From time to time, we read a passage that does a wonderful job of putting us in our place. This morning, I feel that humbling acutely as I read through Job 35. The whole chapter is a flowing argument, so I will not reproduce it at the beginning of this post as I often do when commenting on only a verse or two.
First, context is important. Job suffered, but not as a punishment from God. God intended the life of Job to demonstrate his glory, and Job proved to the devil that he was faithful to God no matter how severely the devil attacked him.
Then, beginning in chapter 3, Job was met by four friends. The three older ones argued with Job, directing him to repent of whatever sin he had committed to bring these hardships on himself. Job, for his part, began to feel put upon and unfairly treated by God. By the end of this round of conversation, Job was ready to accuse God of wronging him and refusing to answer him.
Enter Elihu ,the fourth friend. This youngest participant in the conversation waited until the men frustrated him to no end. Elihu was frustrated by Job’s self-justification. He was frustrated by the foolish prosperity preaching and arrogance of the other 3 friends. And when Elihu finally speaks, he lets everybody have it.
Today’s reading, in chapter 35, is short but powerful. Elihu begins by telling Job that he is about to let Job know why it is better for Job not to have sinned against God even if Job has had a hard life (1-4).
5 Look at the heavens, and see;
and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.
6 If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
Elihu then puts us all in our place by directing our eyes to the sky. How high is the sky? How far above us are the clouds? God is further above us still. If we do right, we do not impress God. If we sin, we do not do God harm. No action of ours can strengthen or weaken God. Our actions,, rather, impact how God will respond to us.
After going a little further in pointing out how little mankind gives God credit for his great works, Elihu responds to the complaint raised by Job and by many on earth who are frustrated that God does not respond to their demands for explanation.
12 There they cry out, but he does not answer,
because of the pride of evil men.
13 Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
nor does the Almighty regard it.
14 How much less when you say that you do not see him,
that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!
15 And now, because his anger does not punish,
and he does not take much note of transgression,
16 Job opens his mouth in empty talk;
he multiplies words without knowledge.
O that we would recognize that God is not required to explain himself or his ways to us. We do not have the right to call him to account. We have no authority over him. There is no rule beyond both God and us that can call God into line. God, by definition, is the ultimate source of authority and morality. What God does is, by definition right. What God demands is by definition moral and just and perfect. And it is only selfish pride that moves us to believe that God must be justified in our sight or explain to us why he has acted in a certain way or determined that certain things are moral.
How, then, might we respond to this humbling passage? There are probably more ways than I can write this morning. Think of an issue like the modern debates over gender and sexuality. Many people argue that the Bible has no authority over what they wish to do with their bodies. They had better hope that they are right. They had better hope, for their sake, that the Bible is merely a book put together by men with no actual spiritual authority or reflection on the heart of God. Even though that will lead them to a world without ultimate hope and without a source of morality, that hopelessness and meaninglessness of life is the best that those who would oppose the words of God would have to wish for. Because, if they are not right, and if God’s word has told us what God has said about creation, about gender, about sexuality, about marriage, and about his commands, those who have demanded proof will find it when they face the Lord who has given his commands.
Or what about those who would argue that God must accept any sincere person’s religion, even if that religion is not that of the Bible? Would this passage not remind us that God is not required to make his rules according to secular logic? God is God. He has the right to save or not to save by whatever means he has chosen. If God has indeed chosen to rescue a particular people for himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, if God has chosen to rescue such people by his grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we dare not argue about whether such a system is fair, right, or best. God is God. He is above us. He is holy. Our arguments against him are words without knowledge and empty talk.
Here, of course, many Christians would voice a hearty “Amen!” But let us not forget that we are given to the same sorts of logical failings if we are not careful. Many times we believers will act just like Job’s three friends. We will look at a situation, and we will boldly declare that we know why it has happened. I have heard far too many Christians say exactly why a particular natural disaster occurred—usually as a punishment from God—or why a particular person was facing difficulty–usually as the work of the devil. But we need to be far more humble and far more trusting of the Lord. Yes, God might indeed punish an unbelieving world as he sees fit. Yes, God might allow the devil to cause us hardships for the greater good of his glory. Yes, some of our sufferings might be our own fault simply because of bad decisions. Yet, we should be very careful declaring that we have the inside track on the motivations of a God who is as much higher than us as the heavens are above the earth. God is good. God’s ways are not ours. We need the humility to bow before him and declare to him that he indeed is the one who knows why he has chosen to act or not to act in a certain way. We need the humility to declare, “Not my will but yours be done.”
As a last illustration, how about that feeling that many of us get that God owes us his favor and blessing because of our commitment and sacrifice on his behalf? We are crazy when we think like that. We saw that God is not improved by our obedience or harmed by our sin. This is not to say that God does not care. It is, however, to remind us that we do not improve God’s circumstance through our faithfulness. We do not help his kingdom come except for in whatever way he has sovereignly allowed us to be a part of the work that he is doing. As such, we have no right to feel that God owes us any sort of reward for any sacrifice we have made. By his grace, God has promised us an ultimate reward in Christ as he demonstrates for all to see his riches of love and grace in kindness to us in eternity. This is not something we earn. It is grace, pure and simple. Thus, we have no right to believe that our lives should be easier or harder in the here and now. We need the humility to rest in God’s care, know that he is good, know that his ways are best, and, as Mary said to the angel, declare ourselves to be God’s servants ready to allow him to do whatever he pleases with us.