September 22, 2009

Blessed Be Your Name – Answers to the questions this song exposes about suffering and God’s responsibility in it

Posted in Devotionals tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:55 pm by Sarah Bosse

This video has inspired quite a conversation in the comments section of the www.Tangle.com website.

The questions I’ve heard people asking about suffering are:
* Is God responsible for suffering?
* Does he cause, allow, and actually make suffering happen with His Own hands?
* Where does Satan fit into all of this?
* Who has the power; God or Satan?
* What is the purpose in suffering?

The line, “You give and take away…my heart will choose to say, “Lord, blessed be Your name!”” in the song comes from the book of Job (in the Old Testament, nestled between the books of Esther and Psalms). Here’s the pretext of what’s about to happen:

Job 1:6-12
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

– Notice that the LORD started this idea flowing and suggested to Satan that he consider Job as Satan prowls around the earth to create havoc and destroy the followers of God. God doesn’t suggest the disaster, however; Satan does.

9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

– Whew, did you catch that? We now know that God has put a hedge around Job. Satan desires to do Job harm. God desires to and has protected Job, and blessed the work of his hands. Now Satan comes back in to try to destroy God’s blessing and cause Job to sin and “curse [God] to [His] face”. Satan is still Satan, even when he’s talking to God! Satan says, “…stretch out YOUR hand, God…and bring destruction to Job.” This is important – don’t miss this detail! Satan is the King of Lies. He’s trying to make it look like God is stretching out His hand against Job, when in reality Satan is the one stretching out his hand, and God is the one allowing it. The Lord makes this clear when He answers Job with “…all that he has is in your hand. Only against him (his body, health) do not stretch out your hand.”

WHO has the POWER here? Is it Satan? If so, then Satan would not have to come to ASK GOD what he can do; he would just do it! Satan has to ask God to do, in effect, his “dirty work”. At this point, God allows Satan to go only so far with the destruction, within God’s own boundaries.

In an instant, Job had just lost…
* 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, all his wealth
* All of his male and female servants (“very many”), save the bringers of bad news
* All of his beloved sons and daughters

Job 1:20 “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 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.”

– The scene repeats itself. Job has not fallen to Satan’s scheme. So Satan persists and returns to the Lord. Satan’s taste for blood has not been satisfied. But note again that Satan has to request God’s permission! God has the POWER! God does not Himself do the destructive work. He allows it.

Job 2:3-9
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job was left with…
* A nagging wife who told him to curse God and die (i.e. NOT a blessing!).
* A wasting, disfigured body that was battered by excruciatingly painful illnesses.
* “Friends” who were of little help and blamed Job for sins which He had not committed and put words in God’s mouth. (They did well when they sat by him silently for three days, but they messed it all up when they opened their mouths!)
* Nothing but an ash heap and, if he was lucky, a piece of pottery to scratch himself with.

And yet He did not curse God.

Job 13:3-15 (Job speaking to his unhelpful “Friends”):

3 But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
4 As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
5 Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
6 Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
7 Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?
8 Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
9 Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?
10 He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.
11 Will not his majesty terrify you,
and the dread of him fall upon you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.

13 “Let me have silence, and I will speak,
and let come on me what may.
14 Why should I take my flesh in my teeth
and put my life in my hand?
15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.

– Now, Job was right in trusting God (v. 15). Even if God slayed him, He trusted God despite it all. It may seem to us like a naive trust. But trusting God, in some sense, is partially naive because we do not have the Mind of God and cannot know all things and understand all His ways. We were designed by Him to know what He has revealed, and we were designed to trust in His perfect character, to the glory and praise of our Creator. Therefore, even if He were to slay us, we could trust in Him.

The error in Job’s way was that he felt he had to “argue [his] ways to [God’s] face” (v. 15). Trusting God – Good. Arguing with God and thinking our way is better – Bad. And God is about to address this pride in Job’s heart (and the errors of Job’s “friends”) sternly and succinctly in about four chapters rather than the 37 chapters Job and his “Friends” had rattled off about God’s justice, ‘injustice,’ Job’s ‘sin’ or righteousness. For your own study, listen to the arguments these men make (you can listen to the audio Bible links here: http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Job). Then hear the words of the Lord. He is the One and Only Final Authority on Himself!

Job 38:1-18
38:1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

– Wow! If that didn’t leave you shaking in your boots, you had better run for your life towards the Cross…and as you’re running, remember Psalm 139:1-12

139:1-12
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol (hell), you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

– If God’s love travels so far as to find His children in all places, shall His wrath not also find us wherever we try to hide from God? Praise God for His mercy! If you are a Child of God, you will not receive His wrath! But never take His wrath lightly. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 1:7. And if you are not His Child, run to Him seeking mercy now – you have no other hope but Him!

As the Lord finishes rebuking Job, we finally see Job’s response as it truly should be regarding all that the Lord has both done and allowed:

Job 42:1-6
42:1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

– Back to our questions about suffering and their answers:
* Is God responsible for suffering?
Yes. He allows it for the accomplishment of His purposes. Some of these purposes are revealed to us, and others we may understand when we go to Heaven, yet some we may never understand but we should be okay with that because we have a great big God who we trust. He has purposed all things. If God is not sovereign over suffering, then why should I trust Him to be sovereign over my salvation?! God is not only responsible for suffering, but also for mercy and compassion.
James 5:7-11 “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord….8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand….As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
* Does he cause, allow, and actually make suffering happen with His Own hands?
God allows suffering, and He uses various means to cause it to happen – the Chaldeans (the army that attacked Job’s people), Satan himself, others…..
* Where does Satan fit into all of this?
He is restrained from committing all of the destruction and disaster he intends to create. God has him on a leash. He will never be able to do any bit more than the Lord allows (and he knows it).
* Who has the power; God or Satan?
Satan must ask God for the ‘freedom’ to do ANYTHING.

You may still be asking, “So, what WAS the purpose behind Job’s suffering?” To wrap it up, I find John Piper’s explanation both more sufficient and more carefully worded than my own.

“A Twofold Purpose of Suffering in Job’s Life
What we have seen so far, then, is that Job’s suffering has a twofold explanation: its purpose at the outset was to demonstrate God’s value and glory, and its ongoing purpose was to refine Job’s righteousness. His suffering is not punishment. It is not a sign of God’s anger. Job’s pain is not the pain of the executioner’s whip but the pain of the surgeon’s scalpel. The removal of the disease of pride is the most loving thing God could do, no matter what the cost.

Remember the words of the Lord: Better to suffer the excruciating pain of a gouged out eye than to let any sin remain in your heart. If this does not seem obvious to you—namely, that sanctification is worth any pain on this earth—it is probably because you don’t abhor sin and prize holiness the way God does and the way you should. Let us examine ourselves carefully at this point.”
The Revelation of God in Suffering

God never did give answers to all of the questions that Job and his “friends” put forth to Him about His ways. But God did answer all their questions in one way – He showed how BIG He is and how SMALL we are. He gave us an example of what we are to do by referring back to His character as the foundation for our trust in Him. Trusting God means that we don’t HAVE TO understand all things – we don’t have to be God – we can be His humble creatures and live with the knowledge that He is all-knowing and put our security in His goodness. In so doing, we glorify Him.

For more answers regarding questions of God’s responsibility in suffering and calamity and our response to it, check out this short article by John Piper. Why I Do Not Say God Did Not Cause the Calamity but He Can Use It for Good.

Sarah M. Bosse

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1 Comment »

  1. trulygodsgrace said,

    While the weight of the comments being made and questions being asked on the http://www.Tangle.com video post were at first highlighting whether or not God takes away and/or is responsible for suffering…the second part of the equation is whether or not God gives. And the Bible is clear that He does give – generously! So let us remember that God “GIVES and takes away”. What He gives is so much greater (beyond comparison, as Paul says) than what He takes away. And what He takes away is taken away so that His purposes might be accomplished…and we will love Him ever more, understanding that He alone is our great reward.


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