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.
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.
Put not your trust in anything beneath the stars; remember that “Change” is written on the fore-front of nature. Say not therefore, “My mountain standeth firm: it shall never be moved;” the glance of Jehovah’s eye can shake thy mountain into dust, the touch of his foot can make it like Sinai, to melt it like wax, and to be alttogether on a smoke. “Set your affection on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and let your heart and your treasure be where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.”
The weight on the hearts of believers everywhere is of a sort that I don’t know we’ve experienced in the lifetimes of any but a few currently living. We have become accustomed to individual struggles and sufferings, but it seems to me that few of us have a real concept for mass or cultural sufferings that is actually our own.
For Western Christians we have been used for a long time to having the sufferings we face be more limited in that way. Though our culture may regard us with a general side-eye of distrust, they don’t actively oppress or persecute us. Though they may say silly and ridiculous things about “hate” regarding our theology, they don’t turn away from hospitals with denominational names emblazoned across the front. And we have enjoyed, for the most part, a great deal of liberty to worship our Lord. Many have preached the gospel boldly and at the same time sought to encourage human flourishing by demonstrating that a culture that may disbelieve, yet still practices life in line with His commandments at least to some extent, succeeds and enjoys the benefits of His grace more than one that practices pagan unbelief as a matter of course.
Now we are face to face with what is, at the very least, a time of extreme discomfort and uncertainty, which threatens to grow into a time of greater disease, possibly followed by poverty, and a loss of many freedoms as well as lives. Like with Job, it seems to have come upon us rather suddenly. I know personally, I was spending the beginning of this year making plans for what I wanted this year to include, only to see so many of them dashed to pieces as businesses closed and all the ways we have been able to divert ourselves suddenly are shuttered.
Yet even though our whole culture is affected by this suffering en masse, each individual has their own particular story. I wanted to take this time, as we all walk through the frustrations and losses and heartaches that each of us finds ourselves assigned to in this time, to point to the story of Job and his dark night of the soul, as it were. I know my tendency when encountering hard times is to grit my teeth and just try to sit it out until it goes away. I am willing to bet that experience is true of a lot of people out there.
Job the Faithful Servant
The book of Job is one that I think is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. I would encourage that if you haven’t watched it already, you should take a few minutes and watch the Bible Project’s video on the book:
Job is found in the Bible alongside Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as a part of the wisdom literature. It isn’t set in an identifiable time period, although it is explicitly set in a land that was not Israel (the land of Uz), and Job was ostensibly not an Israelite. Whether or not he actually existed is unknown, but the story of Job ties together the other two wisdom books in a way that Solomon’s wisdom could not: a man who walks in the way of the wise in Proverbs seems to be reaping instead the fruit of the way of the foolish, prompting him to begin to experience the frustration and cynicism of Ecclesiastes as he pours out his deep pain to his friends.
What is more remarkable is the fact that we see clearly that God has, in fact, allowed his suffering! There is no room for debating the control God may or may not possess over evil in this narrative. We see God on the throne, allowing the enemy latitude to attack a man who God regards as a faithful and beloved servant. The question is: why? We tend to view suffering of this sort, if God is involved at all, as something that is targeted at the deserving. Surely Job is who God says he is: a faithful servant who walks in His ways joyfully.
Without spoiling too much of what is to come as we get further into the book, I want to set the theme for everything by pointing far past it deep into the words of Paul to the Romans: “All things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” This sentence is a load-bearing beam in the house that is the truth of Christ we call our home, if one is truly a believer. It is not my design today to answer all the questions I have set out about Job, but rather to lay them out before you. I would propose that we all spend time considering them in light of our current experiences, and lay upon them the truth of Romans 8:28.
This is not light work, but neither is it dreary and joyless. On the contrary: when suffering comes, when the enemy has been loosed to wreak havoc, we as believers must take heart in two key truths. First, as Charles Spurgeon noted, the enemy is on a leash. The Lord may give him latitude but every blow he strikes will fall short of its mark, and in fact will serve the devil’s opposite purpose: it will sharpen and refine you, as the Lord brings before your eyes the idols you may have been clinging to until this time. Let them go and let them burn, and rejoice that God has not let you keep them.
Secondly, in the end we will see His purpose and know His glory in ways we cannot fathom now. Just as Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him and in full disregard for any earthly shame that hung on such a death, so those of us who follow after Him endure our own particular sufferings in faith that He is so much more beautiful and valuable than anything here on earth, and so much more worthy of our worship.
I hope that this series will be an encouragement to my listeners, and be sure to follow along with the Scripture Sunday podcasts as we continue to walk through the text of the book itself. Those of you who are engaged in hardship, I would invite you to reach out for prayer, whether in the comments below or through email.
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We are continuing through the book of Job, as we see Job’s lament and frustration with his suffering rising. His friends continue to insist that he must have sinned in a way to anger God and bring evil on himself, yet Job insists that’s not the case.
Have you experienced this in your own life? How have you worked through it? Please leave comments or feel free to email and we will pray for and encourage you. As we continue through Job both here and on Spurgeon Audio, we will try our best to wrestle through this question we all wrestle with: why do bad things happen to those who don’t seem to deserve any of it?
Jarod and I got together for what may be our last time to hang out in a public place for at least a few weeks, at the new Denton Cigar Company. We spent some time talking about our thoughts on the ever-present fear and anxiety surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our county along with many others has announced the closure of all public places and called for gatherings to not exceed 10 people.
This has caused a lot of anxiety and frustration among many, especially Christians missing the closeness of worshiping with the body of Christ. We spent some time talking about the issue and going over the reality of what it may look like to navigate this as believers in the coming weeks and months.
Jeremy Young’s Twitter thread breaking down the Imperial College report can be found here.
We also talked about the topic that will be discussed over the next few episodes. We will be going through the book Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church? The title may seem a bit clickbaity, but it is actually a very insightful series of essays from many teachers and leaders within the church on various elements tied together by one element: the effect of seeking after power in one form or another while also trying to be a leader in Christ’s kingdom. If you want to read along with us, it is still available on Amazon.
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We have started a Patreon to help us free more time to produce content and expand what we are able to do with the space God has given us. If you are edified by our work and you would like to help us in that effort, please consider becoming a patron!