Jeans Gospel: The God Who Hides Himself
Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, entered Job’s story soon after Job suffered a series of tragedies, which were so horrible that Job’s wife encouraged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).
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 [Job] 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)
“There is no event so common place but that God is present within it, always hidden, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not to recognize Him.” – Frederick Buechner
this is a wonderful post – that said…
can we know anything about why God stood back and allowed Job to be tested so “unfairly” and severely? Job 2:4-6 gives us some hints, does it not? … the question at the bottom of it all that we cannot answer is, why Satan? … speculate on that one and we wade into deep, maybe forbidden, waters
however, we are supposed to be honored if we find ourselves tested and that is a hard one (especially, if you’re the one being tested) – but the war heroes are not the ones who just stay home and drill… we have a hint as to why we’re tested, i think … James 1:2 and 1 Pet 1:6-7
the big blanket test for the Church right now today, might be the popularity of the prosperity gospel? dunno
the PhoenixPreacher has me pondering again – thank you, Jean and Michael, also
I didn’t read what happened to Job as a test, but I can appreciate how someone might draw that inference. If it was a test, it came with a tremendous amount of human collateral damage.
Regarding Satan’s involvement, we do have Scriptural support from, for example, Judas Iscariot that God uses Satan to accomplish his will.
Jean, God does look at death differently than we do … 🙂 i have known too many seriously devoted Believers who have lost children to not conclude that God can test us in that regard, too … i wonder how God viewed Job’s wife’s response – with grace, perhaps? not sure that this test was aimed at her… dunno
God using Satan? i completely agree – this is part of the mystery, but we do have hints – no concrete answers, but hints, i think
i’d better get to my morning chores before my “sins of omission” catch up with me
1.) My view is that God does not answer questions because we would just come back with a dozen more.
2.) God’s answer to our questions is an object lesson – “look at my dead son hanging on the cross.”
3.) When we question God, we are putting God on trial.
The book of Job tends to be a book that is underutilized and underappreciated overall because it deals with a righteous man’s suffering. And that is a topic that is hardly popular in our materialistic age. Job has been one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. We are warned that trials and tribulations come. Most all believers will go through times that are very rough, many at an old age when friends and family are dying off and health is failing. Spouses die or you get sick and make a widow or widower out of your loved one. Some bury their own children. We watch our parents fail, put them in nursing homes and then go to their funerals. There really is an object lesson in holding on to the goodness of God in our hearts despite all of the sorrow that we face because of life’s unpleasant realities.
I think it is important to remember that this is not between God and Job or Satan and Job and somehow Job (and us) are to learn a lesson. This is between God and Satan and it is for Satan to learn a lesson.
MLD’s point #2 – amen – that’s where all roads lead for the Believer in time
“3.) When we question God, we are putting God on trial.” to a great extent i can agree with that … and it was resolved for Job before his trial ended…
BTW – is complaining the same as questioning? as my daughter said (when she was about 6) ‘I’m NOT complaining; I’m just talking about how it is.” 🙂
getting to the point where i can say, “Thy will be done…” to God and not just be resigned to it, but praise Him for it… hmmm ….
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
John 10:29 ESV
Luke 18 – Parable of the Persistent Widow.
The Psalms are full of complaints.
He wants us to be real with Him. Jesus’ cry of dereliction was from Psalm 22.
I was careful to word my statement “when we question God”
example – Why does God allow evil? At that point you have assumed knowledge above and beyond what God knows or what God is allowed to do.
So, to resolve it, we will now call God to the witness stand to defend himself.
“So, to resolve it, we will now call God to the witness stand to defend himself.” 🙂
Job 40:1-7 and on to the end of the book, eh?
“So, to resolve it, we will now call God to the witness stand to defend himself.”
I was saying that in a pejorative sense. Woe to the man who questions God’s actions and motives Who would dare make God explain himself? — oh, I do it all the time and Woe to me.
MLD, Double AMEN to yopur #7.
I should re-read before I post. #14 should be ‘your’ not ‘yopur’
Wonderful post, Jean, and great comments too. I’ve always wondered why God upbraided Job for his questioning but allowed the Psalmists to complain about a lot of stuff 🙂
Thank you Cash.
I like to think of the God who hides himself as Jehovah Sneaky
Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.
3 As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth,
so the heart of kings is unsearchable.