Category: Knowing God


The Contemplation of God

Part 2

One of the most valuable books in all of Scripture, in terms of the spiritual food it contains, is the book of Job. At the same time, one of the most neglected books in all of Scripture is the book of Job. This is one of those books that Christians simply do not read. They know the story, because they’ve heard it told, but they don’t sit down and open their Bible and study this book. It is long and repetitive and some think that once you know the ending, there’s little use in reading the details.

But this is a book in which a man’s soul is laid open for the reader; this is a book in which a faithful worshiper of God is made to endure the most painful trials we could imagine. This book is a rich analysis of what it means to know God and what it means to be known by Him.

Throughout this book, Job is asking questions and offering defenses and doing his best to understand what has come upon him. Job asks questions which can only be answered by God Himself. He faces that which has no explanation in his realm of experience, so an explanation must come from God.

The book begins with a description of Job, a man of considerable wealth and spiritual maturity. Job was a man greatly blessed by God in every significant aspect of his life. After this introduction, the writer describes an encounter between God and Satan as the devil complains about God’s protection of Job. Satan argues that Job is faithful only because he has been given so much. God allows Satan to test his theory by granting him access to Job.

Thereafter, Job suffered greatly. He was afflicted physically and witnessed the loss of his possessions and family. Much of the book records the thinking of Job’s friends as they attempt to explain what has happened to this man. They are convinced that Job is a great sinner and that God has punished him as a result. All Job needed to do, according to these men, was repent and confess his sins to God. But Job responds in the only way a righteous man can respond—he declares that he has no sin that is unconfessed. The explanation offered by his friends is misguided, but they maintain that Job is simply proud and not teachable.

Eventually, of course, God speaks to Job and Job quickly realizes how foolish some of his thinking has been. Nevertheless, throughout Job’s interaction with his friends, we find much insight and much that is beneficial when it comes to understanding ourselves in relation to God. One such passage comes after a speech by one of Job’s friends in which the friend once again chastises Job for his supposed pride and urges him to repent:

Job 23:1 Then Job replied, 2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! 4 I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. 6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. 7 There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge. 8 Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 9 When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.”

One of the themes to which Job returns often is that of desiring an audience with God. Job knows that the perspective of his friends is wrong—he has no sin that he has attempted to hide from God. His suffering is not a result of stubbornly refusing to repent. But he is left without an explanation for all that has come upon him. Therefore, he expresses his longing to sit down with God, as it were, and “make his case,” so to speak.

Job is, however, always reverent in the way he conveys his feelings. He never charges God with injustice, but cannot understand why he has been made to endure such trials. And the constant agitation of his friends with their certain opinions about Job’s spiritual condition makes this an unbearable situation. So, Job cries out and affirms his desire to talk to God.

The agony of Job can be heard in his plea: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (v. 3) From Job’s perspective, this is not an insulting thing to say. He is sure of his innocence in regard to what his friends are declaring, but later Job learns that this kind of statement is full of presumption and is very foolish indeed. God will chastise Job for thinking that he might appear before the Almighty and plead his case as if God were not aware of the suffering of His servant or as if God has somehow made a mistake in bringing upon Job this painful ordeal.

But right now, Job is simply a man trying to understand his circumstances, a man trying to make sense of that which makes no sense to him. And the explanation offered by his counselors is only making matters worse. “There must be another explanation,” Job thinks; “I am an innocent man and these things that have come upon me cannot be God’s punishment for my sin.”

Job is thinking purely in terms of his perspective on the matter, not in terms of God’s perspective—this perspective is revealed to him later. For now, as noted, Job is sure that he could demonstrate his innocence to God were he given the opportunity. Of course, when that opportunity comes later Job is dumbfounded, but now he is expressing his desire to know why all this has happened to him.

“I would present my case before Him,” Job states, “and fill my mouth with arguments.” (v. 4) Job is sure that this would lead to an understanding of his trials; he is sure that God would hear him and reason with him (v. 5). Job is sure that God would not just destroy him, but would listen to what he had to say (v. 6). Again, I’ll point out that Job is reasoning as a desperate man, a man who wants to maintain his innocence in the face of repeated charges of sin, but a man who is not yet ready simply to accept what God has ordained without having his questions answered—and this is the key to understanding the perspective of Job. In time, he will be satisfied with the knowledge that God has ordained his trials for purposes that Job need not understand. But now he is still wrestling with what has come upon him and in an honest and open fashion he expresses his dismay.

As he has said so many times before, Job knows that he is not guilty of living unfaithfully before the LORD (v. 7). And he implies here and elsewhere that God does not afflict the righteous for sin when they have no sin. The upright man can have confidence in that truth, Job indicates. But this still leaves him agonizing over his plight. This still leaves him suffering and having to listen to the misguided analyses of his friends. Job longs to speak to God because only God knows why all this has happened; but he cannot find Him and this only makes him feel more dejected (cf. vv. 8, 9).

This man is in anguish and when we know what he was enduring, we can easily understand why. He has entered the most painful period of this life, literally, emotionally and spiritually speaking. The only explanation he’s been offered has come from his friends and they are convinced that Job is in sin and is experiencing the judgment of God. But Job knows that such an explanation is wrong; but when he makes that point, he’s accused of being prideful and unwilling to submit to the LORD’s chastisement. It is no wonder that Job was in such a state of apprehension and sorrow.

What will comfort this man? What will enable him to continue? How can Job endure this circumstance of physical suffering, emotional distress and ridicule from his friends? There is only one answer—Job will be sustained, as this book demonstrates—by his knowledge of God.

This book opens with the statement that Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). This man knows something about God. He knows something about the nature of God. He doesn’t understand why all this has happened, but he is going to find a measure of relief and peace as he contemplates God:

23:10 But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. 11 My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. 13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. 14 For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him. 15 Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; when I consider, I am terrified of Him. 16 It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me, 17 But I am not silenced by the darkness, nor deep gloom which covers me.”

Let your heart dwell on that first statement: “But He knows the way I take…” God was aware of Job’s circumstance; these things had not come upon him without God’s knowledge. Job was not caught up in some trick of fate. Job knew that the LORD God rules this creation and that He knows everything that transpires and, in particular, Job knew that God was informed concerning what this man was experiencing. This is where Job’s knowledge of God rescues him from utter despair; this is where Job stops and contemplates God and in his contemplation he realizes that the Almighty knows him and his ways. This causes Job to see his suffering in the proper light—“when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

What assurance! What comfort! Yes, Job was suffering—beyond anything he ever imagined; and yes, Job has lost every earthly possession—including his children. But there is relief even in such horrible situations and the relief is the knowledge that God knows where I am and God knows what is happening to me and God will bring me through this and when he does, “I shall come forth as gold.” God will take that which is impure and purify it; God will take that which is mixed and remove all but that which is precious.

How was Job able to have this perspective on his dreadful trials? Job had such a perspective because He knew God and here he meditates on what he knew about God. God is righteous and just; God ordains holy purposes; God does not take delight in afflicting His own; God loves His people; God watches them day and night; God is never far away; God is never taken by surprise. All these things are true and they all flood Job’s mind when he pauses and contemplates God. He had no way of knowing about the scene described when this book opened, no way of knowing that God had given Satan permission to vex Job in order to show that Job was, indeed, a man of faith and not a worshiper of the LORD only because he had an easy and prosperous life as Satan charged.

While not even realizing it, Job is glorifying God as he endures. While not even being aware of all the facts, Job is honoring God by refusing to accept the erroneous explanations of his friends but also, at the same time, expressing confidence in the LORD’s righteousness and goodness.

Job doesn’t have all the answers—in fact, at this point, he has no answers at all. But as he meditates on God, he is able to confess that whatever is happening to him will result in his refinement. Job was a man who followed the LORD and lived a life of obedience (v. 11). Job was a man who loved the commandments of God and treasured the words of God more than the food which kept him alive (v. 12). This is the confession of a man who knows God and understands that nothing in life is of greater value than knowing God and nothing in life is more necessary than knowing God.

This man accepts what has been appointed for him even though he is greatly perplexed (v. 13). He has no definitive explanation for what has happened to him, but he knows that God does what He pleases and His ways are not thwarted. It is, I’ll say again, meditation on these truths about God that brings Job some comfort and the ability to endure. Job confesses also that what is happening to him is what has been appointed (v. 14).

What, then, is the ultimate response, or what is the ultimate answer for Job? He must accept what God has ordained because it is right; he must rest in what God has ordered because it is good. He knows that God is so great and so magnificent that he would be “dismayed” in God’s presence (v. 15). Here he uses a word (bahal) that means “alarmed, greatly disturbed.” In spite of his expressed desires to speak to God, Job knows that God is not a man like him. He knows this is not a matter of a misunderstanding as if God has made a mistake.

“When I consider, I am terrified of Him,” Job adds. Job hasn’t lost his reverence for God. He is meditating on the nature of God at this moment and speaking truthfully. That word “consider” (biyn) means “to understand.” “When I understand, when I’m thinking rightly of God,” Job means, “I am terrified of Him.” Job means that when he stops and reflects on God’s nature and contemplates all he knows to be true about God, he is overwhelmed by God’s greatness and majesty and holiness and magnificence.

Who would he be to sit down and speak to God as a man might with another man? Who would he be to question the Almighty? This brief contemplation of God keeps Job’s thinking in check. He would not dare question God’s ways as if something unjust had been unleashed on him; he would not dare charge God with unrighteousness no matter what befell him. Job’s thinking and Job’s reaction to his ordeal were controlled by what he knew about God. Had Job not known God as he obviously did, he would have been destroyed—and that is the point of this story. Satan said that Job served God only because God had blessed Job with so much, but God knew that Job served Him because Job loved God and knew the character of God and was moved to a life of faithfulness by that knowledge.

Finally, Job says what we all know to be true because we know the whole story contained in this book: “It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me.” (v. 16) It is God who has appointed these days for Job; it is God who has ordained his suffering and pain. But he is sure of God’s purposes; he is sure of God’s goodness. A brief contemplation of the nature of God has brought Job a measure of confidence and peace that will aid him well in the face of this friends’ continuing accusations.

Job’s last words in this chapter indicate that he is revived to a degree (v. 17). He is ready to speak in praise of God. And this he does as the next chapter indicates. He has measured his woes in light of what he knew about the nature of God. He has put his suffering in perspective by turning his attention to the LORD. This did not immediately change his circumstances. His children didn’t rise from the dead; his flocks weren’t returned instantly; his physically suffering was not relieved. But Job’s heart was aligned rightly by this contemplation of God. What he knew about God allowed him to think rightly in this situation. And Job demonstrates that which is of such value to us—he demonstrates the act of interpreting our lives in light of our knowledge of God. Job had no explanation for what he was experiencing apart from what he knew about God. He looked to God and there found confidence as he passed through a time of darkness.

To be continued . . .

 

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The Contemplation of God

Part 1

Protestants trace our theological and historical roots to the sixteenth century when the pure teaching of the Word of God was rediscovered, as it were, and expressed in a movement known as the Reformation. We stand today in the line of those who returned to the doctrines of the apostles; we stand today as descendants of those who rejected a system of theology that robbed God of His glory. We are Reformed Protestants, and we are thankful for the mercy God has manifested toward us by including us in this great theological legacy.

We cherish our system of theology, a system distinguished by many emphases, and a system in which one specific emphasis stands above the rest. In our Reformed system of theology, knowledge of God serves as the foundation upon which we rest; knowledge of God serves as the touchstone by which all other doctrines are kept true and pure. In no system ever devised has knowledge of God played such an essential role as is true in Reformed theology. When I speak of knowledge of God, I am referring to what God has revealed about Himself to us. In our tradition, that knowledge has been centrally significant in the formulations of our beliefs and practices.

John Calvin wrote: “ … it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (Institutes, vol. I, 37) This quote encapsulates one of the most important principles in our system of theology. That principle is that we know ourselves truly only in relation to our knowledge of God. Unless we know Him, we cannot really know ourselves; unless we know Him, we cannot really understand ourselves.

Knowledge of God is absolutely indispensable; knowledge of God—who He is and what He is like—must come before every other consideration. Knowledge of God moves us and directs us and corrects us and astonishes us and humbles us. Knowledge of God is a prerequisite for understanding anything about this world in which we live. Knowledge of God touches all aspects of our lives—in the church and at home and on the job. You must know God before you can understand why you exist. You must know God before you can understand your purpose. You must know God before you can understand anything about salvation.

If you really know God, you will not worship Him in a light-hearted or half-hearted manner. If you know God, you will not close your heart to those in need. If you know God, you will not be a lazy, unproductive person. If you know God, you will read His Word. If you know God, you will not entertain prideful thoughts about yourself. If you know God, you will not mistreat or gossip about those made in His image. If you know God, you will not harbor grudges or refuse to forgive. If you really know God, you will be quick to confess your sins in repentance. If you know God you will not tell lies or steal. If you know God, you will not spend His tithe money on other things. If you know God, you will not laugh at dirty jokes or watch risqué programs on television. If you know God, you will be struck by His majesty and overwhelmed by His mercy and tremble at the thought of His holiness. If you really know God, then your whole life will be affected and your whole life will demonstrate that you have looked upon God’s face and now, as Calvin said, scrutinize yourself in the light of His glory.

Do you get my point? Everything we think and say and do reflects our knowledge of God. As Reformed Christians, our legacy is one in which knowledge of God is predominant in the way we view everything else. But I regret to say that we live in a day when the knowledge of God, that knowledge that goes beyond a mere academic recitation of God’s attributes, is counted as unimportant. We live in a time when Christians assume it is enough to confess that there is a God and that He has done some good things for His people. We do not live in a time when Christians are distinguished by their knowledge of God; we do not live in a day when Christians manifest evidence that they have encountered the Triune God of the Bible; we do not live in a day when believers yearn to walk with God in intimate and peaceful fellowship.

How do I know this? I know this because our lives are loosely lived and our minds are polluted and we manifest, at best, a mild enthusiasm for the things of God. And I haven’t discovered these facts by meticulous and time-consuming investigation. All you have to do is look at the modern Church and all these characteristics are obvious. Those who know God manifest His holiness and goodness when they speak. Most Christians don’t really know God; we know about Him, but we don’t know Him. We don’t live and breathe God. We go to worship, but we don’t live lives of worship.

We concentrate on many matters in the Church today, but we don’t concentrate on knowing God. We teach our children many things these days and we want them to excel in many areas, but we don’t teach them to know God. What was once the defining characteristic of our system of theology and, consequently, of the lives of past generations, is not being preserved. We are in danger of reducing our faith to formulas of obedience or appearance or denominational affiliation and, consequently, losing the notion that a relationship with God is a relationship. In Christ Jesus, we are brought near to God and we walk with Him and we speak with Him and we wait for His guidance and we give thanks for His provisions and we trust our very souls to His care. We cry out to God when we are grieved and we raise hands of praise when we are blessed. We love Him because He first loved us; we serve Him because He rescued us from damnation. This is what it means to know God.

To be continued . . .