What Is the Greatest Mystery in Creation?

Relevant Text: Rom. 16:25-27
Full Text: Job 12, Rom. 16

Knowledge | There is still a lot that we don’t know about the world. How does life arise from nonlife? Why do we need sleep? What causes gravity? [1] It makes sense, of course, that we don’t know these things. After all, doctors didn’t create the body and scientists didn’t create the world. They merely interpret what they see. God, on the other hand, has perfect knowledge about all facts and all events at the macro and micro levels and at all states of existence (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological). He doesn’t just interpret what He sees; He creates and rules it [2].

Mystery | The greatest mystery of His creation, however, is not the world; it’s our salvation. Paul ended Romans with a doxology: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” [3].

Wisdom | I At the beginning of time, when the only wise God planned our salvation, He rejected the possibility that our knowledge would save us. Instead, He chose to save us through the most foolish moment in history – death on a cross. Salvation through a weak and dead prophet seemed senseless. Yet, that was the point. His way of salvation silenced everyone – those seeking signs and those seeking wisdom [4]. It turned the most foolish moment in history into the most powerful one. Why did He do it this way? As Paul wrote in Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” [5].

Prayer | Lord, When we stand in the mystery of your creation and look up at the skies or out to the waters, we sense that our knowledge is but a grain of sand in the beach of your wisdom. Thus, in your presence, we fall on our knees because we know that it is by your grace that our eyes are open to the greatest mystery of all – your salvation. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John Hodgman. What We Don’t Know. WIRED. (highlighting some of the great questions that remain unanswered – also, it’s also pretty funny)  |  [2] See Heb. 2:10; Col. 1:16  |  [3] Rom. 16:25-27 ESV  |  [4] 1 Cor. 1:22  |  [5] 1 Cor. 1:27, 29. See 1 Cor. 1:18-31 (which also happens to be the passage for tomorrow’s devotional).

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Living in a World of Pain

Relevant Text: Job 9:32-33
Full Text: Job 9; Rom. 13

Weeping | Yesterday, in Romans 12, we read, “Weep with those who weep” [1]. Today, in Job 9, we see how NOT to do that. Job’s friends sat with him, but never shared in his sorrow. Instead, they stood back and offered theology, suggesting that great suffering resulted from great sin. But Job knew better: “If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’ I become afraid of all my suffering” [2]. Instead, he wanted the impossible – to take God to court: “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” [3].

Suffering | Job’s suffering was not extraordinarily unique. Mark Dever reflects, “Perhaps Job suffered more suddenly than any of us have suffered. But in the end, he did not suffer more comprehensively than we will suffer” [4]. Indeed, many of our brothers and sisters suffer every day. International Justice Mission writes, “More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade” [5]. In North Korea, about 100,000 Christians are in prison [6]. The list goes on and on [7].

Sharing | When we weep with those who weep, we show more than friendship; we display the glory and love of God. In fact, to the extent that we don’t enter into others’ suffering, we fail to cultivate a deep longing for their suffering to end. When we share in their pain, however, we come to hate injustice and long for heaven – not merely to end our personal struggles, but also to release our brothers and sisters. As we cry with them, we sound like modern-day Jobs, “Where is the justice?” Yet, in Christ, there is an arbiter between God and us. He became flesh, entered into our suffering, and wept with us [8]. In him, God did not stand back. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor to the oppressed [9].

Praying | Lord, Things on this side of the tapestry often don’t make sense [10]. Yet, give us a real sense of suffering and a real sense of hope, as we long for the final consummation of your glory at the end of this age. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Rom. 12:15 ESV  |  [2] Job 9:27-28 ESV  |  [3] Job 9:32-33 ESV  |  [4] Mark Dever. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Kindle Location 9536.  |  [5] International Justice Mission. “Our Work: Injustice Today.” If you have yet to discover the work of IJM, I highly recommend you check it out on Facebook or Twitter. When I worked at the State Department, my colleagues and I frequently spoke of IJM as a well-respected, faith-based organization. It works to reform the rule of law as the next field of international development. Most of its employees are lawyers and police officers, investigating cases and bringing perpetrators to justice.  |  [6] Operation World. North Korea.  |  [7] This is an AMAZING interactive map about the worldwide Christian population published by Pew Forum in 2012: here. Also, published by Open Hands, this is their 2012 World Watch List with the 50 worst countries to live in as a Christian: here.  |  [8] See John 11, where Jesus weeps with the sisters of Lazarus – even though he knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead in three days! Astounding that he wants to weep with them in their sorrow.  |  [9] See Luke 4:16-30.  |  [10] This footnote is dedicated to my dear and well-read friends, Barry and Tess Russell, who gave me such insight last weekend into our longing for the end of suffering as expressed in literature. Father Brown (a character in G.K. Chesterton’s mystery novels) once said, “We here are on the wrong side of the tapestry. The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here is often seems to fall on the wrong person” (“The Sins of Prince Saradine.” The Complete Father Brown. Kindle Location 2710). Similarly, in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the priest said, “Let me make it clear that, like a babe, I trust that the wounds will heal, the scars will vanish, that the sorry and ridiculous spectacle of man’s disagreements and clashes will disappear like a pitiful mirage, like the sordid invention of a puny microscopic, Euclidean, human brain, and that, in the end, in the universal finale, at the moment universal harmony is achieved, something so magnificent will take place that it will satisfy every human heart, allay all indignation, pay for all human crimes, for all the blood shed by men, and enable everyone not only to forgive everything but also to justify everything that has happened to men.”

Paul: “Let’s Get Practical”

Relevant Text: Rom. 12:1
Full Text: Job 8; Rom. 12

Living Sacrifice | Romans is a theological powerhouse. Yet, in Chapter 12, Paul gets practical. He fleshes out what it means “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” [1]. How do we do this? How do sinful believers live in community? We work at it [2]. What does Paul suggest?

Genuine Love | Paul writes that our love should be “genuine” and “sincere” and “without hypocrisy” [3]. We should seek to be real people to one another and safe people for one another. Transparency and candor, according to Tim Keller, are essential in friendship. He writes, “Real friends encourage and affectionately affirm one another [4], yet real friends also offer bracing critiques: ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ [5]. Like a surgeon, friends cut you in order to heal you. Friends become wiser together through a healthy clash of viewpoints. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so friend sharpens friend’ [6][7].

Devoted Family | Paul writes, “Love one another with brotherly affection” [8]. We should have warm and deep affection for one another because we are devoted to each another in brotherly love, with God as our Father [9] and Jesus as our older brother [10]. We share our joys and sorrows [11]. We are committed to each other. Constancy is another essential quality to friendship, according to Keller: “Friends ‘love at all times’ and especially during ‘adversity’ [12]. The counterfeit is a ‘fair-weather friend’ who comes over when you are successful but goes away if prosperity, status or influence wanes [13]. True friends stick closer than a brother [14]. They are always there for you” [15].

Hospitable Givers | Paul writes, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” [16]. Our love is not a mere feeling. It meets practical needs. We make soup for the sick, share resources with the unemployed, and open our homes to friends in need. Yes, this may “cost” us. As Keller writes, “When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give … How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest?” [17]

Prayer | Lord, We are your children, made in your image to reflect your glory and redeemed by your Son to walk in the light. As we increasingly become satisfied in your deep mercy, grow our love for one another more and more in authenticity and devotion and hospitality. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Romans 12:1  |  [2] See Romans 12:18  |  [3] “Genuine” is the ESV translation, “sincere” is the NIV, and “without hypocrisy” is the NASB.  |  [4] See Prov. 27:9; 1 Sam. 23:16-18  |  [5] See Prov. 27:5-6  |  [6] See Prov. 27:17  |  [7] Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage. New York: Penguin (2011), p. 112.  |  [8] Romans 12:10 ESV  |  [9] See Matt. 6:9  |  [10] See Heb. 2:5-18  |  [11] Romans 12:15  |  [12] Prov. 17:17  |  [13] See Prov. 14:20; 19:4, 6, 7  |  [14] Prov. 18:24  |  [15] Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of MarriageNew York: Penguin (2011), p. 112.  |  [16] Rom. 12:13 ESV  |  [17] Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of MarriageNew York: Penguin (2011), p. 78. Although Keller presents these questions in the context of loving a spouse, they are relevant to loving family members as well. How does God call us to give our time and resources to our brothers and sisters? Quite often, sacrificially.

Why You’re Richer than Donald Trump

Relevant Text: Rom. 11:33
Full Text: Job 7; Rom. 11

“Oh, the depth of the riches … of God!” [1]

Owner | The riches of God are deep because He owns the earth and everything in it – the land, the people, the sea, the air, the buildings: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” [2]. Also, He owns everything beyond the earth – the universe, the galaxies, the heavens: “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens” [3]. Nothing exists that God does not own. Human wealth, by comparison, is unbelievably silly. Donald Trump is a beggar compared to the poorest heir of God [4].

Creator | Not only are His riches deep because He owns everything, they are also deep because He created everything: “God created the heavens and the earth” [5], and “I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place” [6]. Moreover, He created everything out of sheer nothingness, which means that His resources are inexhaustible because nothingness always exists. If He wants something new, He can speak and it will come forth: “He commanded and [all things] were created” [7].

Being | Finally, even if God never owned or created a single thing, His riches would still be infinitely deep because He Himself is the most valuable treasure in the universe. In Romans, Paul wrote about “the riches of his kindness” [8] and “the riches of his glory” [9] in order to show that God’s greatest gift to us is Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not, therefore, that God gives us riches; it is that Christ himself is our wealth: “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” [10]. Christ is our greatest treasure because he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [11]. In him, we see the face of God.

Prayer | Lord, The depths of your riches are infinite because you own everything, you created everything, and you are everything. This is great news for us because, in Christ, we are co-heirs of your kingdom and wealth. Therefore, we have no reason to envy others or withhold our generosity or think that you are incapable of giving us everything that we need [12]. For in Christ, we are wealthy beyond our wildest imaginations. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Rom. 11:33 ESV  |  [2] Ps. 24:1 ESV  |  [3] Deut. 10:14 ESV  |  [4] See Rom. 8:17  |  [5] Gen. 1:1 ESV  |  [6] Ps. 8:3 ESV, see also Ps. 104:24  |  [7] Ps. 148:5 ESV. See entire Psalm 148.  |  [8] Rom. 2:4  |  [9] Rom. 9:23  |  [10] Col. 1:27 ESV  |  [11] Heb. 1:3 ESV  |  [12] See 2 Ptr 1:3

What Not to Say to a Suffering Friend

Relevant Text: Job 6:14
Full Text: Job 6; Rom. 10

Silence | After Job lost his family and wealth in a single day, his friends immediately came to his side and mourned with him: “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” [1].

Theology | Then Job spoke, “Let the day perish on which I was born” [2]. At this point, his friends felt that they needed to say something. They needed to correct him. Eliphaz went first. He argued the mainline theology of the day – that those who suffered must have done something to deserve it: “Who that was innocent ever perished? … As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” [3]. Then he arrogantly and superficially recommended, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause” [4].

Patience | Job struggled with the simplicity of Eliphaz’s reasoning because he knew that he hadn’t committed some extraordinary sin that merited his suffering. He needed Eliphaz’s friendship, not theology. As he said, “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” [5]. He wanted some slack: “Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” [6]. In other words, when he lamented the day of his birth, he wasn’t aiming for theological accuracy. He didn’t need Eliphaz to jump on him. He needed him to let his words go. In their friendship, there would be plenty of time for Eliphaz to determine whether Job’s words were the true convictions of his heart that needed correction or mere words of his despair that would blow away with the wind.

Prayer | Lord, It would be great if we were careful with our words in our despair so that we never said anything wrong. Yet, we’re not like that. We feel things in our suffering and overstate things in our confusion. Therefore, make us patient with those who suffer. Today, especially as we recognize that the innocent suffering of Christ completely defeated Eliphaz’s theology, make us careful and humble in our assessments of others’ suffering. Help us mourn with those who mourn. Amen.

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This reflection is dedicated to all my friends to whom I’ve played the Eliphaz. Thank you for your patience with me! Even writing this brought tears to my eyes for the many mistakes I’ve made over the years. I love you. BLJ

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Footnotes

[1] Job 2:12-13 ESV  |  [2] Job 3:3 ESV  |  [3] Job 4:7-8 ESV  |  [4] Job. 5:8 ESV (For the reader of Job, there is much irony in this statement. After all, the reader knows that Job has been chosen to suffer precisely because the Lord considered him to be “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned way from evil.” Job 1:1 ESV. God even said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Job 1:8 ESV.)  |  [5] Job 6:14 ESV  |  [6] Job 6:26 ESV