Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Round One

                Yesterday, we came crashing into a God who does not meet our expectations. He behaves freely, and allows Satan to attack the possessions of a man who has done nothing to deserve it. I am not sure if this is comforting but not satisfying or satisfying but not comforting. But we must come to grips with the reality that God is a person, and He will make decisions which will defy understanding. He is not a karmic force, responding formulaically to people’s sins or incantations.

                When we last cc cbcleft our story, Satan had left to go and wreak havoc on Job’s life, confident that when stripped of the good things God had given him, Job would forsake God. Satan’s basic assumption, as we have seen, is that Job operated on the me-first mentality of humanity, and he would do whatever seemed most profitable at the time.

                Before we move forward, do you operate according to that mentality? It is easy for us to assume we don’t, because we have never really committed any major acts of rebellion against God. But what if He let Satan push you just a little bit harder? Where is your breaking point, where you simply could not stand anymore and you would start looking out for number one? You never know how far you can go until you do, and Job is about to find out just how much he can take.

Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck dowc.f. fvn the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

(Job 1:13-15 ESV)


                Fast forward to the birthday of Job’s oldest son and you will find all of his children engaged in a big party. Job, based on his habit we learned about at the beginning of the chapter, is probably preparing the burnt sacrifices to show how he has dedicated his children to God, as he asks God to protect their hearts. With his mind probably pleasantly abuzz, a messenger comes running up to him, covered in sweat and blood: “A group of raiders came and stole your oxen, your donkeys and killed your servants that were with them!” This wealthy man had just lost a fortune. While he still had much, imagine your reaction when something valuable to you is suddenly taken away. Then, his mind begins to catch up and see how great the damage is. The oxen were plowing – preparing the land for next year’s harvest. Not just the present, but his future has just been cut down. Like a rejected college application, a lost job or a broken marriage, Job is not only losing something close, but the potential of so much.

                His mind races – how can he get the animals back and avenge his servants? Where have these raiders gone? Like many of us, his mind jumps to solutions and tries to make itself more comfortable with the problem by finding out that it is under his control. He still had 7000 sheep and 3000 camels. He was not powerless, he could amass an army. This is bad, but he is strong. God has given him so much; everything will be okay.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

(Job 1:16 ESV)


                Before he could finish processing his plan of attack, another messenger came up. Lighting had struck the sheepfold and started an intense fire which had burned all of the sheep and the servants that attended them. Job was immediately faced with another financial loss, this time not from other human beings, but an apparent act of God. Where most Job’s mind have been at this point? He had woken up this morning wealthy and successful, and he had now lost 7000 sheep, on top of what he had already experienced. He still had a huge number of camels (3000) for travelling, but all of his immediately accessible wealth was now gone, as were his prospects for soon making more. People in the ancient east did not own property, so his wealth was entirely in his possessions. Some stolen and some burned, the urgency of chasing down his stolen donkeys and oxen now grew intensely. He could not get his sheep back, but he could gather a war party on camels, round up his servants and his sons and go reclaim their wealth.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

(Job 1:17 ESV)

                There is nothing left to say. Another messenger immediately comes up and announces that the last of Job’s wealth is gone. He woke rich, but he will sleep tonight poor. He has no ability, as far as he can see, to reverse the losses of his fortune, and two different raiding bands had hurt him, the same day as a natural catastrophe. I don’t think he had a plan at this point, I can only imagine him standing in stunned silence.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

(Job 1:18-19 ESV)


                Stop for a moment to experience the gravity of this. An act of man, an act of God and an act of man is now followed by one more act of God, this one cutting closer to the core of Job than any other. At his oldest son’s birthday party, for which he had been preparing sacrifices from his great wealth earlier that day, a storm had blown in and crushed all of his children. His seven sons, his three daughters and all the servants that were with him laid crushed in the rubble.

                Any one of these blows would have crushed most people. Have you ever experienced more than one tragedy in a row? Before you have a chance to collect yourself, another wave comes and it feels unbearable. Eventually you look at the mountain of trouble in front of you and you cry out because you can’t take it anymore. Stress, despair and self-pity join the party, and add internal troubles to the ones you have already experienced. God gave Satan permission to come as close to Job as he wanted, as long as he did not touch Job himself, and Satan left no stone unturned. Everything good which God had given Job was gone, and now (Satan was sure), Job would rebel against God, since God no longer served him. In our simple theology, the story is about to end, one way or another. If Job still follows after God, he will be rewarded and the trouble will stop. If he rejects God, he will never recover. But reality, as we have already hinted, is much more complex than that. God is far more real than that.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

(Job 1:20-22 ESV)


                Job passed the test, as you can see. He looks at all he has lost and his mind is too numb to make any decisions. Instead, he falls into what he has already trained himself to do in the good times. He looks and trusts the God who he cannot see. While we know that it was Satan, under God’s permission, who had caused the disasters, two looked like they had certainly come from God. But Job still trusted. First he got up (he had apparently collapsed in grief-wouldn't you?) and then he tore at his clothes and shaved his head, a sign of great trouble and disgrace. He mourned, and fell to the ground again, this time not in grief, but in worship.God had given him everything, and it was God’s to take away. God be praised.

                Think about the troubles in your life lately, the things you feel were stolen from you. Can you respond like that? It betrays the deepest parts of Job’s heart that he already thought of everything he had, even his family, as on loan from God. Now, with nothing except his body and his wife, that attitude leaks out of his heart. In the dark night of his soul, he remembers that the sunrise never belonged to Him anyway.

                This is the first reaction we must cultivate. Everything is God’s, and everything will be His. When we lose good things, we must never fool ourselves into thinking we were entitled to them in the first place. Job passed the test. It should all be over now. He responded correctly, so the god we have created to follow our commands like clockwork will have to reward him now.

                But, if you have ever suffered or seen someone you love suffer, you know better than that. The Bible is true, and life is far too messy for the answer to be so simple.

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