Where is God
I have to admit that I notice just how weak I am especially when I suffer even the smallest amount. I can have a really bad cold, the flu, or perhaps my back has been thrown out and I will be laying there in my bed and wondering when God will just let me die and take me away. As though a box of Kleenex should call the meaning and purpose of my life to account, or throwing-up is a sure sign that God’s return should be imminent.
We can hopefully laugh at that kind of thinking because we know all people experience that suffering in our world—the suffering of basic sickness seems normal. It happens to old and young, healthy, rich, poor. It is comparatively small in the realm of sufferings that we see around us. Nonetheless, we all wrestle in our thoughts whenever we suffer, whether it is small sufferings or large, momentary or long-term.
At a high level, we have framed our entire Job series as a wrestling with suffering and sovereignty. We don’t always understand the suffering and its purpose, we often don’t always understand God’s sovereignty very well, and we definitely struggle with both when you put them together: suffering and sovereignty. As we follow Job through his journey in this series, we pray both of these become more clear: God’s purposes for suffering, and God’s sovereign love and care for you.
Our look at Job’s life can help us as we see his struggles and identify them in ourselves. Our wrestling has many facets just like his does:
On the one hand, we sometimes swing and see no purpose in the suffering, we feel alone, we feel abandoned. The natural thought that comes from this is we doubt God is even there. How could God be there if suffering is happening? Where is God? That is what we are going to talk about this morning.
On the other hand, we sometimes swing and are very aware of God, aware of his righteousness and therefore very aware of how short we all fall. We are sinners. We feel very aware that sinners can’t have a relationship with God, yet we forget we have a great Arbiter—a reconciler—who has brought us back into relationship with God. We forget we have a great Redeemer, someone who has taken our punishment for us. We will spend two sermons on those topics.
And in the midst of those swings in our relationship with God in our suffering, we have other wrestling:
We receive counsel from others, sometimes good and sometimes bad. How do we deal with that counsel? How do we ourselves give good and not bad counsel when people are suffering? What does that look like?
We see the wicked prosper and it calls into questions if our God can be just? If they are receiving benefits in this life in doing wrong, and I receive suffering while doing right, what hope do I have?
We also want to know where to find wisdom throughout this process. How can we know, trust and find God in our struggles? We will tackle all three of these in three sermons during this series.
This sermon, and the next five after it are all about the ways we struggle within our suffering. We pray that, just like Job, even as we wrestle, we will come face to face with God and see that he has purposes in the suffering. He is growing us and sanctifying us, making us more like Jesus Christ at every step. He uses what was meant for evil and turns it into good in our lives. And he speaks to us! We are not left without his word that we may know and trust him, finding everything we need for a life in service to him. He is greater than we can ever imagine, a God above all our understanding, whose ways are mightier than ours and more loving and gracious than we ever imagined. And, importantly, he has secured a final hope for us, and it is magnificently great!
We will look at all of these aspects as we preach through Job over these next ten weeks. This morning, we are going to focus on Job’s first reaction and often our first reaction. He feels alone, he feels abandon. And likely, he is question where God is in his suffering. If I can’t see purpose, is God really there and could there possibly be a reason for me to go on?
Where is God?
Our passage begins this morning with Job opening his mouth and it says he “cursed the day of his birth.” He wishes that the day he was born on would live forever in darkness because it allowed him to be born. He wishes he had died at birth—why did he nurse from his mother, why did her lap receive him, why wasn’t he stillborn and allowed to immediately enter into eternal rest? That is pretty harsh, but Job is in a pretty hard place. He has lost everything: his goods, his livelihood, his family, and his health. Listen again to how Job describes his current plight in Job 3:20–26:
“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”” (Job 3:20–26 ESV)
I want to focus on this phrase: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” Earlier, in Job chapter one, it was Satan who used this phrase “hedged in”. He says to God in Job 1:10:
Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. (Job 1:10 ESV)
Satan claims that Job has been protected by God, kept from Satan, and he claims that is the only reason why Job loves God. Now, Job feels like he has been hedged in by God, but not for good. In fact, he says it again later in Job 19:8.
He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. (Job 19:8 ESV)
Walled up, hedged in, a dark path. Job doesn’t see any way forward in life—he doesn’t see any purpose or path leading on. Job feels abandoned. Suffering does that to us: when we can’t see the path we are on, when all we see is darkness, we feel very alone. Worse of all, we feel as though even God might not be there. Throughout scripture, and I bet even in your own life, when you don’t see purpose or the path you are often worrying because you don’t know if God is even there. The Psalmists often talk about it this way:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalms 10:1 ESV)
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalms 13:1–2 ESV)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalms 22:1–2 ESV)
When things are bad, is God gone?
Job describes it as being hedged in, not being able to see his path. There is a good reason why we wonder if God has removed himself from us when things are bad. Scripture actually has a category where this happens: it is with those who never choose life in Jesus Christ. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, speaking of those who don’t believe, Paul says:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV)
Similarly, when Jesus is recounting the judgement of all people in Matthew 25:41 he says of God:
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41 ESV)
Depart. Sent away from his presence. Hell is worse than we can imagine: weeping, gnashing of teeth, and importantly, away from God. When we experience suffering, even small sufferings, it makes sense that we use the reverse logic that says, “If I am experiencing suffering, and God says those out of his presence experience these types of sufferings, perhaps I am out of God’s presence?” We wonder, where is God?
But is that true? We know our emotions and thoughts can be fickle—they can lead us down paths that are not right and that is why we need objective truth. This morning we want to answer the question that occurs at the one side of the pendulum when you feel abandoned and alone and you can’t see the path forward in your suffering: Are any of you “out of God’s presence” in your suffering today? When any of you ask, today, “Where is God?” the answer is he is right there with you!
For Those Not-Yet Believers
For any of you here this morning who are not yet believers, this is great news for you. The judgement hasn’t happened yet, and God is still looking on you and offering you reconciliation in Jesus Christ. God is very slow to anger and is exceedingly patient. We are told in Exodus 34:6:
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)
And we see that this patience has been for us in 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
God is offering you salvation, even today, in Jesus Christ. We are told in Romans 5:8
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
To you, today, as a sinner, not cleaned up and not presentable to God, he is offering relationship to you through Jesus Christ. You are not yet fully out of his presence. If you don’t turn to him in this life, separation will be the outcome. Jesus alone can deal with your sins, your punishment, and present you before God that you might be fully in his presence on day, and have the promise of that in your life today. Repent and put your trust in Jesus this morning that you might know you are fully with God.
For you, believers, you are never apart from God in Jesus Christ! The objective truth of his word reminds us again and again that he has never left us:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV)
There is assurance for you Christian, for you:
..who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5 ESV)
The cheesy little Christian posters are right, you have never been alone. But they fail to grasp the enormity of how not-alone you are! Your God has known you before time and has been with you even before you believed in him:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30 ESV)
From before you were created to the moment you were called and saved, from the moment when God justified you in Jesus Christ to the day when you are glorified and your sinful body and tendencies are shed and all will see how true that calling is, God has been with you!
The God who is never gone!
But both groups, unbeliever and believer often will say, “How do I know? How do I know this moment isn’t different–that God is still here even when I don’t see the path and I don’t understand? I can read this these truths, but what evidence do I have that this is real?”
Let me start this morning with thousands of years of proof:
Adam & Eve
The only humans to know what it is like to live a life without any form of suffering—emotional, spiritual, physical—and then encounter suffering. Their sinful actions condemned themselves and our entire race to a life of suffering and difficulty. All of creation now groans in anticipation of its restoration. And still God was not absent. He promised a seed, a son, who would restore them to God and right every wrong. And God was gracious to Adam and Eve in their suffering to give them children, sons, that they might know his promise is true. We have chapter after chapter listing genealogies: the son of so-and-so, the son of so-and-so, not because men are more important in general but because everyone was waiting and wonder, “Is this the long awaited son?” We stand, thousands of years after Adam and Eve and no longer wait in anticipation but know that God was there through many families and lines of people and he provided. His presence with Adam and Eve in suffering culminated in Christ!
Noah’s family goes through one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall our planet—all peoples except one family wiped out. Everyone they know, every relationship they had ever made, gone save their family. And yet God was there. He promised and sealed it with a rainbow that it would never happen again, and we stand here today knowing that it hasn’t still to this day.
Joseph’s dreams, though interpreted as a young man very arrogantly, still came true. In spite of the suffering from his own sin, the sin of his brothers against him, Pharaoh’s wife’s sin, God still proves true to his word. Through the suffering he provides for a nation of people for himself and out of that nation salvation for all people, you and me included!
Rahab, an unknown prostitute, is saved amidst the destruction of her entire city. And what could be viewed as great loss and suffering we find is actually God’s way of bringing her into his story, as she becomes part of the lineage of Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 1:1–16). A prostitute, a Caananite—the enemy of Israel—is listed as the mother of Salmon, the father of Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, the great-great-great-etc grandfather of Jesus!
We could spend all morning, and you should spend a lifetime, enjoying the word of God and seeing how throughout suffering God is always there. His people are never left alone or abandoned. Sometimes God is present in the suffering in ways that his people see in their lifetime, but always in ways that is for their good even when they don’t understand it. As we read Scripture over the course of our life we can say assuredly with the Psalmist:
I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. (Psalms 37:25 ESV)
God is always there and will always provide for good, even in ways we don’t understand. We need to be able to say with the Psalmist (Psalm 23):
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalms 23:1–4 ESV)
God is with you! What Job finds out in God’s actual visitation to him you and I know through his word and can rest in.
Conclusion: Jesus Christ
More than anything, we have seen that are God is with us in his literal visitation. He is a God who is with us, who cares, and who enters in, especially in the person of Jesus Christ.
He understands your suffering, so much so that he can call out like the beginning of Psalm 22 “Why have you forsaken me?” Yet he rests secure in the end of Psalm 22:25, and so should you:
From you [LORD] comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! (Psalms 22:25–26 ESV)
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV)