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.”Charles Spurgeon, sermon no. 504: “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?Psalm 44: 23-26
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.
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.Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 283: “The Sweet Uses of Adversity”
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.
We’re still working through Job as Spurgeon Audio preaches through it. Listen in and be sure to follow Kings Way Talk on Facebook to hear our Sunday livestreams!
“I know that my redeemer lives.” These are the words of Job we hear in this passage that ring through the millenia into today, and that Christians everywhere echo in their times of suffering and doubt.
Listen in and be sure to listen to the companion sermon series on Spurgeon Audio as we dig into the deeper questions raised by Job and his friends.
[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2666: “The Sorrowful Man’s Question”
Yesterday while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera–namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.
I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.
It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that He did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust Him with my all. I trust Him to be who He says He is–the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.
It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?
We are continuing our Scripture Sunday reading through the book of Job, as Job and his friends debate the meaning of suffering in a world governed by a just, holy and good God. Join us and please remember to subscribe to our podcast feed for more great podcast content!
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We’re continuing through the book of Job, as he and his friends continue to wrestle with understanding what it means for a man to experience suffering in the face of the truth about God: He is good, just, and sovereign. Many in our world take the presence of suffering as proof that God does not exist, or that He is not good. But that answer is neither true nor satisfying, and as we continue through the text both here and in our Spurgeon Audio series we will see how God speaks to this difficult issue.
Do you struggle with this? You are not alone, and it’s not a bad struggle to face, especially now as we all face ongoing turmoil. Let us know how we can be praying for you.
Please consider supporting Kings Way Talk through our Patreon.
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.”Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon 623, “Satan Considering the Saints”
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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