Job has just had all the good things of his life ripped away from him, and his wife (who, debatably, might not have been one of those good things) counsels him to “curse God and die.” Job, having been fairly newly–and excessively–bereaved, nevertheless says to her,
Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
Later on, after being browbeaten some more by his unimaginative friends, Job maybe doesn’t quite curse God and he certainly doesn’t die, but he just as certainly gets really ticked off at the injustice of his circumstances, and he lets God know this unequivocally.
We could analyse the book of Job and protest that he was treated unfairly and point out sagely that the really unjust piece of the story is that God never even tells Job about the wager between Himself and the Accuser, and we might be right or we might be wrong, but right this second I just want to talk about Job’s question to his wife: Shall we receive good from God’s hand and then reject the bad times when He brings them instead?
Last week in class we talked about whether or not God was inherently and completely good, and our professor pointed out other passages in the Bible outside of this Job one, where it states that God “creates evil” or even “does evil,” even though elsewhere (sometimes in the self-same books, even) God is described as completely good and having no evil within Himself. I don’t believe these statements necessarily contradict each other or are mutually exclusive, but I do think they can bring up a huge load of questions, including all of the “Why me, God?” (or “Why not me, God?” depending on the scenario) ones. If we’re suddenly giving God the responsibility for the unpleasantness of our lives, those questions seem really well-justified. But I have another question.
I used to have an atheist friend who had an ex-wife who was, out of spite, going to prevent him from refinancing his house by refusing to sign certain papers to remove her from being a part of the proceedings or something. My friend was stressed and grumpy about his ex-wife’s hardheadedness and hardheartedness, but completely confident in it. There was absolutely nothing on earth that could change this woman’s mind, evidently, and he knew it. He also, as was his wont, used this as yet another nail in the coffin he was constructing for God. I, on the other hand, thought I knew differently, so I prayed that his ex-wife would sign the papers.
The next time I talked to this friend, his ex-wife had signed the papers. He couldn’t explain it. I thought I could. “I prayed for her,” I said, thinking, Surely he has to acknowledge God’s presence now . . . at least a little bit?
And he did get quiet for a minute, but then he said, “Why would God show me grace through my ***** of an ex-wife, instead of through you when you’ve been trying to preach to me about Him for so long?”
I wanted to bash my head against a wall–and maybe bash his head against one, too. First of all–why wouldn’t God do that? Who really cares who the instrument of God’s grace is, as long as the grace is delivered? In my experience, God prefers to utilise the unlikely in His plans. This seemed like a signature God-move to me, but maybe this friend of mine, who was so intent on not-believing, wouldn’t have known that. Second–God did show grace through me (also unlikely), because I prayed about it and He answered it–and then allowed me to be there to interpret the answer. I guess He hadn’t guaranteed that even the interpretation would be understood, though.
It was this interaction, and many others like it, both with this friend and a few others like him, that made me start reversing Job’s question in my head. I wasn’t simply reversing it in self-righteous judgment of my doubting friends. I was reversing it because of my long-term tendency to blame God when things go wrong, myself, and my equally long-term inexperience with gratitude to God for the things that go right.
Should I receive evil at the hand of God and not good also?
By which I mean–if I believe God is sovereign, maybe it’s fair to say God is somehow in or connected to even the situations I find unbearable, though it may not be in the way that it immediately seems. This is something that I need to work out, surely–and something I may still get in God’s face about from time to time because I haven’t yet learned how to be that malleable lump of clay that He can make into something beautiful. However, if God is in some way attached to the difficulties in my life, how much more is He responsible for the good in it?
I’m pretty sure God can handle my rants, but what I suspect is unjustifiable are all those times I rant at Him for the “bad” things (which quite often turn out all right anyway) and take the good things for granted. When it comes right down to it, it’s the good things which should take me by surprise–not because God isn’t good, but because I’m not:
Ranting or not, I rebel against God every day. And this isn’t a question of simple obedience or disobedience. This is about insurrection–about a created being trying in little ways to usurp the role of an entirely different kind of being–and uncreated one–the only Uncreated One. I highly doubt God is threatened by my feeble but stubborn attempts; nevertheless, trying to be something I’m not and trying to take over a role I cannot fill can’t be good for any relationship, not least the relationship with the One I’m trying to become. I don’t deserve the good I receive from God. But He still gives it and gives it and gives it, and it’s pretty arrogantly foolish for me not both to receive it and to thank Him for it.
I suspect, the more I grow in gratitude, the more beautiful and useful He will make me. And that is a good in itself.