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Posts Tagged ‘Job’s Comforters’

Untamable God – Part 2

Continued…

One of the most powerful kings to ever rule the earth learned the lesson of God’s sovereignty the hard way.  Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was in control and that he had accomplished everything without any input from a god.  In fact, he thought he was a god.  In a dream (Daniel 4), he learns that his kingdom will be taken away unless he acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.  Four times (4:17; 4:25; 4:32 and 5:21) the reader of Daniel’s book is reminded “the most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.”  This echoes Psalm 47, which says, “God reigns over the nations…for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted” (vv. 8, 9).  This is a lesson that king Nebuchadnezzar was about to learn the hard way.

It took a long time before Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson, but in the end he finally acknowledged that “the Most High…does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (4:35).  As the Sovereign Creator, God does what He wants without questions.  He does not have to answer to anyone for His actions or non-actions.

This was the lesson that Isaiah learned and tried to teach Israel:  “You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’?  Can the pot say to the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Isaiah 29:16, see also 45:9, 10).  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet, is that not precisely what we often say or how we act when God seems to not work in the way we think He should.  We fall into completely denying Him (“He is not God…at least not my god.”) or accusing Him of not knowing what He’s doing (as if He should or would do what we would do).

After going through an interminable period of one trial after another, Job and his friends argued over what was the “cause-and-effect” of Job’s seeming down-turn in fortune.  Job didn’t want to accuse God, but did want to make his point to God that he should receive the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for all his troubles since he had been so good (i.e. “righteous”).  Job’s friends – rightly still called today “Job’s comforters” – argued that Job must have done something wrong and needed to repent.  Both Job and his friends seemed to think that they had some kind of “Club Membership” that allow them to skip life’s difficulties and traumas.  It is no wonder, then, that the Sovereign God finally shows up to put both in their places:  Job’s friends for falsely accusing Job, and Job for questioning God’s sovereignty.  (Turns out that we get into trouble spiritually when we take the judgment seat to pronouncement judgments against our friends and God.  It seems that seat is reserved for only One Being.)

God puts Job in on the spot, just as He does all humans who think they know better than God how to run the world, by asking him, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:1).  After that, Job gets an earful from God as God goes through a series of questions that ask, in one form or another, “Where were you when I….?” and, essentially, “When I was creating this…what were you doing?”

Finally, God the righteous judges sits down to listens to Job’s reply after asking him, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!” (40:2).  Smartly, Job simply answers, “How can I reply to you?  I put my hand over my mouth” (40:3).  God is not through, however, and launches into another series of questions that ultimately sound like, “Since you think you can do a better job, Job, you come up here and sit on this throne for a while!”  Again, Job, getting God’s message loud and clear finally admits, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwartedI spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:2, 3).

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Three of Daniel’s friends seemed to understand this about God.  They were placed in the ‘hot seat’ for their faith – literally.  They refused to bow to a golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar; even with the king and his royal entourage right in front of them.  (Talk about being “put on the spot” and peer pressure at the same time!)  They were threatened to be thrown into a fire furnace heated seven times hotter than normal; so hot it instantly killed the soldiers charged with throwing them into the furnace.  One would think – according to our modern American pop-theology – that then would have been a great time for God to show up.  He did not.

Divine interference would have been the preferred action before the fire in our thinking.  However, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recognized God’s sovereignty in their situation.  Their response to Nebuchadnezzar’s angry threat was “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:17, 18).  That, my friends, is faith in a big God who is Sovereign to do as He wills.  God did rescue them but in the midst of the fire, not before.  I cannot imagine these three Hebrew young men arguing with God, “Seriously?  Couldn’t you have showed up a little sooner!?

Perhaps some Muslims have an understanding of a sovereign deity better than American Christians do.  Granted, it has led many of them into a fatalism of their faith.  That has been a danger for Christians too.  However, when they do not readily recognize God’s plans or will, then they have learned to say, Inshallah” – “As Allah wills.”  Jesus, who as the Son of God knew the heavenly Father’s heart, will and plans better than anyone, also prayed “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39; Luke 2:42).  No wonder He taught His disciples and us to include in our prayers, “Your will be done one earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9 – 13; Luke 11:2 – 4).

It seems that God refuses to be tamed and be made nice for us to play with in our leisure. On the other hand, do we really want a God that we can put in our pocket like a rabbit’s foot lucky-charm?  Is a God who is always disposed to our whims really big enough to serve or worthy of worship?  I don’t think so.  The One who sits over all His creation and all the nations of the earth is too big, too untamable.  He does as He pleases.  We serve Him, not He us.  If this is true, and I believe it is, then we better get used to being more like Job when it comes to things we cannot explain.  Admit that God is too big to explain and shut up.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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When Nothing Goes Right

Have you ever experienced a period of time where nothing goes right for you?  We all probably have at some point, or will.  I seem to have had a rash of bad circumstances lately.  Some of them are life altering.

My car breaks down and it is not a minor fix.  Then my computer crashes and it is not a minor fix either.  It takes a couple of overhauls to finally get my computer running right.

My car?  Let’s not talk about that.  One of my friends at church joking with me told me that he and his buddies knew what to get me to help me out.  A mountain bike and a note pad!  We both laughed.  We also both know that his day will come when nothing goes right for him too.

Health problems.  Relationship problems at home or work.  Child raising problems.  Broken cars and broken computers.  Did I mention an appliance to fix or repair?

At times like these one would like to limit trouble and hassles to one-a-day.  Unfortunately they usually come to us in bunches.  Sometimes BIG bunches.

When this happens, do you ask, “Why?” I do!  I want to fix it and stop it or get out of the pain as soon as possible.  I want an explanation for why this is happening to me.  I want to find the “cause” that brought the “effect” of all these bad things.  Is it just bad luck?  Bad karma?  Is God mad at me?  Is it just life and life sucks?

The optimist tells me that for every dark cloud there is a rainbow on the other side.  Or, when life hand me lemons that I am supposed to make lemonade.  Wonderful.  But I do not find too much comfort in that sentiment in the midst of my pain and frustration.  On the other hand, the pessimist tells me that life sucks and then we die.  Great.  Will someone put me out of my misery, please!?  Neither philosophical approach to life adequately answers the question “why?” in the midst of suffering.

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to that simple question.  Sometimes it’s just life.  Life can be harsh.  We live in a world taken over by sin and wickedness.  Both good and bad happen to people all the time whether they themselves are good or bad.  So, it is not a reflection upon me.  It is a reflection upon the environment I live in.  People I don’t know, circumstances I can’t foresee or control can change my life forever.

At other times, I have to honestly look myself in the mirror and say, “It’s your own fault.”  Whether lack of experience, lack of wisdom, lack of knowledge, or just plain stupidity, I sometimes cause my own greatest pain.  I will freely admit it.  There are times when I am my own worst enemy.  However, I can learn from these experiences and go on while I reap the consequences of my own actions.

Or, you may have “Job’s Comforters” to help you dig yourself a hole of guilt and shame.  You’ve sinned and so God is judging you.  That’s why all these bad things are happening to you.  God is mad at you for your imperfections.

You ever hear that?  I’ve heard it.  Sometimes from my closest friends.  Then they stay away from me as if I had the plague and “God’s judgment” was contagious.

I see many people today loaded down with shame and guilt.  Our society seems to thrive on it.  Some people’s relationship with God is based upon a constant sense of shame and guilt.  They are never good enough.  God is always waiting to strike them with lightning if they don’t get it right.

This is a very faulty view of God, yet one that is so predominant in our world.  Thus, we are forced to paganistically try to appease the wrath of God.  Every bad thing that occurs in our life then just reinforces to us that we have not got it right yet.  And so we toil under the weight of shame, guilt, and condemnation trying to make “it” right with God.

Yes, sometimes we do suffer the consequences of our own sinful actions.  But that is not God hammering us.  It is reaping what we sowed.  Just like the laws of physics, there are laws of the human spirit, laws of human relationships, and laws of behavior.  We all violate them at our own risk.  And it doesn’t matter whether you know about the law or not.  It’s just the way life works.  Either you know and understand them, or life will be very difficult.

White Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

White Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Many of our insurance policies make allowance for “An Act of God.”  When bad thing fall upon you, are you apt to look to heaven and ask, “What did I do to deserve that?”  You’re in company.  Most people do.  However, when things do not go right in life, it is not always “An Act of God.”  The Bible tells us a different story about God’s actions toward us, even in our rebellious and sinful state.

The Good News that is in Christ Jesus is that He did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.  The world is already under judgment and condemned.  He didn’t come to add to it.  He came to remove people out from underneath the guilt, shame, and condemnation.

In other words, God is on your side.  He wants to free you and me from the prison of shame and guilt.  He wants to remove the sense of condemnation that comes every time something bad happens in your life.  He wants to raise you above such circumstances with the assurance of his presence and power that will help you get through and overcome such demoralizing events.  They no long have to have power over you.  They no longer have to shape your life, how you feel about yourself or how you see God – even when it is your own doing.  Like a loving parent, he does not cast you out of his household.  Instead, he comes with reassurance to say, “Come here.  Let’s get you cleaned up so you can keep going.”

So, when trouble strikes, it is not God “out to get you.”  In our own doing, or just because we live in an imperfect world, things happen to us.  When they do happen, even at our own doing, we no longer need to look for guilt and shame from God but for help and power to overcome.  After all, he’s on our side now.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Healing Haiti

Another catastrophic disaster hits a part of our world.  It is something that we never get used to witnessing via newspapers, news magazines, television news cycles, or internet pictures and videos.  The suffering is overwhelming.  The feeling of uselessness from our living room chairs suffocating.  Some of us pray.  Some of us give to our charities of choice hoping that our dollar will go where it is needed most.  All of us wonder, why?

There is a human propensity to try and make sense of our world; especially when struck with natural disasters.  In some ways, we deal better with blatant human evil that reeks suffering and destruction.  The “why” is answered for us.  We see the results of twisted evil human nature every day.  We recognize evil in one another.  When it spills over into our lives, we at least have some semblance of a reason for our suffering; there are mean, evil, wicked people in the world that cause pain and suffering.  However, what reason do we have when it is impersonal “Mother Nature”?

Natural disasters catch us in a web of meaninglessness like Victor Hugo’s fly in the spider web of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  There is no one to blame.  It is just how nature works.  It is “the circle of life” at work in our world.  Death and birth continue on in an unfeeling, meaningless cycle.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Whether tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, disease or cancer, nature takes its course in all our lives.  Even if we live our lives without succumbing to disease or accident, we will end our days in a “natural” death.  We are the products of natural courses at work in the world.  We are also subject to the work of natural courses in our world.

In our modern, scientific age we like to arrogantly think that we can control or predict nature.  And, while our ability at prediction has gotten better, we are constantly and painfully reminded that nature is full of surprises for us.  We are far from reaching the limits of human knowledge.  We are constantly discovering what we do not know.  After all, that is part of the mystery of human science and discovery:  We do not know what we do not know!

Nevertheless, there are still those who like to attempt to negate the mystery of creation by offering a “cause and effect” answer for every event.  The recent example of Pat Robertson’s explanation for the disaster in Haiti is a great (or perhaps, better, tragic) example of this pernicious human trait.  He claims the mythical legend of Haitians making a pact with the devil to be free from French rule is the cause of Haiti’s troubled history as well as present disaster.  Not surprisingly, his comments have created an uproar.  Unfortunately, he has had a history of “foot in the mouth” disease.  His reason for the tragedy of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and New Orleans destruction from Hurricane Katrina’s?  American abortions.

All such attempts at explain or come up with a “cause” for disasters in the world will always be controversial.  It may very well be an effort in futility as well.  When biblical Job suffered the loss of everything through one disaster after another, his well-meaning friends attempted to come up with a reason or cause.  It was the very same one that Pat Robertson uses.  It is the result of sin.  While personal sin has its consequences, it is not always the case.  In fact, God brags about Job’s righteousness.  In the end, Job’s friends get a rebuke from the Creator for their lame attempt to explain what God was trying to do in the world and in Job’s life.

While Job’s friends wanted to find some personal sin for the cause of Job’s sufferings, Job wanted to blame God.  He assumed that he deserved God’s total and complete protection from every trouble.  He attempts an in-your-face chest bump with God.  God puts Job in his place simply by pointing out that the Creator does not need the advice of his creation on how the universe should run.  The courses of nature were established by God without Job and his “wisdom”.  In the face of God’s creation and grandeur, Job does the wise thing.  He shuts up.  Oh, that our modern day commentators and wisemen of God’s ways would do the same thing!

In Jesus’ day, there were two tragedies that captured the attention and heart of the country.  First, apparently, an evil ruler brutalized and massacred some people in Galilee (Luke 13:1 – 5).  Second, a tower in Siloam fell down and killed some people in a tragic accident.  One was a tragedy by human evil.  The other was a tragedy of meaningless accident.  Jesus exposed the futile human attempt to explain these events by blaming human sinful conditions by asking, “Do you think they [the ones who suffered and died in these events] were sinners more than anyone else?”  Jesus’ answer is in the emphatic.  “Absolutely not!”

Jesus offers us no explanation for these disasters.  He seems to be content to let the mystery of the “why” to rest upon his listeners and us.  Instead, he does offer a universal explanation for humans everywhere and in every age.  “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”  Huh?  At first his answer – or explanation – comes across very cryptic.

Jesus does offer us a parable.  He tells of an owner of a fig tree who finds it not bearing fruit.  He wishes to cut it down but at the intervention of his arborist decides to give it another chance.  This story, like a laser beam, is aimed at Israel.  However, it speaks to us all too.  God delights in showing mercy.  He is not put off by “giving more time” to those who are due judgment.  Jesus’ point to his listeners is that we are all due judgment!  Therefore, we all had better discern our spiritual condition and turn to God.  Jesus uses the tragic stories of his day to point out that the sudden demise of these people should remind us all of our frail condition and existence.  It should remind us all to look to our own spiritual conditions instead of looking to point fingers and blame such events on someone’s sin.

Red and White Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

Fire and Ice Rose, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Haiti’s suffering should be a reminder for us all.  We all have our own “pact with the devil”.  If Haiti’s suffering is the result of such a pact then we are all under the same judgment and deserve the same, no less.  Likewise, we are all at the mercy of the natural forces at work in God’s creation – floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, disease and cancer.  These strike the righteous and the unrighteous.  There were many believers in Jesus who died in the earthquake and many who continue to suffer today.  Are we more righteous than they because we were not there and did not experience it?  I think not.

Instead of wondering why, it is perhaps more constructive to take a personal spiritual inventory and ask ourselves, “If something like that were to befall upon me today, am I spiritually ready to go into eternity and meet God?”  This would help us far more than sitting in the seat of self-righteousness and pronouncing judgment upon the sin in the lives of others.  It only makes us as useless as Job’s comforters and deserving of similar rebukes from God and the suffering Jobs.

Instead of looking for a cause for such suffering, it is perhaps more constructive to approach these situations with the same attitude that Jesus did on similar occasions.  When faced with overwhelming human suffering around him, Jesus did not attempt to explain the reason for human suffering.  He, instead, looked for ways in which God could be glorified in such circumstances.  This was the case of a man blind from birth (John 9:1 – 5).  The disciples, so like us today, wanted to know the cause or reason for this person’s suffering.  “Rabbi.  Who sinned?  This man or his parents so that he was born blind?”  Jesus’ astonishing answer is that it was not because of sin.  Instead, “This happened so that the work of God could be displayed in his life…we must do the work of him who sent me.”  Could it be the same with Haiti?

Perhaps the best response to Haiti is not looking for reasons or causes.  Perhaps the best response is, instead, to ask, “How can we do the work of God in this situation?”  On this side of eternity, we might not know all the answers and reasons.  However, we do know that God has a work he wants to do.  Perhaps the best response to such tragedies is to seek to do God’s work of healing and restoration.  In the end, God is not going to quiz us with, “Did you come up with a plausible explanation of why this happened to them?”  Instead, he’s going to want to know, “How did you do my work in the midst of such sufferingDid you bring healing to Haiti?”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Poor Job. The biblical person who suffered ever increasing tragedy until nothing was left to him but a bitter wife has come down to us as an example of human suffering and the questions that go along with it.  He lost his wealth, his children and their families, all he owned, and was plagued with disease.  As he sat in an heap of ashes allowing dogs to lick his wounds, his wife’s only counsel was to “curse God and die“.  Obviously, according to her, Job must have done something to bring down the wrath of the Almighty.

When Job’s friends hear about his plight, they mount a support group to be with Job and offer him comfort. Unfortunately, they, too, offer words that are more damning than helpful.  Their miserable efforts at help and comfort end up bringing more suffering to Job instead of relief.  In the end, Job wishes they had never come to “help”.  He would like all of them to just go back home.

We still use Job’s friends as an example for us today. Whenever people offer comfort that ends up being no real comfort at all we call these individuals “Job’s comforters”.  Instead of bringing relief, they bring only more emotional turmoil and suffering along with a sense of guilt that whatever happened was somehow the sufferers’ fault.

Broken Sand Dollar on the Beach, Gleneden Beach, Oregon

Broken Sand Dollar on the Beach, Gleneden Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

I have been to too many funerals and memorial services where well-meaning individuals have turned out to be a “Job’s comforter”. Their badly derived words of wisdom and attempts at comfort only bring greater sorrow and despair.  I cannot number the times that I have wished someone would just shut their mouth.  In fact, I have come to believe that the best thing that can be said by family and friends and well-wishers at a funeral, memorial, or graveside service is nothing!  Simply being present is a gift enough.

I have shuddered as I have heard people say:

  • “God must have needed him/her in heaven more than we did.” – to parents after the death of a child
  • “Good thing you are still young and can have more kids.” – to a young couple whose baby died of SIDS
  • “Now you have even more reason to cherish the children you still have at home.” – to a grieving mom
  • “It just wasn’t meant to be.” – to a mom whose baby died shortly after child birth!
  • “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.”
  • “You just keep a stiff upper lip.  You’ll be okay.” – to a grieving widow
  • “God must have a lesson for you and your family in all of this.” – after a tragic accidental death
  • “God must have known that he/she wouldn’t have been healthy.”
  • “God must have known that he/she would have trouble later and needed to go to heaven now.”
  • “Try and be strong for the other children.” – to a young teen grieving over the death of his father.
  • “He/She is in a better place.” – to a young husband whose wife died of cancer.
  • “It will get better/easier with time.” – to a grieving widow.
  • “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” – to grieving parents over the death of a young daughter
  • “You are so strong.  I know you can handle this.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Be grateful for the time you had with him/her.”
  • “At least he/she is not suffering any more.”
  • “You know that he/she would not have wanted you to feel so sad this way.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.  You will be over this someday.”
  • “Things will be back to normal before you know it.”
  • “Maybe we should have prayed more, then God would have healed him/her.”
  • “Remember, ‘all things work together for good’.”
  • “Try not to cry so much.  It upsets the kids.”

This is about the time I would like to throw out all of Job’s comforters! It seems to be a human propensity to feel the need to say something unfitting in times of mourning.  Unfortunately, the best that most can come up with is some cheesy spiritual platitude, misplaced Scriptural reference, or miserable attempt to instruct the one grieving.  This is not the time to compare tragedies, instruct in the stages of grieving, or offer spiritual counsel.  It is a time to share in the grieving – to “mourn with those who mourn“.

Mourning with those who mourn is best done by simply being present with the one grieving. This does not require words!  It can involve a loving touch on the arm or shoulder.  It may even involve a tender hug.  For the grieving person, just knowing that there are friends and family present and that they are not alone in their grieving is relief enough.

If words must be used, short statements that identify with the grief of the one mourning is the most appropriate:

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I do not know what to say right now except that I love you and hurt for you.”
  • “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
  • “I sure am going to miss him/her.  I remember when he/she…” – it is okay to share short memories or impressions of the deceased if it is appropriate.
  • “I just want to be here for you right now.”
  • “My heart aches for your loss.”
  • “I cannot imagine what you are going through right now, but I want you to know I am here for you.”
  • “It is okay to cry and grieve.  He/she was loved so much and will be missed.”
  • “You do not need to say anything right now if you do not want to.  I just want to be with you.”

This does not just apply to the time immediate following a death or tragic loss. It also applies months, even years, later when the fresh wound of grief is opened by a memory.  Such a person’s loss is never fully healed.  The pain of it will always be present.  To avoid becoming a Job’s comforter, one must help the one mourning identify the pain and grieve the loss.  Rather than prolonging grieving, as some may suspect, it actually helps the person heal.  Rather than attempting to suppress the emotions associated with the pain, they are embraced as a part of living.

Rather than become a Job’s comforter, the challenge is to become a true friend who “mourns with those who mourn”. If everyone became better at that perhaps all of Job’s comforters would be thrown out or at least drowned out by the love and kind words of those who are present to comfort those who mourn.

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