Is God Worthy of Our Trust?
Is God Worthy of Our Trust?
When I study a passage of Scripture, I usually ask five questions of the text:
- What comes against us?
- What rises in us? What is our reaction?
- What is the “God-substitute” exposed in our reaction?
- How does God reveal himself? How does the gospel address us?
- How do we respond with living faith, expressed in active love?
I developed this set of five questions from reading Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp’s book, How People Change, and from listening to David Powlison’s recorded lecture series entitled, “Reading the Bible for Personal Application.” I highly recommend both of these resources.
Let’s use these questions to study Job, chapters 10 and 11, in which we hear Job’s “free utterance” of his “complaint” (chapter 10) and his friend Zophar’s reply chapter 11). I am using the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
What comes against us?
Job has been the victim of Satan’s darts, hurled at him in two waves of affliction – the first being his loss of property, livelihood, and family, the second being his loss of health (see Job 1-2).
I have heard of people poring over the book of Job looking for an answer to the question: “Why do the innocent suffer?” That, however, is not the question that the book of Job seeks to answer. The question behind the book of Job is not, “Why do the innocent suffer” but, rather, “When we do suffer, is God still worthy of our trust and devotion?”
What rises within us?
Job 10 reveals a deep suspicion of God’s trustworthiness. In verse 3 Job asks God: “Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the schemes of the wicked?” Feeling that God has exploited him (“you repeat your exploits against me,” v. 16), Job wishes that he had never been born (vv. 18f.). He even asks God to “let [him] alone, that [he] might find a little comfort” (v. 20).
What is the God-substitute?
There is no doubt that Job worships and serves the true God, but he has a faulty view of God – namely as One who is answerable to him! The Apostle Paul asks, “But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?” (Rom. 9:20f.). “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8f.).
How does God reveal himself?
Although Zophar, one of Job’s friends, falsely accused him of secret sin, he did get some things right. In Job 11:6 he reminded Job that “wisdom is many sided.” In other words, God was wisely orchestrating every detail of Job’s life. Of course, Job had no way of knowing what had transpired between God and Satan in the heavenly council (Job 1:6ff.; 2:1ff.). He did not know that he was being tested, nor did he understand how God was protecting him in the midst of his trials (Job 1:12; 2:6). God would later reveal such things to James, who wrote: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Jas. 1:2f.). God would also reveal this truth to us through Peter: “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:6f.). Peter went on to say, “If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:20ff.).
We would be careless in our theology, of course, if we were to take these passages – and others like them – and say to Job or to anyone else, even ourselves, “Obey these commands and follow Jesus’ example, and you will have God’s approval.” The truth is: we, like Job, find it difficult to rejoice in the face of affliction, and we often fail even when we try hard to follow the example set by Jesus.
Therefore, to paraphrase Juan Sanchez (and others), the question for us in not “What would Jesus do?” but, rather, “What has Jesus done?” Peter follows his commendation of Jesus’ example by lifting up Jesus’ transforming sacrifice: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
If our sin, like Job’s, is suspicion of God’s trustworthiness (Rom. 14:23: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin”), then Christ’s death on the cross for our sins addresses any misrepresentation of God. We cannot say to God, as Job does, “If I sin, you watch me, and do not acquit me of my iniquity” (Job 10:14). God may indeed “watch us” (Jer. 23:24: “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD”), but he also promises to those who put their trust in Christ that he “will be merciful toward their iniquities, and…will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12; Isa. 43:25). Ours is not a God whose purposes are suspect, who has hidden from himself his gracious intent for us (cf. Job 10:13). He is the God who is revealed in the cross, where Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body” (1 Pet. 2:24). And, having borne them, he made us who put our faith in him “free from sins,” so that we are not compelled by circumstances – even by the most trying circumstances – to place our confidence anywhere else but in God.
The “take away” in this matter is to remember who we are in Christ. We are not those whom God has targeted for his own malevolent pleasure, as Job pictured things. We are those whom “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…has blessed…in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. [We are those whom] he chose…in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. [We are those whom] he destined…for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (cf. Eph. 1:3-6).
If this is the case (and it is!), then we may ask with Paul: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” And, with Paul, we may answer: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38f.).
Contrary to what Job seemed to think, God remains true to his people and supplies them with grace to trust him even in the midst of trial.
How do we respond with living faith expressed in active love?
Job himself gives the answer to this question: “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10:12). If only Job could have believed that! He could have endured his trials with the confidence that Zohar expressed in the next chapter: “You will have confidence, because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety” (Job 11:18). When we trust God’s future for us, we can endure any present.
Photo Credit: In God We Trust by Kevin Dooley