In my last blog post I considered Paul’s question to the church in Corinth concerning wisdom, Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? (1Cor.1:20) There, I concluded that we don t trust the promises that God our Father makes to us in the gospel because they work for us; we trust Him because the promises are true. In contrast to worldly wisdom, Christian wisdom is neither a matter of gaining kudos amidst current fashions, nor the desire for something spectacular – to make us feel that Christians are on the winning side. Instead, we understand the good life guided by God’s actions for us in the cross of the Lord Jesus.
Now, if the wisdom of God completely undermines the wisdom of the world, we would do well to join in with Job, who in Ch.28:12 asks, Where shall wisdom be found? Much that passes for wisdom in our popular media boils down to new and different ways for consumers to exchange money that they don t have in order to acquire things they don t need. Job is the story of a very wealthy man who loses it all. His life was a total success story but was, virtually overnight, turned into the kind of disaster that gives people hope that lightning has now struck elsewhere and the rest of us should be safe. How does one make sense of such a situation? From where might we get the necessary wisdom to equip us to live before God in this world?
Job’s question mark’s a transition in a long speech (Ch.28) which itself is like a turning point in the story so far. The speech in ch.28 begins with a comparison between things that are relatively easy to uncover and things that are not. The treasures of the earth are relatively easy to find if you know where to look – like the miner (28:3) Even if not visible to all, the treasures of the deep can be found by those in the know. Hence a key ingredient for a lifestyle programme is the guru(s) full of sagely, yet simple advice. They are the lore-masters with all those practical tips that in hindsight, feel like someone just asked you for your watch in order to tell you the time. In contrast to all this chatter, true wisdom is hard to find no matter which of the depths of the earth one searches (28:14 ; 21). Even if you were able to search out the very limits of creation, you would not find wisdom complains Job.
Job’s reflections leads us into perhaps the central tension of the whole story of Job – wisdom belongs to God but He is not necessarily forthcoming with it.
Job 28: 23… God understands the way to wisdom, and He knows its location.
Now of course, Job isn t looking to de-clutter, make his own olive oil infusions or lose a few extra pounds before summer. His family has been destroyed by the chances and changes of seemingly outrageous fortune. Job simply wants God to shed some light on the meaning of all this tragedy. His question, in fact his desperate search for wisdom is all the more poignant because He cannot see that he has somehow done something to deserve his present state of suffering (Job 31:3). The conventional explanations will not satisfy Job’s circumstance or more importantly – the conventional explanations will not explain the God who from all outward appearances keeps wisdom to Himself. Job’s dilemma implies a deeper problem – how does one live in the world for this God? (Job 3:23) What then are these conventional explanations of Job’s plight? Enter Job’s friends.
God’s Wisdom as a matter of cause and effect
The three friends who come to comfort Job follow a basic line – God protects the lot of the righteous so therefore Job’s present state must be the consequence of unrighteousness (Job 4:1-6) Job’s problem is that he is too confident in his own innocence. There must instead be some secret, possibly even unknown sin that Job has committed deep in his heart that has caused him to lose all his blessings be they material or personal. A good deal of the story elapses, as this basic stance gets tougher and tougher. Job’s friends strive to help Job see the simple black and white truth – you are suffering like this because you deserve it (Job 8:1-7) The friends just want Job to use common sense, God is just, so whatever happened to your family must be due punishment for their sin. God is simply testing Job so that he will learn the error of his ways and then God will bless Job all over again.
The interaction between Job and his friends develop throughout Chs.3-26 but Job’s counter position to theirs is basically, Even if what you say were true – that God blesses the righteous and curses the wicked – even if that were true in my case, what could I or my children have done that was so bad as to warrant this kind of devastation? Job agrees that individuals are accountable for their conscious sins and he does not deny that he is a sinner (6:24). What is more, Job is convinced that God is powerful and good. Job just wants to know why he is suffering so terribly (7:20).
Job’s story is a challenge to trust that God’s wisdom will not be found in simple descriptions of cause and effect – especially when it comes to understanding God’s goodness and sovereignty in a world distorted by sin, death and evil. Job’s argument will not allow God’s wisdom to be reduced to a + b = c.
Misery and suffering in the lives of individuals or communities is not merely a matter of searching around to find a basic cause – you did this and therefore that happened. More to the point, God’s justice can t be reduced to these terms either – you did this and so therefore God is punishing you. It is particularly clear for us in natural disasters: during the 2010 floods in Queensland, it was not God’s justice that required the death of that young boy who begged rescuers to take his little brother who couldn t swim.
Where then can wisdom be found? If we come back to the passage in 1 Corinthians that we looked at last month, Paul tells the church in fairly startling terms that God’s wisdom – and his justice for that matter – needs to be understood through the lens of the cross. I ll look at this more in the next month while staying on the discussion of evil and suffering in Job but for now consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1Cor.1:28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something.
In the brutal death of a village carpenter somewhere in the armpit of the Roman Empire, the truth of the world was transformed. True justice – God the Creator’s justice – was meted out against sin, death and evil. More to the point, God condemned the vacuous triumphalism of the children of Babel and the wicked tenants of His own vineyard in order to show them that nothing and no one can stand against His promise to create a people for Himself (Rom.3:19-26). It may feel true or appear to be common sense that simple explanations of God’s wisdom and justice are quite powerful. However, they come unstuck when we reflect on the gospel fact that in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus he who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor.5:19) People may well bear the consequences for their actions – sometimes foolish, sometimes genuinely evil – but the gospel tells us the God punishes sin in the cross of Christ. The New Testament tells us over and over that the Lord Jesus died for the sins of the world – all of them. From before the creation of the world, this was God’s plan for the world in Jesus Christ (Eph.1:1-10). Beyond this, suffering at the hands of evil is a mystery. To some, describing evil as mysterious in relation to God makes it sound like He is no longer the sovereign ruler of the universe. If that’s you, stay tuned until next month as we go back to Job’s struggle to find hope in the cross of Christ.