If only Job's friends had stopped here. This is enough, isn't it? To witness a friend in distress, to weep with him, suffer with him, to share your shoulder and let your wisdom be demonstrated in your silence?
When we read the story of Job, we almost always identify with Job. Those other people, Job's treacherous wife, his know-it-all friends who seem to have an answer for everything - they represent someone else; they have to.
But let's cut Job's friends some slack here. Imagine yourself in their position. You give up a solid week from your life to weep with a friend, to care for him, to share in his grief, and after all is said and done, he's not ready to get on with it? You've done what you can, have you not? Yes, he's paid an unimaginable price and you feel for him, but sooner or later, he needs to get on with his life! Perhaps it's time he owns up to whatever it is he's done to bring this on himself. No one is completely innocent, are they?
How great is the human instinct to want to make sense of this, to put things into a context that we can understand. If only we know what Job has done to bring this on himself, then we'll know the rule, we know what to do to avoid calamity. Because it is possible to avoid calamity, isn't it? On some level we must believe that we are ultimately in control, even if all that 'being in control' means is living a life that God finds pleasing enough to warrant us special treatment.
We Christians spurn this notion of self-determination wherever asked, but ultimately we want it, we crave it, just like everyone else. We pay lip-service to God's sovereignty but will often use whatever religious means we have at our disposal to wrest some control, any control, from His hands - because we can't believe that He would truly will us, His most loyal, to suffer as unbelievers do. That just doesn't make sense!
And yet we're reminded, time and time again, that at some time in our lives, we saw death on the horizon, and we pledged to imitate the Servant Who Suffers, our Lord, Jesus. We were willing to sacrifice the pleasures of this life for eternal treasures. Scripture tells us that while we can be rewarded here and now, spiritually, emotionally, materially, our ultimate reward isn't in this life, but the next. If suffering is the exception, rather that the rule, in our lives today, it's because we stand on the shoulders of martyrs who were willing to imitate Christ's suffering before us.
Today those martyrs still march to the Lord's drum the world over, giving their lives so that others may be saved. Today our brothers and sisters in Christ are imprisoned, tortured, torn from their families arms and murdered by hostile states, by Islamic militants, by God's enemies who find our message of love, joy and peace with the Living God so offensive they would kill anyone who utters it.
And yet we complain, why? Where is the meaning? That's why. I can endure anything if I know why. If only I were imprisoned for the cause of Christ, rather than imprisoned in a body that's been racked with a random illness, rather than imprisoned in debt, in a dead-end job... if only.
If only I knew why I was suffering, then I would know what to do. That's it, isn't it?
Notice that in the midst of the storm, while Jesus slept and the disciples panicked, there was very little they could do. Undoubtedly they were hard at work with oars and sails and trying to make a beeline for shore. When Jesus woke up, what did they expect? What would you expect? What would I?
What do you expect? What do I?
I expect Jesus to rise up, take control of the ship and tell me what to do. "Hoist that sail! Get on that oar! Row! Row! Row!" I expect Him to see me through the storm. If I expect any rebuke at all, I expect to be rebuked for what I've done wrong, or haven't done at all, to remedy the situation.
It retrospect, it's ridiculous though, isn't it? Would anyone in their right minds expect the disciples to 'succeed' in the situation described? Jesus doesn't rebuke them for their actions or their failures, but for their attitudes, for their fear, for their attempts to control a situation that God has firmly in hand.
"Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40)
Jesus evidently has little interest in satisfying our desperate curiosity, in connecting the dots for us; I suspect this is mainly because of why we want these dots connected - so we can regain control of the ship.
Rather, He wants us to learn - He has even shown us the way Himself! He did so while catching some shuteye on a ship that appeared to any rational observer to be going down. He modeled simple trust in a God who never, ever fails to be in command of the situation. And when awoken from His slumber, what did He have to say?
"Peace, be still!" (v. 40)
One wonders, was He talking to the storm, or to those inside the boat?
During this COVID crisis there’s no shortage of Christians trying to fit the current situation into a narrative that they can come to terms with. Some say this is God’s wrath poured out on the earth, others say it’s the work of Satan, others still remark that it’s some sort of human-engineered conspiracy, maybe a hoax. “They” are trying to influence elections, distract from the recently signed peace accord, shut down churches (whatever). The reality is, however, that the people saying such things don’t actually know such things, neither do I; and that’s okay.
Could this thing be the wrath of God poured out on earth? Maybe. The work of the devil? Perhaps. Biological warfare? Possibly. A complete hoax? Sure, why not? Any of these things could be true. On the other hand, it could be the case that an infected snake in a Wuhan marketplace transmitted the COVID-19 virus to humans, the virus took off, and now a group of imperfect human beings, medical agencies and government authorities are working in earnest to contain it, perhaps too late in the game.
Me? I’m not going to stake out a position. Why. Because it’s not important? No. Rather, because it’s not important that I know. This kind of thing is God’s business, not mine. Mine is to do the work set out for me, set out for all of us in the plain teaching of scripture: worship God, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, share the Gospel, treat others the way I want to be treated... love God with my whole heart and my neighbour as myself. This virus could have been engineered by aliens from another planet working in concert with Freemasons and Scientologists in a plot to destroy Israel, usher in the antichrist and force us all to take vaccines that contain the mark of the beast: it still wouldn’t change how I’m to respond as a disciple of Christ.
I love chapter 9 in John; it’s filled with examples of how Godly wisdom can be present without empirical knowledge. Note the disciples in verse 2 are trying to do the same thing that we are: put a bad thing that’s happened into a rational narrative that they can feel good about. Why? I don’t know, human instinct. I presume some part of them wants to know that they can avoid such a fate if only they check the right boxes. Notice Jesus doesn’t provide them a comprehensive answer that they can write down for future reference. Rather He tells them what they need to know: “this has presented you with an opportunity to bear witness to God’s glory - now seize that opportunity”.
Later in the chapter, the same blind man they were discussing (no longer blind) exhibits the kind of Godly wisdom that Jesus’ own disciples lacked in this instance. He freely admits to not having all the answers; instead he takes what information he has and responds with faith. The Pharisees are asking all the wrong questions as far as he’s concerned: “is He a prophet, a sinner, can He dance on the head of a pin with a thousand angels?” The man responds (v.27): “why do you want to hear (my explanation) again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”
Note the word “also”. This man has made up his mind. He doesn’t have all the facts, and he certainly doesn’t have the full details of the Gospel yet (no one does at this point); but it doesn’t matter. The man who opened up His eyes is righteous, He’s good, He’s brought God’s healing to him; this man will follow Jesus.
We have a choice here. We can try to describe this with theological or political rationalizations that make sense to our fallible human minds; or we can be about God’s business, confident that He has provided everything we need to know in order to do just that. Just be aware that every moment we occupy ourselves with the former is another opportunity lost to do the latter.
What’s it going to be?
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.