The Purpose Of It AllErwin W. Lutzer | May 7, 1995
Selected highlights from this sermon
Job has just been through the toughest trial of his life. As a result of the tragedy that befell him, he developed a new conception of God and was now a better worshipper.
He also came out of the trial with a new ministry for God. Not only did he make sacrifices for his friends, we read his story today and glean nuggets of truth from it. It not only helped him to learn about God and to worship God in a more meaningful way – his story now helps us do the same.
Most importantly, he learned, as we must, that God is worthy of worship, even if everything in our lives is taken away. We may never understand why we have to suffer (Job was never told), but we can believe that God will meet the deepest needs in our hearts.
On November 8, 1994, Duane Scott Willis, and his wife, Janet, were traveling on I-94 to Wisconsin. And suddenly a semi-truck ahead of them lost a piece of metal, which perhaps weighed 30 pounds. Scott had only a split second to decide what to do, and rather than hit the tire, he thought that it would be best to drive over the piece of metal.
And of course, as you may have heard, what happened is that piece of metal punctured the gas tank and the whole van in which they were riding went up in flames with six children in the back of the van. Five children died instantly. Another by the name of Ben was pulled from the wreckage and died hours later. Scott himself and his wife escaped serious injury though they did have first and second degree burns. But while that van was burning (and they said that they never even heard a peep from their children it happened so quickly) Scott said to his wife, “This is the moment for which we are prepared.” The faith and the absolute trust in God that this young couple had became national news and I understand was actually beamed around the world as people, even the most cynical people, began to believe that there are still those who so trust in God that they can see six children die and still give thanks to know that they belong to Almighty God.
That’s something like what happened to Job. He lost ten children in a hail storm and lightening and as a result of losing those ten children he also lost his wealth and his health, and now we come to the end of the book of Job and we begin to see how it all came together. And if you have your Bibles I want you to turn to the book of Job and we come to chapter 42.
One of the similarities of the Willis family along I-94 and the book of Job and its experience is that both families still saw in this life what God might do as a result of their tragedies. They began to be able to see the pattern that God might have in mind and that there might be some good that would come from something that would be so awful. As we shall see later, oftentimes that is not the case, but in these cases that was so.
What I’d like to do today is to give you three benefits that Job had as a result of his trial taken from Job 42.
First of all, notice that Job had a new conception of God. He viewed God differently. He was a better worshipper of God than he had ever been. If you were here last time, and you remember that this is the last in a series of eight messages on the book of Job, we emphasized that he now understood that God was bigger than he realized. God was the creator. God had spoken. God had made the sun and the moon and the stars and challenged Job with question after question as to where Job was when God did all this. He realized that God was bigger. He also realized that God was better because was gracious and merciful and he had a purpose in nature even in the way in which he created the eagle and the hawk. God was good. But Job began to realize also that having underestimated God he had overestimated himself. And that’s why when God says, “Job, it’s your turn to speak now. You’ve wanted to bring me into court so that you could instruct me here’s your opportunity,” You’ll notice back in chapter 40 Job said, “I will lay my hand upon my mouth once I have spoken and I will proceed no further, even twice, but I will not answer. I have spoken too much already. I have to keep my mouth shut.”
Oh, what Job learned about God in that remarkable experience! Now that did not mean that all of the mystery
regarding God was gone. In fact, let me say this. The better we know God the more mystery there is. Knowledge never decreases mystery. Knowledge encourages trust, but the mystery will always be there, probably even in heaven. After a hundred billion years we will not have exhausted the mystery and the marvel of the beauty of God.
You’ll notice that the text says in Job 42:7, “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz, the Teminite, ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’”
When did Job speak something about God that was right? It was not when he was complaining bitterly against God for what happened to him. That was not the moment. It was not even those moments in which he exhibited faith and said, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” It was when he realized that God was sovereign, that God was accountable to no one, that in the presence of the living God every single mouth is stopped and every question, though it may go unanswered from our point of view, is laid triumphantly at his feet, believing that he does well. It was when Job spoke like that he spoke what was right about God.
Now one of the things God teaches us in trials always is a new conception of God, a new understanding. There is a new walk. There is a new faith. I have had people say to me, “I never dreamed that God would do that to me,” speaking usually about some tragedy. Sometimes we say it about his blessing too. “I never dreamed that God would give me all of these benefits.” Well, I want you to know today that God is always teaching us, always enlarging our understanding of who he is and there is nothing like a trial that will force us to that kind of new knowledge.
First of all, then, he has a new conception of God. Secondly, he has a new ministry for God. Notice what the Lord says in verse 8. “Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the last part of verse nine says, “And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”
Where had those three friends gone wrong? And how startled they were to hear this from the voice of the Lord, because they thought that they were in the right. They had a wrong conception of God. For one thing, their conception was all based on law and there was no grace. Their wrong conception of God made them think that because they were blessed (they had health, the had wealth, they were not experiencing the tragedies that Job was experiencing), therefore they concluded that they were righteous, a misunderstanding of God, and therefore, a misunderstanding of themselves. They didn’t know that the reason that they had health and strength was not because they were more righteous than Job. It is because God is incredibly generous and sometimes gives things to people over and abundantly what they should never even think is coming their way. God is generous.
Many years ago there was a book written on the book of Job entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. It wasn’t a very good book because at the end it said that basically God is doing the best he can but he’s finite and this is all that he can do so let’s be thankful that he gives us as much good as he does because he’s struggling. That’s an exaggeration but in effect it was based on the view of a finite God.
Well, I was thinking this past week that someday I’d like to write a book by this title Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? but rather, Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People? I see more of that. There are all kinds of bad people out there who are having all kinds of good things happen to them. You see, what happened was Job’s friends said to themselves, “We must be good because we are blessed.” The answer is, “No, you are blessed because God is gracious.” Notice their wrong conception of God led to a wrong conception of themselves. They exalted themselves, but also it was a wrong view of Job because what they said was, “If you figure this out, if everything is based on works cause/effect because Job is suffering, that means that he must be a wicked person. And we’ve examined his life and we can’t see any wickedness, so there’s something that he’s hiding from us. And that’s why you have chapter after chapter where in effect the friends are saying, “Job, just get real. Cough it up. Tell us the truth. What is it? We know that this would have never happened to you were it not because of some specific sins of disobedience that you committed.
Now, God was not willing to let this get by. God would not tolerate a justification of his righteousness on the basis of a false premise. Now these men tried to justify God. They said that God is righteous, but God says, “You are doing it wrongly. I myself have said that Job is a good man who loves righteousness and turns away from evil.” Now, of course, if you’ve been following this series you know that Job said that which was wrong, and he became self-righteous, but who of us would have done any differently in that situation. And God’s point was it was not because of some specific sin. It was not because Job was more wicked than other people. In fact, Job was tried this way because he was more righteous than others, and God wanted to refine him even further.
Now what’s interesting is that Job and his friends’ stations in life are reversed. What a shock this must have been! Here are these self-righteous friends who keep saying, “Job, you’re this sinner,” and now suddenly everything is reversed and God says to them, “You had better get Job praying for you and you had better offer these sacrifices because if you don’t, my wrath is kindled against you.” And in humility they have to go to Job and say, “Job, we were wrong. You pray for us because we are in trouble with God.”
By the way, Job had a new ministry for God in the life of his friends, but he also has a new ministry, which he didn’t know, in our lives as well. Job had no idea that for 4,000 years Sunday school teachers would be teaching his book. People would be reading about his story. Sermons would be preached on it. He had no idea that this was going to happen, and all because of the struggle that he went through, a river of blessing and encouragement has gone to the whole world.
So first of all, he has a new conception of God. Secondly, having come through the trial he now has a new ministry for God, and thirdly, he has new prosperity from God. Notice it says in Job 42:10, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” By the way, did you notice that? It says that the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends. Oftentimes it is in the process of being reconciled to others, even those who have spoken ill of us as did these three friends, it is at that moment when we are willing to reconcile even with our enemies that the blessing of God comes. So notice it says that after he prayed for his friends, God restored the fortune of Job, and he did so by giving him two-fold.
Now there is some irony here because in the Old Testament when a thief stole something, he was frequently supposed to return what he had stolen two-fold. Now we know that God can’t steal. We already learned that in a previous message because everything that he owns is his. But God is restoring Job and he is giving him twice of everything, indicating that since he had lost it all, he now is getting it all back two-fold. Notice is says in verse 12, “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” He began with 7,000 sheep he now has 14,000. 3,000 camels become 6,000. 500 yolk of oxen and 500 female donkeys now become 1,000 of each of those categories. And so God says, “As far as your wealth is concerned, you now get double,” which I think is a pretty good rate of return when you stop to think of the fact that the book of Job may have taken place in the period of a year or two, or maybe in a matter of months.
Well now let’s count his children. Does he get double of those too? “And he had seven sons and three daughters.” Well, that’s actually the very same number that he had previously. He had seven sons and three daughters, so God did not give him 14 sons and 6 daughters, for which, incidentally, Mrs. Job may have been profoundly grateful. But I do want you to notice that even though Job has the same number of children, he still has double the number of children because actually he didn’t lose the first ten children. They were only relocated. They were in heaven, and he knows that he shall be restored to them, and in heaven he shall have all 20 children, bless him and bless Mrs. Job. All 20 children will be there. And so God also continues to give Job a long life. It says in verse 16, “And after this Job lived 140 years. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
Now many people have looked at this and they have said, “If Job lived 140 years after his trial and God restored everything double, it could well be that his trial came at age 70. Now we can’t be sure about that but that’s a possibility. So if you take 140 years and you add the 70 what do you have there? Well 210 I think. At 210 years old Job would have died
What I’d like to do is to give you three lessons now that will help us to put it all together and answer the question of the purpose of it all. How does it all come together? What is the bottom line?
Number one, let us always remember that God is worthy of worship. God is always worthy of worship. Can you think back to the beginning of the book when Satan comes to God and says, “Well, yes, of course Job serves you because you put a hedge about him? You’ve given him a fine family. You have given him flocks and herds, and you are bribing him. Anybody would serve you if you are that good to them, but take it all away and he’ll curse you because he’s in it for what he can get, and you, oh God, are bribing him. That’s why he is faithful.”
So God takes all these things away, including Job’s health, and Job continues to hang on in times of doubt, times of anger, and times of frustration, but nevertheless he keeps tracking with God, proving that there are still some people who will go on worshipping God even if there is no tangible benefit to it. I think of the words of Job who said, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” God is always worthy of worship.
Now let me ask you a question. What would have happened if Job had died not in chapter 42, but say in chapter 32? What if he had died in the middle of his speech? What if he had died and had never seen this additional prosperity that God had given him? Would God still be worthy of worship? The answer is yes, yes, yes, because you know most of the time we do not have such a beautiful finish ending to a life. Most of the time we have people struck down in accidents and struck down with cancer, or dying in concentration camps, as many believers did, and there was no beautiful ending like there is in the book of Job. And even then God is still worthy of worship. Whether we see the end result or not, God is God, we are humans and he is worthy to be worshiped whether it is beneficial or not.
Secondly, another important lesson is that trials are ultimately from God. Trials in the life of the believer are always ultimately from God. Do you remember in those opening chapters where we emphasized this? Oh I know it was Satan who brought the hail. It was Satan who was given power to have lightening to strike Job’s children, so it might be tempting for us to say, “Well, it came from the devil.” Yes, it did come from the devil, but the devil was in God’s hands. It was God who marked out the parameters, who said, “So far and no farther.” It was God who said, “You may take his children but you may not touch his life.” It was God who said, “You may take his health, but even then you may not touch his life.” In other words, back behind the tragedy that Job experienced was still the hand of God. Yes, all of these concerns of nature, the ravages of nature were in Satan’s hands, but Satan (I shall say it) is in God’s hands. You’ve heard me quote the words of Luther. “Even the devil is God’s devil.”
Now let’s think about that accident on I-94. One day I was just musing in my mind regarding the contingencies in order for that to happen. The Willis family was on that highway because there was an election here in the city of Chicago, and their church was being used as a polling place, and so they decided this would be a good day to visit another son who was a student in a university near Milwaukee. And then you begin to think of the fact that this piece of iron could have fallen from the truck at a different point in the highway. The Willis family could have begun sixty seconds earlier, or sixty seconds later, or the truck could have been in a different position on the highway, and the piece of metal itself could have flown into the ditch. There were so many different contingencies, so many different what-ifs, and yet who is it that controls the what-ifs of life?
Is it not true that as Christians we have to take all of the ifs and then we have to draw around them a circle called the providence of God, and recognize that even such accidents are highly planned occurrences from the standpoint of God’s sovereign intervention in the life of his children. So let us say it boldly. It was God who took the six children from the Willis family, and they themselves acknowledged that, because God is bigger than a truck whose metal falls onto the pavement. God is bigger than having the contingency where that metal would just puncture the gas tank. God is not subject to the futility of these random events. What is random to you and to me in the life of a believer is really planned by God so that the believer can say confidently, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
You are driving along in the city of Chicago. Traffic lights hinder you. The expressway is full of cars and there are traffic jams. There are all of these things that bother you. There are people at work that bother you. There are bosses that bother you, and there are co-workers who trouble your soul, and make life very miserable. Is God in these kinds of things? Are these just the happenstances of life that we need to endure because there is no other alternative except to endure them? Or can we take our piece of chalk and even include the providence of God around those events in the life of a believer? The answer is yes if you have the faith to grasp it because all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose, and that means all things including injustices. Trials are ultimately from God.
And then thirdly and finally, the best way for me to communicate to you today so that you might understand what I am trying to say is that every trial - I’m putting it this way - has two purposes. Every trial has two purposes. There is the hidden purpose of God that sometimes we get glimmers into. Job saw some of the hidden purpose of God because he got to chapter 42 of his book. The Willis family has seen part of the hidden purpose of God because their witness has been so profound that many people have been blessed and challenged, and I am sure that people have come to faith in Christ because of their example. But oftentimes the hidden purpose of God remains completely hidden. Try as you might there is no purpose in it that you can see.
I saw in the news last night that Nazi soldiers in a concentration camp would take children and throw them over the wall and then other soldiers would try to shoot those children as they were falling for target practice. If you come to me and ask, “Well, what was God doing there? What was his purpose?” I’d have to remain silent. “I will lay my hand upon my mouth.” God has not shown us that purpose. It is a hidden purpose. There has to be some but I know it not.
But there is always a revealed purpose for trials in the lives of believers and the revealed purpose is simply that we might trust God, and that God might have the opportunity of showing that he can meet the deepest need within our hearts even while our many questions go unanswered. The bottom line is, as I mentioned last time, not that we know the hidden purpose of God, but that we might know the person of God, and that is the real teaching of the book of Job. It ends up saying, “Even though my mind is unsatisfied, my heart can be because I trust God.”
I have lived long enough, and you have lived long enough to know that when you have the problem of the heart, when there is the loneliness of the heart, and the questions of the heart, and the tearing of the emotions because of what goes on inside of us, there is no explanation that can be given to the head that will be an ointment to the heart. Only God can meet the need of the human heart, and say, “Trust me with the questions that are in your head.” We all live with unanswered questions, but the bottom line is can we trust God even in those areas where we see no purpose whatever? God’s purpose is trust.
The other day Daryl Worley, whom some of you know, was sitting behind me. As we were talking about the book of Job, he pointed this out so clearly in the 13th Psalm, and I want you to turn to Psalm 13 for a moment. It’s a very short Psalm, but notice how clearly this is presented. David begins by just spilling out his heart to God, and asking the age-old question, “Why?” He says, “How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Somebody who is listening this morning is saying exactly those words. “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” That’s you. “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, oh Lord my God light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” Verse 5 says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
Notice the juxtaposition. You know I kind of like that word two ideas in the Psalm. One is, “Oh God where are you? Answer my questions.” God does not give him one single answer, and yet there in his presence David’s heart is strangely warmed. God says, “I won’t give you any answers but I will give you the gift of myself,” and when David has that gift he says, “I have no answers. Nothing has changed but I will trust in the Lord, and I will rejoice.” And that is the bottom line. That’s it.
There’s no use trying to pry into his hidden purposes. I do not know why Pat York suffers as much as she did. Some of us prayed with Joe this morning and he told us what a bad week she has had. I don’t understand the death of a child. I don’t understand cancer in the life of young people who are serving God. But God says, “You can keep your questions. Just give me your heart and I will meet that need.”
It seems strange, doesn’t it, that in a book that is supposed to explain to us the purpose of suffering that I should end the whole series by quoting the words, “I am not skilled to understand what God hath willed, what God hath planned, but this I know at his right hand is one who is my Savior,” and that is enough. The answer of the heart is God.
Now many of you are struggling with this, and there may be various reasons for it but in many instances (not all) it is that you and I fundamentally do not want to yield ourselves to such sovereignty. We want to maintain control of our lives, we want to be able to say, “God, there’s a part of me that you cannot have I cannot give you my job I cannot give you my children. I refuse to give you my future because I am afraid you will not do what I think you should.” Because of that our hearts are never joyful. We never get to the place of David in Psalm 13 where he says, “Nevertheless, I will trust in thee and I will rejoice,” and the need of the heart is never met, and therefore the needs of the mind are just ballistic. They just take off because there’s no peace inside.
The end of the book of Job is that God is God. We are his creatures. Blessed are those who say, “Father, my life is yours. My future is yours. My business is yours. My injustices are yours. God, you take over and take it all.” Then we can say, “I will rejoice in the Lord. I do not understand, but God has met the need of my heart.”
Let us pray together.
And our Father we do want to thank you today that in grace and mercy you have given us the opportunity to follow the life of a man whom we fully expect to meet someday, perhaps to discuss some of these issues with him, but we thank you that Job was faithful. And thank you that you are faithful. And thank you that the Willis family is faithful. And we pray, Father, that you will give us such a sense of surrender that we might be able to say as that family did with the van burning, “This is moment for which we are prepared.” Oh God, grant us that yieldedness to your sovereign will. Now many who are listening have struggled today. We pray that you will release them from the struggle that they might rejoice in thee.
Now before I close this prayer I want you to pray. I want you to give all your questions to God. He may answer some of them, but in giving him your questions give him also your heart, and if you’ve never trusted Christ as your Savior (you have never believed on him), this is the moment of faith to trust Christ and to let go of all that you hang on to in the presence of the Almighty.
Father, we think of those who struggle with health issues, overwhelming issues, those who struggle with relationships, with promises that have been broken towards them, fear of the future, unsettledness in their vocation, their jobs, financial strain, families that are broken apart through anger and hatred. Father, we are so needy and we can’t answer all these questions. All that we do is we look to you. We look to you in brokenness and humility. We look to you, Father, and say, “Lord Jesus, just make us satisfied with you, and then we shall be satisfied, even though we do not see other purposes.” Would you, Father, grant that faith in the life of your people so that even those in the midst of these strains can be a witness for you and not be down just because life is so difficult? Father, renew your people. Renew us as a church. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.