Implication and Transcendence

I suspect that the book of Job doesn’t show up on Twitter much. It’s not given to verse-snatching quotes. There are plenty of one-liners within it, but we should be wary of pulling “lessons” out of sections of Job since the lesson is the entire book. It is not given to parsing out for a sermon series, though we could, and we do.

What I mean is this: we are spiritual determinists, just like Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. We may be children of the enlightenment, but the idea of cause and effect has been around much longer than the recent acceleration of science. If you will allow me to over-simplify, Job’s basic lament is, “I am good, so why is this happening to me?” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar counter with, “This is happening to you so you obviously aren’t good.” These are two applications of the same view of God. If we do good before God, he does good to us, but if we sin before God, he does bad to us. It is viewing our relationship with God fundamentally as a system of reward and punishment.

This isn’t an idea we create out of nothing; it is placed before us by God. Deuteronomy 30:15-20 is a clear teaching in this regard. Follow my commandments and it will go well with you in the land you are going in to possess. Turn away from my commandments and I will bring punishment upon you and cast you out of the land. This is a legitimate part of our understanding of God. But it must only be a part, and not the whole. In chapter 33 of Job, Elihu speaks up. God’s ways are above man’s ways. God is sovereign. God is superior. God transcends our understanding.

Medicine allows us to have a higher quality of comfort, but it distorts our view of suffering. We live in war against discomfort and suffering. If something hurts, we expect there to be a way to make it stop. We tolerate pain only to the point that it is more “of a pain” to seek out a remedy than the pain itself. But suffering can be a means of sanctification, a means of drawing near to God. Suffering is a means of participating in Christ.

We tend to not even consider these positive aspects of suffering when we have a cause and effect view of obedience along with a medicine cabinet full of medicine. When suffering enters our lives, we expect a pill to take it away. When suffering enters another’s life, we assume some sin has precipitated it.

We miss a common thread of the call of God — that it brings suffering. Moses was tending his flock with his wife and in-laws just fine until that burning bush. Peter and Andrew were making their living as anglers. Paul had a promising position in the pharisaical institution. Even Jesus was with God in heaven before the incarnation.

God does not call us to make us happy or fulfilled. He calls us to be holy, to be set apart, to be consecrated. Consecrated items, after the pattern of Leviticus, spend a lot of time near fire and blood. There is blessing there, but it is a completely different type of blessing than we usually envision.


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