The Law and the Glory 

Text: 2 Cor 3:1-18

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,  are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Introduction

Have you ever noticed that it is almost normal to begin the Christian life with glorious and joyful experiences which deeply impact friends and family? (All of the immediate family followed me into the church and were saved, plus some old friends.) Yet with time this so-called “honeymoon period” of God’s immediate presence seems to fade away. This draining away of glory often occurs on a larger scale too e.g. revival movements e.g. Methodism, Pentecostalism, within two generations become institutionalised and lose the holy fire of God (what has happened to the spiritual gifts in the “assemblies of God”).

Back in the 70’s, when I became a believer, a seasoned Baptist pastor came away from a camp testifying that “the people’s faces were glowing” such was the intensity of God’s presence (Ps 34:5).

Today as we see a largely intimidated Church that has lost confidence in the power of the gospel to turn things “upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Is the problem our “lack of commitment”?

We have all heard exhortations from pastors or evangelists telling us of the urgency to communicate Christ to lost people, but these appeals are rarely productive because boldness before man is a fruit of boldness before God and the average Australian Christian is not bold with God; if they were bold with God we would have a praying Church, which we don’t. Our lack of spiritual confidence shows we have fallen away from the very reason why humanity was created, which is to behold the glory of God and to become one with that glory.

As it says in Isaiah, v.6I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, v.7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.””  (Isa 43:6-7).

One of the early Church Fathers famously put it like this, “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God (Irenaeus).

Who is “beholding God” today?

These facts are open to anyone’s observation, but the reason I believe that the Spirit wants to speak to the Church about these things stems from an encounter at our “Looking To Jesus” prayer meeting which runs in Perth every Friday morning. We do not focus on prayer for revival, church growth, ministry matters, health, prosperity or even the salvation of the lost. Rather, we are asking for “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1; Col 1:16).

Several weeks ago the passage which someone shared as the subject for our prayers was 2 Corinthians 3. 2 Corinthians 3 is perhaps the clearest passage in the New Testament which talks about the danger of taking our eyes off “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, this is the problem of  trying to keep the law as though we were still under the old covenant (2 Cor 4:6)

A Stark Contrast

To be a Christian is to belong to a covenant essentially new in nature compared to the old.

In 2 Corinthians Paul seems to contrast the old and new covenants in nearly every possible way:

OLD NEW
Tablets of stone Tablets of human hearts
Letter which kills Spirit who brings life
Ministry of condemnation Ministry of righteousness
Passing glory Permanent glory
Moses : the Lord, a veiled heart Unveiled face

As the writer of Hebrews sums up, “speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (9:13). If things were that simple this passage to the Corinthians would never have been penned let alone Galatians and Hebrews. Sometimes it seems like the glory of the new covenant can be as fading as that of the old; the reason for this experience is why Paul is writing.

Which Glory

Paul contrasts two glories.

The first is the glory of God which came upon Moses when he received the Law at Sinai (Ex 34:29-35). “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory…there was glory in the ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor 3:7, 9).

Even though the letter of the Law brought death, because Moses had been in the presence of God he was transfigured so that his face was shining with glory (3:6; Ex 34:30).

This glory was very real but Paul emphasises it was temporary by saying three times it was “being brought to an end” (2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13). Law never had a permanent or central place in God’s purposes (Rom 5:12-21; Gal 3:15-20).

The Lord had something better in mind with the new covenant; “what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.” (2 Cor 3:10-11). Moses put a veil over his face to hide from the Israelites the fading nature of the glory he had received; but the glory we see in the face of Jesus is the unfading glory of his own eternal life (2 Cor 3:13).

When I was a young minister I had no idea about these things and thought I needed somehow to sustain the presence of the glory of God in the church by my uncompromising preaching. I well remember someone coming to me and cautioning me that I was spiritually striving, but at the time I couldn’t/wouldn’t listen. My drivenness eventually led to a church split.

 Whenever a committed religious person feels that they have lost the glory of the presence of God they will turn to self-sufficiency rather than dependence on the Spirit.

This is why Paul commences this passage with a warning, v.5Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, v.6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:5-6).

The story is told of an aged Chinese pastor who after suffering much for his faith was taken to America. After a time someone asked him; “What impresses you most about the Church in the United States?” He replied, “How much you can achieve without God.”

A psychological report mentioned in December 09, 2013 The Australian newspaper writer Verity Edwards states: “Up to 75 per cent of ministers, pastors and priests suffer from stress-related issues…and up to 25 per cent have taken stress leave or suffered serious burnout.”

 You cannot behold the fullness of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and suffer burnout.

I read this passage from The Message to someone a few days ago:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”” (Matt 11:28-30).

 Spiritual stress can be traced back to the impact of the tyranny of the Law on the human conscience; which is a chronic heart condition.

What Sort of a Heart?

In opening this passage to the Corinthians Paul states, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Cor 3:3
The Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God on stone (Ex 31:18) but the prophets promised a new dispensation of S/spirit in a new heart. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idol… And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezek 36:26-27).

This prophecy is fulfilled every time someone is born again of “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).  Central to the identity of every new believer in Jesus is a soft heart sensitive to the Spirit of God. Tragically this softness is rarely sustained.

I can remember where and when I first hardened my heart and said “No” to God; as if my heart was a heart of stone.

In my confusion I came to believe that Jeremiah 17:9 applied to me, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Let me use an illustration to explain what I am getting at.

At a prayer summit a brother boldly stood up and prayed to “the Lord”, “My heart is as hard as the stone country in the North West.”  Rather than give this chap a lesson in the new covenant I quietly took him aside and asked, “Are you a peach, soft on the outside and hard in the centre, or a tortoise, hard on the outside but soft underneath?”

What do you think he replied? (Tortoise).

Believers certainly can harden their hearts, but only when they are deceived about the heart’s true condition before God, a deception that is fed by their experience of the law (Heb 3:12-13). Israel of old continually hardened their hearts because the letters on stone beginning with “You shall not… (murder… adultery…steal…false witness…)” continually reminded them that they were hateful, covetous, lying, lustful and dishonest.

No wonder they hardened their hearts. But the Spirit writes on our hearts not the letter of the law which kills but the righteousness of Christ which brings life (2 Cor 3:6, 9).

Jesus Writes in the Spirit

Day by day the Spirit is writing on our hearts the life of Christ.

I see this clearly in the story of the woman caught in adultery.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus to condemn her to death (John 8:3-5) but “he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” (John 8:6). No doubt this reminded the legalistic Pharisees of how God wrote with his own finger one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Deut 31:18).

They believed that the penalty for breaking this command was set in stone because it felt like this to their own stony hearts (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22, 24).

Of course Christians are never like Pharisees, are they?

I remember listening to a teaching about this passage and the speaker suggested that Christ wrote words on the ground that exposed the hearts of the woman’s accusers; words like “liar, hypocrite”. (What do you think?) This interpretation is impossibly wrong as it would give to Jesus a ministry of judgement and condemnation, something he repeatedly denies (John 3:17; 8:11; 12:47-50).

 All the commandments undergo a radical transformation through the life of Christ because of his relationship with the Spirit. Let me open this up a little.

In Luke 12:28 Jesus says “I by the finger of God cast out demons”, in Matthew’s parallel it is, “I by the Spirit of God cast out demons.” (12:28). So whatever the finger of God in Christ is writing on the ground is written by the agency of the Spirit, not according to “the ministry of condemnation” but by the Spirit’s ministry of “righteousness” (2 Cor 3:8-9).

We don’t know what Jesus wrote on the ground, but we do know the meaning of those words written by the Spirit. As the end of the story shows the meaning of those words is, “No condemnation” (John 8:11). “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17).

Christ’s full forgiveness breaks the power of law to harden our hearts, but no one can accept such grace without seeing what has happened to the law in the life of Christ himself.

Rom 5:20

Paul testified, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5). As Jesus was born under the Law and born of God the Spirit was constantly writing the requirements of the Law on his heart of flesh, commands which he completely fulfilled (Luke 1:35; Heb 4:15).

In this positive sense Jesus is “the end of the law” on our behalf for he has perfectly kept all the requirements of the law for us (Rom 10:4). This good news but is only half of the story, because the law not only commands obedience but law prescribes penalties for lawbreakers, like us.

To understand what Jesus did for our lawbreaking requires answering the question, “What was the Spirit writing on the heart of Jesus at the point when he cried out in terrible dereliction from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34).

Since Jesus is personally sinless he is guiltless, and it is impossible, in the words of 1 John 3:19-21, that his heart was condemning him. His was a perfectly pure heart that had always seen the glory of God (Matt 5:8).

If however Jesusbore our sins in his body on the treethen he carried the penalty for our sin andthe power of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56; 1 Pet 2:24).

Let me share a typological/prophetic way of understanding Jesus’ experience of the impact of the Law on the heart of the sinner. (The following is not careful biblical exposition but the way God led us in through the scriptures in prayer.)

Psalm 68 is a messianic psalm (68:18>Eph 4:8) and in verse 17 the psalmist tells us “Sinai is now in the sanctuary” (68:17). The awesome presence of God on Mt Sinai at the giving of the Law with fire, gloom, darkness, smoke and wrath was so intense that Hebrews tells us that even the covenant mediator Moses said, “I tremble with fear”, this is what entered into the temple at Jerusalem where the sacrifices of the Law were offered continually to keep peace with God (Ex 19:18; 20:18; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Heb 10:11; 12:20).

 Christians know that the old covenant temple and its sacrifices was only a type of the real temple of Jesus’ own body (John 2:21).

This means that at Calvary all the terror which the delivering of the Law at Sinai struck the fallen human conscience was taken into Christ on the cross; it is like the heart of Jesus himself becomes the tablet upon which the condemning power of the Law is written against a fallen rebellious humanity.

If the terrifying traumatic scene of the giving of the law at Sinai was a taste and prefiguration of hell then on the cross Jesus endures the fullness of what the law does to the guilty consciences of law breakers. For us this is the best news, as Paul can boldly proclaim, “you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”(Rom 7:4).

The penalty of the law has been fully taken away because Christ has borne it to the full; we no longer belong to the realm of law and death but to that of Spirit and life. This translation from the old to the new is directly related to Christ’s resurrection.

If the Spirit wrote the penalty of the law with grief on the heart of Christ crucified (Gen 6:5-6; Lam 3:33) he wrote the Father’s joy on Christ’s heart when he raised him from the dead; “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” (Rom 1:4).

As the perfected human being Jesus is no longer a Son under the Law. The cry, “Abba Father”, which is first his and now ours, is conveyed by the Spirit in complete freedom from the law (Gal 4:4-6). We are now no more “under law” than Jesus is (Rom 6:14; 1 John 4:17). This means that the Christian relationship with God’s law has been radically transformed.

The Law Which is Written on our Hearts

When God made a promise in the Old Testament of a coming new covenant he stated, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33). In New Testament terms it is the Spirit who writes the law of the Lord on our hearts. Now the truly exciting news is that the law of the Spirit written on our hearts is a law already kept by Christ; “Christ in us the hope of glory” is the one who never had an idol, committed adultery or murder, bore false witness and so on, the law as fulfilled by Christ written on our hearts can never condemn us (Rom 8:2-4; Col 1:27)

With Christ at the centre of our thinking about the law it becomes, as James puts it, “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 2:12) and as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. In Christ law and Spirit are in a perfect life-giving unity. The conscience of the Christian has been set free from trying to conform to the old covenant law or the family code or the spouse’s commands or the peer group or the church rules etc.

 The Spirit writes the law on our hearts daily upholding the character of Christ to whom we are called to conform by his power (John 14-16; Rom 8:29).

This is challenging but not at all threatening, for our security is in Jesus and not our own performance. But it is exactly at this point that there is massive confusion in the Church.

The lack of boldness in approaching God and testifying to people is a sign that we are carrying a sense of condemnation which veils the grace of the Spirit in our hearts.

Missing the Spirit

Many times over the years I have heard the following passage quoted of the work of the Spirit in the life of believers, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8). This word “convict” means prosecuting an accused party and finding them guilty before the court room of God in an act of judgement (cf. Jer 2:19; Hos 5:9).

This is exactly what the Spirit does to “the world”, but he does not and cannot “convict” the believer like this because in Christ judgement has been taken away (Col 1:22). To think otherwise reveals a fundamental confusion about the very nature of the gospel. The sons of God may be accused and condemned by Satan as breakers of God’s law but this is never the testimony of the Spirit (Rev 12:10).

I don’t expect the average Christian or pastor to confess their own spirituality is based on a mixing of law and Spirit, but in Romans 6:14 Paul sets up a litmus test about these things; “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

 The lack of discipleship in the Church testifies that much of our effort is based on striving to keep the law as though it had not already been kept by Christ.

The remedy is a restoration of “exceeding, surpassing and permanent glory” which Paul concentrates on in 2 Corinthians 3. This glory is fully seen only in the “image of God” who is Christ (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

The Spirit formed the image of God in Christ through incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection (Matt 1:18, 20; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 9:14).

Paul’s converts became letters from Christ written by the Spirit because Christ in them is the perfect letter of the Father written by the Spirit as the fulfilment of the law (2 Cor 3:1-3; Eph 3:16-17; Col 1:27).

The intimidation of the Church today exposes our legalisms and failure to come to terms with the gospel.

The Spirit has renewed the image and glory of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Jews were fascinated by the physical radiance of the shining face of Moses many today want to believe signs and wonders in the physical world will somehow bring lasting revival. This is impossible.

Conclusion

The Spirit loves to reveal the glory of God and he has done this most fully in the renewal of the image of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

If the Church pursues conformity to this image of glory it will always experience an unveiling of the presence of God in her midst.

It is the depth of our desire to reflect this image of glory that has been tried and found wanting in the last generation.

Let me finish with some words from Jesus about the work of the Spirit which complement the teaching of Paul. Speaking from his own experience Christ prophesied, v.19do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. v.20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt 10:19-20).

This is tremendously encouraging, but it will only empower us if we accept the wider context of the promise; “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matt 10:25).

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed by “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” because he was operating in the power of “the Spirit of God” (Matt 12:23, 28).

In the biblical revelation persecution and spiritual power belong together. This is the both the means and cost of glory.

Suffering believers across the globe, from Syria to China instinctively understand these things.

When a friend of mine returned to Australia from Afghanistan after being imprisoned for 100 days by the Taliban she came to the conviction that her church at home had become Ichabod, “the glory of God has departed” (1 Sam 4:21).

Surely she could only spiritually see these things because suffering had brought her into the open-faced presence of God of which Paul speaks; v.17But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. v.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:16-18).

These are great promises, but do we really want to inherit them through death-and-resurrection or will we go on preferring the way of law?

Job and Jesus

St Mark’s Church on the Rise 15.11.15

Text: Job 10:1-22; Ps 38; James 5:7-11; Luke 22:31-34,39-46

Job Continues: A Plea to God | ch10 v1. “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. v2. I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. v3. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? v4. Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? v5. Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years, v6. that you seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, v7. although you know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand? v8. Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. v9. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? v10. Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? v11. You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. v12. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. v13. Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose.

v14. If I sin, you watch me and do not acquit me of my iniquity. v15. If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look on my affliction. v16. And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me like a lion and again work wonders against me. v17. You renew your witnesses against me and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me. v18. “Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me v19. and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. v20. Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer v21. before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, v22. the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”

Introduction

There is nothing quite as startling as the story of Job.

A respected, prosperous and devout family who suddenly loses everything for no apparent reason.

Unlike Job, the readers of the book are privileged to witness a wager between God and the devil over Job’s motivation; “And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” (1:8). Satan immediately accuses Job of having ulterior motives for his faith; ““Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9) and proclaims that if is allowed to ruin Job’s life he will “curse you to your face” (1:11).

When Satan goes forth to slaughter his family and destroy his possession Job’s response is unforgettable, he “fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said,Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”” (1:21 cf. 1 Sam 2:6).

Satan then suggests that if Job loses his health he will yet turn his back on God (2:5). So the devil is allowed to inflict God’s servant with “terrible boils from head to foot” (2:7) (I can still remember the pain of a boil behind my knee as a child.) things get worse, as a mouthpiece of the devil Job’s wife says to him; ““Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.””

Refusing suicide Job stays centred on the Lord; “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”” (2:9-10).

Then three of Job’s friends visit to bring him “comfort” (3:11).

For the next 29 chapters these friends insist that his pains are a punishment for his sins.

This plunges Job into deep depression and he repeatedly protests that he is in the right with God (9:20-22; 12:24).

At the end of the story God appears to Job proclaims him to be righteous and restores his prosperity and happiness (42:10-17).

Wisdom

Job is a wisdom book whose message marks a revolution in religious thought.

The schools of wisdom in the ancient east taught that the world is governed by an inflexible divine order linking conduct to consequences; the righteous are rewarded with prosperity whilst the wicked suffer catastrophe in this life (cf. Ps 73; Jer 12:1; Hab 1:13).

 Seeing the disasters that have fallen on Job his friends know that he must be a grievous sinner because “bad things” don’t happen to “good people” (Job 18:5; Job 20:5; Job 29).

God’s justice would not allow the righteous to suffer.  

Before his afflictions this had been Job’s view of the world too, but in the third chapter of the book something snaps in his conscience, the anguished cry “Why” (am I suffering) breaks out ten times (vv.11, 12, 16 etc.). Unlike his childish know-it-all friends Job dares to question the justice of God.

 
T
his self-righteousness is too much for Job’s mates who insist more and more intensely that Job MUST be a sinner.

 
R
eligious experts always know the answers in advance, but people like Job cry out to God for answers (14:13-17; 16:19-21; 17:3; 19:25-27).

 
T
he answers of Job’s friends are worth nothing because they cost nothing (Job 42:7).

 
J
ob however is an entirely different sort of man.

Honour

Not once does he complain about the loss of his possessions, the death of his children,  or the breakdown of his health as such; his complaint has to do with the fact that God has taken all these things from him without just cause (9:17; 19:6ff; 29:1 ff).

What he protests about is the loss of his honour with God.

He feels utterly helpless and crushed before his Maker and his inability to prove that he is in a right relationship with his God is driving him out of his mind (40:8).

Job does not think God has left him but that he is persecuting him; “16 I hate my life…Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days 17 What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often? 18 For you examine us every morning and test us every moment. 19 Why won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow!” (Job 7:16-19).

Job’s complaint about the uncomfortable presence of God reminds me of a time when I was having an argument with the Lord about something in my life and his presence tormented me day and night. When I woke up my conscience before God was stressed, at 1 a.m. in the laboratory I knew he was there and I just wanted, not to die, and face judgement, but like Job, to never have been born (cf. 3:3ff; 10:18-19; Jer 20:14-18).

Despite all of Job’s defiant claims that God should vindicate him because he is righteous (32:1; 33:9; 40:8), he never curses the Lord.

Whatever his pains, confusions and arrogance he never denies that he belongs to God he maintains this witness to the very end.

Rebuke and Restoration

The friends of Job hid behind their spiritual traditions, but in taking the argument up to God Job received a greater vision of the Lord.

Suddenly God appears to Job out of the whirlwind and begins to rebuke Job him in the face to face encounter he had longed for (13:15ff; 38:2-3; 40:7; 42:3, 6).

Unlike Job’s friends the Lord does not accuse him of sinful acts (29:12-17; 31:35-37), but appears with a display of majesty that makes Job feel stupid.

God humbles Job by drawing attention to the fine tuning and order of the world, his wisdom displayed in creating the wonders of nature from the depths of the sea to the reaches of the stars and the fearsome beasts that no man can master (38-41 cf. 28).

Seeing the signature of God’s presence in the beauty and harmony of the natural world Job is left speechless; ““Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (40:4) and confesses his ignorance, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know….I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6).

Having met God in person Job is now filled with the foundation of all true spiritual knowledge, the fear of the Lord (42:1-6).

At the end of the book the Lord describes Job in the same way he spoke of him in the beginning, he is proudly identified as “my servant Job” (1:8; 2:3; 42:7-8).

Most readers of Job miss something at the very end of the story which is profoundly significant.

The restored Job has 7 sons and 3 daughters, and only the daughters are named by Job; their names mean Dove, Cinnamon and Face-Paint i.e. cosmetics; “And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters.” (42:15).

Job’s final word is not that God is all powerful and all knowing, but that the fruit of God’s wisdom is beauty.

Job never receives an explanation for his suffering, he never knows about the wager between God and Satan.

Job’s faith however has come through a trial of dereliction, of feeling that the God he encountered in his senseless suffering was different from the God he had always known, he has learned to walk in naked faith and to love God for God’s sake. “He does not say in the end, “Now I see it all.” He never sees it all. He sees God (Job 42: 5).” (F. Andersen).

Like Job, countless men and women have cried out “Why?” in the midst of their anguish; but unlike Job most do not feel they have received an answer.

Here is an Australian example stimulated by in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria which took 179 lives:

Why? ©Irene Conner 10/02/09

Can you tell us why they’re dying and the rest of us are crying as the raging flames of hell light up the sky?

Will we ever find a reason for this tragic summer season?

Can you hear a shattered nation asking ‘Why?’

There can be no consolation
as we view the desolation
for we know we’ll never understand their pain.
But we see their strength and courage
as they drift throughout the wreckage
of the peaceful lives they’ll never know again.

Can they live within their sorrow? What is left of their tomorrow?
Will there come a time when they’ll no longer cry?
Let our loving thoughts surround them,
wrap a nation’s arms around them
as we hear these shattered people asking 

For everyone who has asked “Why?” of God Job is important to us because Job points us to Jesus.

JESUS

The parallels between Job and Jesus are outstanding.

Both are righteous, tempted, impoverished, afflicted, rejected, faithful, and restored.

Job is a seeker after the Lord from beginning to end and as such is his faithful witness (Ezek 14:14; James 5:11).

All this points us to Jesus, the one true and faithful witness to God’s faithfulness, the sinless one who leads us back to the Father whatever our measure of suffering in this world (Rev 3:14).

In Job’s vow from excruciating pain, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job13:15) we hear echoes of Christ’s commitment in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not My will, but yours, be done” (Luke22:24).

In Job’s “Why” to a God who is experienced as strange and disturbing we sense an echo of Christ’s terrible cry from the cross; ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34).

At the moment when Jesus is plunged into the darkness of meaningless evil he receives no answer, no explanation, because his sufferings are infinitely more intense than Job’s, he cannot see the face of his Father.

Unlike an unbelieving humanity for whom suffering is a cause to turn away from God Jesus will not let go of God and ends his life with the utmost confidence, ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”” (Luke 23:46).

However much he was crushed under the senseless suffering sin brings on our world Jesus spoke truly to his disciples; “you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” (John 16:32).

This promise of God’s undying presence is true for us all in Christ. The signature of God’s beautiful wisdom has been indelibly stamped on the world through the triumph of the cross (1 Cor 1:17ff.).

Presence

Hard as it may be, every follower of Jesus has to endure times when their suffering seems senseless.

The mystery of the story of Job, brought into full light through the suffering of the cross, is that the path to the closest presence of God is found through unjust suffering (Job 42:7-8; Matt 12:18; 2 Pet 1:1).

The afflictions of God’s servants are not signs of God’s wrath, nor necessarily acts of his fatherly discipline, sometimes bad things happen to good people without explanation.

If men “hated (Jesus) without a cause” we too must be exposed to senseless suffering so that we may give pure witness to the undying love of God (John 15:18, 25).

If the answer to the torments of Job was not an intellectual one but a closer assurance of God’s loving presence so it must be with us.

Even the bushfire poem I read recognizes that caring presence is what people need. “Let our loving thoughts surround them, wrap a nation’s arms around them as we hear these shattered people asking ‘Why?’” This is a wonderful sentiment, but it is not enough to deal with the cruelties of this world. (Terrorist attacks Paris few days ago.)

Christians know the presence of Jesus is more powerful than anything this evil world can throw at us; this is our undying testimony whatever the injustices of life.

I have a young friend who suffers from bipolar disorder, what they used to call “manic depression”.

At various times in his life he has been involuntarily consigned to a locked psychiatric ward, drugged, restrained and roughly treated.

I said to him not long ago that he has a very special gift, which he affirmed, and he spoke of how even in the darkest places he has sensed that Jesus was with him and had never abandoned him, even in his place of madness. Jesus and Jesus alone can transform the sorts of useless suffering that people experience into a witness of his faithful presence.

Application and Conclusion

Through the cross the signature of God’s loving presence can be seen stamped on every human life.

Some years ago I had a traumatic-and-liberating experience of Christ overseas.

Flying back I had to take one of our regular services in a nursing home in the parish. The residents were as you might expect; frail, toothless and often demented. Suddenly I could see in them all an incredible beauty; the signature of God’s presence penetrated everything in an overwhelming way. (I am sure that’s how the Lord always sees his own image in people.)

Do you believe that the signature of God’s loving presence has sustained your life through all the seemingly senseless turmoil you have endured?

Can you see that his wisdom is beautiful beyond description and is all around you?

No one will ever sense this beautiful presence by asking about life’s unfairness, “Why has this happened to my family my fortunes my friends and my health?”

The presence of God in a senseless world is fully and finally found ONLY in the crucified Christ.

The mystery pointed to in the book of Job and brought fully into the light through the cross of Jesus is that the innocent sufferer who turns to Christ is the closest companion of God.

This is the wisdom that the world can never give and which the world can never take away (1 Cor 1:17ff.).

The worse life becomes the more this wisdom fills our souls and frees our consciences to praise the Lord; not for what he does but for who he is.

These things are certain.
God will permit Satan to sift you, you will have friends that misunderstand accuse you and your health will finally fail you.

But I can testify that all who turn away from useless questioning and complaining to the true wisdom of the cross will know the Lord’s beautiful presence in a way that is beyond questioning (Luke 22:31-32cf. Luke 21:16; Rev 13:7ff.).

This was the answer for Job and it is the answer for us all today.