I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; Show me why You contend with me. (Job 10:2)
Like many other Christians, I used to avoid the book of Job as much as possible because it so vividly portrays the raging storms and seemingly senseless situations we find ourselves in despite our faith and commitment to Jesus. It reminds us that we are not exempt from tragedy or trial, that we may yet find ourselves in a place of darkness and despair in which we grit our teeth and hang onto our faith with desperate determination rather than any real sense of victory. When we see the evidence of God’s love and care in our lives, it’s easy to rejoice, to praise, to worship, and to feel that our faith is sufficient for anything. But remove all the trappings of the world and thrust us into the midst of the raging storm, things very quickly unravel. The storm is the place where we come face to face with ourselves and our assumptions, and where we are forced to examine our faith and even our relationship with God. It is the place where, like Job, we cry out: “Why, Lord?” and seem to receive no answer.
It’s not wrong to ask God why, but the heart behind it is usually the problem.
I’ve mulled over today’s verse over and over. It’s one I keep returning to, because it seems to challenge everything we understand about God’s sovereignty and the fact that we really don’t have the right to challenge the ruler of the universe. When we ask God why, it seems that this is exactly what we are doing – challening the omnipotent I AM and demanding answers. We may remind ourselves of those verses which tell us that His ways are higher than ours, that He is God and is not answerable to us, and that even Jesus Himself went to the cross without a ‘why’ ringing in eternity. All these things are absolutely true, yet here we find a man even God called righteous daring to decide that he will ask God why. It’s a contradiction, and a confusing one at that.
The answer to this dilemma lies, I believe, in the attitude behind the asking. The great ‘why’ we can all identify with is the cry of a heart in confusion. It’s real, it’s emotionally charged, and it’s a cry founded in an incorrect perception. If we’re entirely honest with ourselves – an honesty I struggled many times to find in the depths of my pain and distress – our instinctive ‘why’ comes from our assumption that ‘God doesn’t do this to His people,’ or that ‘God protects His people,’ or that we’re somehow exempt from suffering. One one level, we’re well aware that God never ever promised that we would never have to endure trials and tribulations. We’re also well aware that His promises of love and protection are aimed at being there with us in the problem and using the situation for our good because He loves us. But on another level, when we ask God why from a pit of pain, is with a sense that He has somehow betrayed us.
All this is compounded by the sure and certain knowledge that lashing out at God is dangerous territory. It’s infused with all the negative emotions – bitterness, anger, woundedness, indignation, to name but a few. All of these declare that we have a right to ask God why, that He has not kept His promises, that He has failed us when we needed Him the most. This surging tide of very human responses overwhelms us, and we struggle with the additional conflict they bring because they contradict the fundamental truth that God is sovereign and can actually do as He wills. They create a battleground we do not need, in which the need to ask God why and get and answer becomes, somehow, a measure of His faithfulness and love.
This is human nature, and our God knows that. Remember, Job is not the shortest book in the Bible. It goes on – some might say ‘ad nauseum’ – with every kind of human emotion vividly splashed across its pages. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is glossed over or whitewashed. It’s all there in very human terms. And yet, in all this, Job is allowed to ask God why. I’ve pondered this many times, and I believe it’s so that we may see ourselves in Job’s responses and, most importantly, that we can learn that there are two ways in which we can ask God why.
The first is the reactionary question we’ve described. The second is the way that is motivated by the right heart, the right attitude. The first way is all me, all self. The second looks beyond me to God and His purposes. The first puts me at centre stage as the innocent victim. The second puts God at centre stage as the sovereign Lord of All. When we ask God why from one or other of these perspectives, we find very different attitudes and, therefore, very different outcomes. To understand this a little better, I find it useful to look at the human emotion perspective in the light of God’s releationship with us.
It’s vitally important that we understand that God never demands that we suppress our emotions. We are created as emotional beings, and we’re created in God’s image. That means that our emotions have real relevance in who we are and how we relate to Him. Human emotions are only wrong when we allow them to govern our behaviour, beliefs, and responses. The psalms of David portray very real emotional depth. We read them and can instantly identify with his fears, pain, and even guilt. Just as David hid nothing from God, so we should never attempt to do so either. That is dishonesty, and being dishonest with God, who knows all anyway, is fruitless. But when we ask God why out of emotionals turmoil, we are asking from the me perspective.
Rather, God wants us to be honest. He wants us to tell Him the details – how we are feeling, what we’re going through, and what it’s doing to us. But there’s a great difference between saying ‘God, I feel like You let me down,’ and saying ‘God, you let me down.’ The first is honest sharing. The second is accusation. When we share our emotions with God, He is able to step in to help us, to comfort us, to teach us, and to provide a resolution. When we accuse God, we create a barrier between Him and us. We create a deadlock in which nothing can change. When we ask God why from a place of sharing, we open the door to His answer. When we ask God why from a place of accusation, we close the door on His answer.
Understanding the differences in our emotional responses enables us to see the two different whys at work. The heart that asks the empty why is the one which only wants an answer that will satisfy self. It’s a heart that wants God to acknowledge that He is wrong, that He has broken His promises, that He has been unfaithful, and the we are fully justified in what we are feeling. In essence, we are questioning the glory and sovereignty of God, and He will never acknowledge the cry of a heart that diminishes Him, however much He may love us. However, when we are open and honest and share without holding back, acknowledging that He is sovereign in all things, He will always answer. When we ask God why with a heart that is willing to learn, He is quick to respond. It may not be the answer we were originally hoping for, but it will come.
Behind Job’s question – why do you contend with me? – lies a very important truth. God works all things to our good. Whatever we have gone through, or may be going through – good and bad – works in us to fulfill the perfect purpose of God. When we ask God why with the right heart, we are essentially asking Him what He wants us to learn, what His purpose is, what remains in us that we need to deal with, and how He wants us to move forward. We do not ask God why it’s all happening but rather His purpose behind it. Although our very human emotions do get in the way, and it may take a while before we come to that place of honesty, if we get hold of the purpose of God in everything, we will find swift resolution.
While God may, and often does, bless us abundantly in this world, His final purpose is our eternal inheritance. Everything that happens in this life is preparing us for that. The longer we lash out and indulge our anger and bitterness, the longer it will take to move beyond the place of pain. We can endure only in the sure and certain knowledge of the sovereignty and faithfulness of God. It is He who makes the difference between victor or victim, but it is our choice to allow Him to do so on His terms. If we are open and honest, if we surrender our pain and difficulty without reservation, if we acknowledge His sovereignty – even when we don’t ‘feel’ like doing so – we can ask God why from a heart willing to receive the perfect answer. We open ourselves to the truth that only a God of sovereign power can turn our mourning into dancing.