Jeans Gospel: The God Who Hides Himself
Job lost almost everything. He was the victim of every kind of evil that man in this life can experience:
- Forces of nature: Job lost all his children in a wind storm. (1:19)
- Evil humanity: Job lost his vast wealth in livestock to robbers. (1:14-15, 17)
- Disease: Job lost his health to a skin disease that afflicted “Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” (2:7) From a distance, Job was not recognizable to his friends (2:12).
Job and his friends were all pious religious men who shared very similar theology. They all believed that God is good. They all believed that everything that happens within God’s creation occurs according to His will. Job’s losses were not accidents; God’s will is sovereign. Therefore, Job and his friends all believed that God was responsible for all of Job’s losses (just as He was responsible for all of Job’s prior prosperity). Job: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10b)
Where most of the story focuses, and where Job and his friends differ, is on the question: Why did Job suffer evil? In a world ruled by a good God, whose will is sovereign, could an innocent man suffer evil?
Job’s friends worked from a strict theology of rewards and punishment. They reasoned that if Job was suffering, he could not be innocent, because God does not punish the innocent. (e.g., 4:7-8) Therefore, God punished Job for some sin that required repentance, which would return him to God’s favor and future prosperity (e.g., 5:17-26).
Job, on the other hand, was bewildered by his loathsomeness. He maintained his innocence: “I am blameless” (9:21). The readers are provided additional information about Job, so we can take the question of Job’s innocence or guilt off the table. God: “there is none like on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (2:3)
Who Understands the Mind of God?
Job’s friends ultimately ran afoul of God Himself for not speaking rightly of God (42:7). Job’s friends erred by overrating their knowledge of divine wisdom (See, e.g., 4:12-5:16, 8:8-10, 11:6) and, thereby, judging Job’s suffering and losses as God’s punishment. God was not punishing Job.
Job went in the opposite direction. He was perplexed by God’s will that he suffer so gravely, but that led him to the conclusion that God’s wisdom is unsearchable and unattainable (28:20-21). God’s works “are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (26:14) “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” (28:28)
Despite all observable evidence to the contrary, Job never cursed God or abandoned his belief in God’s goodness and justice, but he could only perceive those attributes through the eyes of faith beyond the boundaries of human wisdom and experience: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). Job’s faith was vindicated at the end of the story.
The Hiddenness of God
The question the Book of Job never answered was why God (assumed to be good and just) permitted the innocent Job to suffer. On the other hand, we have our answer: God’s judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (See Romans 11:33). In other words, God hides himself by the way He rules creation. We cannot make God’s providence morally comprehensible.
This is more than an academic question. It reoccurs all the time, each time calamity strikes. Whenever disease, terror, crime, war, or a natural disaster inflicts suffering and death, we are faced with Job’s question: Why? But that’s where the trouble begins, if we don’t acknowledge God’s hiddenness. Was it fate? Is God the watchmaker creator? Was it a devil who God doesn’t control? Was it Adam’s bad choice in the garden? Will we end up like Job’s friends, trying to get God off the hook? Ultimately, God hides behind the question of “why?”
The Gospel’s Answer to God’s Hiddenness
God hides from us because He won’t abandon his creation. He is immanent and sovereign. However, an unmasked God is only wrath to sinners. Therefore, God does not reveal himself to us unmasked. Unmasked, God appears to the world as He did to Job: absent, hostile and capricious.
But God has hidden himself in one person in whom He wants to be found: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7). Once we’ve found Christ, we’ve found God. But that is only the first step. What does Christ think about us? Are we among the elect? What verdict will we receive at the last judgment? If we are going to find a gracious God, we need to listen to Christ in his word of Gospel. There, in the Gospel, Christ reveals to us exactly what he thinks of us, what he’s done for us, and what he promises for us:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In this and his other promises to us in his Word (all of which have their “yes” in Christ alone), God reveals his gracious will for us. When Christ is preached for you, you can be certain that God is for you. God reveals his abundant grace and mercy when Christ is preached for you. Therefore, when any doubt arises, or Satan accuses you of any sin, you cling to the promises in the Gospel where God has revealed himself to you as your Redeemer. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
Only Christians can face God’s providential governance of creation without fear, secure in the promises of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Gospel frees us from fear that accompanies speculation about a hidden God, and from fear of the sting of death. Our answer to Job’s question of “why?” is: I know my Redeemer lives! How do I know this? I know this because Jesus Christ came to me in the Gospel, has forgiven all my sin, and has promised me eternal life.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36)