God theology not worm theology

Text Job 25, 26 Date 18/05/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

You know what worms and maggots are. Worms are a very simple form of life that crawl through the soil in our gardens. Maggots are similarly tiny creatures, perhaps even simpler, that are often found crawling around in a similar environment. You also know that one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is that of total depravity – the teaching that all men are not only sinners but that they are marred by sin in every way. By nature, they cannot speak or think or do anything that is not tainted by sin at least to some extent. Man was created perfect and in the image of God – upright and holy, noble and righteous. However, he has fallen. The image of God has been marred. Man has been brought down. He is sinful and low, sinful and ignoble. The psalmist actually says at one point I am a worm and no man. There is a symbolic resemblance between the life of the worm or the maggot that sums up the depravity of man.
This raises a question. Do Christians then espouse a worm theology, a maggot theology? Is this the great lesson that Christians have for the world? Is the gospel all about our maggot nature, our worm constitution? I ask this question because in Job 25 we have the third and final speech by Job’s second friend Bildad and what he presents could accurately be summed up as "worm theology". It is an unusually brief speech, a short hymn of praise to God. It is so short that some have suggested there is more from Bildad in Chapters 26 and 27 but that cannot be upheld. It has been described rather as being like the last gasp of a dying man. The friends are running out of steam. It contains nothing new and although it is reverent it is also irrelevant.
We looked at Bildad’s first two speeches some time ago. There we noted some lessons for counsellors. Seeking to learn from Bildad’s negative example we said
1. Do not be blunt or insensitive; do not make superficial, wooden misapplications of biblical truth; do not rely too heavily on tradition; do not make harsh, unfair misapplications of biblical truth; do not be unhelpfully optimistic [Chapter 8]
2. Do not merely parrot the same old message; avoid having a closed or one track mind [Chapter 18]
The lesson from this third and final short speech is (and this is our first point today)
1. Beware of worm theology
In this speech, Bildad doesn’t spend any time reproving Job. He seems to be winning the argument and he certainly hasn’t been impressed by any of the arguments presented to him so far. His aim is to move from the downfall of the wicked to stress the insignificance and iniquity of all men in general. There is something of the air of a last ditch attempt to avoid defeat. He still wants to bring Job to see his sin, however. He uses what Job has said in favour of God’s sovereignty to try and show that his idea of gaining a court hearing with God is hopeless.
We can divide what Bildad says into two parts. In 2 and 3 he urges us to
1. Give glory to God
Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise? God has power or dominion. He is the king or ruler and we must acknowledge his authority and reign. He is also worthy of awe. We ought to fear God.
He mentions some of the reasons for this attitude.
He is the one who has put the stars and the planets in their places in heaven and who orders all that happens in the heavenly realms above.
That leads us on to think of the armies not only of stars but also of angels who wait at his command. His forces cannot be numbered. He sends them out to do their work in this world. He has his creatures here on earth to, which comes next.
As the angels go throughout this vast world over which God reigns, think too of the sun rising on more and more people round the world as it is doing today. This too reminds us afresh that he is over it all.
There is nothing to object too in what Bildad says here. Some try and reject the idea of the sovereignty of God, the idea that he is in control of all things. However, Bildad is perfectly sound here. APP How about you? Do you bow down to God? Do fear him and honour him? Do you recognise his power in heaven above and on the earth beneath? We ought to acknowledge it every day.
2. But do not assume that there is no hope for man
No, where Bildad goes wrong is in the argument he then makes in 4-6. He says How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot - a son of man, who is only a worm! We had something like this from Eliphaz back at the start (4:17-19). Job himself had also asked (9:2b) But how can a mortal be righteous before God? And later (15:14-16) What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water! However, Bildad is now putting the knife into Job by arguing that Job’s case is hopeless. He is a worm, a maggot. Why would God be interested in him at all? God is Almighty and man is insignificant, unimportant, irrelevant.
It is a little like the bleak view you get in a lot of modern literature. Have you ever read William Golding’s ‘Lord of the flies’? It’s about a group of boys stranded on a desert island and the beastly way they behave. At one point the lead character (piggy) imagines he hears a pig’s head speaking to him ‘Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt or kill. You knew didn’t you? I am part of you.’ It is all bleakness with no hint of sunshine.
Sometimes people can take the doctrines of God’s perfection and human depravity and spin them like that. It is very important that we do not do that. God is sovereign and holy; man is depraved but that’s not the whole story is it? Confronted by a man in great suffering, if all we can say to him is ‘Well, God is in control. He knows what is happening. You are probably suffering because of your sin. You may not be worse than anyone else but we are all sinners and God is no doubt punishing you for your sin’ – better not to say anything at all.
‘On this disgusting and hopeless note the words of Job’s friends end’ says a commentator.
2. Characteristics of useless counsel
In verse 26 we have the beginning of Job’s speech in reply to Bildad. It is his longest speech. One writer calls it "One of the greatest recitals in the whole book … excelled only by the Lord’s speeches’ at the end". The start of the speech must be directed specifically to Bildad as Job uses you singular but by the end of verse 27 he is speaking to all three. In verse 26 he begins by rebuking Bildad and then moving on to speak of God’s greatness. He stunningly turns what Bildad has said against him.
Bildad has called Job a worm, a maggot. He is puny and weak and useless. In fact, says Job with some anger, Bildad is the one who is weak and useless. He is supposed to be helping Job but he has done nothing of the sort. Job’s rebuke, we have to admit, applies to many of us too. Our attempts to counsel others have often been inadequate and if we are to be any use in the future we ought to listen to what Job says.
1. It doesn’t encourage
Verse 2 How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble! Dripping with irony, Job’s speech asks why, if he is so powerless, there has been no help. Why has Bildad failed to strengthen his feeble arm. Far from comforting or encouraging Job, Bildad (and the others) have discouraged and disheartened Job. They have saddened and dismayed him. If we do that for those we try and help we have failed.
We have a duty to encourage each other. Ephesians 4:29 says Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
2. It doesn’t inform
Job goes on (3) What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed! The premise was that Job needed to learn from these wise men. They were supposed to be sharing their theological insights in order to help Job. But where is the wisdom in worm theology? Where was the wisdom in the previous attempt to convince Job that he was suffering because of his sins? (Which we know he definitely was not). If we have wrong theology, if we lack biblical wisdom – then we will be no help to anyone. There is a modern idea that you can counsel people without teaching them anything but that is a great mistake. We need to teach or at very least remind people of truths from the Bible, if we are going to help them. We are to be (like the Roman Christians) competent to instruct one another.
3. It doesn’t come from God
Job then asks (4) Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth? Job doesn’t spell it out but he clearly does not think that Bildad was getting his theology from God. And, of course, if it’s not from him it must be fro some more dubious source. If our counsel is not God-given (if it is not from the Bible, we can say more simply today) then it is useless. It may be human wisdom or it may be from the devil but if it is not from God it can do no-one any good at all.
Whenever we speak to someone then we should be endeavouring to encourage them - not regardless of truth but by reminding them or teaching them what is true, that is what we find taught in the Bible.
3. Espouse a theology of the greatness of God
In the rest of verse 26 Job speaks about the greatness of God. He is not denying what Bildad has said about the greatness and glory of God, of course. Rather, God is even greater, perhaps, than Bildad realises. He wants to show that Bildad’s idea that because God is sovereign then man is significant, in fact because God is omniscient man is not insignificant.
We can divide what Job says in to two parts.
1. God reigns over the world of death and hell
Verses 5, 6 The dead are in deep anguish, those beneath the waters and all that live in them. Death is naked before God; Destruction lies uncovered. Bildad has descanted on the way God rules in heaven above but Job says, as it were, ‘But hold on, Bildad. He doesn’t just rule in heaven above. He rules everywhere. You say man is a maggot or a worm in the ground, but doesn’t God rule there too?’ Yes, he does and indeed he rules over the deepest oceans and beyond. He rules over death and hell themselves. There is nothing at all hidden from his gaze. To think so is to attempt to limit the power and majesty of God.
2. God reigns over this world
Job then goes on to mention many things in creation that also teach us the sovereignty of God. Henry Morris has written very boldly in this connection ‘A correct and complete understanding of creation is the answer to all the problems that burden this present hurting world.’ Certainly we can be sure that what gives impetus to the evolution movement is its desire to rob God of his glory. We must never forget that he is the Creator and the Sustainer too of this whole world. For from him and to him and through him are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen.
Chiefly he speaks of the sky and the sea. We may say
1 Look up
Look up at night (7) He spreads out the northern skies over empty space. How are the stars kept in place? What about earth itself? He suspends the earth over nothing. It is not held up by the god Atlas or by a tortoise or an elephant! No. God does it. Look up in the day. Where does the rain come from? From the clouds, you say? And how do the clouds keep the rain from falling? Verse 8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. Think of the clouds at night too – Verse 9 He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. Now I know that you can describe this all in a little more detail scientifically but however you put it, the stars and the planets and the clouds must have an origin and a purpose. Who is behind that? Many children know the answer - "Who made the stars above, the stars above, the stars above? Almighty God"
2 Look out
Look at the sky again and, when you’re next by the sea, look at the horizon, especially as the sun is rising or setting. Who does that? God! Verse 10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. And then those storms that come from time to time. Verse 11 The pillars of the heavens quake, as it were. Why? They are (and this is poetry remember) aghast at his rebuke. He does it, in other words. Verse 12 By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. He is the one who creates the storm by his power and then by his wisdom he breaks it up (Rahab is the name for a possibly mythical sea monster as is the reference to the gliding serpent. Here it personifies the sea). Then (13) By his breath (or Spirit) the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent. Jesus himself did that, didn’t he?
Obviously Job could go on but he closes with verse 14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power? This is not the whole story by any means. These are just obvious examples. This gives us an idea of the might and power that is God’s. The God who places the stars rules over all his creatures, the God who uphold the earth sustains who he will, the God who can stop the rain from falling and then send in a storm and churn up the sea and then make everything calm again is the one who can send what storms he chooses into our lives and can make them calm again if and when he chooses. He who can pierce the gliding serpent of the sea can deal with Satan in a moment, as we know from elsewhere in the book.
There is no limitation to God’s power. That does not mean to say there is no hope for us. Quite the opposite. As one modern writer puts it ‘The primary message of the Bible is not one of human depravity. This is only part of a much larger message, the gospel, which announces that God has found a way to justify sinners and remain just at the same time’. This is through the Lord Jesus Christ, of course, who is God and yet came to this earth and lived and died so that all who trust in him may be forgiven their sins and be raised from being mere worms and maggots to be God’s own sons. This is the message of Psalm 113
Praise the LORD. Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD. Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and for evermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised. The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD.
You are in trouble today or you may be tomorrow. Have I got something to say to you? I say not only that we are sinners and that God is in control of all things but that because he is in control, if you commit everything to him then all will be well in the end. It won’t necessarily be easy. You won’t have all your questions answered but you will be safe. He will keep you. He will bring you through. All you have to do is to look to him.

Counsellors sins, Sufferers feelings

Text Job 22-24 Date 11/05/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I'd like us to begin again looking at the Book of Job. We began looking at it some time ago. It is a book we need to get to grips with and one that can be a great help to us, either as we are facing troubles and sufferings ourselves or as we are trying to help others who are suffering various sorts of difficulty and trouble.
You remember the story - how Job was a holy man. He was a man of God and God loved him but Satan hated him and in Chapter 1 verse 8 we read how God spoke to Satan and he said Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.
God was proud of Job, perhaps we can say. And this is a challenge. How would God speak to Satan about us? What would God say about us? It's a good question.
We know what Satan would say about us. He'd say all the worst things he possibly could. He argues here “Oh yes, Job seems very good on the outside but in fact it's only because he's rich, it's only because God has given him so much that he serves.”
Satan's argument is that the moment you took those things away from Job, he'd curse God and that would be the end if it. And so God allows Satan to inflict certain punishments, certain sufferings on Job but Job continues to be faithful. He doesn't curse God. He continues to look to the Lord. Now all that we find in the opening verses - From 1:1 to 2:10.
Then, if you remember, these three friends come and visit Job. The first thing they do, perhaps the best thing, was to sit in silence. They were shocked to see Job in such a state. He was suffering very clearly, very visibly and they sat in silence with him and then they listened as in Chapter 3 the poetical part of the book begins. The first two chapters are all in prose then the poetry begins and Job pours out his heart in Chapter 3. Then from Chapter 4 all the way to Chapter 37 we have a series of speeches made by these three friends with Job replying, once again all in poetry. We can say that these speeches are in three cycles. Each time you have Eliphaz then Bildad then Zophar speaking, with Job replying. Though in the last cycle the third man Zophar is silent. Bildad only gets part of his speech out and Zophar is silent. He doesn't say anything at all.
The first cycle is in Chapters 4-14 and the second cycle is in 15-21. We've looked at those two cycles in the past. We come this time then to begin on the third cycle. Let me say a little bit more in general.
1. These speeches are in three cycles, as we have said.
2. The friends fundamental conviction is that Job is suffering because of sin. He must have done something wrong. Now we know that is not right. We know they've got that wrong but they persist in that view. They took the view that if things go wrong in your life you must have done something wrong as some people still do today. That's why it is happening. It's a sort of syllogism
"All suffering is punishment for sin; Job is suffering; therefore Job has sinned". Because they want to defend God - their motives are good they do want to defend God - it leads them to condemning Job and it is wrong thinking that leads them into this logical impasse. The basic thing they are saying is that Job must have sinned.
3. The speeches grow succesively more vitriolic. They are harsher and harsher. They get more specific about how Job has sinned. So we move from suggestion to insinuation to straightforward accusation. Eliphaz is the most civil at the beginning but he loses it. Bildad is less harsh than Zophar, he's the worst. He doesn't even speak to Job in the end.
4. Bildad and Zophar really echo and repeat things that are spoken by the first man, by Eliphaz, although sometimes their emphases differ. Eliphaz - is a very great believer in experience. "I've learned this from this experience, etc". Bildad - it's all about tradition. "We know this from the past, and so on." Zophar - I haven't got anything particularly for Zophar. We only get two speeches form Zophar. His second speech is longer than his first whereas the others sort of pipe down.
5. The other thing is - Each time you have a speech from one of these men you get a reply from Job and in each case it is longer than the statement that's been made before it.
What you've got then are speeches intended to help Job. They are supposed to be words from sympathetic friends, but in fact they are just like magistrates at the bench condemning Job, telling him where it has all gone wrong. I think they can teach us about how to speak to people who are in trouble. They can help us understand the ways of God with men, mostly by way of negative example. Most of the time we're saying don't do what do Zophar, Bildad and Eliphaz do.
So we learn, in general terms, the need of humility, the need for sensitivity and compassion and the danger of misapplying a rigid theological position. It's no good working out our theology and then just wilfully imposing it on people even when it doesn't fit the facts. We can't go about it in that way. We must have clear cut theological convictions but we must recognise that we could be wrong, we could be mistaken.
So, let's look at these chapters (22-24). First we look at the speech of Eliphaz and speak of
1. Sins that counsellors must avoid
Here are sins that when we are speaking to other people in trouble, trying to help them, that we must avoid. We have looked at previous speeches of Eliphaz some time ago. We already have a whole list of things we are to avoid from previous speeches
1 Too high expectations of those in trouble – we can make it more difficult for people going through trouble. “I didn't think he would react like that” we say. Be careful. 2 Over-reliance on experience and observation – that's one of Eliphaz's typical traits. It can be very difficult when people speak like this. 3 Claims to divine inspiration - that's never going to help. I knew a boy in school who, for a joke, if he was losing an argument, would say, like a little child “but God said”. He shouldn't have done it really. It was designed to end all argument. There can be no argument with “God said”. 4 Misapplying truth. You can get the right truth but applied to the wrong person or in the wrong way. That's no good. 5 Thoughtless prattle about God's greatness and goodness. God is great and God is good but it is not always the right time to emphasise that. We pray they will see it. Some are able to see it even in the midst of trouble but not always. We must be thoughtful and avoid pat answers to people's problems.
These are things that we learn from the first speech. As for the second speech
1 A warning against repeating arguments. If they refused to listen the first time they are unlikely to listen the second time. 2 Taking offence when advice is rejecte – "I wanted to help her but she wouldn't listen". We must not get offended too easily. 3 Forgetting that you are trying to comfort not to win the argument. 4 Insulting those who you are seeking to help. 5 Refusing to change a theological position 6 Take care about giving rebuke.
Now what I want us to concentrate on today is four things we need to avoid in this area. We must avoid
1. Half truths
In the first five verses of the chapter Eliphaz asks a series of questions Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless? Is it for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?
So what Eliphaz is saying is that God doesn't need man. God can't learn from us. We can't make him more righteous by our righteousness. If we do right God will leave us alone and it will be okay, according to Eliphaz. It's only when we do wrong and need punishment that God really comes into contact with us. Here's an example of how you can take truths and run with them and run into error.
Does God need man? Well no, God doesn't need man. God doesn't need any of us. Can our righteousness add anything to him? No, God is perfect. We can't give him anything, not in absolute terms. It is true too that God is a God of justice. But then to go on to argue, as Eliphaz does, that God only comes near to a person to rebuke them is a false logic and that cannot be accepted. It is a half-truth blown it out of all proportion. We need to be careful. We know things from the Bible - good. But we must be very careful that we don't turn those truths into half-truths by applying things in the way that Eliphaz does here.
2. Fabrication
He simply makes things up. He's previously made clear his view that Job must have sinned in some way. That's why he's suffering. But what sins has Job committed? What has he done that is wrong? There can't be anything but Eliphaz can think of some. He just manufactures them out of his head. What he does is to argue in his mind "Job is a rich man. We know what rich men do. So Job must have done those things." We must be very careful not to make those sorts of leaps.
He mentions three things here
1 Callousness. He says Job demanded security from his brothers for no reason; he stripped men of their clothing, leaving them naked. If money was loaned there had to be a security against it and in some cases the only security a man had was the coat on his back. God makes clear that in such a case it must be returned to him by night time, otherwise he's going to shiver in the cold of the night. The accusation is that Job did this sort of thing for no reason. Job had money. He didn't need to act like that. How wicked to take advantage of others. And clearly we must be very careful about paying our debts but this was a fabrication. Job hadn't done that.
2 Unkindness. 7, 8 He gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry, though you were a powerful man, owning land— an honoured man, living on it. Job, it's claimed, failed to use his wealth to help the needy. Again, what are we doing with our wealth? Are we doing something to help those in need? But again this charge is false. Job was not guilty.
3 Oppression. Job (9) sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless. Widows and orphans in Scripture are always symbolic of the poor. They were the most vulnerable then in society. Job is accused of being a tyrant and an oppressor. Again, these were false accusations but we need to ask, are we acting in this way? Are we like that? Are we taking advantage. We need to take care.
Job repudiates all these accusations later on in Chapter 31.
So it's breathtaking logic from Eliphaz. There is no evidence for this - except that Job is suffering. Job is suffeirng so he must have sinned. If he's sinned, these are the sorts of things that he must have done. (10, 11) That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you. He is taking up some of the things that Bildad said back in Chapter 18. We mustn't assume things. We mustn't let our imaginations run away with us. We've made such assumptions. "Ah, we know what she's been doing. I can imagine." We can be quite wrong about it, though. We certainly can't make that connection with suffering. We can't assume that if something goes wrong they must have been up to no good. We don't know. We must deal with facts not fantasies. Beware of these things and of
3. False accusation
Once again Eliphaz wants to stress the greatness of God (12) Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are the highest stars! Then he claims to quote Job (13, 14) Yet you say, 'What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.' In fact, Job never said anything like that. This was a lie. Job was perplexed. He didn't understand what was going on. But he never suggested that God was ignorant about his situation. He never questioned God's ability to judge. He only asked - why not yet. But as far as Eliphaz is concerned Job was just like the wicked people in the days of Noah (15-18) Will you keep to the old path that evil men have trod? They were carried off before their time, their foundations washed away by a flood. They said to God, Leave us alone! What can the Almighty do to us? Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked - the last phrase probably serves to imitate Job and at the same time points to his own declaration that sin is to be condemned.
He adds (19, 20) "The righteous see their ruin and rejoice; the innocent mock them, saying, 'Surely our foes are destroyed, and fire devours their wealth.' In other words, Job is getting what he deserves and people are glad. Anyone who cares about the truth will see that Job is getting what he deserves. We need again to be very careful to avoid false accusations against others from whatever motives. False accusations sent the Saviour to the cross. It was a trumped up charge that led to our Saviour's death. Christians above all others should avoid such things. Let's not trump up charges against others.
4. A misplaced appeal
The final verses of Eliphaz's speech contain a wonderful call to repentance. Some are not sure if it is but it seems so. One can hardly fault it as that. The problem is that it is addressed to the wrong person. He was the one who needed to repent rather than Job himself. It's Job who prays for him at the end of the book, you may know.
1 What must you do if you are really a sinner?
We all are ultimately sinners. We need to Submit to God (21). Yield yourself up to him. That's what Job was trying to do, of course. You've got to be at peace with God. We are his enemies by nature but through the Lord Jesus Christ, we can be at peace with him. We need to accept instruction from him and lay up his words in our hearts. We need to think about it. We need to return to the Almighty - that's the message of Hosea, of course. This is the way prosperity will come to you. We need to (22) Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. 23, 24 If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: If you remove wickedness far from your tent and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines. It's very easy to trust in material things. We must put our trust rather in God. He must be our gold and silver.
2 This is what will happen if you do
Prosperity will come to you, you will be restored, says Eliphaz. 25-27 then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God. You will pray to him, and he will hear you, and you will fulfil your vows. Once you know God nothing can compare with it. 28-30 What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways. When men are brought low and you say, 'Lift them up!' then he will save the downcast. He will deliver even one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands." Think what good we can do once we repent, if our lives have all the sins removed.
This is good medicine. It is good for us to be reminded of repentance and the fact God will bless us if we turn, although not perhaps not in the very obvious and earthly way that Eliphaz speaks of. The trouble with the medicine is that it was given to the wrong person. That isn't what Job needed to hear. If we are going to be any sort of doctor, any sort of help to those in trouble we need to give them the right medicine. But is this the right medicine? have we got the right thing for the right person? I think with people who are going through tough times - it's not the message of repentance they chiefly need to hear. I'm not saying this morning - you're in trouble? Repent! Rather we are stressing that God is very gracious. God will bring you through if you look to him.
Secondly, I want us to consider the words of Job in Chapters 23 and 24
2. Feelings that sufferers can expect
Job's reply is not really a reply. It really takes up from where he'd left off previously. Sometimes it is best to ignore what others say. Rather than getting worked up about what is not helpful, it is sometimes better to leave things on one side. Job continues to reflect on apparent injustices in the world. He feels God is very far from him. And that isn't uncommon for a believer who is in great trouble to feel. Let's talk about these feelings.
1. A sense of aspiration
A desire for something greater. Job says (2) Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. He's getting no relief from his trouble. Eliphaz had been encouraging him to confess his sin and return to God but he isn't guilty and the whole point is that he can't return to God. He wants to come back to God, to draw near but finds it impossible to do. He says (3) If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.
He wants to state his case before God, present his arguments. Do you ever feel like that? I really want to come to God and say why, why is this happening? Why am I in this situation? You want to argue it out with God.
We shouldn't be surprised of such feelings or ashamed either. As Christians we want to be vindicated by God. Such feelings are understandable.
The right reaction. 6 Would he oppose me with great power? That's why you want to go God. God wouldn't just push you away. Would he be like those miserable comforters? No, he would not press charges against me. There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.
Job longs for this. This is the amazing thing. He's full of faith really. He's confident of a good outcome. We ought to be like that, But he wants it now! It often doesn't happen straight away. Patience is so very important.
2. A sense of desertion
Job expresses his difficulty in a wonderful piece of poetry. It is very well known. (8, 9) But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
It's tragic, isn't it? Tremendous frustration. Believers go through times like that. Wherever they turn, God's not there. How are we going to react when we are in situations like that?
There's confidence and there's faith here - (10) But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
I don't know where God is, he says. I can't find him in all this. He seems absent - yet not quite absent because, first, he knows what's going on. He understands. Not only that he will bring me through to the end. We're sure we'll be in heaven one day with the Lord Jesus. We are sure he will bring us through the tests and the trials that we face and so we put confidence in him. Eliphaz's accusations were lies. Job wasn't suffering becasue of his sins. He says (11, 12) My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread. I think it is important that we are able to speak like that.
1 Have we kept our consiences clear?
You must not go against your conscience. You must respect it. If you feel it's wrong - don't do it. Our consciences can be wrong, of course, they can be misinformed but we've got to get them rightly informed. We've got to inform them fro the Word. We've got to hold to what is there in the Word of God. We must see that man cannot live on bread alone. It must be more important to us then that we get fed in the ordinary way from day to day.
It will help us. I was reading a story about Christian psychiatrist John White and how he went through a period of depression. What helped him at that time was a study of the book of Hosea. You can see that but this was a technical study. It was going through some of those difficult verses that are not easy to understand. He found as he went back to it day by day - it helped so much. Before suffering comes we must be careful not to go against our conscience.
Think about this. If you're in trouble adn at the same time you are thinking “Ah yes, I remember doing that thing I did. It's no wonder I'm in this trouble now." I had a friend in college who went through a difficult time. He remembered getting up one morning and not bothering to read his Bible. So when he was in trouble later on his mind he kept going back to that. I's not ood to be thinking "no wonder I'm in trouble". In one sense it doesn't matter whether we are right or wrong abiut it. So it's very important to keep our consciences as clear as we can. It's important to read the Word still then and keep looking to what God says there.
A sense of desertion and a sense of God not there. A feeling that God is not there does not mean you are not a Christian. If you're not a Christian, it won't bother you. It won't be important. It is only if you've known what it is to have the presence of God that you will be concerned not to have it. Desertion is one of the things then, and also
3. A sense of frustration
Job goes on to express his great dread, frustration and dissatisfaction yet still there is a confidence as we shall see.
1 Dread of God. 13-15 But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him.
So he goes on (16) God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. And yet he's able to say (17) Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face. Job is set on finding justice and so he is determined to persevere and that's the sort of faith we need in times like that. We may find it frightening and it can be. You think "I never would have thought of that happening in my life. It's terrifying what God's doing to me". And yet at the same time we must be looking through the darkness and we must keep on speaking to God.
2 Questions about God's justice. He simply wants to know (24:1) Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? This is what often makes things so much worse. You hear about other people and they don't seem to have troubles even though they are wicked evil people. Why doesn't God do something about them? Some of the words we find in Chapter 24 sound like people singing their protest songs, the sorts of things unbelievers say. "Why doesn't God do something about it? He sounds like an unbeliever but he goes on later in a different way. The sorts of things on Job's mind were the way (2) Men move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen. People today look on pieces of art they have stolen and other such things. 3 They drive away the orphan's donkey and take the widow's ox in pledge. 4 They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding. Not even allowed to beg. In the day people are Like wild donkeys in the desert, the poor go about their labour of foraging food; the wasteland provides food for their children. They gather fodder in the fields and glean in the vineyards of the wicked. Why doesn't God do something? Then at night time there they are (7, 8) Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold. They are drenched by mountain rains and hug the rocks for lack of shelter. It is a pitiful picture brought before us. (9, 10) The fatherless child is snatched from the breast; the infant of the poor is seized for a debt. Lacking clothes, they go about naked; they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry. They do all the work but they get nothing. 11, 12 They crush olives among the terraces; they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst. The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. In this city, we can see all that going on. We don't have to travel far. But God charges no one with wrongdoing or so it seems. I think we have to face up to that. That's the difficulty. That's the reason given by some for not believing. When we're in turmoil we begin to think like this too.
There are other things too - thing perhaps that the protest singers and politicians don't talk about. There are other sins he doesn't seem to do anything about. Not only obvious oppressors but others too 13, 14 There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths. He gives examples
Murderers - 14 When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up and kills the poor and needy; in the night he steals forth like a thief.
Adulterers - 15 The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, 'No eye will see me,' and he keeps his face concealed. He's watching pornography on his computer or in the seedy cinema.
Thieves - 16 In the dark, men break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light. For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.
The question is, why does God apparently do nothing? Why do they seem to get away with it? At this point Job seems to turn back on himself. Some think it can't be Job. It must be Zophar or Eliphaz or perhaps he's quoting one of them. That seems unlikely. He sees their future. That's the thing, 18-20 Yet they are foam on the surface of the water; their portion of the land is cursed, so that no one goes to the vineyards. As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow, so the grave snatches away those who have sinned. The womb forgets them, the worm feasts on them; evil men are no longer remembered but are broken like a tree. A wonderful picture. You see the snow on the ground. You think it will last for ages. Come tomorrow, it's gone. When we think about the evil men and women in this world and what they seem to get away with. But death will come to such wicked people and after death the judgement. Oh yes, it seems to us like God's forgotten. It seems their lives are going to go on forever. They reach incredible ages some of these evil people but then God comes and he judges them. On the one hand (21) They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow show no kindness. (22) But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. That's how it is (24) For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like ears of corn. That's what happens. We must face this reality.
25 If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?
On the one hand, he sounds like a man in despair and these are genuine concerns that he brings before God. But as he speaks he sees the other side and he knows that God is in control. He's full of faith. He doesn't have all the answers anymore than I have all the answers.
I don't know. Why is it that God allows people to get away with some of the things they get away with? Why does he not judge them sooner? We don't know. People think they can get away with something. But, you won't get away with anything. Every single sin that has ever been sinned, that ever will be sinned, it's all got to be accounted for. It's either accounted for on your account or on the account of Jesus who died for sinners like you and me. God misses nothing. We think he misses things. We think he's forgotten. That's foolish thinking. Even Job knew that was the case. So he knows that he is in God's hands and he knows that God will see that justice is done, and, of course, justice was done even in Job's case. God did bring him through.
At such times, when we're frustrated and everything seems to be going wrong and we're longing for God and yet we can't find him, we need to put our faith in him and reassure ourselves that he is in control. Similarly, we need to encourage others - not with empty words, not with the impression that we've got all the answers - that won't help anyone. There are many trials that believers face but we know that God is in control and he is working it all together for his people, for those who are called according to his purposes.