Is There Any Comfort
Is There Any Comfort?
by John Hannah
Text: Job 38-42
Topic: How God comforts us even when there are no answers
Big Idea: When Job questioned God, God responded not with answers, but with his character, which brought Job comfort.
Keywords: Comfort; God, goodness of; God, sovereignty of; Peace; Suffering
Introduction: God’s deepest comforts are not attached to answers.
Job shares some insights gained on the anvil of experience.
- Job lost everything – possessions, family, health – and had 3 lousy friends to boot.
- Job answers his friends with 3 answers: one correct answer, but 2 wrong ones:
- He’s correct to say it wasn’t his personal sin that caused his tragedy.
- He’s incorrect to say 1) God is uncaring, and 2) God is not in control.
- We sometimes make the same incorrect assumptions about God when in crisis.
- In Job 31:35, Job asks the universal question: “Why?”
God responds to Job’s questions.
- Job 38-42 is the longest discourse in the Bible in which God speaks.
- God responds to Job’s questions by raising seventy questions of his own.
- In Job 38:4-39:30, God answers Job’s charge that he is unkind.
- In Job 40:6-41:34, God answers Job’s charge that he is not in control.
Job responds to God’s replies.
- In Job 40:3, Job essentially says he has no right to accuse God of not caring.
- In Job 42:6, Job repents for saying God didn’t care.
- The point: Job had a terrific change of mind, even though God gave no answers.
- Job found comfort not in answers, but in God’s revealed character. We can too.
- Illustration: Hannah tells of the time his wife discovered a lump on her breast, and he found comfort in God’s character.
Conclusion: What is the source of your comfort? The answer is in God’s character.
Is There Any Comfort?
by John Hannah
Is there any comfort when there are no answers? I would like to argue that the deepest comforts you will ever receive come to you from the hand of God and are not attached to answers. But how is there any comfort when there are no answers?
I think each one of us has experienced personal tragedies. I can remember going through a very deep tragedy in our family. If you have gone through tragedies for which you do not know the answers, you may be aware that people come and provide an array of what appears to them to be comfort. Bur oft-times what they say is really no comfort at all. You listen to the comfort they provide, but you find out that when you sit in your living room after the children have gone to bed, you will still wonder if there's any comfort or anybody in the universe to provide it. What people sometimes say at the moment of tragedy is more wish fulfillment than reality.
That experience happened to me. I felt for a while that I was overwhelmed by a sea of uncertainty and fear, and I wondered if there was any comfort in this world or any strength to be had for my situation.
Job shares some insights gained on the anvil of experience.
When there are no answers, is there any comfort? To help answer that question, I would like to turn your attention to the book of Job. Job shares with us some insights he gained on the anvil of experience.
The story line in the book of Job is simple. You all know, I trust, that Job was a very prosperous fellow. He had enormous wealth. But through a series of tragedies over which he had no control, he lost not only his wealth and property, but also all of his sons and daughters and all of his livestock. In the midst of all that tragedy he was stuck by a gruesome, terrible illness that left him sitting in a heap of ashes, wondering why all of it happened.
To make matters worse, Job had three uncomforting friends who came by to offer him comfort. They basically said that the reason this tragedy had come upon Job was that he had dishonored God and become the object of his wrath. That's a lot of comfort! As he sits with sores all over his body and tears on his face for lost sons and daughters and property, he has to listen to three thoughtless, ignorant friends. That has been my experience also. People who lack insight and perspective are always ready to offer what they perceive to be infallible, impeccable revelations.
Job answers his three friends. One of his answers is correct, but two are wrong. It’s because of his wrong answers that God finally speaks to him. But Job was right when he said to his friends that it wasn't personal sin that caused his tragedy. Their basic opinion was that tragedies come upon us as a retributive action of God, a punishment for something that we have done. Job replies to his three friends correctly by saying to them, "Look, I've done nothing. I'm innocent. I'm a righteous man, but I have lost my sons, my daughters, and all my wealth."
They were wrong. Job was a righteous man. However, in the midst of his suffering, which was very real and poignant and terrifying, he did say two things that were wrong. He said that God must be an uncaring God. He must not understand. He must not really be kind or care for people, because he let things happen. Not only that, Job also said what had happened to him was evidence that God was not in control of his universe.
Job accuses God of two things. He says to him, "You don't really care for me. And even if you do, you are not able to care for me." Those are the two charges that I think every one of us, in the midst of our suffering, raises against God.
We may not do it loudly, but we whisper it in our subconscious in order to find comfort. "God, do you really understand my sorrow? Do you really know? Do you really care?" Then, as the temperature gets hotter, we often say to God, "Are you really in control at all?"
Job goes on to say that he wishes he had never been conceived. Furthermore, he wishes, since he had been conceived, that he had died in childbirth. But God has granted neither wish, so he wishes that God would at least take his life in his present circumstance.
In Job 31:35 he says this: "Oh, that I had one to hear me…let the Almighty answer me!" In the midst of his suffering he cries out to God. He raises the question that you and I have raised repeatedly in the tragedies of our experience. It is the question that makes us shudder when our children ask it: the question, "Why?" Three times in this book Job says to God, "Answer me! Tell me! I want to know why."
Job shares some insights gained on the anvil of experience.
Beginning in chapter 38 God does answer him. What is found in Job 38-42 is the longest discourse in the Bible in which God speaks. Finally God says he will offer some answers to Job's questions. Job has said to God, "Because I sit here in these ashes, because my children are only a fond memory, because I have lost everything I possessed, you must not care for me. But if you do care for me you are incompetent to provide for me."
So, in chapters 38-42, God speaks to Job. What is amazing about this is that God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. In the Bible a storm is often the occasion in which God reveals himself. It's like the storm that brought ruin to Job, and destroyed his family. This time through a similar whirlwind, God brings not ruin but revelation, not tragedy but disclosure. The amazing thing about what God says is how he says it.
God raises seventy questions. With those seventy questions, he says to Job, "Job, how deep is your understanding of things? How much do you really know?"
There are two discourses here. One begins at chapter 38, verse 4, and continues through chapter 39. In this discourse God is answering Job's charge that God is unkind. Job has said, "Because God has treated me this way he is basically uncaring. What’s worse, he is essentially unfair. He is unsympathetic. He lacks a real understanding of me." Haven't you ever said that in the quietness of your heart, when the whirlwind of tragedy has blown through your life and through your family? "God, I know you're there, but I don't think you’re listening. I don't think you care. I don't think you understand." And then out of the whirlwind God speaks.
Notice what he says. Beginning in verse 4, he raises a multitude of questions. With them he says to Job, "Job, how much do you know about how much I care? How much do you know about my wisdom? How much do you know about the way I order the universe?" Notice that there are no answers. There are only questions.
God picks things out of nature and asks Job what he knows about them. He says, "You accuse me of not caring, but what do you know about the animals? Do you care for them, Job, like I do?” Look at verse 4: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." Or read verse 8: "Who shut in the sea with doors?" In the Bible the sea is always the symbol of chaos and disorderliness. God has tamed the seas and he has made the earth.
In verse 12 God asks, "Have you ever in your life commanded the morning?" I think one of the great gifts of God is the rising of the sun. This morning I got up early and had the pleasure of sitting on my patio watching the sun rise. When it broke over the trees a cool morning became a warm morning. This is God's gift to us every day. "Have you ever in your life commanded the morning? Job, just how intelligent are you?
Job also accuses God of a lack of kindness. In verse 16 God asks, "Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? How much do you know, Job?" Later he asks, "Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?"
God is saying, "Think, Job. You are accusing me of being uncaring. You are accusing me of not understanding, of being unsympathetic. But I have made a world the depth of which you will never understand. It's running in perfect order and symmetry. That's how much I love it."
Then God turns to animals. This is one of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible. If you ever doubt the care of God, if you ever doubt his sympathy, read these verses. In chapter 39, beginning at verse 1, he says, "Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth? Are you a lover of nature? Do you observe the calving of the deer? Can you count the months they fulfill, or do you know the time they give birth? Will the wild ox consent to serve you?" It will serve God. "Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, stretching his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up, and makes his nest on high?"
I can feel for Job when he makes this first accusation. I've been in pain. I've had physical pain, but the greatest pain in all of my life has been the suffering of emotional pain. I have been there. I have been there when the darkness was darkest. And unfortunately I have said to God in my smaller thoughts, "God, you must not care, because if you really loved me like the Bible says you do, you would never have allowed this to happen." That's Job's first accusation. But what God is saying to Job by raising all of these questions is this: "I am a God of infinite care and love and concern for my creation. If I am concerned when the goats give birth, if I am concerned that the sun rise every morning, isn't it reasonable, Job, that what you are accusing me of is a lie?
The second discourse begins in chapter 40 at verse 6. God again speaks out of a storm, a symbol of God's awesome presence. Here from chapter 40, verse 6 through chapter 41, God is answering the second accusation brought by Job against him. It is that God is unable to control the universe that he made, that it is of out of his hands, that God is weak. At best he is inept and at worst he is incompetent and has no power to rule.
To answer this charge, God speaks about two animals. Both of these animals are associated with life in the waters. The sea is a symbol of chaos and also a symbol of evil, and these big animals are symbols of the chaos of life. God is saying, "If I can control those animals, then this world is not chaotic."
When the Pharaohs of Egypt were crowned, they symbolically slew two animals: a hippopotamus and a crocodile. The behemoth in chapter 40 is a hippopotamus. The leviathan in chapter 41 is a crocodile. Those Egyptian Pharaohs were showing in symbolic form that when they came to rule in Egypt they would dominate over chaos. God is saying that he is in control.
These are large animals. The behemoth weights eight thousand pounds. He lives in the water. He is an uncontrollable beast. Man cannot tame him. Notice verse 15: "Behold now, Behemoth (the hippopotamus), which I made as well as you…If a river rages, he is not alarmed; he is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth. Can anyone capture him when he is on watch, with barbs can anyone pierce his nose?" God is saying, "I control the hippopotamus. He is within my clutches. Evil is not random. Things do not happen by mistake."
To make the metaphor even stronger, in chapter 41 he takes up the leviathan. Leviathan, most commentators are willing to say, is the great Egyptian crocodile. God says, "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish hook? No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him. Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine."
Job makes two accusations of God in the midst of his suffering. He says, "God, you do not care for me. For if you did care for me, the tragedy that has overtaken me would never had occurred. Disappointment, pain, and mental infirmity are alien from the loving care of God." Then Job says, "If you do care for me, you cannot control the universe that you have made. You are incompetent and inept."
Job responds to God’s replies.
Then after each of God's answering discourses, Job makes a reply. For his first one, look at chapter 40 verse 3. "Then Job answered the Lord and said, ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth.’" Job is saying, "I have no right to accuse you of not caring, because you have made nature. You control nature and provide for all the animals of nature. If you provide for them, simply finite creatures, how much more must you care for and love me."
The second discourse brings a second response, found in chapter 42 at verse 6. After the first discourse Job was humiliated. After the second discourse, Job repents. "Therefore I retract," says Job. "I repent in dust and ashes." Job is saying, "I am sorry for saying that you don't care, because I know you care. I am sorry for saying that things are out of control, because you are in control."
But the point to be made is this: Job had a terrific change of mind, but did God give him any answers? No. God gave no answers, but he overwhelmed Job with the knowledge of his presence.
Is there any comfort when there are no answers? Most of life is spent in that sphere. My reply is this: There is comfort, and that comfort comes from a reliance on the revealed character of God. God has revealed himself truly to us, but he has not revealed himself completely. God has called us to a confident faith that is real faith.
We're living in the twentieth century, which has elevated and perhaps perverted the parental character of God. We have forgotten his awesome transcendence. Not only does he love us, but he is also above us and controls all of life's circumstances. No wonder worship is sometimes sterile and dry when we think that God is the sum of our arguments and the sum of our finite knowledge.
There are no explanations here. There is no justification here. All that we have is an overwhelming of Job by the revelation of God's ways.
The tragedy that most shook me, I believe, was when my wife returned from a gynecologist's appointment some years ago to say what to me are the most horrifying words I think a lady can say when she returns from such an appointment. She said, "In my routine checkup today the doctors discovered a lump."
I am not very fast in my mental apparatus, but I learned what that can mean. For six months we struggled with that. At that time we had a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I struggled at night, after I put her to bed, saying to myself, "How will I ever raise my daughters if I have to raise them alone?" For six months I thought that. I would try to be brave, because that's the male image.
I would put my wife to bed and then go out in the living room and turn off the lights. In the darkness of those moments with my Bible in my hand, I discovered the greatest comfort that can ever be given to a human being. That comfort is not a knowledge that everything will be all right, but a knowledge that everything is under control. It is a knowledge that we have a God who is infinite in his mercies and in his kindness.
What comforted me in the tragedy was not the answers--because there were none--but the character of God. I realized that God cared for me. He cares for the goats, he cares for the deer on the mountains, and he cares for me. I found out that this world is not chaotic. He controls the behemoth. He controls the leviathan. He controls all chaos. He is infinite God and I am finite man.
So I could turn out the lights and go to bed and rest, not in my knowledge, but in confidence in the very character of God.
And I say to you, my friends, that you may go through awful tragedies. When your friends go home, their wish fulfillments stated, and you are left alone, what is the source of your comfort? My answer is that the source is not knowledge, but in the character of God. He is good. He is infinite. He is full of mercy.
As I was writing the end of my sermon yesterday, the telephone rang and a student said, "Last night my child died." What could I say to him? I will say to him what I would say to anyone. It's captured in this gospel song: "When the darkness veils his lovely face, / I rest on his unchanging grace; / when all around my souls gives way, / he then is all my hope and stay."
Is there any comfort when there are no answers? The deepest comforts do not come from answers. They come from knowing God.
(c) John Hannah
Preaching Today Tape #32
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