“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:
‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’”
Most of us are familiar with poor, righteous Job, whom God allowed to be tested. Tested far beyond what most humans could suffer. We also know Job’s faithfulness in God won out and, eventually, after losing all of his belongings, his family, even his health, he was restored. The Lord blessed him with twice as much as he had before and he lived, as our children might say, “happily ever after.”
This story is often hung over our heads and our hearts when we face trials of many kinds. Whether in our own lives or in the world beyond us, we are never far from suffering. So we are reminded that, though Job suffered near to the point of death, he did not lose sight of God. He was faithful to the end, as an example to us.
But do you know the whole story? Have you read the book of Job? I usually stop with the suffering because it’s just too painful, but I explored it a bit more recently in preparation for a preaching opportunity at church: including an ugly little part in the middle when Job questioned God, when he demanded an audience, demanded an opportunity to speak up and ask God whyyyyyyy? And who can blame him? Haven’t we all faced a low time in life when we finally broke down to say “Where are you, God?” or “How could God let this happen?” or “Please tell me, God, that you are still in this because it feels so far from what You would create.”
This past summer, I was in one of those low places. Although I had not lost hold of my faith, I questioned God. I had definitely lost hope. And I told Him that, point blank. “God, I have such faith in You, in the truth that I sit in the palm of Your Hand.” I had faith that He would be there all along, but I had lost my hope He would pull me through. I had let go of my ability to believe my prayers would be answered for the good. And let me tell you, this was a hard place to be. I was questioning God, the One who has held me and my family through trials and celebrations, through the worst and the best. But my finite human mind could no longer grasp His goodness. I empathized with Job. I needed to speak to God and I needed God to respond to me.
Hope is such an elusive sensation, isn’t it? When we have it, we love it. Makes me think of the song by the Carpenters “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation…” But when we lack it, we feel desperate, desolate, despondent. Yet we crave hope, we keep searching for it. Why? Because it is the promise of goodness. We crave what our hearts were created for – God’s goodness, His promises for our lives, His promise of life itself.
God’s response to Job’s demands sounded almost harsh, as we would expect of a great judge. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Does this remind you of the “Great and Terrible Oz”? But perhaps this wasn’t God’s intent, to berate a mere mortal; perhaps God’s reply was more gentle, more loving. God took the opportunity to express to Job, to express to all of us, His great works. Job’s encounter with God continues after verses 1-7 above. For 4 long chapters, God responds to Job with an account of all He has created, all He is capable of doing, far beyond the works or imagination of man. He reminds Job who created the world and all the functioning of it.
38:16-17 – “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?”
38:34, 40:9 – “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like His?”
39:1 – “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they will give birth?”
39:19-20 – “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?
God shares with Job not only what He has created, but His continued Hand in all of it. He is present in the stars, He knows the weather better than Jim Cantore, He even pays close attention to the animals, when they will give birth, where they eat, where they will build their homes. He knows it all. And He knows us.
He offered to Job … hope. When Job finally gave up, God reminding him, gently chided His child. “I have done all these things. You don’t need to question me. I’ve got this.”
This summer, as I sat on the deck of our beach house, I cried out to my heavenly Father. I begged Him to show Himself to me, to show up and prove my questions were fruitless, that He was/is still in control. As I struggled with my remaining faith and my dried up hope, I Corinthians 13:13 kept repeating in my heart, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That threw me for a loop. I had a thin grasp on my faith, I admitted I had lost hope, and trust me, there was precious little love in my lamentations that evening. I wasn’t coming from a place of patience, kindness, or trust. I was perhaps being a tad rude with the God of the universe, certainly self-seeking and angry. Have you been there, too?
Yet, there was that still small voice, “But the greatest of these is love.”
As evening closed around me and my prayers, I knew that God’s answer to my “prayer request” wasn’t as important as His response to me. My prayer, my needs were honestly rather insignificant in light of what so many people face, certainly in light of the troubles of this world. I was not facing a health concern or family breakdown. Everyone I know was safe and sound, our homes and nation were not under attack. But yet I felt desolation, the absence of hope, and I needed the hole to be filled.
When I consider the refugees pouring from their homes in Syria, or children trapped by gang warfare and human trafficking, or lives ripped apart by addictions to drugs, alcohol, abuse, my ears ring with the cries of anguish, of desolation, of desperate need for hope. How much more are others crying out for something, just grasping for an answer, a promise that there is more. There is someone who can save them, someone who cares. That’s what we hold on to, right? Just the idea of it. Hope.
I fell asleep with the windows open so we could enjoy the sound of the wind and the ocean. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke and was, frankly, a little irritated at the sound of the surf hitting the sand, over and over. As a mother of little kids, sometimes I just need a break in the noise. But this didn’t stop. It was more pervasive than “Why, Mommy, whyyyy?” Crash, crash, crash. The waves hit again and again. God spoke to me then as directly as He spoke to Job: This is my love. As relentlessly as the waves hit the shore, My love for you never stops. Nothing can stop my love. Not your waining faith, not your lost hope. The greatest of these is love because My love never, ever ends.
I questioned Him. I sought Him. He came to me and answered. In my desperation, in Job’s desperation, in your own desperation, we seek Him and He promises we will find Him. And that’s why we have hope. Somewhere in the pit, our souls that were created to be with our Creator are always reaching and searching for Him. In the darkest of days, no matter what our world can throw at us, we have hope that when we seek we will find. The very lack of hope, faith, and love are reminders of their existence, that we were made to crave them. When you feel that desperation, and the craving, as we all are wont to do, allow your heart to cry out. God will answer you.
Job sought an answer to his suffering and was met with a God who was willing to answer, to remind his child of what He had created. We seek answers and God meets us where we are, not necessarily with the answers we want. And just as He reminded Job, allow His creation to be a connection to His love. They are intertwined to daily remind us of all He has given.
Allow your Father to breathe His truth into you, My love, my love, my love never fails. It never stops. It never gives up. My love is for you.