Nowhere to Go and No Way to Get There

To say the least, this last week has been unusual. On Wednesday, while driving to get our *free* coffee at Panera, my wife and I were run into—actually through—a ditch by a road-hogging, scene-fleeing pickup truck. It was a harrowing experience, though, amazingly, once the car finally came to a screeching halt after launching out the other side of the ditch, we were both unscathed, and the car still ran. I did eventually get my free coffee, in case you’re wondering. :)  But now our car is in the shop awaiting the slow machinations of insurance company bureaucracy. 

Then, on Friday, I found out that I’d been exposed to some folks with covid, so now I’m self-quarantining for fourteen days. We had to cancel church. So here I sit, sipping my third cup of coffee of the morning, writing this blog article. 

As the title suggests, we’ve got nowhere to go and no way to get there (technically, we do have a less-than-reliable 1998 Toyota…). We’re quarantined at home and the reliable car is in the shop. All this raises a question: how should the Christian respond to such things as car accidents, global pandemics, and other lousy occurrences? Who do we blame? 

Job’s Ordeal

To answer that question, I’m reminded of a biblical character who experienced something far worse than the minor inconvenience of being forced to drive a rickety 1998 Avalon or sit in an air-conditioned house for a couple of weeks. I’m talking about Job. If you read Job 1, you’ll hear about phase 1 of Job’s horrific ordeal. Satan, in something of a wager with God, is given permission to attack Job, in an attempt to prove that God has simply bought Job’s loyalty with wealth.  

As a result, Job literally loses everything he owns and everyone he loves, with the notable exception of his wife, in a single day. Since this does not succeed in destroying Job’s love for God, Satan obtains permission from God once again to strike Job, this time afflicting him with horrific boils from head to toe. So what does this have to do with our current situation? Where’s the encouragement in this? I want to draw your attention to the two-fold response of Job, in which he affirms God’s Sovereignty over suffering and evil. 

Job’s Response

After Job’s first round of suffering, he famously declares in 1:21, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” 

What on earth does Job mean? Simply, he recognizes that he began and will end life with nothing. Babies aren’t born clutching Benjamins, and folks don’t take their 401k’s into eternity. Job recognizes that life and death themselves are under God’s Sovereign hand. If God gives and takes life, why could He not also give and take wealth? As Giver, God retains the right to be the Taker. Job is just a steward.

After round 2, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” How does Job respond? “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). This is a shocking statement! Job is asserting that, behind all his suffering, stands God. God is utterly sovereign over all things, both the good things (like having seven thousand sheep, two working cars, or being protected from deadly pandemics) and the bad things (like having conniving Chaldeans steal your stuff or bad drivers run you off the road, or a deadly pandemic being unleashed on the globe). 

But you might ask, “But we got the backstory in 1:6-12. God didn’t do all that to Job. Satan did! Job is impugning God’s character by blaming God for his suffering.” 

On one level, there’s something to this. It’s implied that the events of 1:13-19 came as a result of Satan’s action in 1:12. In fact, Job’s sickness is explicitly said to be the result of Satanic attack in 2:7. Or, if we’re looking to ascribe blame, there are the sneaky Sabeans, the deadly lightening, the conniving Chaldeans, or the wilderness winds. In this account, we’ve got Satanic conspiracy, human depravity, and natural disaster to blame enough. Why bring God into this at all? So it would be entirely understandable to look at this situation and say, “God’s good and holy. There’s no way he’s behind Job’s suffering. Sure, He allowed it, but He has washed His hands of the whole affair. Job is just short-sighted to ascribe this ordeal to God.” 

This would be one way to take this, but the context simply won’t allow it.  In Job 1:22 and again in Job 2:10, we get a divinely-inspired editorial comment on the whole affair: “In all this, Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (1:22) and “in all this did not Job sin with his lips.” What Job says about God is, according to God Himself, accurate and true. Job’s statements are not the words of fatalistic resignation, but reverential worship. After all, the last word of verse 20 is “worshipped.” Furthermore, the opening statement of the book declares that Job is, in God’s eyes, a truly righteous man. So that helps us recognize that his response in Job 1:20-22 is a righteous response that we are to emulate.

In other words, Job is recognizing God’s sovereignty over his suffering without angrily “blaming” God. And here we dip our toe into the mysterious waters of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. While God's relationship to good and evil are not symmetrical, He is in control of both. No, He does not cause the Sabeans to be greedy or Satan to be malicious. Though He is not culpable for evil in our world, He is in control of it. He is actively working “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). We, in our arrogance, demand that this be an “either/or:” either God is in control, or man is responsible for sin. We insist on God fitting into our neat boxes and finite intellect. But here we have a mystery, one that ought to drive us to our faces in worship. 

So What?

As we hear about a rampaging pandemic and raging riots, it’s easy to feel like things are out of control and God is far away. Sure, He’s “in control,” but not in an active sense; instead He sits on the throne of heaven trying to spin some good outcomes out of all the purposeless suffering in our world. Thankfully, this is not the case. Instead, He is actively ruling and reigning. 

Which means this: we can worship in the ash heap and bless God’s name. We can, “in everything, give thanks” (I Thess. 5:18). The reasons for this is simple. We can give thanks in everything because God is sovereign over everything. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to thank your neighbor for your wife’s delicious dinner, it would make no sense to “thank God” in every situation if He weren’t the Author of said situations. 

First Thessalonians 5:18 goes on to say, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” God’s will, according to I Thessalonians has to do with our sanctification (I Thess. 4:3). Indeed, the very paragraph in which I Thessalonians 5:18 falls climaxes with the statement, “And the very God of peace sanctify you…” (I Thess. 5:23). 

In other words, we can thank God in every situation because giving thanks is itself God’s will and our circumstances themselves serve God’s will—our sanctification and conformity to Christ.  That means that not only do we respond to these things with gratitude to our good and gracious Father, but we also respond with humility as we seek to respond in such a way as to further our growth in Christ. According to Romans 8:28-29, last week’s car accident and covid exposure—“all things” is quite all-encompassing—were part of God’s plan to conform me to Christ. This current pandemic, though perhaps driven by Satanic hatred and compounded by human incompetency, is ultimately under divine control and is serving divinely-ordained purposes. 

Once we come to realize that everything occurs under the hand of God, we’ll more readily see God’s hand in the most unexpected of ways and places. For all I know, my car may be totaled. I might come down with covid. Who knows? But God remains sovereign, good, and holy. Worship Him. 


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