As a father

A section of a recent book I read compared a daughter’s loving relationship with her father to our relationship to the Lord. It’s an apt comparison with many parallels: resting in his love, asking freely for needs and even wants, trusting his protection, etc.

But I thought of someone to whom I had given this same book to read. Her relationship with her father was nonexistent for twenty years (by his choice) and abusive before that. I hoped this ideal father-daughter description in the book did not bring her pain.

When the word “father” comes with painful baggage, the thought of God as a father is not necessarily comforting until we learn the ways He is different.

Someone told me once that it’s impossible for a person with a poor father figure to have a right view of God as a Father. I disagree. If that were the case, none of us would have a right view of God because none of us has a perfect father. Even the very best of earthly fathers is flawed in some way, though some are certainly better than others.

However, I think we all have an ideal father in mind. As a child I had an image in my mind of a father as a kindly, soft-spoken man in a cardigan sweater and slippers carrying a newspaper and a pipe. That was not my father at all. Years later I realized that mental image came from a 1960s TV show.

C. S. Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Similarly, I think our longing for an ideal father figure is a reflection of our need and desire for our heavenly Father.

If your father has been a gracious and godly example, thank God for that and rejoice in your father’s reflection of Him. If your earthly father fell far short of perfect, thank God that your heavenly Father never will. He always welcomes His children, loves them, corrects them, provides for them, protects them.

Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.
Psalm 27:10, NIV

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
 he remembers that we are dust.


Psalm 103:11-14, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

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Flawed Authorities

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“The teacher is always right.”

I had so far enjoyed the book on motherhood from which this statement came, but this sentence stopped me in my tracks.

The well-meaning author made the point that children are not perfect and need discipline and correction. Sometimes that correction comes through the attention of a teacher or other authority, and a wise parent will not immediately side with her child against the authority.  Parents need to consult child and teacher, get the whole story, and then weigh a response.

But a teacher is not always right. No one is always right. We do need to respect authorities and teach our children to do the same. But respect does not require that we assume infallibility. In this #metoo era, it’s dangerous to teach a child to follow an authority without question. Teachers, coaches, group leaders, authorities of every kind have been found to take advantage of the ones they should have protected. Sadly, the #churchtoo movement reveals that even spiritual authorities cannot be wholly trusted without reserve.

Even if an authority’s flaws do not extend to actual abuse, innate human sinfulness is going to lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. A child is going to feel that she has no recourse even to her closest allies and protectors if “the teacher is always right” is the mantra of the home.

I feel the better approach teaches children that, yes, we are under authorities (Romans 13:1-7), but there are right ways to respond when an authority is wrong. God gave them to us for our good (verse 4), and we’re to respect them (verse 7) and obey them unless they require of us something contrary to God’s Word (Acts 4:1-20). The emperor in power at the time of Paul’s writing of Romans was Nero, so these truths apply even when an authority is not a paragon of virtue. But precisely because they’re only human, they are going to occasionally misunderstand or act in a flawed way.

We are the same: we misunderstand people and act in flawed ways. How do we want to be treated when that happens? We hope people would give us the benefit of the doubt, and confront us kindly and gently if confrontation is needed.

Sometimes in a disagreement, we have to admit we’re in the wrong. Sometimes a parent has to help a child see that, yes, the authority is right. Untold damage is done when a child is made to think that everything revolves around him and he should always get his way.

Sometimes we overlook wrong against us. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 1:4, ESV) and “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12, ESV). If we all called each other out for every little thing – well, life would be pretty miserable. The Bible speaks often of forbearing one another. One pastor used to call that “just good old-fashioned putting up with one another.” Ephesians 4:2 goes a step farther, telling us to bear with one another in love.

But sometimes we confront those who have wronged us. Matthew 18 details the steps to take in an offense between two equals, going first to the offender but then bringing others into it if the offender will not listen. If the offended one is a child, it’s best for the parents to confront the authority (assuming that the situation has been discussed and explored and it is determined that the authority is in the wrong.) Biblical confrontation is restorative, not a drawing of battle lines.

Always we forgive those who have wronged us. We forgive the way we want to be forgiven when we wrong others (Luke 11:4). We forgive because we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35). We don’t complain or hold grudges or secret resentments (James 5:9).

Forgiveness, however, does not mean that no action is taken. It also does not assume that trust is restored or a close relationship will follow. If abuse of any kind is involved or even suspected, protection of the child should be the first order of business. Abuse needs to be dealt with as a crime and not overlooked.

I don’t think the author of the book I mentioned meant to suggest that authorities are infallible and that students have no recourse against injustice. I think his remark about teachers always being right was offhand and not fully thought through. I understand his intent to warn against assuming that the child is always right. One of our friends during her first year of teaching at an elementary school connected with a Christian university had a horrible time with parents always assuming the teacher was in the wrong. Perhaps the fact that the teacher had been a student at the university, the professor parents still assumed a measure of authority over her or the attitude that she wasn’t up to their level of experience and was therefore wrong. I’m sure all teachers have horror stories of students who could not be taught or corrected because of a parent’s attitude. Parents have an instinctive “Mama bear” protectiveness that can often assume the best of the child and the worst of others. But we need to help our children face their own faults and take steps to confess and correct them.

Yet, while we don’t automatically assume authorities are wrong, we also don’t automatically assume they are right, either. Our children need to always know that they are free and welcome to talk to us about anything. They need to know we’re in their corner and will stand up for them. We need patience and wisdom to help them sort out what happened and what the proper response should be.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Let’s Have Coffee, Faith on Fire)

Dark Valleys and Fiery Furnaces

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My ESV Study Bible noted that “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4 could also be translated “valley of deep darkness.” The notes explained that when people traveled through valleys, the hills or mountains on either side blocked the light, and bandits, wild animals, or who knows what could be lurking in the shadows.

I had always associated this verse just with death before. Within the larger context of Psalm 23 describing how our Shepherd cares for and accompanies us, this promised that even when death looms on the path ahead, our Shepherd remains with us and comforts us. While this verse certainly does assure of us that wonderful truth, it goes even further: He will accompany us and protect us through any scary possibility.

That doesn’t mean He will always prevent the scary possibility from happening. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced being thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, they told the king:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Daniel 3:16-18, ESV).

The same day I read the above notes concerning Psalm 23, the selection for the day in  Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada discussed this incident in Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tied up and tossed into the fiery furnace. But shortly thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar saw “four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25, ESV). Nebuchadnezzar called the men out, and they were unharmed. They weren’t even singed or smelling of smoke. Joni comments:

Who was the fourth man? An Old Testament appearance of Christ. But notice this. These men were walking in the midst of the fire. We tend to think heartbreaks and tragedies will stop us dead in our tracks–and keep us from moving forward in life. But the truth is, a trial is one of the streets through which we move to reach our destiny. a road leading us deeper into the heart of Christ.

Lord, I have so often seen suffering as something to escape–a puzzle needing to be swiftly solved so I can “get back to normal.” But maybe You are inviting me to walk in the fire rather than cower in self-protection. It’s so good to know You’ll be walking with me (p. 171).

Isaiah 43:1-3a says:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“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;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

I’ve always thought it interesting that the verse says when, not if. There are going to be scary moments in life that God takes us through, not around. But He promises to be with us. And that makes all the difference.

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.
 Isaiah 50:10, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Heavenly Waze

My husband likes to use the Waze navigational app on his phone even when we know where we’re going. Waze not only tells gives you directions, it tells you when there is a traffic snarl or some kind of hazard ahead. Recently when road construction caused traffic back-ups on the way to church, Waze navigated another route for us which my husband estimated saved us at least an hour, if not more.

I’ve thought how nice it would be to have a heavenly Waze. We do in a sense. The Bible tells us some things to come and gives us commands and principles which, if we ignore, will land us in trouble.

But in God’s mercy and wisdom, He doesn’t tell us everything about our journey through life. Probably because we would want to avoid some of the troublesome paths He wants us to go through, or we’d face the future with fear.

I’ve often paused over a passage in Exodus 13:17-18a which says that when the children of Israel finally left Egypt, “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” God took them the longer route because He knew the shorter one might be too much for them. That implies that they should have been able to trust Him for their experiences at the Red Sea. Instead, when the people were caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, they feared and complained. In fact, fear and complaining characterized the bulk of their journey to the promised land, despite all the wonders they had seen in God’s deliverance of them from Egypt. 

Why would God take them that route? One reason is mentioned in Exodus 14:4: “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” The Egyptians weren’t the only ones to know Who God was through how He dealt with Israel. When they finally got to Canaan, the Israelites and their God had a reputation. Rahab had come to believe on the Lord due to all she had heard.

Not to speak irreverently, but it’s almost as if God had in mind something like, “Watch this: I am going to show you something fantastic!” And eventually the Israelites did see the marvels of the Red Sea parting so they could walk through on dry ground – after complaining about the fix they were in first. It was the same story when they needed food and water and when they should have entered Canaan the first time. God knew what was ahead, He had a marvelous provision in mind, but instead of waiting in anticipation to see what He would do, they doubted Him and complained.

I can’t point my finger at them because I am too much like them. I’d use a heavenly Waze to avoid anything unpleasant. I have a tendency to complain and a love of ease and comfort. I’m not generally adventurous. I don’t usually approach problems with excitement, just waiting to see what God is going to do this time.

God takes us through rough paths to display His glory, to increase our faith, to show us His love, to manifest Himself to others through us. May God give us grace to approach hazards and delays with the eye of faith, looking forward to how our Heavenly Father is going to work things out.

If we could see, if we could know,
We often say.
But God in love a veil doth throw
Across our way.
We cannot see what lies before,
And so we cling to Him the more
He leads us till this life is o’er,
Trust and obey.

From “If We Could See Beyond Today” by Norman Clayton

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Wise Woman, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

Why Isn’t God Winning?

Sometimes when I am dismayed over the state of the world or the state of a personal problem, I am tempted to think, “God, why aren’t you winning? You’re stronger than evil. You’re bigger than this problem. Why isn’t all of this taken care of? It would be nothing to You to right these things.”

The psalmists wrestled with this question in a slightly different way. In Psalm 73, Asaph struggled with not only the presence of the wicked, but the fact that they prospered. He even came to the point of thinking that his efforts to live purely have been in vain. Job’s friends’ asserted that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to be experiencing so much trouble. One of Job’s arguments against their theory was that the wicked often prosper in this life.

But nothing in Job’s circumstances indicated that God wasn’t “winning,” that He was absent, or that He had lost control of the situation. God was with Job all along, even though Job couldn’t sense His presence. God displayed mercy and compassion to Job, even though it looked different from what we might expect. All of the physical, material blessings that God restored to Job at the end of the book are items that he once again lost at the end of his life. But through the first loss of them, God taught him eternal truths and drew Job closer to Himself. Job’s relationship with God and the spiritual truths he learned would affect the rest of his life, his relationships with others, and the afterlife. Though it might have looked like Satan was winning, God was working out His purposes.

I love the Psalms for their honest emotion. Whether the psalmists faced personal danger or lamented the seeming triumph of evil in the world, they brought their own thoughts and those of their listeners back to the truth they knew about God. Psalm 10 (ESV) starts out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” But the psalmist reminded himself, “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.” He concludes back on solid ground:

 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

When God seems far away, we remind ourselves of the truth we know about Him from His Word. He sees what is going on. He loves us. He will deal justly. He might be waiting to answer for a number of reasons. We ask Him to search us and show us anything that might be hindering His answer to our prayers. And we rest in His wisdom, love, righteousness, and strength.

Trusting that God has control of the situation doesn’t mean inaction on our part. Only God can take care of all the needs of the world, but He often works through people. A needy world is a call to pray and then to look for ways to help those in need. William Wilberforce and Hannah More not only prayed against the evil of slavery but fought against it. We may not be able to solve world poverty, but we can help those within our sphere of influence.

In the May 19 selection of Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she wrote:

On the whole, the good that we are able to tally in this life doesn’t seem to outweigh the bad that we observe. We keep praying, but we don’t see some of the answers closest to our hearts. Only heaven will reveal a clear picture of how the sweet fragrance of our faith in Jesus, even in times of grief and loss, influenced the lives of those around us. Only eternity will show how our fainthearted prayers changed the destinies of people on our prayer list. Great faith believes in God even when He plays His hand close to the vest, now showing all His cards. God wants to increase your “measure of faith.” He does this whenever He conceals a matter and you trust Him nevertheless (p. 156).

The Bible tells us the world will get worse before the end. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3: 14-15).

God not only wins in the end. He is winning now. He’s working out His purposes even now.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Caregiver Resentment

Even though my mother-in-law is sweet and easy to get along with, I sometimes battle resentment over the circumstances of caregiving: feeling tied down, having strangers coming in my home at irregular times, etc. I’m guest posting today at The Perennial Gen about ways God is helping me deal with caregiver resentment.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday)

Loving like Jesus

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Once a missionary was troubled because she didn’t love others the way she knew she should. For years she continually berated herself with the need to be more loving, but she continually failed, leaving her continually discouraged. Finally she started to meditate on God’s love for her, and without realizing it, her life was transformed so much that people asked her husband what had happened to her.

I’ve shared this story before. Though I’ve lost track of its source, it has always inspired me because I can identify with it so well. I’m frequently appalled at my selfishness and often tell myself “I need to be more loving,” but, like the missionary, I continually fail.  But when I meditate on His love for me, His love flows through me to others.

Since Jesus told us to “love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12), I decided to look at some aspects of His love for us.

An initiating love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). God loved us even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6), ESV).

A gracious love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV). He loved us when we were most unlovable and undeserving. He didn’t wait for us to “clean up” or get “good enough.”

A sacrificing love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). God gave not just a pittance, not just a fraction, but rather what was most dear to Him. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

A forgiving love. “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NLT).

A kind love. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6, ESV).

A longsuffering love. “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Numbers 14:18a, ESV).

A correcting love. “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12, ESV). God’s love is not indulgent. Sometimes love involves doing the hard thing of bringing sin to the surface so it can be dealt with.

This just barely scratches the surface of God’s love for us.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man was forgiven a massive debt. However, instead of extending that same grace that he had received to others, he withheld forgiveness of someone’s very small debt and exacted a penalty. That story opened up to me the realization that my forgiveness towards another isn’t based on whether or not they “deserve it.” I did not deserve forgiveness, either. My forgiveness of others should be based on the fact that God has forgiven me so much more than anything I have had to forgive.

It’s the same with God’s love. My love for others should be an overflow of God’s great love for me. He took the first step in loving me, so I should not wait on others to make the first move. His love came at a great sacrifice, so I should not be surprised when love costs me. He loved me at my most unworthy and forgave a multitude of my offenses, so how can I withhold love from others?

Let me hasten to say that exactly how this works out in individual lives will vary. I’m thinking particularly of people who came out of abusive situations. Though we’re still called to love and forgive, and we need God’s grace to do so, we also need His wisdom to know how to navigate all the factors in such a relationship.

I frequently pray for God to help me be more loving, and He graciously speaks to my heart from His Word. Just last week, one day I came across passages about God’s love from three different sources just in my regular devotional reading, without trying to coordinate a study on this topic at all (that’s part of what prompted this post).

So while I continue to pray that I might be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:14-19), that “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9-11), and that God would make me “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12), I also pray and seek God’s Word to “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday), Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman)

Working as unto the Lord

Some friends were talking about frustrations on the job. In both cases, worker error led to continual faulty workmanship or late deliveries which caused problems from mild annoyance to a factory crisis. Though upper and middle management has its flaws and problems, in these particular cases, it was the rank and file employees’ mistakes or carelessness that caused ripple effects. It doesn’t matter what slick ads or CEOs promise if the person on the nuts and bolts end of a product fails.

Employment issues are far beyond my purview, since I have been a stay-at-home mom for 30+ years. But I couldn’t keep my “fix-it” mentality from exploring different causes and helps that I might have proposed if I worked for either of their companies. Perhaps the employees lost sight of the big picture of how important their contributions were and they were just “punching the clock.” Maybe they needed inspiration to remind them that every little piece, every little step in the process is a vital one, that customer satisfaction and the success of their company rests on their shoulders. Maybe picturing the customer holding their product in his or her hands and delighting over it would motivate working with that end result in mind. Perhaps the employees were distracted by coworkers or problems at home. Perhaps recognition for good work would help transform and elevate mediocre efforts. Perhaps a pay raise might help them feel more encouraged about their jobs. People are only human and user error happens, but we should learn from our mistakes rather than excusing them. We do need to understand that customer dissatisfaction leads to a loss of customers which leads to a loss of business which leads to a loss of income which leads to a layoff or even a company closing.

Such problems come up in areas besides one’s job. I’ve worked on ministry projects at churches where we couldn’t use everything we made because some weren’t put together well. We have to extend grace: none of us performs at 100% all the time and our standing with God and our fellow Christian is not based on performance. There are times to overlook flaws. On the other hand, we shouldn’t have the attitude that our work doesn’t matter because we’re saved and sustained by grace. At one church where we ministered, I privately expressed dismay that several “wordless books” made of felt by the ladies to send to one of our missionaries had the pages out of order. The lady I was talking to said, “Well, they’ll get the idea.” This lady wasn’t commending careless workmanship: she was a missionary daughter whose family, I am sure, had to “make do” with materials of various quality sent by well-meaning supporters. But we should do our best to create and send excellent tools rather than ones that the recipient will have to “make do” with or adapt in some way.

For Christians, we have a higher motivation to do good work and a bigger picture to keep in mind. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Proverbs commends the diligent man: “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (22:29); “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (28:19). Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

Exodus 31:1-6 tells us of two men appointed to be workmen for the tabernacle furnishings:

The Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you.

Even though these men were doing physical labor rather than preaching or teaching, they needed to be filled with the Spirit of God for their work. And so do we, whatever our place or function in our company, organization, or church. Our abilities and talents come from the Lord: let’s use them for the pleasure and glory of our Father and King.

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(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for your Heart, Porch Stories)

Where Is God’s Compassion and Mercy in Job?

Image courtesy of Alex Bruda at freeimages.com

The first few times I read through Job as a young person, I was a little…dismayed,  or at least perplexed at how God responded to him near the end. I understood that God was displaying His wisdom, majesty, power, creativity, and other attributes. Job was humbled and repented and God restored him and blessed him, so the book had a happy ending. But I remember feeling that if I had been in Job’s sandals, I would have wanted an encounter with God that seemed more warm and comforting.

Then I discovered the passage in James 5 where James is encouraging Christians to be patient and stand fast in the face of suffering.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

I believed that God was compassionate and merciful: I had seen that in many other places in the Bible. But where did one find that in Job?

Our church has been reading through the Job together the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing my reading from the ESV Study Bible. Their study notes brought out some points I had missed.

Of chapter 38, verse 1, they say:

God reveals himself to Job in a display of both majestic power and relational presence: “the LORD” (Hebrew YHWH), the name most used to signify God’s covenant character and promises (see. Ex. 3:14-15), was used in the prologue where God describes Job’s relationship to him (see Job 1:8; 2:3); the fact that the Lord “answered Job” contrasts with what the friends…indicated he should expect (see 35:9-13)…It is a covenantal gesture when the Lord reveals his power and his presence as he speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind.” While he does not come simply to justify Job, the Lord’s presence shows that his reproof comes in the context of steadfast love toward Job and not as judgment for what the friends assumed was Job’s repudiation of the path of righteousness (p. 926).

The fact that God came to Job personally indicates His care, and the use of His covenantal name shows He is speaking to Job out of a loving relationship.

Part of what God is getting across to Job includes this:

Job had drawn conclusions about the about the nature of God’s rule from what was revealed on earth in his and others’ circumstances. However, [Job] did not account fully for what is hidden from him, and thus his words cast a shadow on the wisdom and righteousness of God’s rule. In his speech, God will question Job in order to remind him that, even in what is revealed of God’s powerful and majestic governance of the natural world and its inhabitants, much is still hidden. And if this is true for creation and its creatures, how much more is it true in relation to the wisdom and purpose of the Creator? (p. 926).

The notes point out later on that Job had experienced what it was like “to have what was hidden about him (e.g., the state of his heart before God) questioned and judged by those who had drawn wrong conclusions from what was visible in his circumstances. The Lord now questions Job for overextending his judgment of what his suffering meant about the Lord’s just governance of the world” (40:6-9) (pp. 929-30).

We don’t think of getting dressed down as a mercy, but it is if that’s what we need, isn’t it? A wise father corrects his child. He does not let his child continue in wrong thinking about God. Sometimes we need to feel our smallness contrasted with God’s immensity. When we’re questioning what God is doing in the world and our lives, we need to be reminded that He knows what he is doing, has everything under control, and has a reason for what He allows, even if we don’t know that reason.

All of those details God gives about the animals displays not only His wisdom, but His care of them. This reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-31: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Layton Talbert says in Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job: “The Lord is powerful and majestic and wise beyond man’s comprehension, but He is also compassionate…even towards beasts. He talks as if He has intimate knowledge of their nature and needs because He does. That’s the point” (p. 206).

God displayed compassion and mercy in many ways throughout the book:

  • His limitation of what He allowed Satan to do
  • His unseen presence with Job through everything that happened
  • His physical manifestation to Job
  • His fatherly correction of Job.
  • His vindication of Job against his friends’ accusations
  • His wisdom and care of the animal kingdom highlighted His care of Job
  • All was done within the context of God’s relationship with Job.

That last point is in fact part of what the whole book was about: that Job wasn’t serving God just for God’s blessings, that he wasn’t being “pious for pay” as Dr. Talbert put it (Beyond Suffering , p. 40).

Sometimes I think I’ll feel better if I know what God is up to and why, and sometimes He graciously shares that. But other times, as in Job’s case, comfort does not come from full disclosure of what was going on behind the scenes and why God allowed it. Job did not get all the answers he wanted, but he got God’s presence, a fuller understanding of Him, and a manifestation of His care. And he was satisfied.

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Trusting a Good, Kind, Wise Father Even When We Don’t Understand

For months during and after an election cycle, we see people in social media constantly framing their responses and opinions according to their like or dislike of a candidate.  If a rumor or negative news report is going around about my guy, then, of course, it’s false. People are just trying to smear him because they don’t like him. In fact, some nefarious enemy started or twisted this to cast aspersions on my guy. And if something negative is reported about the other guy,  well, then, of course it’s true and his supporters are blind/stupid/dishonest/just as bad as he is, etc. What’s especially frustrating to me about these keyboard commentators on both sides is that they are so far removed from the situation and the candidates, they can’t possibly know for sure what’s going on behind the scenes. They’re either acting out of blind loyalty or the needs of their party or agenda.

Did you know some people accuse Christians of this same blind loyalty or agenda-pushing? I’ve seen people say something like this: “You prayed for this outcome, and you didn’t get it. So then you changed your mind to say that this must be God’s will.” Or they accuse us of blindness or dishonesty if we maintain God’s goodness in the face of disaster.

It’s natural that people frame their interpretation of circumstances according to their point of view, personal philosophies, etc. But there is a major difference between defending a candidate because we’re on the same side and defending someone we know personally. If someone starts a rumor or twists the truth about someone famous, most of us hope it’s wrong and believe in giving the benefit of the doubt, though we have been disappointed at times. But if someone tries to smear my friend or family member, that’s a different story. I might be proved wrong even there, because people have sin natures and fail sometimes. But I have a better basis for my defense.  I know that person. I know their character, I’ve spent time with them, I’ve seen how they react in various situations. I know that this rumor about them is uncharacteristic of them and unlikely to be true.

The same can be said of true Christians. Sure, there are some who’ve grown up in the culture and are just defending an ideology. But those who have truly believed on Christ as Savior are not acting in blind faith. We’re acting on a faith based on knowledge of God through His Word and through personal experience of walking with Him over the course of years. We may not understand everything He does. He’s God, after all, and we are not. He may not answer every request positively, but what good father does?  Every parent and every authority has to say “no” sometimes. There may be some reason on our end why He can’t say “yes.” So, if we pray for something and God doesn’t answer the way we wanted, we’re not putting a spin on the situation by saying our request was not His will. A young child in its immaturity might fuss, complain, cry, wheedle, or get angry when a request is denied. But as children grow, both in maturity and in experience with their father, they’ll realize that, though they may not understand why their father said no, they know he loves them and has their best interest at heart. So it is with God’s children. We’re continually growing spiritually, continually adjusting our thinking to His, continually evaluating our circumstances in light of His truth.

Also, catastrophes don’t disprove God’s existence or reflect negatively on His character. Awful things happen in this world that we don’t understand. Sometimes they’re just a result of fallen human nature. People sin. Sin affects the innocent. One day God will right all those wrongs, but that may not happen in our lifetime. (But before we get excited about the wrongs to us being dealt with, we need to remember that we’re answerable for our wrongs as well.) Sometimes disasters are a result of human error. Sometimes they’re caused by Satan (see Job 1 and 2, Luke 22:31). Sometimes in the Bible God sent disaster to judge or punish people or to try to bring them to repentance, but those who try to attribute every catastrophe to God’s judgment are wrong. There may be any number of reasons why God allows suffering. Though we don’t understand, we trust His character, His wisdom, goodness, and love. That’s not a blind, baseless, deluded faith: that’s faith based on the One we know and on His Word to us.

Thousands of years ago, three men were threatened with death in a fiery furnace if they didn’t bow down to the king’s idol. But they were believers in the one true God, and they couldn’t do that. They told the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18). They were trusting in an ideology. They were trusting in their God, even if the circumstances didn’t turn out they way they hoped. And God blessed them with His presence and deliverance.

We can’t possibly understand why God does everything He does. But like Job, even though we don’t understand what’s going on, we know His character and we trust Him (Job 13:15; 19:25). And, like Job, even if we don’t get “answers” to explain our situation, God will bless us with His presence. That’s not “spin.” That’s truth.

See also:

Scriptural Reasons for Suffering
But If Not…
Our Trials Are Not Just For Us
Though Everything Go Wrong

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