(…continued) The book of Job deals with this question more than any other book in the Bible, discussing it for 42 chapters. From near the beginning to almost the end, Job and four friends discuss this very question of why we suffer. Job himself was in the midst of unimaginable suffering. All of his cattle were stolen by raiders, all ten of his children died in a storm, and he was stricken with a skin disease that caused painful boils all over his body. Many questions are raised and many explanations are given in the long discussions.
In chapter 38 God finally speaks, and then, God is the only one who does not offer any explanation. God simply reminds Job that He is God and Job is not; and that He created the world, and Job did not; and Job will simply have to realize that he might not be able to understand everything. There was more to it than that, of course, and, there are many who still find God’s answer inadequate. But not Job. Job had heard from God himself, and though it was not an explanation, it was enough. So what did Job say then? He said, “Surely, I spoke of things I do not understand;” and then he said, “I will put my hand over my mouth, and I will say no more.” Job decided to ‘be still.’
“Be still, and know that I am God,” says the Lord. In light of the flooding in Texas, it is interesting to look at the wider context of those verses. Those words are from near the end of Psalm 46. Listen to how that Psalm begins: “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth gives way and falls into the heart of the sea… EVEN THOUGH THE WATERS ROAR AND FOAM…The Lord Almighty is with us.” There is a similar passage in Isaiah 43 which says: “This is what the Lord says, He who created you and formed you; ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’” Again, no explanation is given, but there is the promise of God’s presence even in deep waters.
Several verses of Psalm 69 speak of calling out to God in the midst of rising waters. It might have been written during a flood, or perhaps the writer was just using that as an image of drowning in life’s troubles. Either way, the words describe what people have been experiencing in Texas:
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters, and the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my eyes fail, looking for my God. But I pray to you, Lord. In your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mire, and do not let me sink. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up. Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love. In your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face, but answer me quickly, for I am in trouble (Psalm 69:1-3; 13-17).
The rest of the Bible makes it clear that the presence and promises of God are not limited to this life and the conditions of this world. ‘Whether we live or whether we die we belong to the Lord,’ said Paul in Romans, and for many in Houston last week, that Word of the Lord was all they had left. For to believe in that Word means that even when life ends here, it is not the end of life; but God takes us and sets us on our feet again in another part of his vast kingdom.
Job went through the whole range of emotions and reactions to his suffering before he finally submitted himself in silence before the presence of God. His first reaction, in the very beginning, was one of profound faith. After losing everything, with great strength he was still able to say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But then, after suffering great physical pain for many days, he wanted to say more. So he began to question, complain, and even challenge God to a debate. His friends tried to answer his questions, they tried to defend God, and they tried to calm him down. Job lashed out at them bitterly, along with lashing out at God. But even then, Job was still talking to God. That’s important. Even in the midst of his worst suffering, even when he was most frustrated by the silence of God– even then– Job did not abandon his faith in God. He held on to faith in God because he knew that to abandon that faith, and to forget God, was to abandon all hope. Where else, after all, was any hope to be found, if not in God?
It is the same in Psalm 69. The person is in trouble, he is worn out with calling for help, and he is wondering why God is silent. But he is still calling out to God and still trusting in God to help him. (continued…)
Isaiah 43:1-2a — This is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob; he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
Romans 14:8-9 — If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.