Eric Snow, sermonette, August 3, 2007, UCG Ann Arbor, MI
One time a swimmer swam far into a large lake. Suddenly, a thick, freak fog moved in that evening. He didn’t know where the shoreline was! For a half hour, he alternated between half panicking, by splashing different directions back and forth, and forcing himself to remain calm while floating to preserve his energy. But then he heard someone speaking faintly but steadily near the shore. Then he could he swim his way back to safety. (Drawn from Philip Yancy, Disappointment with God, p. 203)
Like this lost swimmer, do our trials and tests in life make us feel that we that we’re lost at sea? Do we doubt that God cares? Do we wonder what the purpose of our tests and trials are? Didn’t Job wonder the same?
S.P.S.: While suffering through trials and tests like Job, we should not think God has to tell us why we’re going through them now. We should be faithful and obedient to God despite being ignorant about the causes of our suffering and pain.
Anyone going through trials and tests should consider reading Philip Yancey’s book, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud. The same goes for anyone concerned about the problem of evil in general. This book is generally written at a very simple, basic level. But its emotional effect can be profound in helping us become more content while suffering in this life. My message today is heavily influenced by Yancey’s work.
Consider a basic point: Did Job know why he went through the trials he did? Job knew nothing about Satan’s challenge to God in the first two chapters of the book named for him. Yet, we the average readers can know that. Yancey’s compares these two chapters of the Book of Job (pp. 163-64) to the director of a play giving us a sneak preview to a mystery play or “whodunit” detective story. He tells us the plot, the main characters, their actions during the play, and why they did what they did. The only real remaining mystery: “[H]ow will the main character respond? Will Job trust God or deny him?” Then the curtain rises: Job and all his friends know nothing about what happened in heaven, but we the readers do. We know Job did nothing wrong to deserve what happened to him.
Here what Yancey calls “the wager” arises between God and Satan. The basic question (p. 171): “The Wager was, at its heart, a stark reenactment of God’s original question in creation: Will the humans choose for or against me?” Satan claimed this man only serves God for what he gets materially from God. Yancey (p. 172): “Is faith one more product of environment and circumstance? The opening chapters of Job expose Satan as the first great behaviorist: Job was conditioned to love God, he implied. Take away the rewards, and watch his faith crumble. The Wager put Satan’s theory to the test.” God challenges Satan on this score by allowing him to harshly attack Job. God thinks this man will still freely choose to obey Him despite being left totally ignorant as to the causes of his awful trials. Under the same circumstances, would we do better or worse than Job himself did?
Job holds to God faithfully. God throws this in Satan’s face. Satan responds by claiming Job would deny God if Job lost his health also. But Job doesn’t curse God and die, despite his wife tells him to do that. Note that neither God or Satan says anything about Job being self-righteous, like the Pharisees were centuries later. His personal problem only shows up later. Self-righteousness can’t be called properly the “cause” of Job’s trial. God didn’t mention Job as being in any way sinful, but said he was truly righteous. God wasn’t deliberately allowing Satan to punish Job for any particular sin.
Job and his three friends spend long hours debating and thinking about the causes of his trials. But they never know anything about this scene in heaven, this prologue to the book. At the end of the book, God doesn’t explain any of this to Job either. Ironically, we average readers of the book of Job can know more about why Job went through these trials than Job himself! God lifted His curtain some more for us than He did for Job. After all, what was God’s basic response to Job?: “You don’t know enough about the universe to judge Me.”
So now, here comes a key point taught by the Book of Job: If we’re going through trials and tests, can we still obey God while not knowing why we’re going through them? The answer is obviously “yes.” Do we have to know the purpose of our sufferings and disappointments in order to stay faithful to God? The answer is obviously “no.” We should stay obedient and faithful to God despite our ignorance of why we’re suffering may equal Job’s. True, we may suffer for all sorts of self-inflicted reasons, such as making poor financial decisions, marrying the wrong person by mistake, and eating the wrong foods and drinks for years. It also may be God is working at correcting some character flaw or sin in our lives. But even if we don’t know and can’t know the causes of our suffering, we should still obey God anyway while in our fog of ignorance anyway.
Conclusion: During our brief and temporary physical lives, we’re swimming out deep in a lake blanketed by a dense fog that keeps us from seeing our way back home. But despite our troubles, trials, and tribulations, we should still obey and have faith in God even when we don’t know why we’re suffering.