Thursday, June 22, 2017

Are you stuck in the cosmic machine?

Have you ever felt that life was essentially unjust? That you were being ground to dust between the gears of a cosmic machine that was deaf to your cries of pain? Are you approaching a point at which your only shred of control in a personal world spinning out of control is to rebel against life itself, to hate life?

Oddly enough, you might come to this conclusion whether you are immersed in pleasure or drowning in suffering, soaked in sin or walking in righteousness. The world’s wisest fool (Solomon), and the world’s most righteous sinner (Job) both came to the same conclusion: they hated life.

King Solomon is described in Ecclesiastes chapters one and two as a man with such immense wealth that Bill Gates looks impoverished by comparison. In his own words, Solomon withheld no pleasure from himself: All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure . . . (Eccl 2:10). Solomon pursued meaning in accomplishments, buildings, agriculture, sex, alcohol, various pleasures, fame, wealth, wisdom and knowledge—in other words, in virtually every arena of human endeavor. To top it all off, he had power untold as the king of Israel’s golden age. And what did it all produce? Despair. In his own words: So I hated life. . . (Eccl 2:17).

Job is described as a wealthy man, the greatest of all the men in the east (Job 1:3). God’s own valuation of His servant is remarkable: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil (Job 1:8). And yet when great suffering descended upon Job, his steps faltered and he expresses despair very similar to Solomon’s: I loathe my own life; (Job 10:1).

What gives? How is it these two very different men with very different experiences wind up in despair expressed in very similar ways?

In essence, Solomon was living “under the sun.” In other words he was not denying God’s existence but was denying that God makes a difference. The fact that God exists was to Solomon irrelevant to life in a fallen world. God was to Solomon a transcendent distant judge who would render final verdicts, but not an immanent Shepherd who cares for our souls. Life was a cosmic machine in which it doesn’t really matter what we do, because all that we accomplish would be left to the one who follows us, and who knows whether that one will be wise or foolish? God was there, Solomon acknowledged, but his goodness was in question.

Job was utterly convinced of God’s sovereignty: “With Him are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding. Behold, He tears down, and it cannot be rebuilt; He imprisons a man, and there can be no release. Behold, He restrains the waters, and they dry up; And He sends them out, and they inundate the earth” (Job 12:13–15).

But he had lost confidence in God’s goodness. Job felt that God was being unjust, “What did I do to deserve this?” How then can I answer Him, And choose my words before Him? For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge. If I called and He answered me, I could not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He bruises me with a tempest And multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to get my breath, But saturates me with bitterness. If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him? Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me; Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty. I am guiltless; I do not take notice of myself; I despise my life. It is all one; therefore I say,He destroys the guiltless and the wicked’ (Job 9:14–22).

The similarity between the wise fool and the righteous sinner that led them both to despair in such different circumstances lies in the fact that they had lost touch with the nearness of God, the immanent care of God, the love of God, the overwhelming goodness of God. Solomon couldn’t see it because he was living as if the existence of God bore little significance to life other than ultimate judgment. Job couldn’t see it because he assumed his suffering was unjust: he had no category in his theology of suffering that would encompass suffering not because of personal sin but for the glory of God (a theology that waited upon the coming of Christ). Indeed, the challenges Job hurls at God are answered in Christ: Have You eyes of flesh? Or do You see as a man sees? Are Your days as the days of a mortal, Or Your years as man’s years, That You should seek for my guilt And search after my sin? According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty, Yet there is no deliverance from Your hand (Job 10:4–7). Christ indeed was not guilty, yet there was no deliverance for Him because redemption for Solomon, Job, you and I was hinging upon the death of the sinless Lamb of God.

There was a time that David was caught up in despair too, as he relates in Psalm 73: But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant As I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:2–3). But after working through his anger, bitterness, and his sneaking suspicion that God was unjust, David comes to a conclusion that is helpful for you and I when we feel hopelessly and helplessly tied to the rails of God’s sovereignty: Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works (Psalm 73:25–28).

If you know Christ, you are not stuck in a cosmic machine. Rather, you are an actor on the stage of a cosmic contest in which God’s righteous judgment is being vindicated, and His mercy and grace are being revealed. The most fundamental piece of your faith to cling to when life is tumbling down around your ears is also the simplest piece of theology: God is good. You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes (Psalm 119:68).

His infinite worth is best proclaimed by those who are satisfied in Him, even in times of great suffering. Your life is not devoid of meaning, as Solomon thought, nor is it empty or futile. Because of Christ, all that you do, all that you suffer, all that you attempt in Christ’s name has significance, whether or not you see the result in this life. That's part of what it means to walk by faith.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

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