Looking for God in the Darkness
Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Job 22:1– 26:14
In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced her theory of “the five stages of grief.” According to this theory, those who bereave share five common experiences, which she labeled:
Denial...the refusal to believe what has happened or is about to happen.
Anger...directed generally toward God or someone close to the situation.
Bargaining...the attempt to negotiate in order to avoid the cause or result of grief.
Depression...the sense of “giving up” because all hope appears to be lost.
Acceptance...the resignation to the inevitability of what has happened or is about to happen.
Kubler-Ross believed that this model applied to any kind of personal loss, including the death of a loved one, the loss of job or income, the end of a significant relationship, the onset of a life-threatening illness, and so on. Although each of these five stages are said to occur during the grieving process, they do not always follow the same sequence. What’s more, the length of each stage will vary from case to case.
Job was a man who was going through an intense period of grief. Mired in the ongoing debate between himself and his three friends, it is easy to forget that he in a single day had lost all ten of his children, all of his possessions, and soon thereafter—as if adding insult to injury—his own health. If we look closely enough we may be able to identify a few of these grief stages in Job’s experience. What is obvious is that his friends had been very poor grief counselors and had offered him very little help
Or perhaps they unwittingly did. As the debate has been unfolding, the insinuations of Job’s friends toward him had risen to outright accusations against him. Their arguments had gone from general in the first round to more specific in the second round to very pointed in the third round. As their attacks intensified, so did Job’s defense of his innocence. It would appear that their unsubstantiated charges were forcing him to clarify his own personal system of belief with regard to who God is and who he was. Perhaps you too have found out that trials and afflictions will do that to a person.
Entering the third cycle of speeches, we note right away that this one is a truncated version. There are only two friends left to speak. Zophar has dropped out after the second round, and here in the third Bildad has very little to add to what has already been said.
According to pattern, Elpihaz—the senior member of the group—speaks first.
Eliphaz’ third speech (22:1-30)
...is found in chapter 22. He begins with a series of questions in verses 2 through 5 that are blunt and callous. And while this interrogation is directed toward Job, it reveals serious shortcomings in Eliphaz’ concept of God. Listen in to what he says:
“Can man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
and enters into judgment with you?
Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.”
To Eliphaz, God is transcendent...far removed from the earth that He has created and to all of its affairs. What’s more, he finds His God to be dispassionate, uncaring and unfeeling toward His creatures. In other words, God is not the least bit affected by either our piety or our sin. Given that presupposition, it follows that the reason for any blessing or suffering we experience must lie entirely with us. If we are blessed, it is because we are virtuous; if we are cursed, it is because we are sinful. Either way, we reap what we sow. Good or bad, we get what is coming to us.
Had Eliphaz lived centuries later, he would have been labeled a “Deist.” Deism is the belief that God has created the universe but remains apart from it, and permits His creation to administer itself through natural laws. It eschews any notion of divine grace. This is seen clearly enough when Eliphaz unloads a barrage of unsubstantiated charges against Job in verses 6 through 11. He accuses him of cheating others, taking advantage of the poor, withholding acts of kindness from the needy, and flaunting his social and financial authority. And while none of this was true, Eliphaz assumes it to be. Why else would Job be suffering so?
Verses 12 through 20 would seem to suggest that Eliphaz’ view of God was high and lofty, when in reality it is woefully one-dimensional. It is impossible to fit God into a box or neatly compartmentalize Him as Eliphaz was doing, and yet that is what many—even in our day—still attempt to do. Despite belief in our own sovereignty and sufficiency, God alone is sovereign and sufficient. Any hope of relating to Him must start with that premise. As was said of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “He is not tame; but He is good.”
Job was closer to seeing that than was Eliphaz. Up to the very end of his third and final speech, Eliphaz continues to call upon Job to repent of his sin. Verse 21: “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you.” Notice the conditional “if-then” statements in verses 23 through 26:
“If you return to the Almighty you will be built up;
if you remove injustice far from your tents,
if you lay gold in the dust (probably meaning provide for the poor)...
then the Almighty will be your gold
and your precious silver.
For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty
and life up your face to God.”
This is good medicine, to be sure, but it is given to the wrong patient. As one commentator on Job has pointed out, Eliphaz was not extending to his afflicted friend an invitation to intimacy with God but was rather trying to force him to compromise his integrity. For Job to repent of sins that he was not aware of would have been dishonest.
There are times in our lives when our present suffering forces us to lay ourselves bare before God. With David in the 139th Psalm (verses 23 and 24), we cry out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” And if we have done that and can honestly detect no unconfessed sin that may have brought on the affliction, then what is left is to claim God’s grace to faithfully endure for His sake for as long as He allows the trial to remain. Job understood—and so must we—that there are no “spiritual merit badges” given out for confessing sin we haven’t committed.
So let’s look at...
Job’s response to Eliphaz (23:1-24:25)
...in chapters 23 and 24. Job is understandably frustrated by the lack of empathy he is receiving from his friends. And yet, even as he holds resolutely to his innocence, his frustration is further compounded because the Lord appears to be so distant and remote. Listen for the confusion—perhaps even bordering on disappointment—as he searches for reasons for God’s apparent absence in the opening verses of chapter 23:
“Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
That I might come even to his seat!”
Read on as he again pleads for an audience with God in order to make his defense:
“I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
And understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him
And I would be acquitted forever by my judge.”
What a remarkable statement of faith! If Job could only gain an audience with the Lord, then he would be able to state his case. And if he could do that, then he feels certain that a just God would acquit him. But therein lay the problem. How to gain access to this God? Perhaps Eliphaz was right...maybe God is so high up that He cannot be reached.
Listen to Job’s emotional cries, beginning in verse 8. How readily we identify with them when we are tempted to ask, “Where is God when it hurts?” In truth, these could well be our words:
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
(now listen to his confidence)
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face.”
So Job longs to see God face-to-face in order to be vindicated. He is confident that he would be acquitted, while at the same time being fearful of God’s frightening sovereignty. He fully believed that God was not only aware of his situation, but that He was actually using those circumstances for good and Godly purposes. And what’s more, Job believed that he himself would emerge from these unbelievably difficult days a better man.
It is a giant step forward in Job’s journey of faith. And yet, as you and I both know, even the most mature faith is not without questions. Chapter 24 opens by asking, “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days?” It is a question that drives the chapter. It concerns “times” and “days” when Almighty God will judge the wicked. “Those who know him”—that is, the righteous, long for that judgment, but it never seems to come.
It is difficult to tell who Job is arguing with in this chapter...with Eliphaz and his companions, with God, or with himself. There is clearly an internal debate going on as Job seeks to find meaning in a life that has suddenly turned so tragic. Three thoughts seem to emerge with regard to the judgment of the wicked from Job’s reflections in this chapter:
• First, in verses 1 through 12, the punishment of the wicked is necessary because of those who have been victimized by their violence.
• Second, in verses 13 through 17, the punishment of the wicked is necessary because they reject the light and embrace the darkness. Let’s read those verses, noting the dark and shadowy atmosphere:
“There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,
and do not stay in its paths.
The murderer rises before it is light,
that he may kill the poor and needy,
and in the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
and he veils his face.
In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.
For deep darkness is morning to all of them;
for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.”
John 3:19 and 20 would later add with the advent of Jesus Christ, “This is the judgment. The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
• Job’s third reflection, found in verses 18 through 25, is that the punishment of the wicked is certain in the end. Verses 24 sums up this last point well: “They are exalted a little while, and then they are gone; they are gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain.” The sentence of judgment upon the wicked will be carried in God’s time...as will be his vindication of the righteous.
Job’s response to Eliphaz serves to remind us that we must not pass judgment before the time or be willing to jump to conclusions too quickly. That is true in matters relating to others, as well as in matters relating to ourselves. As with many things, but particularly regarding the providence of God, we simply do not have all the information we need to detect how He may be operating behind the scenes. And we know that He does. As for Job, even though his adversity does not appear to be lessening, he does seem to be sensing a glimmer of understanding into the inscrutable ways of God.
But Bildad still has something to say. It is the final speech of any of the three comforters. It is very short, suggesting perhaps that they have run out of things to say to Job.
Bildad’s third speech (25:1-6)
...in chapter 25, emphasizes three tenets to which every Reformed Christian would give hearty agreement...the sovereignty of God in verses 2 and 3, and the depravity of man in verse 4, and the holiness of God in verses 5 and 6. First, he extols God’s sovereignty:
“Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
Is there any number to his armies?
Upon whom does his light not arise?”
Then he emphasizes man’s depraved state:
“How then can man be in the right before God?
How can he who is born of woman be pure?”
And finally, Bildad expounds upon God’s holiness:
“Behold, even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not pure in his eyes;
how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!”
Bildad is admitting that sin has infected and corrupted the entire human race, but what is only implied is that it has affected Job more than most! Therefore, it is absurd and arrogant for Job to want to stand before God and declare his innocence. Deep inside, I believe Job would have to admit it to be an outrageous—and even scandalous—thought.
But Job—perhaps even because of his suffering—was able to see something that his friends could not see...and that was the concept of grace.
Job could freely admit to what Bildad had just said about God being sovereign and holy and man being filled with sin. But he also knew that such a description of the Lord was incomplete. Missing from the theological volume of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar was the entire chapter on grace. It was if it had been removed from the book altogether...as if it had never existed.
None of Job’s friends could possibly see how there could be an Advocate in heaven to argue Job’s case on his behalf. Where would he have come up with that idea? The answer, of course, is that the Lord had revealed it to him.
Job’s friends were very “religious,” but theirs was a “Redeemer-less religiosity.” What that means is that, even though they knew a lot about God, they really didn’t know God at all. In fact God was much too high and far too remote for anyone to know Him in any kind of personal and intimate way.
But Job would beg to differ. In fact, his present experience—as horrible as at was—would be what opened the door for him to enter into the very throne room of God as an invited guest. That is because his suffering prefigured the suffering of Another, who through the payment of His own sinless life, would bring the key to the throne room. But first we must listen to...
Job’s response to Bildad (26:1-14)
...in chapter 26. He begins with biting sarcasm intended to show that the theological system of his three comforters is bankrupt. Paul knew his “Redeemer lives” (cf. Job 19:21), but the human speculation and religious philosophy of his friends was and ever would be powerless to save. Still today, there are millions hoping against hope that their “belief in God” will be sufficient to provide them a “detour” away from eternal judgment. But what you and I know—and what Job was just beginning to know—is that it is only the message of the bloody cross that gives meaning to undeserved suffering and unmerited grace. It alone has the power to help the helpless.
Beginning in verse 5, Job’s response to Bildad reads like a hymn of praise. It is, in fact, a rather persuasive argument not only for the existence of God but for His providential oversight of all things. Although Bildad had spoken of God’s sovereignty, Job’s explanation of what that looks like far surpasses what his friend had said. He highlights five aspects of the absolute sovereignty of God, and does so with logical consistency.
• In the first place, verses 5 and 6 explain that God is sovereign even over death. “Sheol” is the Old Testament word used to describe “the place of the dead.” Job is saying—and rightfully so—that not even dead people escape God’s sovereign rule. The place of the dead provides no protection from the searching eyes of God.
• Second, verses 7 through 10 remind us that God is sovereign in maintaining His created order. He is not a God who created and walked away, as the Desists say, but as every line in these four verses reveal it is “He” alone who upholds the order and boundaries of His creation.
• Having said that, Job’s third statement in verse 11 reminds us that God’s sovereign control is anything but inactive. Here we see that God is sovereign in shaking His created order as He so chooses. The verse reads, “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.” I absolutely love verses like this because they put me in my place. At the same time, I am found fearful before a God who possesses that kind of power. He is God...this is His world...and He can alter it according to His good pleasure without seeking the permission of any of His creatures.
• But Job sensed that God does not act capriciously...He always has a purpose for what He does. And that’s the fourth point in his response: God is sovereign in shaking His created order for the purpose of subduing evil. We understand the mention of “Rahab” and “the fleeing serpent” in verses 12 and 13 to likely be extended references to “Satan.” Please notice that the Lord is said to “shatter” and “pierce” the enemy. How confident Job is that God’s sovereign control over all aspects of His creation will extend to the final vanquishing of his foes.
• Finally, verse 14 is the capstone to Job’s response. Job says with a sigh of amazement, “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” God is sovereign in deeper ways than He has yet to reveal or that we could even begin to understand.
All of these celestial and terrestrial manifestations of divine power are said to be “but the outskirts of his ways.” Generally speaking, we mortals do not see nor appreciate what is behind the operations of God’s universe. Even when we sense God’s presence through the wind, thunder, and lightning, it is only a mere “whisper.”
Job will continue to speak as we enter into the following section, but there is a definite separation between chapters 26 and 27. What that means is that the three cycles of speeches between the afflicted Job and his well-meaning but misguided friends has now ended. There is one additional spokesman who will stop past in order to make an extensive contribution, but before he does we must hear Job’s summary defense and final appeal. And that we will do next week.
C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend who had recently become a Christian, “To a man on a mountain road by night, a glimpse of the next three feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.” That makes perfectly good sense to one who is “feeling his way.” But I think Lewis would have agreed that to a person who has an established relationship with the Lord, a clear view of the horizon is of far greater importance than of one’s next few steps.
Job’s life had seemed to be in perfect working order until a series of tragedies had taken it all away. In terms of this life, there was no certainty in knowing what even the next hour held in store. He had precious little information to go on, but what he did have was coupled with faith. He seemed to instinctively know that the longer he lived with the darkness, the brighter the light would be when it at last would dawn.
In his book, Heaven Help Us, Steve Lawson tells of a young aristocrat named William Montague, who was stricken with blindness at the age of ten. While in graduate school he met the beautiful daughter of a British admiral. The two fell in love and were soon engaged. Shortly before the wedding, William agreed to submit to a new eye surgery. With no assurance that it would be successful, the doctors operated. William wanted his first sight to be his new bride on their wedding day. So, hoping against hope, he asked that the bandages be removed from his eyes just as the bride came up the aisle. As she approached, Williams’s father began the task of unwrapping the gauze from his son’s eyes. When the last bandage was unwrapped, William’s eyes opened, light flooded in, and he saw—for the first time—his bride’s radiant face. Tears flowed from his eyes as he looked upon her, and he whispered, “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
The hymnist has written:
“Face to face with Christ, my Savior, Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me?
“Only faintly now I see Him, With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming, When His glory shall be seen.
“What rejoicing in His presence, When are banished grief and pain;
When the crooked ways are straightened, And the dark things shall be plain.
“Face to face—oh, blissful moment! Face to face—to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ who loves me so.”