Ladies and Gentlemen, even though 2020 has been a year of great upheaval, please take heart. God is still on the throne!
Have you ever heard it said that someone has “the patience of Job”? That saying is about the hero of one of the oldest stories in the Bible. Here is how it begins:
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Now the name of the area of Uz, where Job’s story takes place, means “unseen inner strength.” The theme of the Book of Job is about how God allowed Job’s inner strength – his faith – to be severely tested. In fact, the instrument of this testing, the agent of God’s action in this case, was the enemy, Satan. And even he did not understand what God’s plan for Job actually was.
Let’s eavesdrop on their conversation…
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 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.”
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?” (Job 1:6-8)
…As this discussion continues God grants Satan permission to do just about anything he wants to do to Job and his household, short of taking Job’s life. Afterward, innocent and uninformed Job suffers a series of devastating losses that caused him to tear his robe, shave his head, and fall on the ground and worship saying “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” (1:20-22). The scripture says that even in the presence of his terrible suffering “…Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22). Job kept the faith. But it wasn’t easy! In fact, after days of misery, Job cursed the day he was born (3:1)!
While pondering why God would allow such devastation to overtake an upright man such as himself, Job was beset by his best friends, and even his wife, who blamed his woes on what they believed must have been some heinous hidden sin in Job’s life, and they insisted that God really did not care for Job in the first place. After about ten more chapters of harassment by these well-meaning busybodies, Job steadfastly proclaimed, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” (13:15a). Which is surely the proper attitude in the midst of difficulties, but there was still a small fly in Job’s ointment because he followed that statement of faith with one of defiance, stating, “…yet I will argue my ways to his face” (15b).
Shortly thereafter God gave him the opportunity to do just that, appearing to Job and his friends in a whirlwind:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon 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? (38:1-7)
Have you ever said to one of your teenaged children or grandchildren something like, “Well, Sonny, you’d better go on and leave home and get yourself a job now, while you still know everything”? That’s pretty much what God was saying to Job. In fact, God continued, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it” (40:1). To which Job replied, “Behold, I am of small account; what I shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). God took this conversation very seriously, going so far as to caution Job to prepare himself and “gird up his loins” or to “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (40:7-9).
Some of the most beautiful poetic passages in scripture are in God’s descriptions of his creative power in Job chapters 38-41, where the Almighty himself puts everything in its proper context. Job finally comes to understand who The Creator is, in the final chapter:
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘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’” (42:1-3).
What God has given Job is perspective. It wasn’t that Job had blatantly sinned, or even that he did not have faith. He could have gone along worshipping God and enjoying his life without ever questioning himself, or God. But if God had allowed his servant Job to remain ignorant, Job would have been unknowingly worshipping an idol – his idea of God, rather than who God really is. And hidden at the center of that worship would have been Job’s belief in his own blamelessness - that God blessed Job because Job deserved it. But, Beloved Friends, that is never the case. God does not bless us because we deserve it. We cannot, in our own strength and by our own wills, measure up to the holiness, glory, and power of Almighty God. If God had allowed Job’s hubris to go unchallenged, Job would have strayed even further down the wrong path. And so Almighty God, who is also a loving Father, interrupted Job’s progress, and altered his course.
At the end of the story, Job finally says, “Hear and I will speak…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:4-6). At the beginning of the story, after God allowed Satan to take every earthly thing away that Job valued, he repented in dust and ashes. But this time, after seeing God with his own eyes, Job’s repentance was genuine because it was based on knowledge and not pride. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (NIV).
After Job’s position before God was restored, God also restored everything that had been taken away:
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him… And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days. (42:10-17).
One day when we meet Job in heaven and he tells us about everything he went through, we can simply say in return, “I lived through 2020.” And Job might say, “Friend, I completely understand! Isn’t God awesome!” Because Job was given the blessing in his lifetime of coming to know that, no matter what happens, God is good all the time; and all the time, God is good.
What makes God good? No earthly measure. God is good because God is God. And he is good, all the time. Everything that God allows is ultimately for the good. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
As God said to Isaiah the prophet, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 53:8-9).
And as God assured Jeremiah, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen’” (Jeremiah 29:11-12 NLT).
God is on his throne, and he is Almighty. He is always working behind the scenes, turning everything to the good for his people who trust in him. We have nothing to fear, because God is God, and he is good. And for that we give thanks, in all circumstances.
“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear…the Lord is on my side as my helper…It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (from Psalm 118)
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation, unless otherwise noted.