[NB: I wrote this piece for the May issue of The Geneva Courier . . . before our sweet Jessica sustained another badly broken arm last week. How ironic. But God is good, all the time.]
In my Biblical History class [for 7th grade students] we recently undertook an admittedly brief survey of the book of Job, one of the oldest and most complex books in the Old Testament. You know the basic story. Job, a wealthy, righteous man who feared God lost almost everything of any value to him: his possessions, his children, and his health. All that he had left was a wife, who advised him (foolishly) to curse God and die.
What follows is a long discourse between Job and his friends – 35 chapters worth of deep conversation about the nature of suffering and the justice of God. After Job’s final soliloquy, God speaks (Job 38-41). And virtually all He does is ask Job one question after another – more than 60 questions by my count! And all the questions are rhetorical reminding Job of three things: 1.) God is great; 2.) Job is not; and 3.) Do not get numbers one and two confused!
We can learn an awful lot about God from the questions He asks Job. We are reminded with Job that God has created and ordered everything that exists: earth, sea, sky, stars, all of creation. He tells us through questions that He has designed and ordered everything, from the place where waves stop on the shore to constellations in the heavens. Then God moves more specifically into the animal world, speaking (again through questions) about everything from lions and donkeys to birds on the wing. After two chapters of this Job says, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
Job essentially says, “I am small and need to shut my mouth.” But God is not finished yet.
In the next two chapters God challenges Job for assuming that he, a human might presume to know all that God is doing. He continues to teach Job his smallness by speaking at length about “behemoth” and “leviathan.” Much ink has been spilled as to whether God is speaking here about a hippopotamus, a crocodile, or a whale. Regardless, the point is clear. When we take a minute to look at creation in all its vast array, we must admit that we are small and weak, fragile and frail. But God is almighty beyond our understanding. Every year when I travel to California for meetings at Joni and Friends (as I did recently), on the way back to the airport in L.A. I take a canyon road up over the Santa Monica Mountains and pull off at a spot where, from several thousand feet up, I can look out over the Pacific Ocean. It’s good to remind ourselves regularly that we are very small people in a very large world ordered and sustained by a majestic and powerful God.
Job’s final words are of deep repentance: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . . I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).
In the epilogue, we see that God restored Job’s fortune doubly, and gave him more children, and Job died full at an old age. But one thing was never revealed to Job: “Why?”
Therein lays the rub. All too often, like Job, we are not given a glimpse “behind the curtain” (as we the reader were able to get in Job), to see what God’s purpose is in our suffering in this life. Will we know at some point? Certainly, the Scriptures affirm that at the consummation of all things we will see God’s purposes clearly and know that His plan for us was good and even, in mysterious ways, glorifying to God Almighty. But in the meantime, we wrestle with the “Why?” just as Job surely did.
Many of our 7th grade students have suffered much in their brief 12-13 years of life. And many of you in our parent community have suffered much more! Often without knowing the answer to “why?”
Some people are blessed to see the reasons for their suffering. My friend, Joni Eareckson Tada is one of those. Paralyzed from the shoulders down at 17, she sees now at 65 what God was doing. Her suffering has become a blessing to untold thousands (even millions I dare say); to many people her story has been a vehicle for their salvation in Christ. But we cannot forget that on the way to that blessed knowledge were years of despair, night after night of loneliness and deep sadness at what life would be like: never riding a horse again or being able to wipe her own nose or myriad other simple things we take for granted.
[A pic with Joni at the Joni and Friends Board meeting earlier this month]
In her book The God I love: A lifetime of Walking with Jesus, she closes the book talking about the time she was at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, a place where a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus, but she remained paralyzed in her wheelchair. And there she said to God, “I know I wouldn’t know you . . . I wouldn’t love you and trust you . . . were it not for this chair.” Then she finished by writing this: “The answer to all our fears, Man of Sorrows and Lord of Joy, always permitting what he hates, to accomplish something he loves. And he brought me here [to the pool in Jerusalem] so that I could declare to anyone within earshot of the whole universe, to anyone who might care, that yes—There are more important things in life than walking.”
Good words and true.
I say to students every year that one of the most quoted but least believed verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Do you see what it says? All things? All things that happen to us are not good! Some circumstances are just down right evil, wicked, and unspeakably tragic. But in God’s almighty power and wisdom, he is able – for those who love him and are called by him – to use all things for our good and for his glory.
Our lives are part of a great tapestry that God is weaving (and at Geneva, He is graciously weaving our many lives together in the most surprising ways!). We see the underside of the tapestry, where there are knots, hanging threads, things that don’t seem to be beautiful or make sense. But God sees the upper side of the tapestry, something beautiful beyond what we can imagine. As we trust him, even the dark threads will be used to create beauty, reason, purpose, and glory, all in his time and in his way.
As we end another year [at The Geneva School], here in our small corner of the earth in Winter Park, I am convinced beyond doubt that God is up to something surprisingly beautiful and magnificent, despite us. He is weaving our stories into his grand story. And at the end of the day, that is a happy thought.