Not a Trivial Pursuit (Sermon)
In December 1993 it was inducted into its rightful place in the Game Hall of Fame. It was the board game Time magazine called the "the biggest phenomenon in game history." In December of 1979 two friends were playing a game of Scrabble when they decided to invent their own game. The two friends came up with the basic concept within a few short hours, but it took two years for the board game to be commercially released.
The first copies of Trivial Pursuit cost seventy-five dollars per game to produce and the game was sold to retailers for fifteen dollars. But within a few years, both sales and popularity increased and Trivial Pursuit became a household name.
Trivial Pursuit was a well-known name in our house. As we got older, we would enjoy playing the game together as a family. I’m not sure why I enjoyed it so much, since I never seemed to win. Every time we opened the game and began playing, at some point, someone always got one of those questions—you know, the questions that you think you should know the answer to. There you sit, mulling the question over, confident that you should know the answer. It is in those moments that you realize the game is well-named, because you are on a pursuit—the pursuit of an answer.
In the book of Job, we observe a similar pursuit, but in this case the answer is not trivial. The answer Job is seeking is life altering. There he sits, all of his possessions stolen or destroyed, his children dead, and his body ravaged with sickness, and all he wants to know is the answer to the question, “Why?”
Have you ever been in that situation? Life is crashing in on all sides—it could be the loss of a job; maybe it’s the doctor’s report of cancer; possibly, the death of a child—and the only word you can utter is “Why?”
The book begins with the answer to the question of “Why?” Job is being persecuted because he is righteous, but he is not given this information. In many ways, the rest of the book is Job’s pursuit of this answer. Beginning in chapter 4 and stretching through chapter 26, three friends come to help Job answer the question. Their shared answer is that Job has sinned, and all that has happened is the punishment for his sin. Job responds (ch. 27-31) in disagreement, he has lived righteously and does not deserve this chastisement from God. A fourth friend, Elihu, offers a new perspective (32-37); his focus is less on why this has happened to Job and more on what Job’s response needs to be. Job, according to Elihu, needed to humble himself before God.
Speeches, discussion, rebuttal, advice—all have been offered, and Job is no closer to understanding “Why?” In chapter 38, God appears to Job and speaks to him from a whirlwind. Finally, God will lay the question to rest! Here we go…we’re waiting…still waiting. Yet, God does not answer Job’s questions; instead, he asks question after question to Job. Finally, at the end of chapter 41 he ends his line of questioning. This is where we pick up the story this evening: Job, chapter 42. Job has been wondering why, and his friends have been no help; God did not answer him. Will he ever figure it out?
Job Realizes the Answer to His Question (v.2)
(Job 42:2) I know that you can do all things and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Job begins his response to the Lord (v.2) with the words “I know.” Good, finally we are going to hear what the answer to the question is. Job knows—he’s figured it out. “Why, Job, why have you suffered this way?” Here is his response; “I know that you can do all things.” Woe, wait a second, that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?
This is the conclusion that God wanted Job to reach; when He appeared to Job in the whirlwind, His purpose was not to tell Job why the trial had occurred; it was instead to remind Job that nothing happens that God cannot control. If we were to go back to examine God’s speech, we would see that his questions were designed to show Job his own inability, and therefore God’s matchless ability. Look at how God began his questioning of Job.
(Job 38:4-11) “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
God’s purpose was not to answer the question “why?” but to cause Job to lift up his eyes from the circumstances around him and fix them squarely upon his God.
It’s interesting to see that when Job says, “I know,” he is not referring to something he just came to realize. He’s actually referring to something he learned in the past. The truth that God can do everything is not a new truth to Job, but it’s a truth that might have been shaken as he experienced what seemed like unjust trials. It is easy to forget the theology you learn in the pew or classroom when you’re suffering. We can talk about God’s sovereignty and absolute control, but when He allows something difficult into our life, it’s much more complicated. We know the verses to read to someone else, but we forget those same verses when the walls come crashing in on us.
The past 41 chapters, Job had been stuck in that no-man’s land between knowledge and experience. Now, he has finally come to realize that his theology of God’s sovereignty needed to be applied to his life and his experiences.
Job’s answer not only reflects his understanding that God can do all things, but also that none of God’s purposes could be thwarted. It is impossible for God’s plans to be frustrated. There is nothing that can hinder God’s purpose from being fulfilled.
The answer then to Job’s question of suffering is this: God is able to do all things and every purpose of His will come to pass.
This is the answer we need when we are in the midst of suffering. We need to be reminded of who God is—He’s the one who is sovereign over all things. Why is this reassuring? Because that means (1) Nothing can happen to us that God does not allow, and (2) If we are in the midst of a season of suffering, God has a purpose for it. Your suffering is not random. If God can tell the oceans where they must stop, He is able to tell your suffering when to stop. If God laid the foundations of the world with a purpose, then He has a purpose for you.
Job Recognizes the Foolishness of His Wisdom (3)
(Job 42:3) Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
We have already seen that Job was aware of the sovereignty of God, but what was it that reminded him of it so profoundly? What roused him from his personal pity party to stand and embrace the absolute authority of God? Verse 3 begins with Job quoting something God had said to him: “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” These are the words with which God began His questioning of Job.
We must remember that when God appeared He was responding to a request from Job. Job had pleaded,
(31:5) “If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hastened to deceit; (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!)"
Job was requesting an opportunity to stand before God and plead His innocence; if he was really being punished for disobedience, he wanted the opportunity to defend himself. Job was confident that he was walking with integrity before the LORD. When God does appear, He does so, not to allow Job this opportunity, but to remind Job of His sovereignty. So, when God begins His speech to Job with this question, it is an indictment of Job’s request. He was asking Job what right he had to stand before the God of creation and question His decisions. Job was speaking without any knowledge to back it up. Job wanted to defend His innocence, when his innocence wasn’t the issue.
We’ve all had those embarrassing moments where we’ve jumped into a conversation without really understanding what was being talked about. We think that we know what is going on, so in we dive in headfirst. When our mouths finally close, there is a long and awkward pause before we so kindly hear, “You have no idea what’s going on do you?”
This was Job’s “you have no idea what’s going on” moment. Here he was, so willing to defend his own innocence before God, even requesting an audience to do so. And when God does oblige, the first words out of His mouth to Job are, “You have no idea…” This comment impacted Job; when he rehearses what God said, he is emphatic—notice that God said (v.3), “Who is this that hides” or “Who then is the one hiding”, not just simply “Who hides…” This is the equivalent of your Father walking into your messy room and saying, “Who made this mess?” or “Who in the world made this mess?” God was asking a very pointed question, and it stuck in Job’s heart and mind.
Job now has the right answer to that question, "Therefore I have uttered what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know."God’s questioning of Job has caused him to realize that he was talking about things he did not understand; when he spoke, he did not have a clear picture of what it was he was speaking about. What is fascinating is that Job says I have uttered (past tense) what I do not understand (present tense). You see, Job still does not understand why he has suffered, but “why” is no longer the issue. He is coming to grips with the fact that he was foolish even to begin questioning what God was doing.
This is important because we have a tendency to think that once the suffering is over—once we understand why it happened—then we can praise God for what He has done. God was teaching Job a lesson we must learn; we praise God, not because everything has worked out how we like it, but because we recognize that God is in control; that He is able to do all things; that His plan and purposes will always be victorious even when we don’t understand them.
Job Receives a Fresh Vision of God (4-5)
(Job 42:4-5) ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
Once again, Job repeats what God had said earlier. When God appeared to Job in the whirlwind, He began by asking Job who it was that spoke without knowledge. Job just answered that question (v.2), “I spoke about things I did not know then and still don’t know—things too wonderful for me.” God’s next statement to Job (38:3) is what Job is repeating here. After questioning why Job spoke, God said to him, “Listen, and I will speak. I will question you, and you make it known to me.” God even repeated this to Job a second time (40:7).
He gives Job a command, “Job it is not time for you to talk, but to listen.” He’s appealing for Job to pay full attention to what He is about to say. What is Job to listen to? God states this in very emphatic language; you could translate it “Listen and I myself will speak—not you, not your friends, not Elihu—I myself; God will speak to you.” God even tells Job what He’s going to do; He’s going to ask questions. Not just any questions, these questions are specifically designed for Job and God expects a response. “After I ask you the questions,” God said, “I want you to make it known to me.” Well, God has spent the last four chapters asking the questions, here is Job’s chance for a response.
It was on a beautiful fall day that four friends decided to go for a drive instead of showing up to class on time. When they did arrive, the girls explained to the teacher they had had a flat tire. The teacher accepted the excuse, much to the girls' relief. "Since you missed this morning's quiz, you must take it now," she said. "Please sit in the four corner seats in this room without talking." When they were seated, the teacher said, "On your paper write the answer to one question: 'Which tire was flat?'"[i]
I’m sure that Job felt like he was stuck in the corner, with little hope of answering the questions on his pop quiz correctly. What could he say in response to the questions God had asked? What could he possibly make known to God?
Job had no hope of answering the questions God asked, so he simply responded with what he had experienced. “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears.” Job’s not referring to the pop quiz he just received; he’s referring to that which he had learned previous to this whole experience. “I’ve known about you,” Job says, “I’ve heard the accounts of creation; I know what you expect from your people; I’ve responded in faith.” But this fresh encounter with God has changed Job’s perspective. Job’s a different man now than he was before this experience; he’s different not because he’s lost his possessions, or his health, or even his family. He’s different now because of His encounter with the Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the Universe.
Prior to this trial, Job’s faith was strong and vibrant; he was a glowing example of a man who lived righteously; yet, this trial still profoundly impacted his faith. Suffering is a school from which we will never graduate.
Job Repents of His Wrong Perspective of God (6)
(Job 42:6) Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
All that Job has said is leading up to this point. The reminder of God’s sovereignty, the recognition of Job’s own foolishness, the fresh revelation of God–all have lead up to this conclusion. Job acts. He humbles himself and repents before God.
Job literally says, “I despise or abhor myself.” Job was done proclaiming his innocence—his self-righteousness. After being confronted with the holy and just God, who was Job to say he was righteous? He is acknowledging what He knows to be true. “I deserve to be sitting here, alone, covered in sores and filth because I am nothing.” The fact that he had suggested that he could stand in front of God and convince God that he was innocent now seemed worse than ridiculous; it seemed the height of arrogance. Gone were any vestiges of pride in his heart.
In this moment, we see Job come to realize what we all eventually learn. We cannot stand before God and defend ourselves. We need an intercessor. We need someone to stand between God and us. Here, in Job's repentance, we see the need for Jesus Christ to intercede for sinners like me and you. We, like Job before us, stand in need of a Savior.
Job goes beyond this internal attitude of loathing his own sin, and says, “I repent in dust and ashes.” What did Job have to repent of? Did it not say (1:22) “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” There are a couple of different words translated repentance. The one used here is often used to refer to a change in course, direction or opinion. This seems to be what Job is saying, “I am turning from my previous opinion—that I could stand and declare my innocence to you—and embracing a new opinion—you alone are holy and right and just.” The fact that Job is doing so in dust and ashes demonstrates the seriousness of his attitude; he is not shrugging this off or tossing this out. These are eternal issues and Job is making a profound statement.
In one sense, Job is vindicating the justice of God. Though God’s justice needs no vindication for God is completely free of any guilt or wrongdoing, Job is making a public declaration that God is just. Job is not being punished for sin, but Job has also realized the he is not too righteous to suffer. Only one truly righteous man has ever suffered, and He chose it. Suffering and peace are both in the hands of God to be given as He pleases, and not as we demand.
So we see, that over the course of these 42 chapters, Job has been on a journey, and all along he thought he was pursuing an answer to the question “Why?” That, however, was not what God had intended for him. Yes, God could have given him the answer, but there was something much better planned. This pathway of pain, depression and misery was the setting for a lesson God wanted Job to learn. God was reminding Job that He was greater than Job’s circumstances, and that His purposes for Job were sweeter than Job’s desires. I am certain that Job would echo the words from C. S. Lewis’ pen, “We shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have "tasted and seen." Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are "patches of Godlight" in the woods of our experience.”[ii]
On July 30, a friend of mine passed away. Justin was only 29 years old. Updating us about 2 months after his death, his wife Cheryl wrote these words. This was her own “patch of Godlight” in the woods of her suffering. "Now as I begin to continue on my journey without Justin, I am able to go on only because I know that I am still guided by our God and that foundation of faith is still strong. This doesn’t mean there isn’t sadness and pain over the incredible loss of Justin, but each day is a little easier and on the tough days God is there to carry me through them. This journey that I am on is an ongoing one. There are no bus stops, where I can get off. There are no terminals into which I can exit from the plane. I have no choice but to stay on it. There are days I feel like jumping off, but then I refocus my eyes on God. I look to Him as the captain of my life and trust Him that He knows where He is taking me. I trust Him that He knows what He is doing."
If you are in a patch of woods, on a journey of suffering…in a season of trial, may I encourage you to stop asking “Why?” God may be using your suffering and pain as a backdrop for His goodness and grace. Do not stand in defiance, but submit in reliance to the One who controls all things. Beg God, not to end your suffering prematurely, but for the clouds to part, if only for a moment, so that you may see His face more clearly.
[i]Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
[ii]C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm