When there are no answers on earth; when it all seems so unfair; when life deals one cruel blow after another; when there are clouds but no silver lining; that is when we worship God with childlike faith. That is when we learn to truly worship Him on the basis of who He is, rather than who we expect Him to be.
“No Silver Lining in Sight”
On November 1, 1755, an earthquake rocked Lisbon, Portugal.
It is considered the most far-reaching and well-known natural disaster in modern history. The only exception world-wide would be the tsunami of 2004 which swept away coastal villages from Southeast Asia to Indian and Thailand.
Other disasters might have been worse than the Lisbon earthquake, but none was so widely discussed, with such profound ramifications.
Ironically, the earthquake hit on All Saints’ Day, when churches were crowded with worshippers. You might think that those who were in a church building might be spared. In fact, during the first shock waves were felt, many people ran to take shelter in the great cathedrals, joining thousands of others on that day who joined their priests in taking mass.
Eyewitnesses say that the crowds had the terror of death on their faces and when the second great shock began priests and parishioners alike began to scream, calling out to God for mercy.
When it was over, almost every church in Lisbon was rubble, and the people inside crushed to death.
Fires immediately broke out across the city; havoc was then followed by a tsunami tearing ships from their anchors and drowning hundreds of people.
All in all, tens of thousands of people lost their lives – and it didn’t seem to matter if you were religious or rebellious; educated or illiterate, wealthy or poor.
When it was over, 75% of the city had been reduced to rubble.
All throughout Europe, opinions began to weigh in.
Some believed the earthquake was a judgment from God. Sort of like the Mayor of New Orleans who made headlines in 2006 when he said that Hurricane Katrina was a sign that “God was mad at America.”
Erwin Lutzer, Where Was God? (Tyndale House, 2006), p. 61
Others said that the earthquake was a sign of God’s mercy, since Lisbon deserved much worse.
Many believed that God was somehow trying to communicate that there was a world beyond this one – a world that could give meaning to the unpredictable and haphazard life on earth.
Sermons on the earthquake were preached for years to come.
Some historians have even said that the revolution in France and the age of the Wesleyan revivals in England came out of this catastrophe in Portugal.
Preceding illustration of the Lisbon earthquake adapted from Erwin Lutzer, Where Was God? p. 1
In our next session, Lord willing, I want to specifically address the questions that often come up today like; “What role does God play in natural disasters like earthquakes and floods and storms? Does He permit them or actually perform them? Is he trying to tell us something or not?”
But for today, however, I want to focus on this primary observation as it relates to Job as he experiences;
- An earthquake of unexpected suffering;
- A thunderstorm of unexplained sorrow;
- The billowing waves of unanticipated reversals in life.
These are the most difficult tests of faith a believer may ever encounter.
Nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the saga of Job’s suffering.
We’ve already discovered the unsettling truths – let me reword them 3 ways:
- First, Job’s faith will not separate him from suffering, his faith is what initiated it.
- Job’s faith did not relieve his agony, it caused it.
Francis I. Andersen, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Job (Inter-Varsity Press), p. 89
No wonder prosperity preachers and teachers must ignore the implications of this Book.
Those who promise that if you watch your p’s and q’s, mind your spiritual manners, give God everything you can and trust Him with everything else, then God will hang a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the gate that surrounds your life – and you can expect to skate your way into heaven, for the most part, trouble free.
But the conversation between God and Satan we listened in on earlier began with God saying, “Have you considered my servant Job? He’s righteous and upright – he reverences Me and restrains from practicing sin.”
And Satan responded by basically accusing God of buying Job off. He said, in effect, “You’ve got him on the heavenly payroll . . . he behaves and you bless him. Job is righteous because he’s rich. Take away his fortunes and just see what happens to his faith.”
You see, this is at the very outset, the disturbing thing about this Book . . .
- Let me put it another way – a third way – Job’s godly life will not protect him from pain, it set him up for it.
And the most optimistic Christians among us will say, “Yea, but just wait . . . this is a great cloud of suffering alright but it has a huge silver lining . . . I’ve read the last chapter!”
It isn’t that bad!
Reminds me of Bill Walton, the sports and announcer and former NBA basketball star who once said, “I learned a long time ago that minor surgery is when they do the operation on someone else.”
Steve May, The Story File, (Hendrickson, 2000), p.236
Let me encourage you not to run to the end of the Book . . . in fact, even though you know his children will die and he will later on have more children, just remember he will never get these children back.
Job will experience this suffering with no silver lining in sight.
There’s no quick answer from God . . . no insight or reason from on high.
The clouds simply move in and the storm erupts.
Let’s work our way through this paragraph as if we were reading it for the first time . . . as if we were there to hear the messengers and watch the reaction of Job.
A four-fold devastation is about to occur that will literally wipe Job out.
Job chapter 1, verse 13.
13. Now on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house,
14. a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them,
15. and the Sabeans attacked and took them. They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Bandits from the kingdom of Sheba in southern Arabia, whose Queen will one day visit Solomon, have come to steal and then eliminate any witnesses who can turn them in.
Adapted from Andersen, p. 86
This messenger, gasping for breath says to Job, “I am the only one who made it out alive!”
Before Job even has a chance to hear the last part of the last sentence, verse 16 informs us; While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Perhaps a lightning storm that swept into the region and continued to strike the ground – it must have been incredible, given the fact that Job owned 7,000 sheep.
The devastation must have been incredible.
But note the messenger says the fire came from God. In other words, it came from above where God supposedly reigns.
If anything this would only have added to the shock of this particular messenger’s tale.
Note also that the first tragedy was then from the hand of bandits; the second from the hand of God.
But while Job is still reeling from that messenger, verse 17. says, While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Another – a third – message of stunning loss and cruel death.
“Job, the Chaldeans – the fierce warriors from northern Mesopotamia have swept down and stolen 3,000 camels and killed anything else that breathed . . . I alone escaped to tell you what happened.”
As Job reels under the staggering loss of his business, his fortune, his work force . . . as he considers for a split second the graves that will dot his land . . . the widowed servants and orphaned children
One author wrote, “Perhaps Job thought to himself, “At least I’ve got my kids.”
Charles Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing Group, p. 2004), p. 21
I’ve been spared my family.
Interrupting that thought, another messenger plunges in, fighting back the tears . . . verse 18 . . . “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19. and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
“It came so unexpectedly . . . the sound was deafening . . . there was no where to run or hide . . . it seemed as if the home of your oldest son where all your children had gathered was its target . . . the house exploded – and all of your children . . . were . . . killed.”
Adapted from Swindoll, p. 21
It’s as if all the forces of heaven and earth conspired against Job and his family.
His life will never be the same. No voice speaks from heaven . . . no answers arrive from some heavenly angelic messenger, “Take heart Job, Satan is testing your faith in God . . . and by the way, God believes you will pass the test.”
No . . . the heavens are silent.
On the back cover of one of my books on Job, there is a classic painting of this scene.
Four messengers are standing around the doorway of Job’s house. Three are standing there with the wind whipping about their robes . . . a fourth is pointing off into the distance where trees are bent by a fierce wind. And Job has fallen to the ground, his sandals have fallen off; his arms and hands covering his head in anguish.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Suffering of Man & the Sovereignty of God (Fox River Press, 2001), back cover
There’s no such thing as a silver lining around this cloud.
Maybe you have tasted this suffering.
Like the woman I read about several weeks ago – her pastor wrote that she had recently gone through an agonizing divorce – her husband having left her for a younger woman he met at work; they had two small children that she now would raise on her own; about the time the courts refused to give her adequate alimony she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now she was moving in with her aged parents, into their small 2 bedroom home with limited income and failing health.
She was the faithful one. She was the one who walked with God.
There is no visible silver lining around this cloud.
There is quite an invisible scene taking place however.
We know what it looked like for Job – and more than likely for us as well.
Satan and his devil imps are watching – breathlessly craning their necks, hovering just over this man of God to hear the first whisper of a curse toward God. Just one word of blasphemy Job . . . just one. They licked their lips in anticipation of the bitter blasphemies that would surely spew from Jobs mouth against his God.
His silent Lord. His uncaring, failing, absent, unfaithful, unprotective, unrewarding, fickle sovereign.
The devil and his demons couldn’t wait to race heavenward, following the sounds of Job’s curses as they burst into the heavens.
But then . . . verse 20 . . . “Then. . .”
By the way, we’re not told how long it was between verse 19 and verse 20.
It could have been a matter of moments, but I doubt it.
Perhaps it was more like a few hours – after the messengers had slipped away, or more than likely, many gathered around, weeping, wailing, lamenting the incredible reversals of a godly man and his wife.
Five verbs appear in quick succession in the next verse however to indicate that the only cursing to be heard would be the curses and shrieks of Lucifer and his demons who have failed.
The text says (20a), “Then Job arose. . .”
That is, he finally picked himself up off the ground.
(20b) And tore his robe.
The word for “robe” indicates the outer garment that Job reached up and partially tore away from his neck.
This action was the custom of someone in grief.
The torn garment was meant to portray their broken heart.
Job also, we’re told, “shaved his head.”
This also was the custom of expressing that you have lost personal glory and dignity. You are utterly humbled by your circumstances . . . your grief . . . your sorrow overwhelm you.
Now it’s time to raise your fist toward the heavens and profane the name of your God!
How Satan must have urged him along . . . how the imps must have danced about him, aching to hear the name of God sullied and the character of God questioned.
There is no silver lining in this cloud, Job . . . curse Him now!
20c. And he fell to the ground and worshiped.
He prostrated himself, the Hebrew language indicates, flat on his face, and began to worship God.
That’s the amazing thing about this scene.
It isn’t so much that Job suffered. It’s that Job didn’t do anything to deserve it. Furthermore, Satan is behind it and God is allowing it.
Without any explanation to Job!
There’s something that causes us to hang onto the grievances and hurts and pain that came to us unjustly. They weren’t fair. It wasn’t right. We were mistreated.
We want a reason . . . we have rights . . . we deserve answers.
Job was given none.
Job’s response reveals deep lessons on what we should do when we suffer injustice . . . unexpected loss . . . heart wrenching sorrow.
In verse 21 we’re given several lessons of a suffering worshiper.
The first one is this:
Unexpected loss refocuses our attention on things that matter.
Notice the first phrase, in verse 21. He said,
“Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
It doesn’t get any clearer, or more graphic than that!
We were born without anything in our little clenched fists . . . and when we die, our hands won’t be holding anything either.
The tragedies in life have a way of separating the insignificant from the significant . . . stuff that we tend to reverse in order of importance when things are going well.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, author Max Lucado said with a bit of sarcastic humor, “No one lamented a lost plasma television or a submerged SUV. No one ran through the streets yelling, “My cordless drill is missing.’ If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found . . . raging hurricanes have a way of prying our fingers off things that really don’t matter.”
Lutzer, p. 51
If that isn’t convicting enough, listen to this article I came across some time ago.
According to the Self Storage Association, a trade group charged with monitoring such things, the country now possesses about 1.9 billion square feet of personal storage space outside of the home.
All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, including a handful of publicly traded giants like Public Storage, Storage USA, and Shurgard. According to a recent survey, the owners of 1 out of every 11 homes also own a self-storage space. This represents an increase of 75 percent since 1995.
Most operators of self-storage facilities report 90 percent occupancy.
But, amazingly, as the amount of storage space required by homeowners has grown, so has the average size of the American house. In fact, the National Association of Homebuilders reports that the average American house grew from 1,600 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet by 2004. And the number’s growing.
So let's get this straight—houses got bigger, average family sizes got smaller, and yet we need two billion square feet of extra space to store our stuff?
Tom Vanderbilt, "Americans Are Storing More Stuff than Ever," Slate.com (7-18-05)
That’s too convicting . . . let’s move on.
No, the truth is, disaster strikes and we’re reminded that we may be spending our lives collecting stuff we can’t take with us.
Naked we entered life . . . and naked we will exit.
The second lesson from a suffering saint is similar to the first; it’s this:
Unanticipated suffering reminds us that everything about life is on loan.
(v. 20) Job said, The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
With deep faith in the character of God, Job acknowledged the right of God over everything.
And I mean everything;
- his possessions
- his health
- his kids
- his businesses
- his employees
- his future.
Job says, as he lies there in the dust, “The Lord gave me all of that and the Lord has taken it away.”
And after that phrase you would expect him to say, “And who does the Lord think He is?”
Oh no . . . instead there is praise from Job. And a third lesson;
Unexplained sorrow purifies our trust in God who is beyond understanding.
(v. 20) Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
It’s interesting that 3 times in this speech of a life-time, Job will use the name Yahweh – the personal name of God.
John E. Hartley, NICOT: Job (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 78
What mattered to him most, in the hour of greatest sorrow, was his relationship to his personal sovereign King.
God wasn’t under any obligation to tell Job all that He was up to. The clay, Paul wrote in Romans 9:21, has no right to judge the potter.
The greater lesson learned as we watch Job on his face is that it isn’t necessary for us to know God’s purposes before we bow to His authority.
Lutzer, p. 39
It is not necessary for us to know God’s plan before we bow in His presence!
In fact, it is the sorrow that is unexplained that purifies our trust the most.
When there are no answers on earth
When it all seems so unfair;
When life deals one cruel blow after another . . . one messenger after another . . . when there are clouds, but no silver lining is observable.
That’s when we worship Him with childlike faith, when we worship Him on the basis of His promises, not explanations.
Is it any wonder that this chapter ends in verse 22 with the words, Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
Why say that here? Because that’s what anyone would naturally do. Blame God. You could have stopped it . . . where were You?!
No blame game here.
Job refused to plant seeds of bitterness that would grow deep roots that would cloud his perspective and stifle his worship and shrivel up his soul.
I was handed a poem several weeks ago . . . I read it this past week at the funeral service of a little 4 year-old girl. At a time when many would blame God or at least question Him . . . this family’s testimony was, like Job’s, without blame toward God.
The song lyrics go like this and as I close with these words, let me suggest that lyrics like these are good to hang onto when there’s no silver lining in sight.:
My Father’s way may twist and turn,
My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul I’m glad I know,
He maketh no mistake.
My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead
For he doth know the way.
Tho’ night be dark and it may seem
That day will never break;
I’ll pin my faith, my all in Him,
He maketh no mistake.
There’s so much now I cannot see,
My eyesight’s far too dim;
But come what may, I’ll simply trust
And leave it all to Him.
For by and by the mist will lift,
And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, tho’ dark to me,
He made not one mistake.