Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“If you’re so smart, then tell me this…” Ever heard those words? They’re usually words children speak when they’re playing the game of one-upmanship. One child brags how far ahead he is of the rest because he’s been there, done that. Someone else doesn’t like the insinuation and says, “Oh, yeah. Well, if you’re so smart, then how did you get a C on that last science test? If you’re so smart, why did you have to stay in for recess yesterday? If you’re so smart…”
Our Old Testament Reading contains God’s words to Job at the end of the lengthy discussion between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, plus a fourth by the name of Elihu. After letting the human counselors and counselee vent for thirty-five chapters, God finally speaks out of the storm.
His silence throughout the long days of Job’s illness no doubt parallels the silence of God during some of our tough times. Sometimes it appears God is silent, or maybe sleeping, like Jesus was in our Gospel Reading. But God does care. He is not asleep. God is not silent. But neither does He owe us an answer.
As Job forgets, and as we may well be reminded this morning too, God is so much bigger and smarter than you or me. We can trust Him even when life seems out of control, even when things just don’t make sense to our human reasoning.
Lots of people think they know better than God, and they need to hear these words from Job. The atheist who claims not to believe in God. The skeptic who questions whether God cares what goes on in the world. The secularist who’s far too practical to depend upon God. And the materialist who says if he can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. These and many others think they know better than God. To use the words of the text, they speak “words without knowledge.” They “darken counsel.”
But let’s face it: they’re probably not going to hear these words. But we do. We need to! The truth be told: we play that game all the time as well. It’s just that we don’t express it quite so crudely. We don’t say, “I know everything.” We say, “I know Scripture says it’s wrong, but in my case…” Or we cry out in despair, “God, why have You let this happen to us? Don’t You care?”
And then God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Could it be that most of us have at times thought we knew better than God? Perhaps when we wanted an illness healed, a war stopped, or even a voters meeting decision to go our way? Or we wonder, “Why does it seem that everything in my life has to be so hard? Look at so-and-so! They’ve got it so easy!”
Let’s learn from Job this morning. His is not a formal institution of higher education. His is the school of hard knocks.
Remember, Satan has challenged God about Job. “He only serves You because You’re making life easy for him,” Satan charges. “You let me afflict him, and he’ll curse You to Your face.” And so Job suffers greatly. In just a short time, he loses his twelve children. He loses his great possessions and wealth. And then he even loses his health.
Job’s wife isn’t exactly encouraging or supportive. As Job sits among the ashes and scrapes at his festering sores with a broken piece of pottery, she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Job’s friends have nothing comforting to say to Job, either. Their greatest help is when they just sit with him for an entire week before speaking. When they begin to speak, though, they accuse Job of great and secret sins that are the cause of his suffering. In their faulty theology, every person’s suffering is in direct proportion to the measure of his guilt in God’s eyes.
In reply, Job protests his innocence. But to whom do you appeal when your friends don’t believe you, and God appears to be giving you the silent treatment?
As much as Job suffers physically and psychologically, what pains him the most is God’s apparent alienation from him. Several times in this book, Job requests that God speak to him: “Oh, that I had one to hear me!… Let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put His indictment in writing” (31:35).
Job has been saying, “I know my situation better than you do, God. I know I’m innocent. I know I don’t deserve the rough lot I’ve had. If I could just talk with You about this, man to God, we could surely resolve this problem.”
About this time God’s silence ends. Out of the storm, God demands: “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?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”
Pretty good questions, aren’t they? Some of them we still can’t answer, even now. Just like people today, Job asks, “Where is God when these bad things happen to me? How can a loving God allow suffering, pain, and death? Even if He doesn’t fix my problem, can’t He at least let me see why it’s happening?”
And God answers Job’s questions with His own, beginning with: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In other words, “If you’re so smart, if you know better than I do, then you tell Me.”
God first uses the image of the construction of a major building, where He is the architect, surveyor, and engineer. He talks about laying the foundations of the earth and stretching the measuring line across it. In effect, God says, “Believe it or not, Job, I knew what I was doing when I created the earth. It didn’t just happen. I put a lot of planning into it. No matter how hard you try, you couldn’t begin to cram My creative wisdom into the narrow confines of your limited imagination.”
Then God uses the image of a midwife. “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? Who else was present at the birth of the seas, when I wrapped them in the swaddling clothes of clouds and darkness?”
God the builder, God the midwife: both images tell us that God knows what He’s doing. He understands the master plan. He knows how things operate—whether He’s building a home, delivering a baby, or allowing Job to suffer. Each of those images is designed to create confidence in the God who is speaking and to remind His listeners of our smallness in comparison to God.
In the verses that follow our text, God gives rapid sketches of some 20 creations. God’s words testify to a sense of beauty and order in the world, whether it’s in the spiritual realm, cosmic elements, meteorological phenomena, animals, or birds. Job is to conclude that if God cares for the many creatures He has created, He will care for His human beings far more wisely and compassionately. If God is in control of the clouds, the storm, and the rain, as our Gospel reminds when Jesus stills the storm, then God is in control of what happens in our lives as well.
Well, that’s what God says. Now, for what He doesn’t say. Does it strike you as odd that God doesn’t answer Job’s questions? He doesn’t debate with Job or Job’s friends. He doesn’t even refer to Job’s suffering. Instead, God raises Job’s sight from his own troubles to the marvelous order that undergirds the whole world. He patiently instructs a man who needs to see the larger picture.
Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case—that Satan had brought up the matter and that God had allowed the suffering. Job must operate “by faith, not by sight.” He must love God for God alone. God invites Job to love Him for no reason other than that God is worthy of love.
God invites us all to have a humble perspective that is willing to learn and listen. He says, in short, that it’s more important to know Him than to have all the answers. Which is a good thing—because none of us do. But that’s okay! We don’t have to have all the answers because God does—even when things seem their worst, even when everything seems out of control as it did that dark day two thousand years ago when it appears Satan had won, when the disciples have no clue why Jesus was abandoned by the heavenly Father to die on a cross.
Jesus’ disciples don’t have the answer, but God does. Christ bears our sins on the cross that we might not have to die for our own sins. We know that now through the preaching of the Gospel. And unlike Job, with Christ’s resurrection, we come to understand God’s reasons for the greatest, most unjust suffering that ever happened. Jesus willingly gave up His life for the salvation of the world—yours and mine, the disciples’, and yes, Job’s.
Well, how does the Book of Job end? What’s the result of Job’s meeting with God? In the final chapter Job says, “Now I’m satisfied; I’ve seen You with my own eyes.” With his newly opened eyes of faith and spiritual understanding, Job learns that everything is right between himself and God. And knowing that, Job becomes content not knowing all the answers to his questions. He learns to rest in the power and grace of God. He learns to trust that even in suffering and unanswered questions, God is graciously working all things for “the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Today, you also meet with God. He is present in His Word to instruct, comfort, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness. He is present in the assembly, wherever two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He is present in the Sacrament you will share in a few minutes. He invites you to learn with Job that you need not have all the answers as long as you have God. You need not know why certain things happen as long as you know that He loves you in His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the larger picture. That’s the teaching you can always trust.
You are right with God. He is not silent. He is not asleep. He loves you. He promises to work all things for your good. No matter what may happen in this life, He will bring you to the joy of eternal life with Him. In the meanwhile, He speaks to you peace and absolution. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.