(January 15, 2019) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, challenges us to think outside the proverbial box…
‘Happy New Year!’
How often have we said that this year? And we truly hope that all the people to whom we have given this greeting will indeed have a happy year. However we know that for some this year will not be happy. Regardless of how committed to God we may be, the vagaries of life often present us with unwelcome problems, unrelenting sickness, unexpected sorrow or overwhelming disaster and no one is immune from such events.
The reality is that some quite evil people in the world prosper and some truly godly people suffer. So there is no correlation between Godliness and a trouble-free life.
Yet some Christians try to give the impression that everything is always well in their world – and they maintain this façade until some problem is encountered which often causes them to fall apart. As we live in a fallen world, inevitably we all struggle at some stage with disturbing and destructive experiences regardless committed we may be in our discipleship or how pious we may present ourselves. Only self-delusion can maintain the myth that all is always well in our world.
Fairy Godmothers aren’t real!
Recently I have been reflecting on two alternative ideas that Christians have concerning God – God the Father or God the Fairy Godmother. If we think of God as some kind of ‘fairy godmother’ our conception of God will be one in which he always acts by solving all our problems and ensuring that good things always happen to us.
This is not, however, the character of Lord God Almighty who is revealed in the Bible. We know that fairy godmothers are not real! Nor is such a God real!
The book of Job gives us some telling pointers on which we should reflect.
Some years ago I wrote a sermon to which I gave the longest of titles – Can you keep on hanging on to God when it seems that he is no longer hanging on to you?
This was a sermon about Job. Many people mistakenly think that the book of Job is about suffering – it isn’t. It is about our measure of trust and confidence in the character of our God even when things are not going well with us.
Job went through such a rough time that his anguish is inconceivable. Unexpectedly, at a time when everything was going exceptionally well for him, catastrophe struck:
- His ten children were killed when the house in which they were having a party collapsed
- Suddenly through various circumstances he lost all his wealth and position in society
- A vile disease he contracted covered his whole body with revolting boils and skin lesions
- His breath was so loathsome that even his wife and brother avoided being close to him.
Trust and confidence in the real God
And all of this he suffered even though the first verse of the book of Job where we read, ‘This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.’
When Job’s ‘friends’ turned up to ‘comfort’ him in his troubles, at first they said nothing. They actually would have helped him most while they kept their mouths shut! But once they started ‘sharing’ with him, they intensified his misery by telling him that the reason he was suffering was because God was punishing him for some sin which he had committed and that he ought to admit it and confess it.
But Job knew that there was nothing he had done which could justify what he was suffering. Their constant harassment eventually led to Job’s angry accusation that God was being unjust: ‘Though I cry, “I’ve been wronged” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice’ (Job 19:7). Another ‘friend’, Elihu, turned up and said that Job was compounding his sin by the things he said against God!
Those ‘friends’ remind me of an incident I witnessed some years ago. When I ministered in Tasmania, I had a godly woman, Charlotte, in my congregation. She was 86 years old and had a strong faith in God whom she dearly loved – but she was suffering from cancer and was in hospital. A ‘friend’ visited Charlotte and piously told her that if she believed that God could heal her, he would. Then the ‘friend’ prayed for her and left. The following week she visited hospital again and saw that Charlotte was still there – and she rebuked her for her lack of faith! But I know that Charlotte’s faith never wavered and am convinced that when she died she was warmly received into God’s loving arms!
Through all his troubles Job continued to affirm his faith in God, Job 13:15, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.’
But Job also had many unanswered questions and he cried out, ‘Let the Almighty answer me’ (31:35). God’s reply came (in chapter 38) but not in the form Job expected. Rather than answering Job’s questions, God challenged Job with many questions.
The fact is that God’s dealings with us are often – usually – not explained to us by God. In fact he is not obliged to answer our questions! There are things in life that lie beyond our understanding and the only thing that is required of us is that we keep on trusting in God. Job came to that realisation and said, ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know’ (42:3).
The one thing we do need to know is that which Paul wrote about in Romans 8:28, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ The JB Phillips translation expresses this well – ‘We know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.’
This does not mean that we will obtain all the good things we want and desire ‘here and now.’ Rather Paul is stating in this verse that God has an ultimate and perfect plan that nothing can impede. One day we will be beneficiaries. We may have confidence that his purposes will be achieved regardless of any evil that may try to derail them.
The greatest example of this is Jesus Christ’s crucifixion
When Jesus’ followers saw him die, they were profoundly distressed and depressed. As they looked at his broken body on the cross, they saw only defeat. To them it is was the culmination of despair. Their dreams were shattered. Their hopes, which had soared during the three years they had known him, had died.
Little did they realise that what they considered to be the end was, in fact, the beginning because through the apparent defeat of Jesus, hope truly became possible. God used that inconceivably appalling event to become the means of our reconciliation with him.
Therefore the experiencing of wonderful things that come our way does not invariably indicate that we are in a very favourable relationship with God (for some extremely evil people go through life with ‘wonderful things’ happening to them repeatedly). Nor does a sequence of ‘bad experiences’ in life mean that God is disapproving of us or that we have somehow offended God.
So, the bottom line in the message of Job’s experience is a challenge to us to keep on trusting in God’s goodness and love despite our circumstances. Paul, while he was in prison in Rome awaiting likely execution, wrote, ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’ (Philippians 4:11).
That really is excellent advice!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Recommended are his enlightening Grace Revisited and Looking for Answers in a Confusing World; also Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org