The Battle of Theologies

Do you ever have those books that you can’t stop reading because of the way they engage your imagination? That’s the way it’s been for me recently as I’ve read through the book of Job. I’m currently on my second read of the book in two weeks, and my mind is filled with more questions and reflections the more I read it. I wanted to share one of the reflections I’ve been having with you, since I think it’s incredibly relevant for us today.

The book of Job is the story of a righteous man who experiences a terrible series of events from the hand of God. Job has a vast amount of wealth (Job 1:3), a large family (1:2), and a devout heart (1:5). During an assembly of God’s angels, Satan (or the Accuser) enters into the meeting. God then asks Satan if he has seen his servant Job during his roaming of the earth, since Job is a man of exceptional integrity, one who “fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). God then allows Satan to test Job’s righteousness through a series of tests, including the death of Job’s children, the loss of all his wealth, and debilitating sickness. The rest of the book of Job consists of his three friends attempting to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). Their first action is to simply sit with Job, not speaking a single word because of the weight of Job’s suffering (2:13). Their first fault comes when they start trying to give reason to Job’s suffering.

The rest of the book of Job is a battle of theologies, because Job and his friends debate the true reason for Job’s sufferings. Job is adamant about his own integrity, insisting that he is a righteous person. His friends cannot conceive of a world where a righteous person suffers from the same events that Job experienced. Rather, their belief is that God “repays a person according to his deeds, and he gives him what his conduct deserves” (34:11). The real clincher is that Job’s friends are not wrong (see 2 Corinthians 5:10!), but neither is Job. God announced from the beginning of the book that Job was “a man of perfect integrity” (1:8), so we know that Job is not being punished by God because of his sin.

My point in bringing this up is not to answer the theological/philosophical problem of evil (“If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why does apparently meaningless suffering occur in the world?”). My desire is to point out that our world is full of competing theologies. We exist in a world where views about God abound, and we are in a constant battle with these competing theologies. Does it really matter what religion a person chooses? Don’t all religions point to the same God and the same salvation? We even struggle with questions that relate to the book of Job. Is God punishing me for my sin whenever I lose my job? Is my terminal illness really evidence of God’s displeasure? These are questions that we face from our culture and our own lives, and there are multiple answers to these questions. The real question is, “Which one of these answers am I going to believe?”

The book of Job teaches us two attitudes that we should have towards the development of our theology in the midst of the multiple theologies that exist. These attitudes work themselves out both in our relationship with God and to other people.

Confidence
Job made a conscious decision to bring his doubts, anger, and hurt to the throne room of God (16:18-22). Even when there was no mediator between Job and God and even when it felt like there was a dark shadow between earth and heaven (23:8-17), Job knew that his questions must go straight to God because man’s wisdom would not suffice. Brothers and sisters, take heart that in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have a firm foundation. We have a God who can handle our deepest fears and questions. We have a God who reigns supreme over all the earth. We have a mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), who gives us free access to God. We have a God who knows suffering because he took the form of a suffering servant named Jesus. This allows us to run to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

On the horizontal level we have confidence to proclaim our theology to other people. In the battle of theologies, our God has given us answers. Oftentimes, I am tempted to stay silent in theological engagements with non-Christians, thinking that anything I say would be unpersuasive or too pushy. But our God has given us answers. We can boldly proclaim the gospel of God’s goodness and grace to people, knowing that God has given us access to himself through Jesus. So brothers and sisters, proclaim the gospel with confidence, knowing that our suffering God empowers you through his Spirit.

Humility
The book of Job ends with two speeches given by the Lord himself to address Job’s questioning. Much of Job’s tension has been driven by this question throughout the book: “Is God just in the midst of my suffering?” And the answer the Lord gives is a resounding, “Yes” (40:8)! Spoiler alert: because of this answer, Job gets totally humbled. Because even in the midst of great suffering, God is never unjust, and we can never justify ourselves. This is the most humbling fact of life. This can lead any person to the same confession that Job had: “I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted….Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes” (42:2, 6). In our relationship to God, we can confidently bring all of our doubts and struggles to him, but we must always trust that the Lord is just and capable of doing what he wants. Even when we do not understand why our spouse is suffering from prolonged illness, we are threatened by unemployment, or we are dealing with the death of a family member, the Lord is just.

In theological conversations I am often tempted to feel that I must know every single answer to every single question. I am afraid that a person is going to ask me about an obscure passage from the Old Testament that I haven’t studied very much, and I’m going to have to confess, “I don’t know.” The book of Job frees us up in our theological conversations to be able to confess that very thing, though. When Job’s friends first came to Job, they sat in silence with him for seven days. Those were the best seven days of Job’s mourning, and it’s because at that point both Job and his friends were willing to live in the fact that they didn’t understand why Job was suffering. In fact, the Lord rebukes Job’s friends for not speaking the truth to Job concerning his suffering (42:7)! In the battle of theologies, we must be willing to confess when we don’t know the answer, because sometimes our theological ranting can lead someone into more error than truth. We must have a posture of humility to counterbalance our confidence in God’s presence.

My prayer is that the Lord would help us live in the tension between confidence and humility. My belief is that as we bend the knee before the Suffering Servant and Risen King, we will be able to see that these two postures are one and the same because they are embodied simultaneously in our unblemished King Jesus.

Grace and peace, brothers and sisters.

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