Monday, 7 July 2014

(189) July 8: Job 38-39 & Acts 14

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what God reveals about himself.

To ponder:
Throughout the book Job has longed to be able to speak with God. He has wanted to state his case by protesting his innocence, and gain an answer that vindicated him and led to his deliverance from suffering (13v3, 23v1-7). No doubt he expected this answer to therefore give a reason for why he suffered even though righteous. But it is interesting that his greatest concern was over the justice (or injustice) of what he was having to endure, and with it, his reputation before those who looked on and assumed it meant he was wicked. This gives insight into what lies behind the struggles of believers today when they suffer. It is often accompanied by a subconscious question of whether it may be because of some sin, and if not, then a subconscious assumption that God is treating them unjustly. It is these things that can lie behind the longing to know: “Why?”.
            God’s willingness to speak with Job is significant in itself. It affirms he is not the cold removed God portrayed at times in the previous speeches. Moreover, it gives huge dignity to Job and humanity in general that God would be willing to engage them. However, just as it was often uncomfortable for the disciples to speak with Christ, and just as he often answered them with a question and in a way that was totally unexpected, so it is here. God doesn’t so much answer Job as require answers from him, having him stand “like a man” in the dock (38v1-3). First, God declares that Job has not spoken correctly. He has “darkened” God’s “counsel” in the sense that he has caused the wisdom of God known by others to shine less brightly by confusing it with error (38v2). We should recognise the seriousness of presuming to say things of God that are wrong. This is why we must pay such close attention to scripture.
            A superficial reading of what follows could lead one to assume God does nothing to actually engage with Job’s issues or even correct what has been said. God simply asks question after question that distinguishes Job as a creature from God as Creator. However, it is the things God stresses about himself that are instructive. He stresses his authority in determining the details and boundaries of the creation (38v4-15) and limiting wickedness by ending each night with day (38v15). So God governs all that is, and whatever his purpose in allowing the wicked to remain, he doesn’t allow them a totally free reign. God then stresses his knowledge of the entire creation and its “laws,” seen in his control of the weather and the stars which mark the seasons (38v16-38). God therefore knows what he is doing in the world, and the natural forces that bring hardship are under his kingly rule and subject to his command (38v33-35). God also stresses his care in providing for and watching over the life of animals that have no use for human beings (38v39-39v8). If so concerned for the wellbeing of creatures that present no inherent reason for his care, there can therefore be no doubt he is concerned for human beings who he has created to know and image him. God’s final point is more uncertain. It seems to stress his wisdom as sometimes understandable and sometimes incomprehensible (39v9-30). So the wild ox and hawk serve no discernable reason from man’s perspective, but serve and obey God nevertheless. The ostrich seems frankly laughable and stupid, but laughs at other animals with her speed. And although the horse serves human purposes, its responses in battle are mysterious.
            God does not therefore give Job what he wants. He gives him no reason for his sufferings. Nor does he really prove his justice. This suggests Job was presumptuous to expect these things. But God’s “answer” is nevertheless sufficient because it gives ample reason to trust him. He does restrain the wicked. And the righteous do not suffer because he lacks power or control or love. The creation gives plentiful testimony to all these things. Yet it also testifies to the fact that not everything God does is comprehensible to human beings. Indeed, throughout it is emphasized that Job can neither do or understand the mighty wonders that God does. And so he needs to humbly learn his place.
Praying it home:
Praise God for all that is displayed of him in the creation. Pray that in the midst of suffering you would trust what is seen of him there, and more clearly in scripture and in Christ.

Thinking further: The General Revelation of God in creation
The knowledge of God discerned from the creation is called “General Revelation” because it is general or common to people everywhere. Some are nervous of looking to creation for knowledge of God because of how easily its testimony can be misunderstood – just as it was by Job and his friends. And we are of course blessed with the clearer and superior revelation of scripture, and of Christ as portrayed there. Nevertheless, scripture affirms the validity of reflecting on what the creation tells us of God – so far as it doesn’t contradict scripture.
            Here Paul teaches that from the creation of the world everyone everywhere has clearly seen and understood “God’s power and nature” in what has been made (Rom 1v20). As the conclusion of the book of Job shows, the very existence of the creation constantly points to God by asking “who did this” and who does that” with respect to its formation and daily activity. It is here God’s power is so evident. Yet the book also assumes creation points to God’s nature as a wise and loving king, because of how he governs the creation in such profound ways for the good of his creatures and the restraint of evil. Paul would add that by creating man with a conscience, we are also instinctively aware that God is moral and just, and that we deserve death for our sin (Rom 1v32). We are also therefore aware that God is a God of grace for continuing to bless us with the things of his creation despite this (Acts 14v15-17).
            Those who have not heard of Christ or read the scriptures therefore “have no excuse” for not glorifying or thanking God rightly (Rom 1v20-21) – ie. according to these truths, or “reaching out” and trying to “find him” (Acts 17v25-28). They fail to do these things not because they lack access to sufficient truth about him, but because they “suppress the truth” in order to live as they please (Rom 1v18-19). If it wasn’t for their love of sin our friends and neighbours would therefore be eagerly seeking knowledge of God and readily accepting that it is found in scripture and Christ. Yet because they do not do this, in his grace Christ has commissioned his church to go to them and call them to repentance through the gospel.
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