The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer. It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them? The answer is, he wants our trust.
The book is driven by tensions. One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8; 2:3). He didn’t deserve what he got. Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge. Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, overly-tidy, accusing categories (4:7-8). Thus, they did not serve Job but only intensified his sufferings further. Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their cruel insinuations. He kept looking to God, he held on, and God eventually showed up (38:1-42:17).
One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on and inevitably form opinions. Suffering brings temptation both to the sufferer and to the observer. The sufferer is tempted to give up on God. The observer is tempted to point his finger at the sufferer with smug, self-serving thoughts and words: “This is all your own fault, of course. If you’d just own up, everything would start getting better.” The fallacy here is to assume that we live in a universe ruled by the simple laws of crime and punishment. Our minds dredge up these thoughts not really because we are confident in ourselves but because we are uneasy about ourselves and therefore threatened by the suffering of another: “If it’s happening to Job, it might catch up to me too.” So we cling to the illusory feeling of control by reinforcing our own self-image of moral superiority. We try, by sheer force of assertion, to re-order the moral universe in a way reassuring to our prejudices. The book of Job teaches a more honest and humble way. When we observe someone suffering, we too should trust God and sympathize with the sufferer rather than off-load our own guilty anxieties by dumping on the sufferer.
Two, when we ourselves suffer in ways that defy easy explanation, God wants us to trust him more deeply than we ever have before. Job eventually settles into a profound place where, without answers to his questions, he trusts in the omnicompetence of God: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). What God can do is more important than how God explains himself. What if he did tell us every mystery right now? Would we be satisfied? Would we say, “Oh, I see. Here I have your explanation for it all. That really makes everything okay now”? I doubt it. An explanation is a wonderful thing, so far as it goes. But it is an intellectual thing. It cannot touch our core being, where the anguish in fact has taken up its deepest residence. Far better to leave it all with God, as our faith deepens from questioning to waiting. We don’t live by explanations; we live by faith.
“I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able.” 2 Timothy 1:12
The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ has purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honour and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.
The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘the river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.
— Jonathan Edwards “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, et al74-75
(HT: Of First Importance)
[Food, clothing, companionship, and inspiring work] are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget.
We value God solely for the things He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things–even lofty and unselfish things–then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail. When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God. We have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. . . .
If we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides. Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all? If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
–J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, 73-74
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
John Piper from 2008:
The essential, vital, indispensable, defining heart of worship is the experience of being satisfied with God. This satisfaction in God magnifies God in the heart. This explains why the apostle Paul makes so little distinction between worship as a congregational service and worship as a pattern of daily life. They have the same root – a passion for treasuring God as infinitely valuable. The impulse for singing a hymn and the impulse for visiting a prisoner is the same: a thirst for God – a desire to experience as much satisfaction in God as we can.
Excerpted from Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning, Part 1.
Our hearts will not be drawn out to worship if someone just dissects and analyzes the worth and glory of God but does not exult in it before us. Our hearts long for true preaching. Some of us don’t even know that is what we are missing.
Like children who grew up in homes where mom and dad never exulted in anything. They never rejoiced or praised or verbally admired and treasured anything. They were always flat and unenthused (except when they got angry). You couldn’t tell if anything really moved them deeply and positively. So the kids grow up not knowing what they are missing. That is what many people in the church are like who have never tasted true preaching.
God exists to be worshiped—to be admired and treasured and desired and praised. Therefore, the Word of God is written primarily to produce worship. This means that if that Word is handled like a hot-dish recipe or a repair manual, it is mishandled. And the people will suffer.
The Truth of God begs to be handled with exultation. And our hearts yearn for this and need it. Something in us starts to die when precious and infinitely valuable realities are handled without feelings and words of wonder and exultation. That is, a church starts to die, without preaching.
From Tullian Tchividjian:
In one of the most powerful and poetic paragraphs I’ve ever read on human yearning and the hope of the gospel, Cornelius Plantinga (President of Calvin Theological Seminary) writes:
The truth is that nothing in this earth can finally satisfy us. Much can make us content for a time but nothing can fill us to the brim. The reason is that our final joy lies “beyond the walls of this world,” as J.R.R Tolkien put it. Ultimate beauty comes not from a lover or a landscape or a home, but only through them. These earthly things are solid goods, and we naturally relish them. But they are not our final good. They point to what is higher up and further back…Even if we fall deeply in love and marry another human being, we discover that our spiritual and sexual oneness isn’t final. It’s wonderful, but not final. It might even be as good as human oneness can be, but something in us keeps saying “not this” or “still beyond”…What Augustine knew is that human beings want God…God has made us for himself. Our sense of God runs in us like a stream, even though, because of sin, we divert it toward other objects. We human beings want God even when we think that what we really want is a green valley, or a good time from our past, or a loved one. Of course we do want these things and persons, but we also want what’s behind them. Our inconsolable secret, says C.S. Lewis, is that we are full of yearnings, sometimes shy and sometimes passionate, that point us beyond the things of earth to the ultimate reality of God.
From John Piper:
David Livingstone… was born March 19, 1813. He gave his life to serve Christ in the exploration of Africa for the sake of the access of the gospel.
On December 4, 1857, he spoke the sentence that has made the greatest impact on me. It is one of the clearest applications I have seen of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-30. Jesus said,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Here is what Livingstone said to the Cambridge students about his “leaving” the benefits of England:
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
(Cited in Samuel Zwemer, “The Glory of the Impossible” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Ralph Winter and Stephen Hawthorne, eds. [Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981], p. 259. Emphasis added.)
Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of delighting ourselves in God. Updating the language a little:
1. Delight in God will prove that you know him and love him and that you are prepared for his kingdom, for all who truly delight in him shall enjoy him.
2. Prosperity, which is merely the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt you or transport you.
3. Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not much grieve you or easily deject you.
4. You will receive more profit from a sermon or good book or conversation you delight in, than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.
6. You will have a continual feast with you, to sweeten all the crosses of your life and provide you with joy greater than your sorrow in your saddest condition.
7. When you delight in God, your created pleasures will be sanctified to you and warranted in their proper place, which in other people are idolatrous or corrupt.
Lord, “you are good and you do good” (Psalm 119:68).
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
“Here is the end of the matter: God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is not the act of a needy ego, but an act of infinite giving. The reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be fully God until he gets it, but that we won’t be happy until we give it.
This is not arrogance. This is grace.
This is not egomania. This is love.”
- John Piper, Is Jesus an Egomaniac?
(HT: Of First Importance)
I find John Piper’s rationale compelling. I also appreciate his humility:
Now that the video of the Q&A at Advance 09 is available, I can look at it and feel bad all over again. Here’s what I regret, indeed what I have apologized for to the person who asked the question.
The first question to me and Mark Driscoll was, “Piper says get rid of my TV, and Driscoll says buy extra DVRs. How do you reconcile this difference?”
I responded, “Get your sources right. . . . I never said that in my life.”
Almost as soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt: “What a jerk, Piper!” A jerk is a person who nitpicks about the way a question is worded rather than taking the opportunity to address the issue in a serious way. I blew it at multiple levels.
So I was very glad when the person who asked the question wrote to me. I wrote back,
Be totally relieved that YOU did not ask a bad question. I gave a useless and unhelpful, and I think snide, answer and missed a GOLDEN opportunity to make plain the dangers of the triviality you referred to. . . . I don’t know why I snapped about the wording of the question instead of using it for what it was intended for. It was foolish and I think sinful.
So let me see if I can do better now. I can’t give an answer for what Mark means by “buy extra DVDs,” but I can tell you why my advice sounds different. I suspect that Mark and I would not agree on the degree to which the average pastor needs to be movie-savvy in order to be relevant, and the degree to which we should expose ourselves to the world’s entertainment.
I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.
If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.
There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.
I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.
I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).
Brothers, that is serious. Really serious. Jesus is violent about this. What we do with our eyes can damn us. One reason is that it is virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by nudity to an act of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” But this means the entire Christian life is threatened by the deadening effects of sexual titillation.
All Christ-exalting transformation comes from “beholding the glory of Christ.” “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Whatever dulls the eyes of our mind from seeing Christ powerfully and purely is destroying us. There is not one man in a thousand whose spiritual eyes are more readily moved by the beauty of Christ because he has just seen a bare breast with his buddies.
But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.
One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.
TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it.
Sorry again, for the bad answer. I hope this helps.
“The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed, chapter 7, section 3.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
From John Piper:
That’s why Jesus put this request at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer: “Hallowed be your name.”
God is the most important person in the universe. More important than all others put together.
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).
The whole-souled act of hallowing God’s name is the most important act in the universe.
To “hallow” means to “sanctify” which in God’s case means to set apart in your mind and heart as supremely great and beautiful and valuable.
“Hallowed be your name” means, “See to it that your name is hallowed. Use your infinite power and wisdom and love to stir up billions of hearts and minds to admire you and prize you above all things.”
We ask him to fulfill this promise:
I will sanctify [hallow] my great name, which was profaned among the nations…. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord…when I shall be sanctified [hallowed] in you before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:23)
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)
Ask the Lord to help you make the most important prayer your most common prayer. And the one you desire most to see answered.
“If God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God? If we do not spread a banquet of God’s beauty on Sunday morning, will not our people seek in vain to satisfy their inconsolable longing with the cotton candy pleasures of pastimes and religious hype? If the fountain of living water does not flow from the mountain of God’s sovereign grace on Sunday morning, will not the people hew for themselves cisterns on Monday, broken cisterns that can hold no water?”
- John Piper
(HT: Todd Pruitt)
Justin Childers posts some of his favourite Jim Elliot quotes:
“Father, let me be weak that I might loose my clutch on everything temporal. My life, my reputation, my possessions, Lord, let me loose the tension of the grasping hand.”
“I covenanted with the Father that He would do either of two things: either glorify Himself to the utmost in me or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best.”
“O Christ, let me know Thee–let me catch glimpses of Thyself, seated and expectant in glory, let me rest there despite all wrong surging round me. Lead me in the right path, I pray.”
“Father, take my life, yea, my blood if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it, for it is not mine to save. Have it Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation for that world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine altar.”
“God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame for you.”
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”