In this season of social distancing for many, and shelter in place orders for others, as we all try to fight for faith in the face of COVID-19, I decided to share one thought a day from my daily devotional time in the hope of strengthening other’s hands in God (1 Sam 23:16), and encouraging friends forward in faith. You can subscribe at the bottom of the page to receive an email for each new post, and feel free to come back daily and share with anyone who might find them beneficial.
I use a reading plan that has me reading a few chapters in different parts of the Scripture for every day of the week, and so each day’s content will be dictated by the required daily reading of that plan. I will focus in on one unit of thought rather than trying to address the full scope of the day’s reading. I am trusting God that He will speak from different parts of His Word, as He always does.
Wednesday, April 1
Reading: Job 31-33
3 Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?
— Job 31:3–4.
I like to know how things work. Mystery frustrates my mind. It seems to be a reminder to my fragile ego that I am creaturely and limited, and that the extent of that limitation is greater than I am comfortable letting on.
Job and his friends are trying to figure out the work of God in the midst of Job’s suffering. His friends presume that there is a simple system, which looks a little something like this.
Do bad = Get bad.
You have bad things, therefore you must have done bad things.
Job, quite rightly is defensive against that simplistic thinking, especially as he is a righteous man who doesn’t have anything to hide. The accusations of his friends are therefore offensive. But, Job doesn’t have any other sort of grid to view his suffering through, and so, in his defense, he is too quick to put God in the dock, and to suggest that God owes him an explanation for His activity. This is at the heart of the question that Job asks in 31:3-4 and it is a question that many of us ask in times of trouble, suffering and strife.
“Wait, isn’t suffering a sign of God’s punishment?”
“Isn’t He watching over His children?”
Job is stuck in the age old conundrum of human suffering and the nature of God. If God is good, then why do we suffer? Is it because He isn’t actually in control and isn’t watching over us? If He is watching over us, and yet we suffer, can He be good?
In the midst of the global suffering occurring through COVID-19, we once again find ourselves with the questions of Job and his friends. We want to know how God works, and we want simple answers for what He is doing in the world. While many of them may be found, and while the Scriptures and revelation of Jesus Christ within them offer us all we need to know about the nature of God, and lots of information about His work, there is still an element of mystery to His work in the world that we simply must accept, lest we misrepresent Him like Job’s friends did, or we attempt to paint Him into a corner like Job did.
What if we stopped in humility, and acknowledged, that we don’t really fully comprehend what work God is doing in the world right now? What we do know is His nature, which is trustworthy and good, and we do know the kinds of people He calls us to be in the midst of pain and suffering. What if what we don’t know didn’t frustrate us, but rather turned us to lament, repentance, humility, empathy, and ultimately worship? N.T. Wright wrote a piece this week (which is significantly more thoughtful than the slightly click-baity title suggests), and in it he says …
Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world.
He goes on …
It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.
I think there is some wisdom in that. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we do know what we do. Let us focus on that.
We do know that God is kind and gracious and abounding in steadfast love. We do know that God sent His Son to manifest this love and to forever secure His children in His story of redemption. We do know that we are called to be people of kindness, love, empathy, humility and devotion.
I am embracing the posture of the Apostle Paul, who when faced with the mysterious workings of God, burst into a song of mystery, instead of bursting into a fit of control.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
— Ro 11:33–12:1.
Courage, dear friends.