When God Seems Distant

Highlighted Text: Job 23:10
Full Text: Job 23; 1 Cor. 10

Faith | As Job processes his suffering, his faith wavers. On the one hand, he sings, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” [1]. On the other hand, he wonders, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! … Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him” [2]. What good is a living God if you don’t know where He is?

Distance | Some say that reaching God in suffering is easy. But that’s not everyone’s experience. David, a man after God’s heart [3], writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? [4]. Then, hundreds of years later, Jesus quoted these words of David on the cross [5].

Fact | When Christ experienced the Father’s distance, he secured the Father’s nearness for us forever. Today, therefore, although God may seem distant, He is near [6]. Thus, our faith can waver as we try to make heads or tails of our suffering. For our redemption is not based on the strength of our faith, but on the strength of the object of our faith.

Illustration | As Tim Keller illustrates, if you’re falling off a cliff and see a branch that might hold you, your being saved isn’t dependent on your faith in that branch. You can think, “Nah, it’ll never save me.” Yet, in your doubt, if you would just reach out, that branch will save you if its roots are strong [7]. And Job knows this. As his faith wavers, he still proclaims, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Your roots are infinitely strong, even when our faith is weak. Sometimes, in our suffering, we wonder where you are. Yet we know that you are near. For the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross did not end with your distance; it ended with praise for what your distance accomplished: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” [9]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Job 19:25 ESV  |  [2] Job 23:3, 8 ESV  |  [3] See Acts 13:22  |  [4] Ps. 22:1-2 ESV  |  [5] Mark 15:34 ESV. See also Matt. 27:46.  |[6] John Piper, in his sermon Ask Your Father in Heaven, gives a wonderful description of the different levels at which God makes Himself available. Looking at Matthew 7:7-11, he writes, “Ask. Seek. Knock. If a child’s father is present, he asks him for what he needs. If a child’s father is somewhere in the house but not seen, he seeks his father for what he needs. If the child seeks and finds the father behind the closed door of his study, he knocks to get what he needs. The point seems to be that it doesn’t matter whether you find God immediately close at hand, almost touchable with his nearness, or hard to see and even with barriers between, he will hear, and he will give good things to you because you looked to him and not another.”  |  [7] Tim Keller gave this illustration in a sermon about doubt several years ago. I couldn’t remember the exact illustration, so I emailed Kathy. Helpfully, she offered two additional illustrations of this truth. (1) Skating on ice – the skater who worries, “Oh, the ice might be thin. It might break,” and the skater who thinks, “Nah, it’s February. The ice is probably a foot think,” are neither going to be saved or lost on the basis of their fears/confidence. It is the strength of the ice that matters. (2) Two fliers on a plane – one a phobic flier who spends the entire flight thinking at every bump, “We are going to crash! I know it!” and the other who has millions of frequent flier miles and sleeps through the flight. Neither the little faith nor the big faith matters, but the competence of the crew and the integrity of the aircraft.”  |  [8] Job 23:10 ESV  |  [9] Psalm 22:30-31

When the Name of Jesus Is in Bright Lights Above the Big City

Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 9:22-23
Full Text: Job 22; 1 Cor. 9

Bright Lights | A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful privilege of attending City Wide Worship, a praise night hosted by several New York City churches. At one point, we sang about the name of Jesus being high and lifted up [1]. In my head, I pictured the name of Jesus in lights above Times Square with all of us gathered below and exalting his name. Immediately, however, I became sad – for as much as I knew that those of us in that room would be overjoyed at the return of Jesus, I knew that many others – including some of my friends and family – would not. At the end of this age, everyone – believers and unbelievers alike – will all bow their knees and confess that Jesus is Lord [2]. That day, there will be much rejoicing, but there will also be much weeping [3].

All Things | To the extent that we don’t feel this reality, we don’t sense the sadness and urgency that Paul felt for the lost around him. In everything he did, he tried to adapt as much as possible – without sinning – to his culture. Why? To win others, to save others, and to share in the blessings of the gospel: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them … I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” [4].

Prayer | Lord, How can we use our freedom like Paul did – not as a license for sin, but as a means for sharing the gospel so that we might partake in its blessings? Give us a sense of the reality of the end of this age so that we might also feel sorrow and urgency for our loved ones. For we know that Jesus is more than a solution to our psychological problems; he is the redemption to our condemnation: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [5]. Thus, he is not just good news; he’s the best news and, therefore, we long to share him with everyone we love. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John 12:32 ESV  |  [2] See Phil. 2:9-11  |  [3] See Lk. 13:28  |  [4] 1 Cor. 9:19, 22-23 ESV  |  [5] Rom. 8:1 ESV

Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?

Highlighted Text: Job 21:7
Full Text: Job 21; 1 Cor. 8

Mysterious | There are some things that I may never understand this side of heaven. Why does God take both of my friend’s parents before she’s thirty – even as I still have both of mine? Why does God give children to some people who aren’t married and desperately want to avoid getting pregnant – even as others are married and long for children? Why do some Christians live in persecution and imprisonment for their faith – even as we live in freedom? [1]

Confusing | Knowing his own righteousness, Job looks around at the prosperity of the wicked and asks, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? … They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to [the grave]. They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways’” [2] Yes, he agrees with his friends in theory – that “the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment” [3] – but he fails to see how this plays out: “Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity, that he is rescued in the day of wrath? … How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood” [4].

Winning | When we see Jesus on the cross, however, we see how difficult it is to assess the Lord’s mysterious ways [5]. Jesus was mocked and murdered. Evil won in the short-run. Yet Jesus was the only perfectly obedient Son. He secured the victory of His people for eternity when he conquered death and rose from the grave [6].

Prayer | Lord, You move in mysterious ways to perform your wonders. Yet sometimes we fear the clouds that hang overhead. Let us not, however, give into that fear. Instead, show us how those clouds will break with mercy and blessings upon us. For behind a frowning providence, you hide a shining face. Our blind unbelief is sure to err, as we scan your work in vain. Yet you are your own interpreter and you will make it plain [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Perhaps my favorite Psalm that confronts this reality is Psalm 73. What causes the Psalmist to stop questioning the Lord’s ways? He questions and questions and questions … Then he “went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (v. 17). In His presence, the Psalmist was quieted. He recognized his own lack of knowledge about his situation.  |  [2] Job 21:7, 13-14 ESV  |  [3] Job 20:5 ESV  |  [4] Job 21:29, 34 ESV  |  [5] See Psalm 103:7; Deut. 29:29.  |  [6] Matt. 27:32-44; Heb. 12:2-3  |  [7] This prayer is taken from William Cowper’s famous hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. (warning: this site has music). The story behind this hymn gives light to its lyrics.

How now shall we live?

Highlighted Verse: 1 Cor. 7:31
Full Text: Job 20; 1 Cor. 7

One Life | Each of us has only one life. This is it. Our time is valuable and our face-to-face meeting with the Lord is imminent and real. As Paul writes, “The appointed time has grown very short … For the present form of this world is passing away” [1]. How now shall we live?

“Mourn as though [we are] not mourning” (v. 30) | We mourn. We are sad over great losses – e.g., family, friends, health, dreams. Yet we mourn as though we are not mourning because we know that we cannot lose our ultimate treasure – Christ’s love [2]. Thus, our losses don’t destroy us. We say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [3]. Our losses are modest. We lose now, but win in eternity [4].

“Rejoice as though [we are] not rejoicing” (v. 30) | We rejoice. We take joy in the thousands of good gifts from God. Beautiful weather. Great food and friends. Art and music. Yet we know that these things cannot satisfy our souls. Only Christ can [5]. Even our present fellowship with him is a mere foretaste: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” [6]. Thus, our joys are modest. They give us tastes of what is to come.

“Buy as though [we have] no goods” (v. 30) | We buy things. We don’t withdraw from commerce. Yet business doesn’t possess us. We don’t love money. Our cars, homes, e-readers, iPhones – we hold them loosely. If they are taken, we sense that they were never really ours because Christ is more valuable than anything money can buy. We’re not here on earth to own things; we’re here to lay up treasures in heaven [7].

“Deal with the world as though [we have] no dealings with it” (v. 31) | We engage with the world. We don’t avoid it or approach it with spiritual dichotomies. Yet we don’t ascribe final greatness to it. We know that there are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We work with all our hearts, but our full passions belong to the heavenly kingdom.

Prayer | Lord, Our lives are short and precious. Let us, therefore, live in death’s inevitability so that we mourn and rejoice and buy and engage as though we are not mourning or rejoicing or buying or engaging. Grow us deep in you as our ultimate treasure. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] 1 Cor. 7:29, 31 ESV  |  [2] See Rom. 8:38-39  |  [3] Job 1:21 ESV  |  [4] See Rev. 13:7; 21:4  |  [5] See John 17:24  |  [6] 1 Cor. 13:12 ESV  |  [7] See Matt. 6:20

Our Only Hope in Suffering

Relevant Text: Job 16:19-20
Full Text: Job 16-17, 1 Cor. 4

Tension | Several years ago, when I went through a period of prolonged suffering and confusion, I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my experience with the loving will of God. On the one hand, I wanted to believe that God didn’t condone the sin that led to my pain and that He empathized with my sadness. On the other hand, I knew that He was sovereign and could’ve prevented what had happened. How was I supposed to hold both of these truths together?

Distinct | Thankfully, the Bible has two clear and distinct understandings of “the will of God.” First, there is “the will of God” that refers to His sovereign control over all things [1] – even things that He hates [2]. For example, although the murder of Jesus was the greatest sin ever committed, it was also the will of God [3]. In this sense, “the will of God” can never be thwarted; it always happens [4]. Second, there is “the will of God” that describes what He commands us to do. For example, He wills that we practice holiness and thankfulness and sexual purity [5] – yet we know that many of us don’t do these things. In this sense, “the will of God” can be broken; in fact, it’s broken every day.

Hope | Having these two understandings of “the will of God” meets our deep need in suffering. We need to know that God is in control and, therefore, able to work all things for good [6]. We also need to know, however, that He empathizes with us and doesn’t delight in pain. We see this tension in Job. On the one hand, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his pain: “I was at ease, and he broke me apart” [7]. On the other hand, he knows that God is his only hope: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God … If I make my bed in darkness … where then is my hope?” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Although we don’t understand everything about our suffering, we know that you are our only hope in it. In some ways, that seems frustrating because we know that you could’ve prevented our pain. But how can we hope in anyone else? You’re the only wise God and Jesus is our advocate. In you, our beds are in light, not darkness. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See e.g., Matt. 26:39 (noting Jesus deferring to the will of God over his own). The will of God is sovereign even over the smallest things, see e.g., Matt. 10:29 (not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from Him); Prov. 16:33 (every decision is from the Lord); Prov. 16:1 (plans belong to men, but answers are from the Lord); Prov. 21:1 (the inclination of the heart of the king is directed by the Lord); Eph. 1:11 (the Lord works all things according to the counsel of His will); Job 42:2  (He can do all things, no purposes of His can be thwarted). A wonderful sermon on the tension between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is Tim Keller’s Your Plans; God’s Plans (free download from Redeemer).  |  [2] See Is. 53:10 (it was the will of the Lord to crush Jesus). See also 1 Peter 3:17 (it may be the will of God for Christians to suffer sinful persecution for their good works).  |  [3] See Acts 4:27-28 (noting the control of the hand of God over Herod and Pontius Pilate in the plan to murder Jesus).  |  [4] See Dan. 4:35 (He does according to His will, none can stay His hand)  |  [5] See e.g., Matt. 7:211 Thess. 4:3 (our sanctification and sexual purity are according to the will of God); 1 Thess. 5:18 (our thankfulness is His will); 1 John 2:17 (“whoever does the will of God” suggests that it is possible not to do the will of God)  |  [6] See Rom. 8:28  |  [7] Job 16:12 ESV  |  [8] Job 16:19-20; 17:13, 15 ESV.
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