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Thursday, December 31, 2015

God is in control... or not...

Sometimes I feel like we're a little hard on Job's wife.  Wait.  What?  One line in, and I feel the need to say, "stay with me".

Like every good Christian teenager in the 1990s, I sang along, with passion, to Twila Paris', "God is in Control".  There are still some good concepts there.  Is God ever going to forsake us?  Um... no.  Can anything separate us from the love of God?  Nope.  Pretty sure Romans 8:39 will back that one up.  But how does this indicate that God is in control and somehow responsible for everything that happens?  I think we rip this verse out of context just about as frequently as I Corinthians 10:13, which does not, in fact, read that God will never give us more than we can handle.  Let's be real, friends.  We often have more than we can handle, and if you have never experienced this, don't worry.  You will.

I don't think it's a mistake that Scripture says, "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (Job 1:22, NIV).  I also don't think that this indicates that wrongdoing wasn't happening.  It's just that God wasn't doing it!  Job has just lost everything he has, his children, and is on the brink of losing his own health, at which point his wife finally says, "Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9, NIV).  Considering the circumstances, she is probably in an awful lot of pain, more than most people I know have ever experienced.  Maybe her words are even merciful, but we never look at it that way.  Personally, I've always thought of myself as pretty good in the midst of crisis (although I do tend to break down afterward), but the truth is, most of the crises I have ever dealt with have belonged to someone else!  Turns out I'm not as awesome as I think I am when I own the crisis.  Maybe that's why I feel some compassion for Job's wife, today.

Job's friends?  Not so much.  But they do sit with him quietly for a week, so there's that.  Then they talk... and talk... and talk... and they say some stupid things.  I really think we should dispense with the idea that bad things happen to people as punishment for sin.  I'm not saying that we don't suffer consequences for our lousy decisions sometimes.  Of course this is true.  But Job's friends are quick to blame him for his misfortune, even when he did not bring it on himself.  I think it is a foundational part of human nature to look for a reason when bad things happen.  Why we tend to blame the victims is completely beyond my understanding.  God calls the friends out pretty well, saying that they lied about who God is. 

We were talking about control, right?  Maybe it's a stretch.  Maybe there is some convincing evidence to prove that I've got this all wrong.  But I think it's pretty clear that Job's story is actually not a part of God's plan.  The narrative begins with Satan appearing before the Lord, seemingly as a surprise, since the Lord asks, "Where have you come from?" (Job 1:7, NIV).  A few lines of dialogue between them, and here's Satan, enacting his plan to destroy Job's life.  I think the question we all really want to ask is, "why". 

When good things happen, I think a lot of people just keep moving through life, perhaps thankful, but mostly unaware of or unaffected by God's presence in those things.  When bad things happen, I think most people tend to blame God.  But do we really think God is sitting somewhere, far beyond reach, orchestrating every moment and arbitrarily pouring out blessings or curses on people... on a whim... just because God can?  This doesn't really make sense.

God's answer to Job is an interesting one.  There are many words, but the idea that I see most clearly conveyed is, "I am here.  I have always been here.  I am in everything.  I am with you."  I don't feel as if God says, "I am going to make everything rainbows and unicorns... and glitter..."  I have no earthly idea why God would say to Satan, "Very well then..." (Job 1:12, NIV).  I would like it very much if God would never, ever say that.  But I do know that God's promise to stay near is one we can hold onto.  And I know that God doesn't cause suffering but holds us when it comes.

In order to believe in a god who is in control, I also have to believe in a god who doesn't always have our best interest in mind, in a god who is not, in fact, just, but who causes pain.  That is not my God.


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