When God ComesErwin W. Lutzer | April 30, 1995
Selected highlights from this sermon
God speaks. Earlier in the book of Job, Job himself cries out, wishing that he could speak face to face with God. And now in chapter 38, God speaks “out of the storm.”
The Almighty asks Job a series of rhetorical questions—none of which Job can answer. But God’s point is made: if Job doesn’t understand the physical realm, how can he expect to understand the metaphysical realm?
Job realizes a number of things: he underestimated God; he overestimated himself; and he now knows just how awesome, powerful, and holy God is. And he did the right thing, he repented in “dust and ashes” and said nothing else.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up you loins like a man and I will ask you and you instruct me. Where were you when I created the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know. And who set its measurements and stretched a line on it since you know? And 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? Have you entered into the storehouses of the snow? Have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the day of distress, for the day of war and battle? Can you by wisdom count the number of the clouds or can you tip the water jars of the heavens? Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, stretching its wings toward the south? Or is it according to your command that the eagle mounts up and builds its nest on high? Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?’
And Job answered and said, ‘Behold, I am insignificant. I will lay my hand upon my mouth once I have spoken and I will speak no more.’
Then the Lord answered Job again and said, ‘Gird up your loins like a man and I will ask you and you answer me. Will you really annul my judgment? Will you condemn me so that you might be justified? Do you have an arm like God and can you thunder like the most high? Tell me now. Adorn yourself with dignity and majesty and look upon everyone who is proud and bring him low. Do those things and then I will confess to you that your own right hand can save you.’
And Job answered and said, ‘Oh, now I know that you can do everything, and that I spoke words too wonderful, words that I did not understand. I have heard it be by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes seeth thee and I repent in dust and ashes.’”
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, we pray that in these moments we might see you, and we ask for your wisdom, for the enlightenment of the Spirit, and that you might be to us in these moments the living and the true God. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Have you ever been in a conversation that is wearisome? The repetition is nauseating. The same old ideas are given again and again until there comes a time when you want to simply be silent and stop listening. Our ears are a wonderful gift of God but there are times when we would like to be able to shut them down. I heard of a woman who was a hundred years old and she wasn’t able to hear. And someone said, “Why don’t you get a hearing aid?” And she said, “I am a hundred years old and I’ve heard enough.”
I also was told the other day about Winston Churchill. There was someone in the House of Commons in England who wasn’t able to hear well ’t “What? What? What?” Churchill looked over at him and said, “Who is that old fool over there that refuses to accept the benefit of his infirmity?” There are times when not being able to hear is a blessing.
When you read the speeches in the book of Job you become weary. His friends say the same thing over and over again and Job begins to repeat himself. Elihu is a breath of fresh air, as we noticed last time, but today we talk about when God comes on the scene in Job 38.
In Job 38 the Lord speaks. This is the same Lord who spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is the same God who spoke to Moses at the burning bush, and then spoke to him again on Mount Sinai. This is the voice of God.
I realize I have no intention of introducing God before he speaks, but there are a few things in this speech that I do want us to notice before we get into the text itself - first of all that God waited perhaps two years before he spoke. He waited until all of the men had literally exhausted themselves. We don’t know how long a time it is but some have estimated perhaps two years. You may say, “Well, why didn’t God speak sooner?” Well, the answer is that it’s a surprise to us that he spoke at all because sometimes centuries have gone by and God has not spoken. But now he speaks.
Another thing that we should notice is that it is shocking to us almost, but he disregards everything else that was said. There’s not one reference in God’s speech to anything that any of the three friends said, to anything that Elihu said, anything that Job said. He does not come to take sides. He comes to take over and he disregards all of what has transpired prior.
Something else that we should ask is, “What does God look like?” Well, it says in Job 38, the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. We don’t know what God looks like. We do know that here he came as it were from the whirlwind.
Art Linkletter tells the story of how a little boy was drawing a picture and someone said, “What are you drawing?” and he said, “I’m drawing God.” Linkletter said, “Nobody knows what God is like,” and the little boy said, “Well, they will when I get finished.” (laughter)
So God is speaking here out of the whirlwind and he gives Job a series of rhetorical questions. This is the Socratic method. He asks Job questions that he knows Job has no chance of being able to answer, and one question comes after another, after another, after another, and Job is on the spot and God begins to ask Job these questions.
What are some of the lessons that God obviously wants Job to pick up? Well, number one, it is that God rules over the natural realm. He is the ruler over the natural realm. In Job 38:4 God asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Where were you, Job, when I spoke the worlds into existence? Can you explain to me how I hung the world on nothing and how it spins in the middle of space? Explain it to me if you have knowledge about those things.” And God goes on in the same chapter and he even talks about the stars (verse 32). He talks about the constellations of Orion, and all of the satellites and in verse 33 the ordinances and rules, the way in which the heaven is ruled.
Scientists today know a lot more than Job did and we’ve investigated through the telescope and through the microscope and we know some of the intricacies of the snow which God asked Job whether or not he had investigated. But science today, to quote the words of Socrates, is nothing more than knowledge of our own ignorance.
Take, for example, the law of gravity. Nobody has any idea what the law of gravity is fall at 32 feet per second, but nobody knows why that law was created in this sense or how it was created. And if you are an evolutionist nobody knows how it ever could have evolved with such a sense of precision that they are able to set clocks by the stars, and the stars become the measure of time. No one can understand that.
The idea that this world came together in an evolutionary way just out of nothing ’s Dictionary, because the thing that you have to realize is that evolutionists believe that nothing times nobody equals everything. And I don’t have enough faith to believe that.
God says, “Job, I have authority over inanimate matter because I am the creator.” He also says, “I have authority over animate nature the living plants and animals.” We can’t take out time but you’ll notice that he talks in verse 1 of Job 39 about the goats. He speaks later about the ostriches, the hawks, the eagles, and the birds.
I saw a movie one time, or if you prefer, a film, that showed that there are birds that fly from Alaska all the way to some very remote islands in the middle of the ocean. And if those birds would be off by so much as one percent, or one degree, they would miss those islands. And even if the birds are blown away by the storm, they always come back. Their trajectory is correct to come to a pinpoint landing. Nobody has ever figured out how they do that. How do they do it? What does the Bible say? “Is it by your command,” God asked Job, “that the eagles soar on high and build their nest’s in trees?” It is that God commands them.
I want you to notice that God is making a case here. What he is saying is, “Job, if you don’t understand the physical realm, if you don’t understand the realm in which there are birds and animals and plants, if you don’t understand creation, how in the world do you expect to understand the metaphysical realm, that is to say, the realm beyond the physical which is much more complicated, much more mysterious. Why is it that you are probing into things that are known by God alone?” And so God gets to the end of this section in chapter 40 and in effect he says to Job, “Job, I’ve got a deal with you. Would you like to take my place? Will the fault finder contend with the Almighty?” he says in Job 40:1. “Let him who reproves God answer it.” And Job, or course, replies and says, “I have nothing to say. I lay my hand upon my mouth. I rest my case.”
Remember this is the Job who earlier said, “Oh that I knew where I might find God. I would come into his seat. I would like to take him into court. I would fill my mouth with arguments. I’d let him know exactly what is on my heart.”
“Say it, Job! This is your chance.”
“In the presence of God I have nothing to say. I have spoken too much already.”
God says, “Job, I’ve got authority over nature, over the physical realm. I also have authority over the moral realm.” And we pick this up now in Job 40 where the Lord says, “Now gird up your loins like a man and I will ask you and you instruct me. Will you really annul my judgment? Will you condemn me that you might be justified? Is this really what’s going on here in the text, Job? Do you really think to yourself that you can straighten me out? Now Job, we’ve got a problem,” God says. “Because you are critical of the way I am running my universe, and particularly critical of the way in which I am handling you, we’ve got a difficulty that needs to be resolved. Either I am right and you are wrong, or else you are wrong and I am right. Job, which do you think it is? Speak! Gird up your loins like a man. Tell me what you think. Find some fault in me to justify yourself.”
And what God is saying is, “Job, don’t you understand that I am the one who created the physical universe, and it runs according to my laws, and I am also the creator of the moral and spiritual universe, and it runs according to my laws. And Job, if you don’t understand the lesser, how on earth are you going to understand the greater?”
Now, I want us to look at the text and to find out where Job went wrong. Where did he go wrong? Let’s look now at what he says in Job 42. Mind you, you understand that Job did not have one answer to all of these questions and for the most part modern science cannot answer any of these questions. I’ve been told that there are forty-two. I did not count them but however many there are, modern science is helpless in understanding the questions that God asks.
So what does Job say in verse 2? “I know that thou canst do all things and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Oh God, it is I. I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know.”
Stake number one - Job underestimated God. You see, Job underestimated first of all because God was bigger than Job realized. Oh yes, he was able to look into the heavens and he was able to see the stars, and he could see creation, but it had never really dawned on him what the implications of that really are. Now in the heat of this questioning session, suddenly reality broke upon him and he began to realize that he was in the presence of a creator who spans the universe, who is (if we may use a modern day overused word) absolutely awesome. And by the way, there is no one to whom that word really does apply except God, someone worthy of awe.
The Bulls are not awesome. Michael Jordan is not awesome. Shall I say it? Even the Cubs are not awesome. (laughter) God is awesome!
“Behold, the nations are as a drop in the bucket and are counted as the small dust in the balance. Behold he picks up the island as a very little thing. God is God and he calls the hosts of heaven all by their names because they are great in power. Not one fails.” God is awesome. Job said, “He was bigger than I realized.”
Job also underestimated God because God was not only bigger than Job realized, God was better than Job realized. You see, as God was going through all of these questions about the animals and questions that had to do with the universe and the place of nature and the animals within it, Job began to realize that there is a plan and there is a purpose in everything. “I had charged God with treating me arbitrarily. I had said that God had no right to speak to me as he did because after all I was human and I was receiving something that was unjust, but now I am beginning to realize that God is running his world, and even to the very minute detail of where eagles build their nests, that all must be ascribed to God, and he’s better than I realized.”
Now you know we know, of course, that God is much better than Job realized he was because we have Jesus Christ. We have a better revelation. We see God more clearly. Everything that is taught in the book of Job about God is absolutely true but in the New Testament we have a different dimension, which is largely hidden from the book of Job. And that is that we know that God is not only better but God is gracious. God is very gracious and therefore can be trusted.
Now let me say also that God was purer than Job realized. You know how you and I can learn to live with sin and we have all of that sin within us that we rationalize? Have you ever thought of all that God has to put up with in seeing our little deceptions and the little games that we play that are so skillfully hidden from everyone else? And yet God has to put up with it because he sees reality and he sees what is in our hearts.
There is nothing else that causes us to fall on our knees and say with Job, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear but now my eye seeth thee. Therefore I abhor myself in dust and ashes.” What causes us to say that is not when we see other people. You see, that’s what was going on in the text here and all through those chapters of dialogue. Job always kept saying, “I’m as good as anybody else,” and the other men were saying, “Hey, you know we think that you are worse than we are because we are not in the same predicament that you are in.” And on and on the dialogue went and the measure was really the measure of man. Now suddenly Job has a different measuring stick. Now it is suddenly the measure of God, and what a difference that makes. And Job falls on his face and says, “I am vile,” as one of the translations says it, because he is in the presence of a holy God whose holiness he had underestimated.
Job’s first error was to underestimate God. But there was a second error that always goes along with the first. In fact, it’s not possible to have the first error without having the other error, and that is that Job overestimated himself. He overestimated himself. Look at what he says there in verse 3. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” He’s quoting the words of God which God applied to him a few chapters earlier. He says in effect, “I’m guilty. I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I was out of my depth.”
Have you realized how we as humans are so frustrated in life? And the reason that we are frustrated is because God created us with intelligence, with minds that probe and ask questions. But the problem is that even though we can ask questions we cannot find the answers to the questions that we ask ’s why we’re so frustrated. We are created to ask questions. In fact it is through the asking of questions that you have science and you have the development of the arts, and you have strides in mathematics and astronomy and all of these other very legitimate and excellent sciences. And we have been created by God to probe and to seek and to ask and to wonder and to meditate, and yet at the same time there comes a barrier beyond which we cannot go, and Job began to cross over that barrier and began to get into realms in which he had no knowledge.
How did he overestimate himself? Well first of all, he overestimated his own knowledge. He said, “I thought I knew God better than I now realize I know him. I thought I had God figured out.” The three friends thought that they had God figured out. You live a righteous life and you are blessed, and you live an unrighteous life and God punishes you and you are in trouble, and your crops begin to fail and your children die, and you have all that cause/effect relationship. They thought they had God figured out and now suddenly they are up against a God whose actions are mystifying and unpredictable.
Do you know why some of you have come here today with a whole lot of anxiety when you know you were not created to bear any of it? The reason that you and I bear anxiety is because we cannot trust the unpredictability of God. We don’t know whether he’s going to give us that job. And we don’t know whether he’s going to have this problem solved and that one work out. We don’t know all those things, see, and we are just stifled with anxiety because we can’t see what God is going to do. The mighty God in heaven has no anxiety at all. Isn’t that wonderful to know, Terry, sitting here in the front, and bless your heart? I’m always glad for those who sit near the front. God has no anxiety at all. None! Others of you sitting near the front may have some anxiety right now but God has none.
What he is saying is, “I overestimated my knowledge of God. I overestimated my knowledge of myself. I didn’t realize that I was so thoroughly self-righteous.” Do you remember in a previous message how we noticed that Job said, “I am suffering being innocent.” What a statement! That was a wrong statement. Job was basically a righteous man but he became more self-righteous as the questioning became more intense.
So first of all, he says, “I’ve overestimated my own knowledge.” He is saying also, “I have overestimated my perspective. I thought that I had a right to put the pieces together and to try to make some sense out of my suffering. I thought that maybe if I looked at events and looked at God I could figure it out and now I realize I can’t figure it out. I was beyond the bounds of the proper use of knowledge. I kept pushing into the areas that belong only to the hidden counsels of God.”
Now it’s okay that we do that. God does not become angry with Job. In fact, if you show up next week as we conclude the book, you’ll notice that God is pretty pleased with Job. But my dear friend, there are some things that we will never know because our perspective is very, very limited.
I am told that in a museum there was a guide who used to take the people that would come and he would show them on one floor as they looked up a tangled mess of threads and yarn that it looked perhaps like it was done perhaps by school children. And then he would take them up the stairs and they looked at the same thing except from the top and they noticed that really it was a very beautiful tapestry with all kinds of threads and all kinds of different patterns, and color configurations that dazzled the eye.
Now that’s the way it is in this life. You see, we look at events and we see this tangled mess and we say, “God, the mess is tangled, and we expect you to show us the beautiful tapestry. Where is the design?” And do you know what God says? He says, “I’m not going to show you the design. You can look at those tangled webs but I want you to know that you can trust me that there is a design even though it is hidden from your eyes. You cannot figure it out.”
Just before we came out on the platform Pastor Bastian told me that at the conference that they attended there was a man who had to leave because he received word from his wife that his four-month old baby son died of crib death. Now you try to figure that out. Make sense out of it. Tell me what God’s purpose was. Show me the design. Show me how this event is going to have all those good repercussions. If you think you know, show me. The answer is we don’t know. Oh we see a little bit of the pattern but we don’t see the design, do we?
Now here’s the question. How do we bridge the gap between ourselves as probing, intellectual questioning human beings and a God out there who is wholly other, a God whose design and pattern we are not permitted to see? We see only on this side of eternity. We can’t look at it from up there ’s all going to look different. How do we bridge the gap? The answer is, of course, faith.
Now here’s the thing. When I told you last week that Job was going to finally have a guest appearance by God, many of you probably thought to yourselves, “You know when God appears finally the mystery is going to be solved. The answer is going to be given. God is going to show Job all of these things that are going to happen as a result of his faithfulness. There’s going to be a whole host of various things that will take place. It will be as if Job triggered dominos that are going to have all of these wonderful effects in his family and throughout all of eternity.” That’s what we expect, and some of you possibly came today hoping to hear that. Well I want you to know that God says nothing about that. Nothing at all! He does not give us the answer that we would seek. He does not give us the answer that we think God owes us.
What then is the purpose of it all? What is the bottom line at the end of the day? There is a purpose in it all obviously but the purpose is not that we might understand the hidden designs. The purpose is that we might simply trust the designer, and that’s it. What God was saying to Job is, “Job, if I can do all the things that you can’t do, and if I know all the mysteries that are hidden from your eyes, and if I am bigger, and if I am better, and if I am more holy, why don’t you simply trust that I know what I am doing, and that I can take you and I can humble you, and I can raise someone else up. And even though to you it makes no sense, it is a tangled set of threads, why don’t you trust me that on the other side there is a beautiful exquisite perfect design. Just trust me.” And that is the bottom line of God’s coming.
When I was about three or four years old out on the farm I remember at night we used to go with lanterns. Now some of you don’t know that I am that old but actually it’s because it was a part of the country where modern technology did not come. I’m much younger than that might suggest. But at the age of three or four I would follow my father who had a lantern, and you know these old lanterns made only a very limited amount of light to simply stay behind my dad and I was okay.
Now one of the things I noticed about those lanterns was that they never gave us enough light to see where the road went. They only gave us enough light to know where the road was. That’ all! But following this lantern, the lantern wouldn’t say that there’s a ditch up ahead, or the path veers off over here. The lantern didn’t do that. All that the lantern did was say, “You have enough light now for the next step,” but where the road led was hid from us.
Now as a three or four-year old boy I was not concerned about that at all because all that I had to do was to follow my father, and I believed that he knew where the road went even if the light did not shine on it. The bottom line: God doesn’t tell us where the road leads, does he? We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. He does not tell us what the design is. He doesn’t say, “Now, here’s the pattern. Here is what I’m taking you through, and this is the way it is going to end up.” It so happens that Job ends up with a wonderful family and children all over again but there are all kinds of people whose life story does not end up this way. They die young of cancer, or accidents, or silly fluke accidents.
God says, “The place where the road leads and the sense that you are trying to make out of this is hidden from you, but what I expect of you is something that you can do. You can’t probe my wisdom. You can’t talk about things that are too wonderful for you because they are beyond you. I’m not expecting you to figure that out. I am expecting you to walk close to me and to believe me.” And it is not important that we know the purpose of God as long as we stay close to the person of God. And God says, “Stay close and believe that it will make sense someday when you look at the tapestry from the other side.” And the best way for us to be able to accept tragedy is not to become hard-hearted, not to say, “Oh God, if you are that kind of a God I don’t want to have anything to do with you,” like some people do. Bless them because they are bitter. They have been hurt. But that’s non-productive.
The best thing to say is, “Father, it does not make sense. It does not add up at all, and I am not going to try to figure it out, but neither will I charge you with foolishness. I will lay my hand upon my mouth. I have spoken too much already. Oh, I’ve heard it by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees thee and I repent in dust and in ashes.”
There was a woman who was bitter at God because her son was killed. She said angrily to her pastor, “Where was your God when my son was killed?” to which he replied, “He was in the same place where he was when his son was killed.” And in the New Testament we have the revelation of God in Christ, and God reveals himself, and God says, “Through Jesus Christ you can be reconciled. You can be cleansed. You can be forgiven, and even though you cannot see the future, and even though you cannot see where the path goes, you can be confident that you know the guide and at the end of the day it is that that matters - that you know who is leading you.
And so I ask you today, do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, which is really the only thing because Jesus said, “If you honor me you honor the Father.” And he says, “No man comes to the Father except by me. You are separated from God and even though God may have a plan for you, it will be a very harsh, obscure plan that will end in damnation if you do not know Christ as Savior.” There’s a whole other set of plans that God has for us. It says in the Bible, “I know your ways,” said Jeremiah, “that the plans that you have for me are good, and not evil, to give me a plan and a hope,” and God has those sets of plans for those who stay close to him through Christ. And that’s why the best answer to the problem of suffering and evil is for me to point you to a Savior that reconciles you to a holy God. And then though we cannot (I think there’s even a song that says this.) trust at times his hand because we do not understand his hand, we do trust his heart, and we say, “Father, I repent in dust and ashes. You be God. I’ll be man and I will believe you no matter what.” And do you know what happens when we get to that point? God pours grace into our souls and our hearts are refreshed even though specific questions remain unanswered.
And if you will, let us pray.
Father, there are people who are listening to this message both here as well as on the radio who are experiencing a great deal of tragedy, and heartache. Some are terribly lonely because you have left some as widows and widowers. And then there are those with children who are sick, or children who have followed a wrong path, or all kinds of injustices have been experienced. And Father, they are asking why. We thank you that you believe it’s okay for us to ask why, but we also know that any answer we get is going to be incomplete. And we pray that in these moments you might help us to understand that through Jesus Christ we can get to know you. We can get to know the God who is the creator and that we can trust you in all these other areas that are so mysterious. Grant that, Lord, we pray.
And before I conclude this prayer I am going to ask you now to pray. Some of you who are coming here today are here with heavy problems. Why don’t you just give them to a God who has no anxiety? Just give them over. He never intended for you to bear those heavy weights. And those of you who have never received Christ as Savior, you’d like to know this God, and though he is terrifying, he is also close by. Why don’t you say, “Lord Jesus, be my Savior. I am a sinner. Be my Savior right now.” You talk to God if God has talked to you.
Now Father, here we are. Give us the confidence to believe that you are too good to do anything bad, and too wise to make a mistake. And might we believe you no matter what. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.