Things That Are Above

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Archive for June 2015

God Is Good, Just, and Sovereign in Our Suffering (Part 2)

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When we suffer, we’re often tempted to echo Job’s accusation of God from Job 9:24, “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked” because God “covers the faces of its judges.” But does this accusation hold water? Did Job have to indict God for injustice in order to uphold his own divinely declared blamelessness (cf. 1:1, 8; 2:3; 42:7)? God’s first speech makes clear that Job should not have condemned God while rightly maintaining that he did not directly deserve his intense sufferings. Human suffering is not always (often?) the direct result of God’s judgment on sin. According to God’s first speech to Job (38:1–40:2), we can have our cake and eat it, too, when it comes to God’s righteousness and blameless suffering. To teach Job this lesson, God forcefully defends himself against Job’s accusations and humbles Job under the irrefutable evidence of his good justice in all the natural world.

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” God asks thunderously from the whirlwind (38:2). Job had hoped to try God; now God has appeared and will try Job. God invalidates Job’s accusations against him as “words without knowledge” (38:2) and proceeds in his first speech to Job to explain how Job’s words were so ignorant. God’s sovereignty over the world is both good and just, contrary to Job’s accusations from the depths of his despair.

God makes this argument by forcefully using rhetorical questions, the first series of which discuss the act of creation itself in order to impress upon Job God’s goodness in creating the world (38:4–11). When God “laid the foundation of the earth,” “determined its measurements,” and “laid its cornerstone,” the “sons of God shouted for joy” (vv. 4–7). In other words, when God created the natural world, the heavenly host of angels rejoiced. They rejoiced because God had made a good creation, which is the implicit point of vv. 8–11. These vv. describe God “shut[ting] in the sea with doors” and “prescrib[ing] limits for it.” These sovereign acts occurred literally at creation, but they signify that God creates order out of chaos. This act is good, even to the chaotic sea itself. God “made clouds its garment” and swaddled it in “thick darkness” (v. 9). These metaphors use language reminiscent of a mother lovingly swaddling a newborn baby. God’s creation of a good natural world resulted in supernatural joy and demonstrates God’s good, just love for this creation.

God then asks Job about the daily sunrise in 38:12–15 in order to impress upon Job God’s good justice. Based on his personal experiences and observation of the world, Job had asked, “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty” (24:1)? Job has seen the wicked gain wealth at the expense of the poor, who consequently lack food and clothing (24:2–11). Taking what he has seen at face value, Job had concluded, “God charges no one with wrong” (24:12). God now responds to this accusation by revealing to Job a purpose for the dawning of each new day: to “take hold of the skirts of the earth” so that “the wicked be shaken out of it” (38:13). God reminds Job that the world is much vaster than Job’s observation allows. Contrary to Job’s observed knowledge, God does, in fact, visit justice on the wicked every day so that the “light” of the morning dawn “is withheld” from them, “and their uplifted arm is broken” (38:15). God justly punishes the wicked, even though he does not do so according to Job’s timeline. Such is his prerogative as the sovereign Creator of the universe.

Most of the remainder of this first barrage of Job concerns God’s sovereign control over the natural world, both heavenly phenomena (38:22–38) and animals (38:39–39:30). Even where no people live to cultivate the land, God cultivates the land himself (38:26–27). In Job 38:26–27 God reminds Job about how he provides rain so that the ground sprouts grass in order to inspire Job to renewed faith in God’s goodness even though Job has not been experiencing God’s goodness as fully in the context of the story as he had throughout his life. God also demonstrates his goodness by giving freedom to wild donkeys (39:6). God even ensures the survival of foolish ostriches, which “leave their eggs to the earth … forgetting that a foot may crush them / and that the wild beast may trample them” (39:14–15). As Michael Fox has noted, “God is for abandoned animals what he is for human orphans” (“God’s Answer and Job’s Response,” Biblica 94, no. 1 [2013]: 8 n. 24).

Since Job had denied that God’s sovereignty over the natural world is just and good, God rightly concludes his first speech, in which he declares what Job had denied, with a challenge to Job. “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” God asks. “He who argues with God, let him answer it” (40:2). God has presented his case, and he challenges Job to answer it. God’s aim has been both to humble Job into submission to God’s powerful authority and to produce faith in Job in God’s just goodness. He invites us to do the same in the midst of our sufferings. Will we trust his goodness and justice toward us based on his goodness and justice in all the natural world?

Written by Jordan Atkinson

June 29, 2015 at 12:13 PM

Posted in General Posts

“Joyful Confidence” in the face of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Gay Marriage

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Dr. Russell Moore’s video response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of legislating gay marriage nationwide is the best I’ve seen:

Something that has struck me each time I’ve watched the video is Dr. Moore’s call to us Christians to be “people of joyful confidence,” in part because the non-Christian supporters of the Supreme Court’s decision can be heard in the background shouting for joy.

As Dr. Moore urges us in his response to the ruling, we Christians must hold fast to the true source of eternally lasting joy, the gospel of Jesus Christ, who “can’t be put back into the grave.”

Our responsibility as Christians moving forward in this drastically changed and changing culture is to share the gospel with all sinners in love and out of hope of bringing them to him who will truly satisfy them: Jesus Christ.

God is Good, Just, and Sovereign in Our Suffering (Part 1)

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How should we think about God’s sovereignty in relation to our suffering? Do our sufferings disprove God’s goodness, if not his sovereignty and even existence, as well? Such rebellious unbelief is the default human response to God in the midst of suffering, but this response is an unbiblical, un-Christian response to suffering. James upholds Job as an example of one “who remained steadfast” and through whom later readers of the Bible can see “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11). Even in the midst of our suffering, God is sovereign, and God in his sovereignty, even over our sufferings, is good. This point is the main point of Job 38:1–42:6, where God confronts Job’s wavering faith in the preceding chapters in order to strengthen Job’s faith so that it is truly steadfast.

As we work our way through Job 38:1–42:6 over the next month, we will see how God’s good sovereignty shines through each section. In Job 38:1–40:2, God establishes his just goodness in the natural world, which prompts Job to respond in 40:3–5 with an initial response of humility and faith. However, Job’s reply to God’s first speech is explicitly a humble promise of silence, so God renews his rhetorical assault in 40:6 and continues through 41:34. God’s second speech emphasizes his good sovereignty over the supernatural world, particularly over the enigmatic figures of Behemoth (40:15–24) and Leviathan (41:1–34). At this point Job finally responds with mature humility and faith by repenting of his previous ignorance and admitting that God has been in the right all along (42:1–6).

Job 38:1–42:6 is a foundational text for thinking biblically about God’s sovereignty in relation to human suffering. As we will see in more detail, this text teaches that God is good and just in his exercise of sovereignty over our suffering. This truth should prompt us to respond to God in humble faith even when we suffer. As James says, Job teaches us that God’s purpose is to be “compassionate and merciful.” If Job believed this fully at the end of God’s two speeches, how much more should we believe this truth today, when we have the whole counsel of God in the Bible? How much more should we trust God to be compassionate and merciful even when we suffer, since God has supremely revealed his compassion and mercy in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord? I pray that this study of Job 38:1–42:6 in the coming weeks will help us to set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, because he is the ultimate reason we can think and feel biblically about suffering as taught in this text.

Written by Jordan Atkinson

June 22, 2015 at 12:04 PM

A Call to Repentance

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Last month it was my privilege to preach at Eastside Baptist Church in Winfield, AL, on Genesis 6:5-8. This text functions as a call to repentance, as it gives four reasons why people should repent and turn to God in faith that he will save them by Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  1. Repent because God sees your wickedness (v. 5).
  2. Repent because God grieves over your wickedness (v. 6).
  3. Repent because God will judge your wickedness (v. 7).
  4. Repent because God offers you salvation from your wickedness (v. 8).

My sermon can be listened to here.

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