Last week, we talked about hard questions about faith – hard questions about the Bible. We discussed how many religious institutions take a disappointingly evasive attitude when it comes to hard questions and why the Bible, specifically Job, shows us that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Instead, as Christians we’re supposed to grapple with hard questions. Job didn’t accept easy, pat answer about God and suffering when his life was hit by tragedy – and neither should we.
Instead, hard questions can help us move from simplified, ‘spiritual milk‘ understandings of how God works to the more complex ‘solid food‘ explanations – as Paul put it – that can equip us for future spiritual struggles.
So, let’s pick up where we left off. Let’s explore why it is that Job’s friends were so afraid to question the simplified answers about God and suffering that had served them well in early stages of their spiritual growth. What was it that was stopping them from truly trying to make sense of the unjust suffering Job was going through?
Questioning God and the Sin of Blasphemy
So why are Job’s friends so afraid of letting go of their ‘spiritual milk’ versions of God’s workings?
Because they’re afraid of committing the sin of blasphemy. They’re afraid of speaking against God. This was, after all, Satan’s challenge to God at the start of Job. Satan said to God that Job would curse God to His face if he was put through suffering.
At times it seems like Job comes dangerously close to doing just that. Job horrifies his friends with the way he dares to speak about God and they repeatedly feel the need to remind him of all the things they know about God’s greatness and powerfulness in response. Yet Job remains undaunted.
Job’s Dangerous Questioning
For me, one of the most powerful passages of Job comes in Chapter 13.
Picture a man standing in front of a hurricane and yet insisting, despite the obvious risk, that this is where he needs to be. That’s what Job is like in this passage:
Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.Job 13:15
Job knows that God is greater than him, more powerful than him and could destroy him at any moment. Yet he insists on speaking the truth according to what he sees ‘come on him what may’ even if it seems like he’s in rebellion against God.
Let me have silence, and I will speak,
and let come on me what may.
Why should I take my flesh in my teeth
and put my life in my hand?Job 13:13-14
These last two lines always impact me strongly. Job knows that his own mouth is putting his very flesh in danger by speaking in this way. It’s as if he has his mouth clasped around his flesh in a moment filled with suspense.
Will the teeth bite and draw blood?
Will they tear open and destroy his flesh?
Is it possible that the words of his mouth could bring on God’s wrath and destroy him?
Job doesn’t know what will happen … yet weirdly he says that regardless, he will ‘hope’ in God.
That’s a pretty giant faith he’s got there in the face of the tremendous, hurricane-like power of God which could simply tear him apart.
Why does Job Dare to Question God?
So why does Job take his flesh in his teeth in this way? Why does he dare to speak in a way that God might judge to be irreverent?
The answer, for Job, is simple: because anything else would be dishonest.
Or as Job puts it to his friends:
Will you speak falsely for God
And speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?
Will not his majesty terrify you,
And the dread of him fall upon you?Job 13:7-11
Lying to defend God, is still lying. God’s nature is opposed to lying even when it’s supposedly to ‘whitewash’ His character (as if God needed us to do that). This being so, God will ‘search’ the liar out and God’s majesty in the face of their dishonesty will terrify them.
Yet, you must see what a precarious position this places Job in. It seems like he can’t win. If Job expresses his doubts in the face of God – he puts himself in danger of blaspheming. If he doesn’t express his doubts and uses his mouth to speak untruthful words to ‘whitewash’ God’s character – then he’s in danger of speaking dishonestly. Both could bring on God’s just wrath because both blasphemy and dishonesty go against His character.
Job is balancing on a knife edge.
How Job’s Hard Questions in the Bible Bring Him Closer to the Truth … Closer to Jesus
Yet at the end of the Book of Job (spoiler alert) God justifies Job. While Job isn’t totally perfect (God sees it necessary to put him in his place a bit), it’s the friends of Job who are found to be at fault.
Not only that, but if you look closely, it’s so clear that Job’s questioning HAS brought him to a deeper understanding of God’s ways. Speaking long before Jesus was born, Job began to pick up on something incredible. He began to pick up on the fact that he needed a redeemer. He needed Jesus.
How did he come to that realisation? He came to it as a result of grappling with the confusing reality of the unjust suffering he went through.
Suffering unjustly as he did, he became desperate for God to judge his case and proclaim to everyone that he didn’t deserve this suffering. Yet he also came to understand that he couldn’t take up his case with God on his own:
For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both.Job 9:32-33
God is not a man. Job can’t lay his case before God because He is God’s creature. God will always find Job lacking because He is God and Job is fundamentally inferior. Job needs an ‘arbiter’ – a middleman – who can come between them so that his sins can be judged justly without their differences in position getting in the way.
Job Talks About Jesus
That arbiter is Jesus and, somehow, Job is convinced that Jesus must exist and, incredibly, proclaims in two places that Jesus lives without ever having been told about Him. First he does so in Job 16:
Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
And he who testifies for me is on high.Job 16:19
And then in Job 19:
For I know that my Redeemer lives.Job 19:25
Job knows that his innate sinfulness as a human being is a barrier between him and God. But he also has a sufficiently big faith in God’s goodness to reach the conclusion that God must’ve already prepared for that problem. There must be a Redeemer, a go-between. There must be a person testifying for Him to God, who can ‘lay a hand upon them both’. And, of course, Job was right. As the Son of God made man Jesus can be that go-between. He can approach God and be approachable to Job. He can fix the relationship sin had broken.
Job may be balancing on a knife edge between two equally disastrous ways of displeasing God – but God had already laid out the safety net. That safety net is Jesus.
So, Why is it Okay to ask Hard questions about the Bible and God?
Here are the two most important reasons I can think of.
- Through grappling and asking hard questions about the Bible we can grow spiritually. We can move from spiritual milk to solid food. We can let go of ways of understanding God that might’ve served us well at the start of our spiritual journey but just won’t cut it on the more complex journeying ahead.
- If you’re worried about ‘cursing’ God or saying something you shouldn’t about Him as you grapple with these problems – then don’t worry. That’s why Jesus came … to give us Grace through these messy moments where we can’t quite win by ourselves. Besides, speaking dishonest words about God to ‘whitewash’ His character won’t do you any favours either.
Prompts for Thought
When you have doubts, how do you respond? Does it scare you? Are you afraid that your doubts will displease God? Or do you see it as an opportunity to get a clearer picture of how God works and His character?