Studies in the Bible

WHERE IS GOD WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN?

September 11, 2001

A sermon delivered at St Andrews Presbyterian following the terrorist attack of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

I feel a bit like the writer of the epistle of Jude who set out to write one kind of epistle, but who was compelled to write something else. I had a sermon picked out and prepared and then events happened in the world this week which demand a response.

Planes plunging from the sky, not by accident, but through the deliberate and malignant hand of man who is out to murder his fellow man. I watched the news on Tuesday with the rest of you and was shocked and sickened and saddened and grieved with the rest of you. Paula had students in her class who had families who were working in the World Trade Center. I could not but help but think of my fellow fire fighters who responded to the Twin Towers in an attempt to save lives, only to have the second plane and then the subsequent collapse of the two buildings take their own lives.

Within the space of a few hours, our perception of the world seems to have been incredibly altered. As Christians, we are forced to ask, "Where is God when bad things happen?"

It is not a new question. It is one that has been asked by every generation. It is echoed in the pages of the Bible.

When I think of this question, I am drawn naturally to the person of Job. You remember his story. Job was a man who had everything. A family. Wealth. Respect. Health. And in a single day it was all taken from him. He was sitting and watching the news at noon when there was a flash.

What was Job's reaction? Sorrow? Grief? Certainly! But in the midst of that grief, he worshiped the Lord, saying. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21).

There is a wonderful sense of Job's recognition of the fact that he owns nothing and that God owns everything. He says, "I came into this world with NOTHING." He recognizes that anything that has been given to him has been given from the hands of a God of grace and that Job is only a steward.

During our last trip to Moldova, we loaned Sky the use of one of our cars. It made it a bit easier for her and Lance for those several weeks and she appreciated its use. When we got back and I went to get my car back, she didn't say, "Well I've been driving that car and you shouldn't take it back." She considered herself fortunate to have been able to use it for that period.

Job recognizes the same thing, not about a car, but about everything. He has a proper theology of nakedness that says, "Everything is God's. I am only given my possessions on a temporary loan from God and if He wants them back it is okay."

As we read the book of Job, we are privy to some facts of which Job himself was ignorant. We are given the behind-the-scenes view into heaven itself. We see how Satan came into the presence of God and how God said, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." (Job 1:8). Satan goes on to accuse Job and to challenge his faithfulness and God responds to the challenge by granting permission for Satan to afflict him. We learn from our vantage point that Job was involved in a spiritual conflict of epic proportions.

But Job didn't know that. He wasn't aware of anything until one day when the roof caved it. And it did not stop there. Satan once again comes into the presence of God and accuses Job. He says to God, "Job only remains faithful to you because he is in good health." And so God allows Satan permission to take away Job's health. He is afflicted with boils from head to toe. Painful. Irritating. Ugly. Full of puss.

Everything he has is gone. No family. No possessions. No health. The only thing that has not been taken is his nagging wife.

Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10).

Once again, his reply is a wonderful reflection of his understanding of the sovereignty of God. He knows that all the good that he has ever received came from God and he knows that God has allowed this calamity to come as well.

When I was in seminary, I received a "B" on an exam when I really felt that I deserved an "A". I went and I mentioned my feelings to the professor. It didn't change my grade. But I noticed that I never went and complained about getting an "A" when I might have deserved a "B" - when I received a grade that was HIGHER than what I deserved.

Next Job is joined by three friends. They come and they sit with him in silence for a solid week. They suffer with him and they mourn with him and as long as they do that, they are a great help to Job. There are times when words merely get in the way and when the best thing to do is to be with someone in their grief and to be silent. These three friends do exactly that for an entire week and then they ruin it all by speaking.

Their message is the complete antithesis of that which was suggested by Job's wife.

Their message is that good things happen to good people and that bad things happen to bad people, so Job must have done something very bad to deserve these calamities, so he needs to repent and confess that bad sin he is hiding and return to God and then everything will be okay.

The next 30 chapters are made up of Job arguing with his three friends as he insists his own innocence and they insist that he must be guilty of some hidden sin. In those chapters, his friends give us some excellent theological reasons why bad things happen. A lot of what they say is very accurate. But their advise isn't applicable to Job. It is like the professor who gave an essay test and one of the students wrote a long and precise and a detailed answer. But when he got his paper back, the professor had written, "That is an excellent answer to the wrong question." Good advice, but it doesn't fit. A good diagnosis, but to the wrong disease.

Neither those friends nor Job could see the real reason for Job's troubles. There are some things that happen in this life for which we see no reason. It will not be until we get to heaven that we will see the whole picture and then we will understand.

Job continues to maintain his innocence. He says...

Finally in chapter 38, the Lord Himself answers Job. "Finally!" we think, "God is going to appear to Job and tell him all of the reasons for his sufferings and Job will see and hear and understand. God is going to let Job in on what we saw in chapters one and two and which has been hidden from Job in all these succeeding chapters."

It doesn't happen. God doesn't give Job any of the reasons. He doesn't give to him the behind-the-scenes glimpse that we have had.

It isn't that there are no reasons. From our vantage point we can see all sorts of reasons. We can see the ramifications of the heavenly conflict between God and Satan. We can see how God is building up Job's character and developing a message that he will spread to future generations. But God doesn't tell Job any of that.

He will eventually. Before the book is done, Job will have a new family and renewed possessions and renewed vigor of health. But none of that comes right now. Instead, God says to Job, "Who are you to question Me?"

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:1-7).

"Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place?" (Job 38:12).

"Have you entered into the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this." (Job 38:16-18).

"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, So that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings that they may go And say to you, 'Here we are'? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being, Or has given understanding to the mind? Who can count the clouds by wisdom, Or tip the water jars of the heavens" (Job 38:31-37).

Then the LORD said to Job, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it." (Job 40:1).

Do you see the continuing refrain? God says to Job, "Who are you?" It is a rhetorical question. No answer is needed. When you stand in the presence of God, it is evident that we are in no position to pass judgment upon God.

Job gets the point. He understands it. He says: "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add no more." (Job 40:3-5).

Job got the point. He has no answer for the God of the universe. He has spoken before in the presence of his friends, by he is not able to speak in the presence of God. God answers, "I'm not finished yet."

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm, and said, "Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His? (Job 40:6-9).

And so, God continues for another two chapters in asking Job what is essentially the same question, "Who are you?" The amazing thing about this is that Job was satisfied. His reply shows a turning point in his thinking.

Then Job answered the LORD, and said, "I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted." (Job 42:1-2).

"I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6).

He understands and he repents of his former attitude of pride and arrogance and of thinking that he has the right to question God. And God forgives Job. We know that by the conclusion of the story.

And it came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8).

Do you see the continuing refrain? Four times the Lord speaks of "My servant Job." He not only rebuked the three friends of Job, but he also tells them that if they want to get right with God then they must have Job intercede on behalf of them.

There are some important lessons that we learn from the book of Job.

  1. We learn that God is both all-loving as well as all-powerful.
  2. A lot of people seem to think that God must be either one or the other. Either He must be a God of love but He isn't all-powerful, or else He must be a sovereign and all-powerful God who isn't very nice. Job teaches us that He is both powerful and good.

    Evil enters the world, not through the hands of God, but through Satan. And although Satan is able to perform his deeds, it is only at the permission of God and only as God has allowed him to work.

  3. When you face suffering and tragedy, it is good to express your grief and your trouble to God, but do not think that you are in a position to pass judgment upon God. Job himself learned that lesson.
  4. Then Job answered the LORD, and said, "I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." (Job 42:1-3).

    There is no neutrality when it comes to judging between God and man. Either we are in a position to judge God or else God is in a position to judge us. Job learned the lesson that God is our judge and he learned to allow God to be God.

    That is why God asked Job all those rhetorical questions:

    The point is that God knows a lot more about the workings of His universe than you do. And that brings us to our second point.

  5. God is in control, even when it doesn't seem as if He is.
  6. We have seen some terrible things this past week, but we must remember that it is not that God somehow has lost the power or insight to direct the affairs of our little planet.

    Jesus warned us that we would see kingdoms rise and we would see kingdoms fall and that would not mean that God had lost control. God is building His own kingdom and THAT is the only kingdom that shall endure forever.

  7. God has a purpose in what He allows, even if we don't know what it is.
  8. We look at tragedies and they appear to be meaningless and senseless and chaotic, but God knows how to take even tragedies and bring good out of them. He is able to cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

    That does not mean that bad things do not happen. A great evil has taken place and as long as the Evil One is on planet earth evil things will continue to take place. Our comfort is in knowing that God specializes in taking such evil and bringing good out of it.

  9. There is a war going on and it is not only the war that is apparent.
  10. Both Congress and the President of the United States have been talking about declaring war on the perpetrators of those heinous attacks that we have witnessed this past week. We can and we should be in prayer for our government leaders as they combat terrorism.

    But we should also be aware that there is another enemy behind the enemy. There is an invisible force at work and there is an unseen battle going on behind the battle. While our country utilizes sophisticated intelligence and sophisticated military strategies to conduct their war, we also have weapons to be utilized in the unseen war.

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

    Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:12-17).

    There is a call to arms given. It is not only for those who are of a certain age, but for Christians of all ages, whether children or grey haired. These are the weapons that will ultimately carry the day.

  11. Tragedy can serve as a wake-up call.
  12. C.S. Lewis described pain as "God's megaphone to a deaf world." We live in a nation that has been increasingly deaf to the Word of God. There is a message that is being delivered to us. It is a message designed to call us to repentance.

    Terrorism is nothing new. It was taking place in Christ's day.

    Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-3).

    This was not the actions of a proper government. Pilate was not putting down a rebellion or keeping the peace. He had murdered people as they went to worship. They were in church and he sent his soldiers in and slaughtered them. Notice the response of Jesus to this terrible murder of these people. He says that there is a message there for US. It is that we need to repent.

  13. God has not remained distant from us in our pain.

That is the message of the cross. It is that God drew near. He took on flesh and He walked our dirty streets and He went to our dirty cross and He felt the pain and the pathos as He took upon Himself the penalty for our sins.

A man grieving for his lost son looked up and asked, "Where was God when my son died?" And the answer echos back from the cross, "I was here in the same place as when My Own Son died."

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).

The events of the past few days have changed us. They have left many of us shaken and unsettled and questioning. A great evil has taken place. But the good news is that there is a place to which you can go. There is One who left heaven to come to earth and die for sins. His work is to overcome all evil and He has won a great victory. Death may be an ongoing enemy, but death itself has been defeated. And because of this, there is hope even in such troubled times.

 

 


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