Longing for Justice—Longing for God

Longing for Justice—Longing for God

Have you ever asked “Where is God?” Whether because you were perplexed or hurting or lonely or seeking him and his guidance? Have you ever wondered if he is there at all or, if he is there, whether he hears or cares about us? If you have, you’re not alone. I doubt there’s a believer who has ever lived who hasn’t, at various times over the course of their lives, felt the absence of God; who hasn’t wondered if God is there. And though in some respects it’s comparing apples to oranges—given that what Christ Jesus underwent was for the sake of saving all who might turn to him—even he, God in the flesh who came to conquer death and the devil and sin that we might not eternally experience their effects but instead eternally live through him, even he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[1] which itself was a quotation from one of David’s psalm expressing his sense of feeling abandoned by God.[2]

So our protagonist Job is in good company. Having lost all of his children—and oxen—and donkey—and sheep—and camels—and servants—and even his health, he quite understandably cried out to God. He began his lament as recorded in verse 2 by stating, “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.”[3] We can’t blame Job for his bitter complaining for his suffering was extreme. And because, as we saw last week, he had a providential view of life, because he saw all of life, including his own, as being held in God’s hands, Job recognized and acknowledged that for reasons unknown to him, God was the one who had laid a heavy hand upon him.

But then Job went on to do something that I, at least, find to be unusual and even audacious: he expressed how his desire to find God wasn’t so much that he might be convinced that God was there and that he cared. No, Job sought to find God that he might state his innocence before him! Now it’s likely that at least part of what had driven Job to this were the frequently unhelpful observations and accusations that came from three of his friends who, we should note, did—at least at first—what God calls us to do when we see someone suffering. As recorded at the end of chapter 2,

11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Gathering together and going to be with someone who is suffering that we might sympathize and comfort them is precisely what we’re called to do. For God calls us not simply to rejoice with those who rejoice but to weep with those who weep.[4] And Job’s friends literally “began to weep aloud” when they came upon their friend for they barely recognized him when they first saw him so transformed was he “with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head” that Satan had afflicted him with.[5] And perhaps realizing that there were no spoken words that could possibly bring Job comfort these three simply sat with their friend for seven days and seven nights. Again, “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Three cheers for Job’s friends! You would be hard pressed to find a better example of how we should grieve and be present with someone who is in the midst of tremendous and deep suffering.

After this we learn that given his great suffering “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” but he did not curse God as Satan had said he would.[6] And the entirety of chapter 3 goes on to record Job’s pain and lament. But as to his friends, though their initial response to Job was all anyone could have asked or hoped for, alas, when they eventually broke their silence they really missed the mark in the “how to comfort a friend” department. And since we’ve jumped from chapter two last week and have now picked up Job’s story at just about the halfway point in the entire book, let me provide some highlights of what these friends suggested to Job—again, someone whom God had declared to be “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”[7]—concerning the reasons for his suffering.

First up was Eliphaz. Among the unhelpful things he said were “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.”[8] Not very helpful, is it? Implied in Eliphaz’ remarks was that surely Job was responsible for his own suffering. Surely he was now reaping the results of evil and trouble he had previously plowed and sown. Isn’t this just what we want to hear when we’re down? That we’re really just receiving what we deserved? Talk about kicking someone when they’re down! To make matters worse, when Job challenged Eliphaz’ assessment, Bildad responded by calling Job’s words nothing but a “a blustering wind.”[9] So rather than seek to comfort him, Job’s friends began to gang up on him in their attempts to try and explain out how the source of Job’s suffering must surely be able to be traced back to something Job himself had done.

So after Job responded to Bildad, Zophar, the third friend joined in and among the things he stated to Job in reference to God was, “13 Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, 14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, 15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. 16 You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.”[10] We can appreciate how distressing these words must have been to Job for, contrary to what his friends were advocating, his suffering wasn’t due to his sin or any evil he had done. Yet his friends, each after his own fashion, had become convinced that Job must somehow be undergoing the effects of his own sinful decisions and they were determined for Job to see things their way.

Yet each time one of his friends made a case against him, Job pointed out the flaw in their thinking. But they kept challenging Job nonetheless. Thus Eliphaz responded to Job “4 But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. 5 Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty. 6 Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.”[11] These friends simply could not conceive of the possibility that Job’s suffering wasn’t due to something terrible he had done. And we have to root for dear Job when, in the midst of these many accusations replied, “you are miserable comforters, all of you! 3 Will your long-winded speeches never end? ”[12] With friends like these, who needs enemies?

But unfortunately for Job their long-winded speeches continued. Bildad went on to describe at length how, “The lamp of a wicked man is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning. The light in his tent becomes dark; the lamp beside him goes out.”[13] So, too, Zophar described the “mirth of the wicked” and the joy and pride “of the godless.”[14] And Eliphaz, in the chapter just preceding our morning’s focus, included among his accusations: “Is it for your piety that [God] rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?”[15] Eliphaz’s charges were among the most horrific for among the outright lies he went on to accuse Job of were the following:

6 You demanded security from your relatives for no reason; you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked. 7 You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry, 8 though you were a powerful man, owning land—an honored man, living on it. 9 And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless. 10 That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, 11 why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you.

Inventing lies is not the way to win an argument. In reading this one can’t help but wonder if Eliphaz had taken complete leave of his senses for the person he described had nothing in common with the Job we’re introduced to in the opening verses of the chapter of the book, again, a man who “was blameless and upright;” a man who “feared God;” a man who “shunned evil.” A man described as “the greatest…among all the people of the East.”

Therefore Job—in the midst of his grief over having lost all of his children; in the midst of his desolation at having lost his servants and livestock; in the midst of his anguish at having lost his health; in the midst of his dejection compounded by his friends accusations that he harbored some secret evil that surely was at the heart of all of his torment and hardship—expressed a desire to make his case before God. Though his friends might be biased against him; though his friends might refuse to believe in his innocence; though his friends refused to hear or consider the possibility of Job’s blamelessness, Job was convinced that if God were to hear his case, he would stand by and vindicate him.

Listen to Job’s confidence both in his innocence and in God’s justice.[16] Starting with verse 3 in chapter 23:

If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say to me. Would he vigorously oppose me? No, he would not press charges against me. There the upright can establish their innocence before him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

So despite all of the suffering he had undergone and was continuing to undergo, Job knew he was innocent. He knew he had done nothing deserving of such devastation. Despite all of the suffering he had undergone, Job was equally confident that God is a just and impartial Judge who would hear his case and judge him rightly. God “would not press charges against” him. On the contrary, “blameless and upright” Job who feared God and shunned evil expressed certainty that he could establish his innocence before God and “be delivered forever” from his judge.

Yet God, his Judge, was nowhere to be found. As Job went on to state in verses 8–9: “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.” No matter which way Job turned; no matter which direction he sought God that he might plead his case before him, he couldn’t find him. But despite Job’s inability to find God, he remained certain that God was there. In the first half of verse 10 Job acknowledged that God “knows the way that I take.” So though Job may not have known where God was he was sure that God knew where he was and everything he had undergone.[17]

What is more, Job again reiterated his confidence that God would vindicate him in the second half of verse 10: “when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” This statement is the very point the apostle Peter later made to a suffering church: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”[18] So though Job didn’t have the benefit of living after the time when God in Christ came to earth to offer this hope, he did know and rested in at least some of the Scriptures God had disclosed. As indicated in verses 11–12: “11 My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. 12 I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” We continue to appreciate why it is that Job has become such an extraordinary example of someone who is devoted to God for he believed and acted upon the truths God had disclosed. Notice again the language Job uses to speak of God’s Word: “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” This echoes the teaching given by Moses when he said to the nation of Israel, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”[19] This is also a passage that Jesus himself later quoted and affirmed.[20] So Job embraced the life-giving power of God’s Word. And if it’s the case, as Jesus also taught, that the state of our heart may be known by what we treasure, by what we prize most dearly, by what we value most,[21] then Job’s heart was clearly where God would have it be.

Now simply because Job had placed his confidence in God and in his Word doesn’t mean that he’d figured God out or was able to understand why all of these horrific afflictions had come upon him. Notice how he ended this portion of his ruminating as he said about God starting in verse 13: “13 “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. 14 He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. 15 That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him. 16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.” God is ever God. He is God uniquely. He is God alone. No one can oppose him. His ways and plans are mysterious. He will do as he wills. Therefore before him, Job felt terror and fear—a deep sense of awe that caused his heart to faint. But despite all this, Job nonetheless ended by saying as recorded in verse 17, “Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.” This statement may possibly be a response to what I earlier noted Eliphaz had said in the previous chapter, namely, “10 That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, 11 why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you.[22] But Job was going to have none of it. The darkness wouldn’t silence him for he was innocent.

Again, what is remarkable in all of Job’s comments is that more often than not, when people speak of God’s absence in their lives, it’s often due to wondering whether God cares or has abandoned them during a time of suffering or loneliness or alienation. They long and seek for God’s comforting presence and care and so grieve because he’s nowhere to be found. But Job’s seeking was grounded in his wanting to make his case before God. He knew he had lived a godly life. He knew he had sought to be blameless and upright in all he had done. He knew he had feared God and shunned evil. And so he longed for God; he longed for justice; he sought for God to vindicate him.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Job understood God and his will as well as he did despite the fact that he lived long before God in Christ came down in human form to redeem the world he had created despite its having rejected him.[23] Yet at the same time, since the God who disclosed himself in the Old Testament is one with Christ and the Holy Spirit, perhaps it isn’t so surprising for God doesn’t change but is ever the same. Therefore though we no doubt have a clearer self-disclosure of God since the New Testament tells us about how he revealed himself in the person of Jesus and what he taught, the understanding Job had of God from his Word was clear enough.

As I was preparing this week, it occurred to me that today is Reformation Sunday, a day when many churches celebrate the birth of the Protestant branch of Christianity as it sought to correct some of the abuses that had tragically come to characterize Christ’s church. And part of what the Reformation further sought to do was to restore five particular emphases found in the Scriptures God has left for the good and guidance of his people, namely: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. In different ways, all of these emphases may be found in the two passages we’ve considered from the book of Job.

As we’ve noted Job clung to and followed God’s Scripture alone. He bore witness to this in stating, “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” in verse 12. Though we don’t know how much of the Hebrew Scriptures Job may have been exposed to clearly it was enough to ground his trust in God as he sought to see his life through God’s eyes. Job understood that God’s truth in his Word is often the only thing that will get us through a particular trial and we would do well to follow and heed his example.

Job also demonstrated the importance of faith alone as he desperately sought God and expressed confidence in his goodness in justice. We read about his longing in verse 3: “If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!”; and of his confidence in God’s goodness in verse 6: “Would he vigorously oppose me? No, he would not press charges against me.” Job knew whom he had believed and was persuaded of his justice.

Job’s belief in grace alone was prominently displayed in the opening chapters we considered last week. Because he didn’t see the riches he had once had as being his due to any good thing he had done, when these riches were removed he was able to worship and proclaim, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”[24] It’s easy to speak of God’s grace when our our lives are going the way we would have them go yet Job was able to embrace God’s grace even when his material possessions were stripped away. And even when he was later afflicted with painful sores by Satan, Job again professed, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”[25] Job understood the sufficiency of God’s grace.

Now since he lived before the coming of Christ to earth Job couldn’t possibly have known him as his Redeemer. Yet Job did express confidence in a redeemer coming to his aid as he exclaimed in chapter 19, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”[26] Job’s statement was but a foreshadowing of what all the world would one day know—that God in Christ came to earth in human form in the person of Jesus not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.[27]

And last but certainly not least, Job knew that all of life was to the glory of God alone for, verse 13, “he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.” And yet Job longed for God. He longed for his justice. He longed for his Judge. Though Job had no explanation for his suffering and affliction, unlike his three friends he knew that God wasn’t punishing him for any evil or sin he had committed. Through all of his suffering Job remained blameless and upright. Through all of his suffering he feared God and shunned evil. He placed his faith in God who is worthy of our faith and he worshipped and praised the God who had given him life. In all of this Job reminds us that we are to believe and trust in God because he is real and in his Word because it’s true not because doing so will necessarily result in lives of ease this side of heaven.

And for those of us who are living on the other side of the cross, how much more can we rest assured in the love that our Maker and Savior has for us? For he came in human form that we might better know and understand what God is like and how God intended for us to live. And so we see throughout the New Testament how Jesus loved those others despised—and healed those who were sick—and drove out tormenting demons—and gave life to those who had died—and ultimately gave his own life that death, the devil, and the devastating effects of the Fall and sin might be destroyed by his conquering death when he rose again to eternal life. And one day Jesus our Judge, Jesus our Redeemer will return and make right all that went wrong in the Garden so many years ago.

So dear brothers and sisters, let us take heart for though we may experience suffering and evil and injustice on earth, as Job bears witness to and Scripture teaches, our faith in God’s goodness and grace will be vindicated for one day our longing for God, our longing for justice will be met through Christ alone—to the glory of God alone.

Let us pray.

[1] Matthew 27:46: About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[2] Psalm 22:1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

[3] Earlier Job similarly spoke about his complaint being against God in Job 21:4: Is my complaint directed to a human being? Why should I not be impatient?

[4] Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

[5] Job 1:7.

[6] Originally Satan said this would occur when Job’s possessions were removed and, upon being wrong, he then said Job would curse God if his body were afflicted. See, respectively, Job 1:11: “But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  Job 2:4–5: “Skin for skin!… A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.

[7] Job 1:8: Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”; Job 2:3: Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” This assessment is also stated in the opening verse of Chapter 1: In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

[8] Job 4:7–8

[9] Job 8:2.

[10] Job 11:13–16.

[11] Job 15:4–6.

[12] Job 16:2b–3.

[13] Job 18:5–6.

[14] Job 20:5–6.

[15] Job 22:4–5.

[16] Although this was a process for Job. As noted in the Reformation ESV Study Bible notes for Job 23:1–12: “Job’s thoughts vacillate. In ch. 9 he doubted God would give him a hearing. In ch.13 he is convinced he will get a hearing and be vindicated. In 17:1 he is convinced only death awaits him, but also his counselors will not triumph and he will be vindicated (17:10–16). That conviction reaches its zenith in 19:25–27, and from then on he never again doubts it, as these verses and especially ch. 31 prove.”

[17] In these verses (and see also verse 17) job states negatively what David, in Psalm 139:1–3, 7–12 states positively, e.g., “1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

[18] 1 Peter 1:6–7.

[19] Deuteronomy 8:3.

[20] Matthew 4:4: Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

[21] Matthew 6:19–21: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.; Luke 12:32–34: 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

[22] Job 22:10–11.

[23] John 1:9–13:The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” See also Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

[24] Job 1:20.

[25] Job 2:10b.

[26] Job 19:25.

[27] John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.