Monday, February 7, 2011

How Can a Man Be Righteous Before God?

Reading: Job 23, 24

Am I suffering because I am not right with God? If so, how can I be right enough with God not to suffer? “How can a man be righteous before God?” How do you answer? This question is asked twice in the book of Job. First, by Job (Job 9:2); then, by Bildad the Shuhite (Job 25:4) (one of the shortest guys in history...). They give us two very different answers. Those two answers get to the heart of Job's complaint, and the heart of Job's righteousness, and the heart of why bad things happen to good people... or do they?
If you are brushed up on your doctrine of sin, of course you immediately know that bad things don't happen to good people...because “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 23). That was Bildad's answer. Bildad understood his reformed theology well! (No slight on reformed theology here, just wanting to make sure we know where to apply it!)
5If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, 6how much less man, who is but a maggot—a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
Bildad had the “man is a worm” theology down pat. And, when considered in his fallenness, compared to God, man “is but a maggot... only a worm.” When compared to the requirements of legalistic righteousness (earning our righteousness through a merit based system in which we obey and God owes us reward), Bildad is right. But it wasn't the right answer to Job! In fact, Job's answer to Bildad seems to be full of sarcasm (Job 26:1-4). In that answer, we discover the difference between the two answers. Bildad's audience (Job), was not a Pharisee, or a Jew attempting to be declared right because of his fastidious observance of the law. Job, was a suffering man who was living by faith.
In Job 23, 24, I think we get to the heart of his faith. At the heart of Job's theology is a God who “is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11) Job understood some things about God's character and His mercy and compassion. Yet, like so many suffering people, Job's experience seemed to be in conflict with God's justice.
In spite of his deep, bitter complaint (Job 23:2), Job trusted in the mercy of God.
3If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!  4I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. 6Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me. 7There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge. (Job 23:3-7)
If you've read the end of the story, you might recall that Job's boldness was trimmed back a notch or two when face to face with the Almighty. However, examine this paragraph. Unlike Esther who was fearful of entering the king's presence, though married to him (Esther 4:11), Job's instinct of God was that behind all His glory was a just God who would look on an upright man and deliver him from his judge (which was God!). Job's instinct of God reminds me of the Canaanite woman with the possessed daughter who, coming to Jesus heard, “it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.” What was her response? even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28) She believed there was enough mercy at God's table to deliver her daughter even if she only got the crumbs that fell off the table!
Job wasn't so naive as to think that he had never sinned. Job 9 makes this clear (see Job 9:2-4, 14-15, 20). Job seems to have understood that God dealt with him according to His mercy. Job has been living by faith in God's justice. So much so that Job seems convinced in chapter 23 that if only he could get before God, God would set things right. He wants to meet before the Judge! Job 24 explains why, starting with His complaint is that God doesn't set times for judgment! Look at his question closely.
"Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? (Job 24:1)
Do you look forward to the day of God's judgment? (Job wasn't thinking of the end of the world, but most likely those times in history that God intervenes and carries out his judgments.) In this chapter he lays out the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The wicked are those who are oppressing the needy, using their power to take advantage of the weak. Job was rich, sure enough, but Job, though a sinful man, lived by faith in God's mercy and therefore showed mercy. Job was running into the brick wall of the reality that in this fallen world sometimes the wicked prosper and often the righteous suffer. Job knows this is inconsistent with God's justice. Job clings to the mercy of God enough that he longs for the day of God's judgment.
While Job 24 is a long complaint about how God sits idly by while the wicked prosper, it resolves gloriously.
22But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. 23He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. 24For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain. (Job 24:22-24)
Job was indeed righteous (Job 1:22; 2:10), but he was righteous because he was living by faith, not because he was perfect. For Job, like all who live by faith, suffering makes faith hard. Job had to fight the fight of faith. He had to wrestle through his doubts and complaints before God. He kept coming back to the mercy of God and the knowledge that God must bring down all that is falsely exalted and will raise up the humble. How much more can we fight the fight of faith knowing the mercy God has provided for us in Jesus Christ?
When you are suffering, when things don't seem right, know that God “is full of compassion and mercy,” and go to Him with your fears and doubts, and cry out for His justice, resting in His mercy. The just shall live by faith.   
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


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