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Fourth Quarter 2016 (September 24–December 30)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF JOB
Week 4: October 15–21
COMMENTARY ON "DOES JOB FEAR GOD FOR NAUGHT"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson wanders through a defense of God as Creator and moves to understanding suffering as part of the great controversy. The take-home of the lesson is that although we have no way to explain why good, God-fearing people suffer, we know that in the end everything will be made plain. The lesson emphasizes that the proper response to suffering is not to question the existence of God but to ask God what He wants to accomplish in our suffering.
The lesson ends on Friday with the idea that the cross reveals the character of God, and suffering actually is a means by which people come to terms with the character of God.
The Teachers Comments conclude with application and creative steps and instructs teachers to direct their classes to this conclusion: “What kind of God are we serving? We need to be conscious of our images of God, because how we picture God is how we will portray Him to others.” It then suggests that readers think about their favorite image or metaphor for God in Scripture, and share that metaphor with the class.
What does Scripture say?
First, the Bible never directs us to find our favorite metaphors for God and sit with them as our picture of God. In fact, Adventists of all people should be aware of the second commandment not to make any graven image of anything in heaven or on earth. Picturing God, picking a favorite metaphor and imagining God like that IS creating a “graven image”.
If we embrace what we like like to think God is like, we have created a god we can understand. If we pick a metaphor or two from Scripture and decide those will help us imagine God, we are then ignoring all the other metaphors we don’t like so much. For example, if we imagine that “Father” and “Shepherd” are the metaphors we especially like to represent God, we put blinders on to the rest of Scripture’s representations of God including the descriptions of Him as judge, as the One who creates and destroys (as judging and destroying the earth with a flood), of God as having wrath against sin and of His sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We ignore that it pleased the Father to crush the Son.
Yet all of these descriptions of God are in Scripture, and in order to relate to God as He has revealed Himself, we must accept all of the metaphors and images He gives us to describe Himself. To explain away any of them is to make Him in our image. To refuse to embrace any part of His self-revelation is to create a graven image.
What about suffering?
To deal with the subject of suffering biblically, we can’t ignore any of Scripture’s statements about God’s role in our condition as fallen humans. As Adventists we were taught that the thorns, thistles, sicknesses, and decay we experience came as a result of sin. Sin is responsible for them. In fact, we even learned that at the bottom line, Satan was responsible for them, because he introduced sin, and horrific things do not come from God. They come from Satan. Sin, we learned was Satan’s fault, and our suffering and decay and trouble was because of him. This belief, of course, complicated our ability to understand why good people suffer. Why doesn’t a good God intervene and stop the suffering?
Romans 8 straightens out our worldview on the origin of decay and sickness. Satan is not to blame for the troubles in life or on this planet. Our problem with illness are not to be placed at his feet. Romans 8:18-25 says this:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves grow within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wail eagerly for it.
This passage states explicitly that the decay and suffering on this earth are our condition because God Himself bound the creation to decay. It was not Satan. It was God. The consequence of His curse on the earth in Genesis 3 was to bind all creation to decay. This fact is both His judgment and His provision for mortal, depraved man. Sin cannot succeed without an end. The consequences of sin which we (through Adam and Eve) are responsible for introducing are both a trial we endure and the means by which we learn to trust God’s promises.
Jesus’ incarnation and suffering and His death on the cross broke the curse of this bondage to decay. He actually died and broke the natural, inevitable curse of death and came to life. Furthermore, He promised that all who believe in His sacrifice for sin and His power over death pass from death to life when they believe (Jn. 5:24).
Jesus took the sin that is naturally ours into Himself. He took our imputed sin and died its prescribed death so that we might receive His imputed righteousness when we believe in Him.
Job didn’t have the benefit of knowing Jesus’ incarnation and sacrifice, but God spoke to him. God essentially stopped his questioning and made Job realize that, just as he didn’t know how God created the sea monster or the stars, he didn’t understand how he dealt with mankind. Job was righteous, but being righteous doesn’t negate suffering.
God never actually explained what went on to Job. We have the benefit of seeing the back story, the prodding of Satan who questioned Job’s ability to honor God if the goodies were stopped. God directly allowed Satan to test Job to prove that true loyalty to God transcends suffering. Loyalty is based on trust in God, not on rewards for honoring Him. Moreover, God ultimately silenced Job by asking him where he was during creation. Job couldn’t explain one thing about how God made the creatures and the created things. Realizing that he could not explain God’s creative power silenced Job and made him realize that he could not explain the “why” of suffering, either. Nor could he explain the “what for” questions. He simply had to repent for speaking of things of which he had no knowledge.
When Jesus fulfilled the law, however, completing everything God required as a consequence for sin (for the law was given as a curse and a document to reveal sin, not as a document to bring life), His resurrection which broke the curse of death after His fulfillment of the consequence for sin revealed a greater understanding of God’s mercy and justice. We see that the Lord Jesus had to suffer in order to be the Author of our salvation:
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Heb. 2:10).
As the Son of Man, Jesus had to suffering as a man in order to trust His Father completely. In fact, His suffering was necessary in order for Him to be able to help us:
For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18).
We learn, moreover, that when we are His, when we are born again and eternally alive in Him, we must expect to suffer. In fact, Jesus said this to His disciples:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world they world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “a slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name;s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (Jn. 15:18-21).
We also learn, moreover, that now that we are able to become the sons of God, born of God through faith in the Lord Jesus and His finished work, God disciplines the ones He loves. Hebrews 12 explains that if we are not true sons of God, we are not disciplined. To be sure, both believers and unbelievers suffer because God has bound the world to decay, but believers suffer with hope and with the faithfulness of their Father guarding them. Unbelievers suffer with despair; believers suffer as a means of learning to trust God.
Here is what Hebrews 12:3-11 says:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Suffering is not connected to a great controversy. In truth, suffering is not about Satan. To be sure, he is an opportunist, and he will tempt us in the areas where we are weak, but God is sovereign, and He uses these situations of suffering and temptation to discipline us and to teach us to trust His promises. What Satan means for evil, God means for good, as Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20.
Suffering is inevitable in a world that God has bound to decay. What makes suffering meaningful, however, is knowing the Lord Jesus. Our suffering is not a surprise to Him; He is sovereign, and He personally oversees our lives and our growth in faith and trust.
It is not a supposed great controversy that explains suffering; God’s character is not in question. Rather, our faith and trust are in question. Will we trust the finished atonement of the Lord Jesus, or will we try to control our chaotic reality?
Job learned he could not explain God, but he could trust Him. Now, on this side of the cross, we see even more clearly. When we trust Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit who indwells us, and we have His mind and wisdom teaching us the truth of God’s word and His timeless promises.
The real question about suffering is this: have you trusted in the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus? Do you accept His resurrection as the last word revealing the death of death? Do you trust Him as your Savior who is the propitiation for your sins? Are you alive in Him?
If you have trusted Him, His sufferings and His victory over them are credited to you. Your sufferings are not random troubles that will destroy you. Rather, He is bringing peace, victory, and truth into your life as you trust Him in them.
Jesus did not suffer in vain, and neither to His own who are members of His body. Unless you know Him, however, the peace and redemption that could come out of your sufferings will never be realized.
The answer to the questions about suffering lie in the person of Jesus, and those answers become ours when we become alive in Him.