Shall We Correct the Almighty?
Editor’s note: please read Job 38-42 in conjunction with this article.
Undoubtedly, Job is one of the first people to come to mind when we think about a faith that can endure trials. James cited him as an inspirational example when he said, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job suffered the loss of his wealth, his health, and his children, yet never turned his back on God. Two passages at the beginning of the book show his unshaken trust in the Lord despite adversities that boggle our minds.
“Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”1:20-22
“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”2:9, 10
Job was a great man of remarkable faith, yet if we continue reading we see a man who struggled to understand what was happening to him. In fact, while he never “cursed God” or rejected Him, he insisted that if he could only talk with God he was certain that he could convince God a mistake had been made and the Lord had dealt unfairly with him. Consider the following from Job as he wishes he had never been born, wonders why God was being so hard on him, and then asks for his “day in court.”
“Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?”3:11
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?”7:20
“For He crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to catch my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a matter of strength, indeed He is strong; and if of justice, who will appoint my day in court?9:17-19
“I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me.’”10:2
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.”
“See now, I have prepared my case, I know that I shall be vindicated.”13:15, 18
“Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which He would answer me, and understand what He would say to me. Would He contend with me in His great power? No! But He would take note of me. There the upright could reason with Him, and I would be delivered forever from my Judge.”23:3-7
The point of this is not to imitate his friends who foolishly charged Job with grievous sins, but when God challenged Job to present his case it was not Job who was vindicated. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me’”(38:1-3). There is great irony in the instruction to “prepare yourself like a man,” for no man is able to argue with God on an equal footing and Job soon learned that.
God began by reminding Job that he was not the Creator, nor was he present when the world was formed. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”(38:4-7)? The Lord continued by asking Job if he could make the sun rise, cause rain to fall, control the stars, order nature so that the animals were fed, and a host of other questions that caused Job to more greatly appreciate that the Lord was God and he was not.
After affirming His eternity and omnipotence the Lord paused in His discourse to allow Job to speak, but first He challenged Job with the following: “Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said: ‘Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it’” (40:1, 2)
Notice the response of the one who previously had expressed the desire to find God so that he could vindicate himself: “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further’” (40:3-5). Though Job had begun to realize that to question God’s sense of justice was foolish, the Lord wasn’t through with him. In the next section the Lord challenged Job, the man who had complained of injustices in God’s world, to take on the job of being God.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty. Disperse the rage of your wrath; look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness. Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you”(40:6-14). To paraphrase without being flippant: Job, you know you lack the power to rule the world, so why do you question the way I do things? Never forget that I am God and you are not.
Job’s lesson in humility was concluded by references to the behemoth and Leviathan, two creatures we cannot identify with certainty, but with which Job was familiar. The Lord dwelt at length on the power of these beasts that He might impress Job with the gap between him, a man who could not control either creature, and His Lord who created them.
Job, a truly great man, then declared himself to have learned a complete trust that the Lord was not to be questioned. He now knew that while he might not understand why things happened as they did, he should always know that the ways of God are right.“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’”(42:1-6).
Have we truly grasped the lesson Job learned as the Lord spoke from the whirlwind? Do we ever find ourselves questioning why God allows certain things to happen? Ever find ourselves thinking we would have done things differently if we had been in charge of the plan of salvation, the work and worship of the church, the laws of morality, etc.? Have we ever stopped to think about why God didn’t explain to Job that He was not the one punishing him, but instead his trials originated with Satan? Does the answer not lie in the fact that the Lord is God, we are not, and He doesn’t have to defend Himself? Things may not seem fair and equitable from our limited perspective, but if we can see God as Job came to see Him we will know that the right thing to do is to continue to trust Him no matter what.
Though we will not face the same trials Job did, what will we do when sickness strikes us or those we love? What will happen when our jobs and sense of economic security are taken from us? Will we ask, “Lord, why me?” in a way that implies God has somehow failed in His responsibilities? Or will we acknowledge that we are the dust and ashes while He is the Almighty who is not to be corrected because He is never wrong?
Job questioned God because of his suffering, so it is only right that we think of how this book relates to our trust in God in times of trial, but let’s not stop there. Let’s apply the principles of Job 38-42 to some other areas in which we may think that if we could only “come to His seat” and “present [our] case before Him” He would understand and admit that we were right.
The Almighty has said: “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate….And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery”(Matthew 19:6, 9). Despise this plainness of speech, the words and actions of many indicate a belief that given the chance they could convince God that His law is too confining and they deserve more leeway to separate what He has joined together. When that is the case would Job not say to us, “He is God and you are not. As Creator He knows what is best”?
Would it not be the same if we were seeking to explain why an exception should be made for us when it comes to God’s instructions regarding forgiveness, church discipline, and a host of other things? Do we really think we could go before God and convince Him that He asks too much of us when He commands us to forgive those who have wronged us? If we could actually appear before His seat, would we tell Him the teachings of 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Thessalonians 3, and other such passages do more harm than good? Even if we had never read Job we probably wouldn’t have the audacity to actually make such arguments in the presence of God, but do our lives ever reflect that kind of thinking? Do our choices indicate a (perhaps) subconscious conviction that the Almighty needs to be corrected?
Truly, neither life nor the doctrine of Christ is always easy, but as “dust and ashes” we need to be careful we do not seek to correct the Almighty. The Lord is both God and good at being God—we are neither and should never forget that.
John R. Gibson
All quotations from the New King James Version, copyright 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers