The Bible teaches that God’s ways are not like our ways. His thoughts are not like our thoughts. The context of this teaching deals with God’s mercy. God’s nature and character is based on mercy. This is contrary to human nature. People love vengeance and justice based on self-righteousness. God loves mercy and compassion. His mercy endures forever and His mercy is renewed every morning. One of the most dramatic examples of this truth is seen in the testimony of Jonah. There, God sought to extend mercy to the wicked Assyrians of Nineveh and Jonah despised God for it. Jonah, a Jewish prophet, had seen the Assyrians oppress his people for a long time and had grown to hate them. He wanted God to come down on them with anger and violence. Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians to be forgiven and saved, he wanted them judged and condemned for all the pain they caused. This is why Jonah rebelled against God’s command to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. Still, God exercised His sovereign power and brought Jonah to the Assyrians, and over 120,000 people were saved and spared from God’s wrath! Jonah was bitter and despised God’s willingness to forgive. Thus, the testimony of Jonah ends by showing that Jonah was just as evil as the Assyrians he despised. Both Jonah and the Assyrians were spared by God and not immediately destroyed as they all deserved, and as some might have desired.
This makes God’s work hard to understand. Are the wicked getting away with what they do wrong? Certainly not! Are the oppressed deprived of justice? Certainly not! God’s mercy makes things confusing. Human hate and self-righteousness makes God’s mercy hard to understand. The issue is that the nature of God is in contrast to human nature. We don’t think alike. We don’t work alike. We don’t have the same objective. We don’t have the same methods. Therefore, we are unqualified to make assessments and definitive statements about what God is doing. We don’t know what God is doing because we can’t, since our ways are so contrary to God’s. This is a truth that Job understood and tried to remind his friends about so that they would stop making assumptions about his situation. Job’s friends figured that his suffering was a sign of God’s judgment against some terrible sin. Job’s point was that such an assessment is impossible to make. God is merciful and just, which makes the timing of His work hard to understand. God doesn’t immediately judge the wicked making it seem as if God is indifferent. God allows His people to suffer as if they’re being punished even though they’re not. God will judge the wicked, but in His time, which usually is much longer than the time we would wait. God will allow His people to suffer and won’t take that suffering away until His time, which is usually much longer than we would prefer. So how can anyone know what God is doing or why He is doing it?
In Job 24:1-25 the Bible shows that Job explained how God will often deal with the wicked. Job reminded his friends that the ways God often deals with the wicked is contrary to the ways we think the wicked should be dealt with. Job explained that there are plenty of wicked people out there who do whatever they want to prosper and succeed. They take advantage of the weak. They steal and do things unjustly in secret. They impose their will on others. They parade about as if there is no consequence. Job explained that there are plenty of people out in the world who make up their own standards of righteousness and have no true understanding of good and bad. They feel that, so long as their personal ambitions are being fulfilled, everything is okay, regardless of how others might be affected. There are plenty of people who live by selfish philosophies that as long as they are happy, their manner of living is okay, no matter the cost to others. Job understood that this type of thinking is evil in the eyes of God. God does not desire for the weak to be taken advantage of or bullied. God does not want violence and scheming. Still, there is plenty of this sort of evil going on in the world. If God is Judge of all these things, what is He waiting for?
This was the point that Job was trying to make. Obviously, there are an abundance of evil people in the world. Obviously, there are weak, poor, and under-privileged people being taken advantage of. Still, this injustice goes on every single day. Job explained that if it were up to him, the wicked would pay for their evil quickly. They would die swiftly and in a public manner so that others could learn that evil doesn’t bring prosperity. Job explained that if things were left to him, the families of the wicked would be cut off as well so that evil would not be perpetuated to the next generation. Job explained that if it were up to him, he would cause the riches and resources to be swiftly taken from the wicked so that they would not have an opportunity to recover. In other words, if it were up to Job, he would absolutely burry and utterly destroy the wicked with swift justice. Job’s brand of justice didn’t make any room for mercy or forgiveness. This is typical of most people, but this is contrary to God.
Job understood that God’s ways were different. After letting his friends know how he would do things, Job went on to explain how God actually does things. He explained that there is a great contrast. God draws the mighty and wicked away with His power, explaining that God’s power is greater than that of the wicked, no matter how things appear. It might seem like the wicked are getting away with their evil, and that their strength is supreme in this life, but it’s not. Job admitted that God sees what’s going on. God’s eyes are on the wicked as well as His own people. Though the wicked and the proud wake up every day figuring to do as they will, their lives are in the hands of the Almighty. They might not know this, but God can take their life at any moment, and administrate His judgment at any time. The wicked have security in the strength of their own minds and hands, but God’s influence is ALWAYS supreme. His waiting on account of His mercy and forgiveness is not a sign of His weakness and indifference.
Job explained that when God is ready, when His mercy is exhausted, when His patience has reached its measure, God will judge. The wicked will be here for a time, but then they will be gone, left to deal with the One True Living God who is Judge of the living and the dead. Those who build themselves up in this life – especially at the expense of others – will be brought low, but in God’s time. The wicked will be removed from this life, but in God’s time. Those who live by self-righteous standards will be dried out, but in God’s time. God will give everyone mercy and freely offer forgiveness for a time. However, no one knows how much time that is. Thus, we see the wicked continue living as if God is indifferent. He is not. His timelines and His purposes in time are much different than ours.
Therefore, who can know what God is doing? Clearly God will not offer forgiveness to the wicked forever. Their opportunity to take advantage of God’s grace is limited, but no one knows for how long. Thus, time elapses until God is ready to manifest His power as Judge. The same is true of the suffering of the righteous. God allows His people to suffer, and it goes on as long as God feels that it should – until His purpose for that suffering is fulfilled. Since we don’t know how God will make good of suffering, or when God will render judgment, how can we judge the lives of others? How can we look at the lives of others and make criticisms about God’s work in their lives as if we know God’s position concerning them? Job knew that God’s ways are far different than ours. Job confessed that he would do things much differently than God was doing. Still, Job did not despise God’s work. He trusted God. He only wished that his friends would learn to trust God the same way instead of making accusation about his relationship with God based on their flawed interpretations of God’s work.