Over the last couple of months in Southern Cross I have been exploring some of the implications of Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians that, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1Cor.2:2) In particular I have been following through on some of the Bible’s own questions about wisdom and the difference the cross makes to our understanding of life in the world before God. The lifestyle gurus of the popular media are a loud voice ringing in our ears. Yet, Paul’s basic message to the Corinthians is that God’s wisdom, understood through His actions in and for Jesus on the cross, has completely undermined all forms of worldly wisdom for life – Jewish or Gentile. This led us to ask Job’s question, Where then, can wisdom be found? (Job 28:12) Last month, with Job’s help, we saw that God’s wisdom will not be found in simple descriptions of cause and effect -life in a world distorted by sin, death and evil is far too complex for that. The presence of evil and suffering in the world is a mystery and it is only when we understand the sovereignty of God in the cross that we find the truth shaped by hope that will equip us to live wisely.
The Super-natural Sovereignty of God
The mystery of suffering in a world created by a sovereign God is another key theme in the story of Job so let’s go back to the dialogues between Job and his friends. After all the back and forth between Job and his comforters there is still more to be said chiefly because Job’s questions have gone unanswered. The simple cause and effect wisdom could neither explain Job’s predicament nor vindicate God’s justice. Enter Elihu, the young man armed to the teeth with youthful confidence and self-evident truths to explain Job’s situation on the one hand and defend God’s justice on the other (Job.33:12;13) What follows in a rather repetitive manner is Elihu’s attempt to set Job straight with this basic proposition – your suffering is to teach you wisdom Job.
Job 33:19 A person may be disciplined on his bed with pain and constant distress in his bones, 20 so that he detests bread, and his soul |despises his| favourite food. 21 His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his unseen bones stick out. 22 He draws near the Pit, and his life to the executioners…29 God certainly does all these things two or three times to a man 30 in order to turn him back from the Pit, so he may shine with the light of life. (HCSB)
God makes people sick so that they will learn to love life or similar to the message of the three friends, God uses afflictions to teach people the error of their ways. The thing that is so attractive about Elihu’s speeches is the way in which he constantly reminds Job to consider the mighty works of God – surely if we are to find God’s wisdom we should look there. The cost of Elihu’s explanation is that we end up with a God who needs evil in order to show His goodness.
Elihu speaks at length about God’s sovereign power over all things rebuking Job for questioning God – but nowhere in the whole story does Job question God’s sovereignty
It is true that when God finally speaks His interaction with Job flows fairly seamlessly from Elihu’s but God’s only rebuke against Job is that as a creature He lacks the perspective to interpret God’s mighty acts – to which Job gratefully submits. In fact, in the end of the story God rebukes Job’s comforters (Job.42:7;8) Beyond this, Job’s question – What did I do to deserve this? – remains unanswered, even by God. Perhaps more importantly, despite all that Elihu says about God’s sovereignty, which God confirms, Job may well ask, What lesson did I need to learn that required the destruction of all my possessions and family?
God’s wisdom is not ultimately found in hard lessons because the more God’s sovereign power over any and every circumstance is emphasised – the harder it is to speak of His goodness. For example, what lesson was there to be learnt for the mother who lost her four-year old son washed overboard from a rescue boat during the Ipswich floods? If God is the author of evil, then it is not really evil or God’s commands to do Good are diluted into a do as I say, not as I do form of morality. It is only right to be thankful for God’s mercies in the face of suffering but it is something entirely different to call evil a gift from God.
From the very beginning of Job’s story the author is extremely careful to maintain an appropriate distance between Job’s miserable plight and God’s sovereign rule. When the Satan comes before God’s heavenly council and they discuss Job it is the Evil one who suggests that Job be struck down and that God do it
Job 1:9 Satan answered the LORD, Does Job fear God for nothing?…11 But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face.
The suggestion that God sends evil on Job comes from the Evil one. God’s response is not to stretch out his arm and afflict Job – which he could obviously do – instead he permits the Satan first to strike down Job’s family and then to afflict Job’s body. What Job’s story puts before us is that God permits evil but he is not the author of it.
So where then shall wisdom be found?
If we come back to Paul’s meditation on the cross in the beginning of 1 Corinthians as I mentioned last time, Paul tells the Corinthians in fairly startling terms that God’s wisdom – and his justice for that matter – needs to be understood through the lens of the cross. What is more, it is at the cross that we are taught about the supernatural sovereignty of God.
It is easy to keep our understanding of the sovereignty of God at a natural level. We look up at the stars, hear the thunder of the rolling seas, feel the heat of the summer sun and rightly think – our God is a great big God! Not surprisingly therefore we conform our understanding (wisdom) of God’s sovereignty in the world to these natural things. When life goes well, when we grow and flourish and experience all the delights of creaturely success and prosperity we rightly thank God for exercising His sovereign care for us. This is the god of our triumphant sporting heroes and successful celebrities; the god of the healthy, wealthy and wise. Of course, if things don t go according to nature we quickly begin to wonder whether this god is in control after all…
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1Cor.1:27) The cross shows us that God is indeed supernaturally sovereign over all creation. Even when God’s favourite creature leads all creation in an assault upon the prince of glory – even when the wicked tenants manage to get their hands on the beloved son and kill him, God permits this evil act to fulfil all His promises of salvation (Acts 2:23). Though the powers and principalities rise up against the Creator turning the noon-day sky to darkness and making the earth quake, despite the fact that the Messiah is pierced and beaten almost beyond recognition, the Lord is never as sovereign as when He offers Himself up on the cross for our forgiveness. This is what makes the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reliable in a world riddled with sin, death and evil. In addition it gave Paul confidence to say: Christ was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you. (2Cor.13:4) The Good life for God’s people is shaped by hope in the crucified Lord and guided by the wisdom of the cross.