When God Seems Silent
May 10, 2019
The manner in which God treats people can be confusing. In one sense, the Bible identifies God as the essence of love. He is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, and gentle. In another sense, the Bible also explains that God is a fair and righteous Judge that punishes sin thoroughly and definitively. He has destroyed people and nations throughout history, and that is nothing compared to what He will do when He pours out His wrath and judges sin once and for all. The problem is trying to understand God’s perspective concerning people knowing that He is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is not a respecter of persons, so He treats the wicked with favor and difficulty as often as he does the faithful. This causes people to question God. The assumption is often that, if life seems hard and harsh, God must be upset with us and is punishing us. There is also the assumption that if life seems comfortable and peaceful, God must be pleased with us to bless us. The testimony of the Book of Job sufficiently proves that neither of these assumptions are correct. It is hard to know why God treats us the way that He does, but that does not give people the right to make assessments, declarations, and decisions that have no Biblical basis.
Assuming we know why God treats people certain ways is prideful. The Bible explains that God’s ways are wonderful and that His wisdom is past finding out. In other words, His purposes are so complicated and extensive that we can never fully understand what God is doing and why He’s doing it. When we feel like we want to have an opinion about God’s treatment of us, we often times get ourselves into trouble. This was the chief issue that Elihu had with Job. In the testimony of Job 33:8-18 the Bible shows that Elihu was offended with Job for this very reason. Elihu politely and honorably asked permission to speak his heart after he recognized that Job and Job’s friends were done talking. There were things that Elihu heard as an ear-witness that didn’t sit right with him. The Bible explains that Elihu’s motives were pure, and his presentation of truth was humble, with the objective of building people up, not tearing them down like Job’s friends. The chief issue that Elihu had with Job was that Job often misspoke about God simply because he let his suffering cloud his understanding of the truth about God.
First, Elihu was helpful to explain that his words were not based on personal opinions dealing with facts that he received second or third hand. Elihu’s words were not based on things that Job said privately. Elihu reminded Job that the things he was referring to dealt with words that Elihu heard himself in a forum that was public. Job didn’t speak these things to others so that Elihu heard them in the manner of gossip. Elihu heard Job’s words with his own ears and could speak as a credible witness. Job didn’t speak these things privately either. Therefore, the issues that Elihu was going to address in public weren’t issues that Job sought to keep secret. Elihu’s words would not have brought any more shame than Job had already brought himself. Elihu’s words and the manner of them were appropriate and sound. Elihu reproved Job publicly because Job caused public offense, whether he knew it or not. This didn’t mean that Elihu sought to embarrass Job publicly, but that it is not a bad thing to publicly correct those who error in public like Job did.
Elihu got right to the point. In Job 33:8-18 Elihu explained that Job’s problem was his attitude. He spoke as if he was undeserving of the suffering he experienced. Elihu cited several specific statements that Job made. First, Elihu explained that the foundation of Job’s defense was corrupted. While Job never said that he was perfect, his elaboration to prove himself innocent of hypocrisy seemed to be excessive in Elihu’s mind. It is one thing to plead innocence concerning a certain accusation, but Job continued to go on and on about it. If a truth is stated and not received, repeating the same truth usually doesn’t change people’s minds. This is why debates are never really won by one side or another. Job’s friends were clearly going to hold their ground, so Job continuing to explain his righteousness made it seem as if he thought more highly of himself. Job confessed that he was willing to accept fault if fault could be proven. Still, that sentiment didn’t require Job to continually explain how good of a person he was, especially while questioning God’s treatment of him.
Elihu felt that, without saying these words exactly, Job was presenting the idea that he was “pure and without transgression.” It was not that Job said this exactly, but that the overall context presented this attitude. It was not just that Job explained that he was innocent of hypocrisy, but that he also explained his disagreement with the manner in which God was treating him. Since Job could not identify any specific fault in his life as the cause of his suffering, he spoke as if God was being overly harsh, excessive in force, and possibly unfair in His unwillingness to explain Himself. These ideas put together made it seem as if Job felt he was undeserving of suffering. This is the problem Elihu had. No person is exempt from suffering. Whether we commit one sin or another, God is never guilty of treating people excessively. In fact, in Psalm 103:10 the Bible teaches that God does not treat us the way we deserve:
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.”
God goes way easier on us than our sin calls for. Thus, God does not use excessive force and He is not obligated to explain Himself when trials come into our lives. Job had forgotten this truth in the midst of his emotional outbursts. Though the extent of Job’s pain and suffering makes Job’s errors reasonable, it does not make them acceptable. Elihu referenced the moment when Job said, “He finds occasions against me.” This is a quotation from Job 19:11. Elihu cited the moment when Job said, “He counts me as His enemy; He puts my feet in the stocks, He watches all my paths.” This is a quotation of Job 13:24-27. Elihu was quoting Job accurately here. He heard when Job accused God of going too far. Job felt like God was picking on him. Job felt like Job was being treated like an enemy of God though he knew he was a friend of God. Job felt like God was intently watching Job just to ensure more suffering. This is not true of God, nor of Job’s circumstances. Job was driven by the emotional response of his suffering to speak presumptuously.
It is common for us to feel like God is against us when things are tough, but we can’t let that lie become our rally cry, citing our pain as the justification for it. Just because we’re hurting doesn’t mean we can accuse God of acting contrary to His Word. Just because we’re suffering doesn’t mean that our position with God has changed. Elihu reminded Job how things really work. Elihu reminded Job about the greatness of God and the extent of it. Since God is far greater than all people, He is not obligated to explain Himself, His purposes, nor His treatment of us. Who do we think we are to demand answers and explanations from God? He is the Potter and we are the clay. Does the clay need to be given a thorough explanation from the Potter as to why they are being formed into their shape? Does not the Potter have charge over the clay? Isn’t the Potter able to form the clay according to His purpose without explaining Himself to the clay? Does the absence of an explanation from God disqualify God from successfully achieving His good purposes? During times of suffering, it is natural to want answers. However, the absence of answers shouldn’t provoke us to contend with God as if we are entitled. Job’s words were natural according to human habit, but were unrighteous. When we let confusion spark entitlement because we feel God owes us an explanation, we too are in error and acting unrighteous.
Elihu reminded Job that God doesn’t need to give an account for anything He does or says. It is important to remember the extent of God’s holiness, righteousness, glory, and greatness; especially compared to our corrupted nature. He is not obligated to give us anything except what we deserve – death. It is according to God’s grace that we receive any revelation at all. Job himself said that God’s ways are “past finding out” in Job 9:10. In other words, even when God does reveal something to us of Himself, we can’t understand it. For example, God clearly and plainly explained the manner of how He created the heavens and the earth by the power of His Word in six 24-hour days. Yet history proves that mankind cannot deal with this. We can’t understand how that’s possible even though it’s true. Therefore, people have taken it upon themselves to rationalize God’s miracle by proposing new thoughts with lies. If we can’t understand the simple concept of God’s eternally self-existing and self-sustaining nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what makes us think we’ll understand the details of His work according to His nature?
Not only is He not obligated to divulge explanations for all of His works and purposes, but Elihu reminded Job that, even if God explained Himself to Job, he still wouldn’t understand. Could you imagine how Job might have responded if God had revealed the events of Job Chapter 1 where God offered up Job to the devil? If God would have explained that to Job, you can almost hear Job’s natural response to God’s simple explanation. Job would have said, “Why?” Then God would have explained His reason, and Job again, would have asked “Why?” The point is, we never understand why even though God does provide explanations about certain things concerning Himself. Elihu used an example to explain the intense depth of God’s wisdom compared to our inability to understand. Elihu explained that God often provides insight and wisdom at night when we’re asleep. Back in the days of Job and Abraham, it was common for God to speak in visions, when people were asleep and unconscious. Elihu explained that this was purposeful. God revealed things to people when they unconscious, in spite of them. God implanted His wisdom and revelation into people when they were unaware, unable, and unsuspecting.
When we receive revelation, teaching, instruction, or insight from God, it is usually in spite of who we are. God does this to keep us from pride, which then keeps us from suffering the consequences of our depravity. God’s revelation comes according to His grace, and since His revelations and explanations are delivered to humble us, keeping us from hellfire, we can see that God exercises His greatness for good purposes. Therefore, whether or not we understand God’s treatment of us, we are expected to trust that it is always good, even though it might not feel that way. Job lost sight of this. He expected God to treat him better, at least with words of revelation. Still, if Job understood the purpose for his suffering, it wouldn’t have made it any easier. Additionally, if the revelation of God that Job had previously received was according to God’s grace, and was given to Job to produce good results to preserve Job’s spiritual integrity, then why should Job question God now? Does God change? Does God abort His faithfulness? Does God have spells of cruelness? God is the same yesterday, today, and forever more. This is true whether God provides miraculous and exceptional revelation to comfort us or not during our time of need. Our job is not to vent and complain because God isn’t meeting our demands or improper expectations. Our job is to trust the Lord no matter what, and when our fleshly nature wants to dishonor God like Job, that we would rebuke those thoughts and seek God for humility.