As we joyfully make our way through Santa Cruz County’s shelter-in-place order until at least, seemingly, April 7th, I’d like to greet you each day with a short devotional. My hope is that we can be encouraged together from God’s Word, and thus live well in a rather strange time. After each devotional I’ll include any pertinent update information you may need. So, here goes:
Have you ever taken the opportunity to read through the book of Job? It’s an absolutely stunning account of God’s work in a man’s life. Even more, it’s an absolutely glorious description of God’s sovereignty over all things; not as a cold, removed, hostile deity, but as the compassionate, righteous, just, and loving Creator.
For the first thirty-two chapters of Job, we hear about God’s interaction with Satan, the calamities that befall Job (who is, we’re told, “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil”), and Job’s long process of questioning God, complaining against God, and debating with foolish friends. The back and forth continues for long sections until, in chapter 32, God’s voice begins to come through, not first from God’s mouth directly, but on the lips of Job’s youngest and, ironically, wisest friend, Elihu.
As Elihu begins to speak, the picture begins to sharpen…perspective begins to form…reality in the midst of calamity begins to emerge. Elihu’s words are striking, especially because they proclaim and defend the sovereign power and righteousness of God, over and against Job’s self-justifying complaints and the foolish counsel of his other companions. Consider for instance this passage from Job 33:12-18 (Elihu speaking):
“Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this [meaning, Job is not right in his complaint against God], for God is greater than man. Why do you complain against Him that He does not give an account of all His doings? Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it. In a dream, a vision of the night, when sound sleep falls on men, while they slumber in their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction, that he may keep man from pride; He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from passing over into Sheol.”
Notice what Elihu asserts here. Job has counted God his enemy and wondered at God’s silence in the face of his just complaint. And Elihu answers, “Not so Job! Who are you to question God when he does not explain all his doings to you? What’s more Job, God has in fact spoken. It’s just that we are so slow to hear his voice. God speaks in order to turn men away from their prideful sin; to rescue them from the place of death; to bring them into a vibrant new life (see verses 23-30).”
It strikes me that we may be tempted to complain against God in times like those we face at the moment. But, what if we stop and listen first? What if we stop and let God’s Word speak to us? What if a county-wide “quarantine” is God’s way of tuning ears afresh to the sound of his voice? One major message of Job (a writing inspired by the Spirit of God himself) is this: silence before God. Perhaps it’s time to be silent for a while.
As we work through the last chapters of Job, we eventually arrive at Job 35:5-8. In these verses Elihu says to Job:
“If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against Him? And if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness is for a man like yourself, and your righteousness is for a son of man.”
Elihu’s reminds Job that nothing Job does, whether good or bad, affects God at all. God is so “other” than Job, so wholly and completely self-sufficient, so holy and removed, that neither Job’s sin nor Job’s righteousness affect him. Before we temper Elihu’s words, take a moment and just glory in them. God is God…you are not…I am not…and nothing we do changes who God is. Nothing we do, or fail to do, changes his plan and purpose. He is GOD! What does COVID-19 mean in relation to God? In one sense the answer must be: absolutely nothing.
Now, it’s important that we immediately pivot here and say – with Scripture – that Elihu has not said all there is to say about God. Yes, Yahewh is entirely “transcendent.” That means he is not us, and we are not him. It means God is fundamentally unaffected by anything in creation. BUT, our God is also entirely “immanent.” That means he is personal, present, and deeply concerned with his people and his world. Elihu speaks truly about God, but there is more to say. And what is perhaps most spectacular about Job is that God himself adds to Elihu’s words. God himself balances Elihu’s declaration of his transcendence with his own proclamation of his immanence! In other words, God says to Job, “Yes, Job, I am wholly ‘other’ than you, but I am also intimately present with you!” In other words, God says to his Felton Bible Church flock, “Yes, children, I know what you’re facing, and I care about it intensely.” What does COVID-19 mean in relation to God? In one sense the answer must be: absolutely everything.
God’s divine speech – the speech that brings balance to Elihu’s assertion – thunders into Job’s life beginning in Chapter 38 with these awesome words: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said…” These words are some of my personal favorites in all of Scripture. God is ready to do business with his burdened, troubled, and belabored son. He will not fix Job’s problems by changing circumstance. No, God will give Job something far better than a band-aid solution of changed circumstances. He will give Job himself, through his word. The last chapters of Job, spoken by God, are beautiful beyond description. They tell us, among other things, about God’s intimate and powerful care for his creation. Here is our God! Who are we to question Him? Who are to doubt Him?
My voice will not do justice to God’s Words, but click this link for a reading of Job 38:1-42:6. Listen to it, and let God’s testimony of himself be your solid rock in a difficult but passing moment of time.
Love in Christ,