Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/11/04
"Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever." For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the LORD" (Jer. 33:11, RSV).
The goodness of the Lord and His unconditional love give strength for the day, and encouragement for His elect who are suffering in all arenas of life. His mercy is everlasting and His love endures for ever. I had been stalling in the writing of this essay, but an e-mail comment from a good friend got me off the dime and on my way. He wrote about his sister's unhappy marriage and how her "argumentative agnostic husband without an ounce of spiritual insight (yet)....has been used to press her into God, when she might have settled for just religion and a compatible mate. All around me, it seems, are marriages in shambles, by God's design." Now, here's the important question he asks at the end: "Would we progress in the kingdom without pressures, trials, suffering and an occasional attaboy?" This reminds me of Paul's statement, "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
The topic on my heart today is fraught with controversy and slathered over with pious doctrines. It concerns our response to God and each other when things go very wrong in our lives. At one end of the spectrum, there are those like Job's wife, whose advice to her suffering husband was, "Curse God and die" (Job. 2:9). At the other extreme, are those religious souls who, if someone yanked their arm off and they were standing knee deep in their own gore, would enthusiastically proclaim, "Praise the Lord," to anyone who came along to mop up the blood and take them and their arm to the ER for treatment and reattachment. I submit to you today that both positions are extreme and based on either superstition or religious dogma! Neither one reflects Life in the Spirit, but rather a preprogrammed response, a one-size-fits-all reply for every situation, which leads to deadening of the soul every bit as much as a bullet to the brain leads to death of the body. It is another way to try to be spiritual by denying our humanity!
What I offer here is my own personal observation about what the Lord has shown me filtered through my own life. At times like this I realize how precarious is the calling of a church pastor, ministering to a group of people with their own beliefs about things. If he preaches something too controversial or foreign to the congregation's beliefs, they may invite him to take his far flung ideas somewhere else. In consideration of his house payment, his dedication to feeding and clothing his family, and paying for his kids' college tuition, he may decide not to say what he really believes. By God's design, none of these limiting factors apply to me, for which I praise the Lord truly and often.
Maybe because I can identify with her, I believe Job's wife has gotten a bad rap. Here are the facts: Job "was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:3). He was extremely blessed with "seven sons and three daughters" (Vs. 2); exceedingly wealthy, owning "...seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East" (Vs. 2-3). He was obsessively religious and codependent to his children, who were fond of having wild parties (Vs. 4). After the feasts had run their course (use your imagination), he "would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom" (Vs. 5). Here was a man who practiced what he believed out of fear (3:25).
All this piety had not escaped God's notice, but it had escaped Satan's, proving that he is NOT omniscient. He was not omnipresent either as so many seem to believe, for when he presented himself along with the angels before the Lord, God asked him "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it" (Vs. 7). Clearly, he was not everywhere at the same time. God had an assignment for him, asking, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil" (Vs. 8). Had God not pointed Job out, Satan would have overlooked him in his to-ing and fro-ing upon the earth and we would have missed some valuable lessons our Father wants us to know.
The next few verses have vital information for us: "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Vs. 9-11). Here, Satan invites God to stretch out His hand to smite Job, but our God is good and cannot do evil. His answer to Satan tells the tale: "The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD" (Vs. 12). Some have referred to this interchange as "the two hands of God," for Satan invited God to use His hand to afflict Job, but instead, God used Satan's hands to execute this horrible assignment.
If any of you still fear Satan, be aware that he has NO POWER other than what God gives him, and a careful reading of this account shows that God set the limits each time Satan attacked Job. Nothing can happen to any of us that God does not authorize! He sends everything to us for our growth and His glory!
Within a short period of time, Satan had orchestrated the following catastrophic events: the Sabeans attacked and carried off Job's oxen and donkeys (Vs. 14). Hard on the heels of that bad news, another messenger reported that "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants" (Vs. 16). Still another servant came to say that the Chaldean raiders had swept down on the camels and carried them off, putting the servants to the sword (Vs. 17). Worse than all that, he was told, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" (Vs. 18-19). I doubt any one of us has endured such total devastation and destruction in such a short time.
Job knew who was responsible, and his behavior was inspiring. "At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (Vs. 20-22). Based on this verse, one could conclude that no matter what happens, we should immediately praise the Lord, but the important thing to learn from Job's speech is his acknowledgment that it was the Lord who gave him everything he had, and it was also the Lord who took it all away, another way to say, "Thy will be done."
Meanwhile, back in heaven's board room, Satan appeared once more with the sons of God before the Lord. Again, when God asked where he had been, he replied, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it" (2:2). God flung Job's godliness in Satan's face: "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason" (2:3). Notice that God takes the responsibility for what happened though He blames Satan for inciting him to do so. Note also that God said He ruined Job "without any reason." This disproves the argument that bad things happen as a result of sin. Job was perfect, according to God (Job 1:8, KJV).
The devil was having none of God's positive statements: "Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face" (2:4-5). God told Satan to stretch out his hand and do his worst, but he must spare Job's life, which may have given rise to my firm conviction expressed many times: "God is not out to kill us, but to (eventually) reveal His glory." Back to Job, "So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes" (2:7-8). Now comes Job's wife with her well known, but possibly misunderstood advice: "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Vs. 9).
Before we rush to judgment on her, consider that she had lost her wealth, her children and now her husband was suffering in unbelievable agony. She had watched his compulsive religious rituals, which didn't change anything. They still lost everything! Since Job knew, she also knew that God was responsible for the whole ordeal. Perhaps she couldn't take it anymore. It is one thing to suffer in your own body, and quite another to watch your spouse suffer horribly when there's nothing you can do about it. I was interested in the study note in my NIV Bible, which commented, "Since nothing but death is left for Job, his wife wants him to provoke God to administer the final stroke due to all who curse him (Lev. 24:10-16)." This refers to the fate of an Israelite woman's son, who "blasphemed the Name with a curse." He was taken into custody until Moses could seek the Lord's counsel. His punishment was to be taken outside the camp where, "All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him." The book of Job was written before the book of Leviticus, but intuitively Job's wife concluded that his only way out of this mess was to curse God so he could die and end his suffering. She knew that his physical ordeal would end at death, and was obviously not afraid he would burn in hell as a result of cursing God.
Again, Job came through the test with flying colors. He scolded her, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said" (2:10). Enter Job's three church friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. The only commendable thing about them, Jeri Fox observed over twenty five years ago now, was that they sat with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word. She concluded that most of us couldn't sit with a friend enduring disaster for seven minutes without telling him what to do to make it better. So true.
Time does not permit us to review their self-righteous advice to Job, but you can sum it all up in one word: RELIGION! I was interested in the fact that Job elevated whining to an art form. Imagine having these symptoms: Revolting appearance (Job 2:12; 19:19); Painful festering sores over the whole body (Job 7:5); Nightmares (Job 7:14); Excessive thinness (Job 17:7; 19:20); Bad breath (Job 19:17); Pain day and night (Job 30:17); Scabs that peeled and became black (Job 30:28); Fever (Job 30:30). Is it any wonder that he quit praising the Lord and began to whine? "What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?
"If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more" (Job 7:17-21).
In the end of the story, God chastises the three church friends, telling them to ask Job to offer sacrifices for them, lest He deal with them according to their follies (false doctrines.) (42:8). There is not one word of reprimand for Job's wife, which is good enough for me. Job's lesson? "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (42:5). Here is a clear difference between Religion (listening to men) and Life in the Spirit (seeing God as He is). When it was over, the scripture relates, "After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring" (Job 42:10-11).
It seems to me that those who obsessively praise the Lord no matter what, are replacing all human feelings with a religious formula they use to control God. In this overlap period, between the final fading away of the law and the full manifestation of the sons of God, the elect walk on the sharp edge of a sword. We feel the tension between what we know is true in spirit and what we feel in our mortal flesh. I have no patience for those who suggest I abandon my humanity for some sort of robotic response to life's sorrows. The other night, I said to the Lord, "Am I supposed to say, 'Praise the Lord' that Lenny can't hear or see, that he is in constant pain from four different chronic diseases? Does his healing depend on my response, my words?" He didn't answer me, and I conceded, "The best I can do is to say, 'Thy will be done,' but I won't lie, about my feelings." God only asks us to surrender our will to His, not to lie, since He already knows how we feel. Jesus did not hide His feelings when He faced with the cross, and Paul certainly didn't hide his either. Gently and lovingly, the Lord let me see that my frustration at friends and family, whose first response is, "Praise the Lord," no matter who is suffering what horror, comes because, at some level, I was looking to them for comfort, or understanding. Obviously, they do not have either to give, and I think that people who are compelled to put a positive spin on everything are hiding from their own negativity. No one can comfort me but God, as Job clearly found out. Father, open our eyes that we may see that Your love does indeed endure forever and You and only You can restore our "land," our being, to the glory we enjoyed with You before the foundation of the world. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To be continued....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"I love you, signed God"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 5/9/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/27/08.