of his friends as they try to apply their notion of retributive justice to God’s actions in Job’s life. His friends insist that Job surely must have done something wrong, because after all, God doesn’t do things with no purpose or with malice. Job insists that he has done nothing, and rests his increasingly self-righteous anger on his own actions.
How often do we wrestle with these same ideas about God? The old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” has gotten the response from Christians that “That only happened once,” because of course we recognize that there has only been one truly good man, Jesus. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for most, and I don’t think that should be surprising, because that kind of answer doesn’t actually help us wrestle with the bigger questions that press on us each time we watch the news.
In a world ruled by a just, holy, and good God, why do babies die? Why are children born into third-world nations with not enough food, clothing, or medicine, only to starve to death or die of a disease that hasn’t appeared in the rest of the world for decades? Why are innocent civilians in Yemen losing everything as war consumes their country? Why are innocent civilians in the United States losing everything because of a turn down the wrong street, an encounter with the wrong person, the wrong thing said?
We look at these horrors of our world and we look at ourselves, and I think it’s safe to say we often feel like Job is fully justified in his frustration: “I know I’ve never done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this. Why is this happening? Why doesn’t God hear us?” The psalms are full of similar laments, aching cries to understand even as the psalmist admits they will never know the full wisdom of God.
The answer is not simple
We don’t get a nice, clean answer to this either in the book of Job or elsewhere in the Bible, outside of this: these things happen because our world is stained by sin, and its child death follows gleefully behind. Yet as Christians, we ought to be sure that the standard by which we engage these is not following after the ways of the world. I have seen people trying to wrap the faith up in ideas that are borne of the angry cynicism of the world towards injustice, while lacking true faith in God’s eternal and perfect justice. Look to Paul’s words in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:18-25, CSB
I’ve been reading a book that Jarod recommended to me, Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings. He writes this book as he battles a form of incurable cancer, and his struggle with this issue is palpable. I am not finished, but I have been tremendously ministered to by this book. In one section he speaks to the struggles Job and his friends have with viewing God’s justice as purely retributive. Job believes he deserves good things because he does good things. His friends believe, if he’s receiving bad things, that must mean he’s done something bad. But Pastor Billings wrestles that idea into perspective:
While sometimes a rigid form of retribution theology makes us search for what we did to “deserve” a tragedy (in retrospect), at other times it relates more directly to how Christians view the future. Many Christians don’t seem to expect to suffer–assuming that if we are “good Christians” who “obey God’s will,” then we might face obstacles, but not great tragedies that appear senseless. But in this form as well, the book of Job breaks through our illusions, for it “shatters the myth that our own righteousness can protect us from unjust suffering.” God has not given us a bargain such that he would spare us of unjust suffering if we seek to obey his will. To the contrary, in Jesus Christ, we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow the path of the One who was unjustly crucified.
Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, p.25
This is why on Kings Highway Radio, Jarod and I have been so insistent on the importance of Scripture as the foundation upon which we must build our lives and our views of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Left to our own devices we can find ourselves “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” I see this so often as Christians struggle with how to engage the world’s discussion and debate surrounding issues of race. We find ourselves torn apart as we find one side or another more appealing, and we lose perspective on what Christians must keep central: who Christ is, and who we are in Him.
Job’s only hope
Though Job is deeply confused about his righteousness compared to God’s, he does know where his hope ought to lie, and that will be the subject of the next sermon in this series. For those who look to their Redeemer, suffering is a transformative experience that leads us to greater faith and hope, and “hope does not bring us to shame” when it is fixed on the perfect Object that is Jesus and Him crucified.