Topical Scripture: Job 1:1-5
Joel Osteen’s new book, Become A Better You, was released this past Monday. Joel has become the pastor of America’s largest church, and is a bestselling author and international figure. He has been interviewed this week on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and talk shows across the country.
In the first chapter of his new book he writes, “Don’t be weighed down by the distractions and disappointments in life; instead, keep stretching to the n ext level, reaching for your highest potential. If you do that, I can tell you with confidence your best days are in front of you. God is going to show you more of His blessings and favor, and you will become a better you, better than you ever dreamed possible” (p. 18).
I have no doubt that this message of positive thinking is helping many people. But what do we do when prosperity doesn’t come to us? When innocent suffering is the reality of our lives? Peter’s future led to a crucifixion, upside down; Paul’s to a beheading; John’s to an exile on Patmos. God’s faithful servants are not always rewarded on earth for their obedience. Of all the people who deserve to be battling leukemia in the hospital today, Dr. Gary Cook is last on the list. But that’s where he is, and I am hurting with him and grieving for his family.
Here’s the fact for today: no matter how our world changes, God doesn’t. Today we’ll see why that fact is so crucial to the help and hope of God, wherever we need it most.
When life caves in
The Book of Job centers on a character who likely predated the Hebrew race and faith.
Job never refers to Abraham, the patriarchs, or the law of Moses. He makes no mention of the Promised Land or the covenant of God with the nation of Israel. The book refers to peoples who thrived before Abraham was born.
But Job was a very real person, not a literary figure; he is described in Ezekiel 14:14 as a righteous man and is commended in James 5:11 for his perseverance.
He lived in Uz, an area east of Israel, encompassing Edom to the south and Aram in the north. Depending on its size, the area could include parts of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iraq today.
Our text describes him as “blameless and upright.” The two terms go together in the Hebrew syntax, for they are two sides of the same character.
“Blameless” means “complete, mature, lacking nothing,” a man of complete integrity and righteousness in his personal character. “Upright” means “standing straight,” a person who is unwilling to compromise morally, someone who is always honest in his relations with others.
At the same time, “blameless” does not mean sinless. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Job was “blameless and upright” in that he sought to live by God’s law in every dimension of his life.
In addition, Job “feared God and shunned evil,” words which also go together in the original grammar. To “fear God” is to reverence him, to respect him deeply. To “shun evil” is to avoid it every time, at all costs. Job was a man of enormous integrity and spirituality, as our text will soon demonstrate.
It was just this character which Satan would attack.
Soon his oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels were stolen and his servants killed (vs. 13-17). Most devastating of all, a “mighty wind” (probably a tornado) from the Arabian Desert then killed all of Job’s children (vs. 18-19). In a single day, “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (v. 3) was reduced to horrific despair and poverty.
Then his health was taken from him. The Bible does not name Job’s disease (if it even had a medical name or description). We know that it caused him to endure “painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” (Job 2:7). These sores or boils would break and fester over his entire body (Job 7:5); he would endure nightmares (7:14), scabs which became black (30:28, 30), a disfigured and revolting appearance (2:12; 19:19), bad breath (19:17), weight loss (17:7; 19:20), fever (30:30), and pain all day and night (30:17).
A disease known as “hypogammaglobulinemia” matches most of Job’s symptoms. This is an autoimmune deficiency which leads to respiratory infections, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, rheumatoid arthritis, and pneumonia. The patient often experiences bacterial infections which produce skin reactions and boils. Whatever afflicted Job, it was horrific.
It is impossible for us to imagine Job’s torment. His physical response was consistent with Oriental mourning: “Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head” (Job 1:20a). But his spiritual response was unique and astounding: “Then he fell to the ground in worship” (v. 20b).
Admitting that he had nothing at birth and would have nothing at death (v. 21a), he concluded: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (v. 21b). And so, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22). How can we do the same?
How to trust the God you cannot see
This fall we’ve been exploring the nature of God Almighty. We’ve learned that he is awesome, to be feared and reverenced.
At the same time, we’ve discovered that he is intimately interested in every one of us. He knows everything about us and cares about every part of our lives.
God Almighty is love almighty. He didn’t have to make a single one of us–the planet had enough people before we were born. He wanted to make us. He loves us and likes us and cherishes us as a Father cherishes his children.
But he is Judge Almighty as well. His holiness requires him to condemn sin and judge sinners.
We have seen that he responds to us: when we show faith, he can show favor. When we refuse his word and will, he must refuse his blessing.
Now we learn that he is constant and consistent. He is awesome and intimate, love and judge, always and at the same time. His character never changes. Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” James 1:17 says that with God “there is no variation or shadow of change.” In Malachi 3:6 God says, “I the Lord do not change.”
We see each facet of God Almighty in the book of Job.
Here we find that God is awesome, to be feared, reverenced, honored (Job 38:1-7). Job 38-41 is the antidote to spiritual self-sufficiency and pride. God was Almighty eons before Job was even born, much less suffered.
Yet the God of Job is intimately interested in every one of us. He knows Job well: “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” (Job 1:8). He knows Job better than Job knows himself.
God in Job is love, even when life is hard (Job 42:12-16). Notice that he gave Job twice what he had lost, except that he gave him the same number of children as before (seven sons and three daughters; v. 13, 1:2). One commentator explained that Job still had his first set of children in heaven, and now a second set on earth, so that God doubled even his family as well.
And God in Job is judge against the friends of Job and their presumption (42:7-9). In all that he did, God was always all of God that he is.
He doesn’t change, even when we wish he would. Even when he doesn’t answer our prayer the way we asked it, or do what we wanted him to do. What do we do then? How do we trust God when he disappoints us? When your dear friend is in the hospital, or your marriage is in pain, or your kids are in trouble? Why trust God then?
Because he will do what we ask or whatever is best. The most likely reason why God does not always answer our prayers the way we want is that he knows what is best for us. He is a Father always. All parents can tell you about times when they could not give their children what they wanted because they loved them too much.
Billy Graham was devastated that the girl he loved rejected his proposal of marriage (she didn’t think he’d make anything of his life). He couldn’t understand why God hadn’t answered his prayers. Then he met Ruth Bell and the rest is history.
We are seldom good judges of what is for our eternal best. I could not understand why God would call me from the faculty of Southwestern Seminary into the pastorate, but for two decades I’ve been glad that he did. Our family could not have been happier in Midland when he called us to Atlanta, or happier in Atlanta when he called us to Dallas. But looking back I can see that he knew better than me each time.
I do not understand why God did not answer my prayers for Gary Cook and take this leukemia from him. I still cannot imagine why he did not answer my prayers for my father’s health in the way I wanted. But I know that his holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes.
He must have permitted my father’s death for a greater purpose I cannot yet comprehend. He must have permitted Dr. Cook’s leukemia for a greater reason than we can yet know. One day I’ll understand why, and that fact sustains me in the meantime.
So now I rest in the knowledge that God will always give me what I ask or something better. He answers my prayers every time, whether I know it at the moment or not. He is always awesome and intimate, loving and judge. He responds to our faith with his favor, but he does not change. And he always does the right thing–always.
Where is Job your story today? What suffering has found your family or finances or health? How are you tempted to give up on God this morning? Know that he is the same God he was before your crisis came. He hasn’t changed. He’s still the God who sent his Son to the cross for you. He’s still the same God who loves you and likes you and walks with you whether you can see him or not. He’s still all of God there is. Now he wants to be all of God he is, for you.
Last Tuesday I was privileged to bring the invocation at the annual Baylor University Medical Center’s Celebrating Women Luncheon. Our own Sharon McCullough was one of the co-chairs for the event, which raised $3.5 million to fight breast cancer. Our Jim and Julie Turner were honored for their very significant gifts to the cause.
The speaker was Lynn Redgrave, the Oscar, Emmy, and Tony-award winning actress and breast cancer survivor. She told a remarkable story of courage, pain, suffering, and hope. Toward the end of her talk she told us about the time one of her very best friends came from England to help her.
Sunday morning came, and her friend asked where a Catholic church might be so she could attend Mass. Lynn said that she had not been religious before, but that she went with her friend to the service. The Catholic liturgy was unfamiliar to her, so she began attending a Disciples of Christ church in her community. The church’s pastor was a woman, and Lynn thought she might be able to help.
Through this experience, Lynn Redgrave has come to God. She has found his help and hope for her suffering and pain. She closed her talk by reciting the 23rd Psalm, so powerfully that many of us had tears in our eyes.
Her presentation reminded me of the time a famous orator and an elderly, retired pastor were both asked to recite the 23rd Psalm in the same service. When the orator finished, the audience applauded. When the elderly pastor finished, the same audience wept. Then the actor returned to the microphone and said, “I wish to explain what just happened. I know the Psalm–he knows the Shepherd.”
After her message, I asked Ms. Redgrave for permission to share her story with you. I told her about that orator and elderly minister, then said to her, “I can tell that you know the Shepherd.” She looked into my eyes, smiled, and said, “I do.”