We’re probably all reasonably familiar with the story of Job, how God allowed Satan to test Job, how Job remained faithful even when faced with severe personal loss, physical anguish, an unhelpful spouse and critical friends, and how eventually Job needed to learn that God is in control, and that Job was not quite as righteous as he first assumed. That’s where we joined the story, at the start of God’s reply from the whirlwind, where God lists the various marvels of creation, of the earth and indeed of the heavens as well. You might be wondering why I started there, near the end of the story, if I was going to preach about Job. There’s a good reason for that. It’s because this is not a sermon about Job. His story simply serves as the background.
I considered using Psalm 104 to make the same main point that I’m looking in Job chapter 38, but I liked the passage and the context of Job better.
When I was looking up to see what people had to say as a quick summary of what is the lesson of the book of Job, and there are certainly some interesting opinions on this book, one item stuck out to me. Someone said that the lesson of Job is to trust the process. Good things happen, bad things happen, God is sovereign, He knows what is going on, and why, and we should trust the process. That’s perhaps the book of Job best summed up in a single sentence that I’ve heard to this point.
There’s something else that I’ve heard, something that I’ve heard in modern contexts, and while it’s not something that I had been originally thinking about when I looked at this chapter, it’s actually quite applicable to Job. That is the question of why doesn’t God just fix everything? People ask that question in one way or another all the time. People look at the world around them, and they see a world in chaos and disarray, a world filled with suffering and strife, frankly, a world gone mad, and they ask why does God not do something about it? If there is a good and benevolent God, why doesn’t He fix this mess? Is it because He isn’t able to do that? Is it because He doesn’t want to do it? In either case, that certainly raises questions about the very nature of God, because when we consider what we imagine a good and perfect God should be, well, then the reality we see around us may not match so well with that image of God. If God doesn’t fix this mess, people argue, then maybe He’s not all good. Maybe He’s not all powerful, or all knowing, or maybe He’s simply not up to the task, or not interested in helping us. Or maybe, and this is the argument line that many skeptics would take, maybe He’s not even real, because if He were real, then He’d fix everything.
You know what? If your understanding of God is that He should fix everything, then yeah, it might be tough to believe in Him. But like so many other items in the catalogue of human knowledge, perhaps a flawed understanding of God is actually a big part of the problem.
I’ve been on this planet forty four years now, and while there are certainly a lot of things that I don’t understand fully, God being one of them, there are a lot of things that I have seen and do have a lot of first hand experience with, and feel quite comfortable making a judgement call about. One of those things is that people like things that are easy.
It’s back to school time for a lot of people. That means that a lot of folks are in the middle of, or likely already have done a good bit of their back to school shopping. Does your back-to-school shopping include a trip to Staples? You’re probably familiar with the Easy Button. It’s a big red button, that when pressed, plays a short voice recording of a man saying “That was easy.” This was a product from a commercial in 2003, which so many people wanted that they made an actual red button that people could buy and have on their desks. They sold 1.5 million of those buttons in the first year it was offered, and they’re still available, I checked. They’re $5.98, and there’s 18 in stock in Charlottetown. In any case, 1.5 million sold, and probably far more than that by now. That’s a lot of people who want to be told that something was easy. Because we all like easy.
For a while one of my children was using the expression “Easy peasy lemon squeezy” to describe any task that was not difficult. Granted, it was cute when he said it, and we appreciated that he didn’t complain about doing things. Better than saying “Stressed depressed lemon zest” or something like that. But a lot of things in this life are not easy or peasy, and the only lemon squeezy is a squirt of lemon juice directly into your eye. We want easy solutions to difficult problems, and the notion that God should fix things for us is a big nod in that direction.
This is hardly a new idea. I knew I had mentioned this before, and I checked my notes and back in 2013 I had mentioned the concept of Deus ex machina in a sermon. That’s an expression from Greek meaning “The god out of the machine” which was something that occurred in Greek plays, notably by Euripides, when at the end of the play a Greek god or demigod shows up to save the day or put everything back in its place. Sometimes the actor playing the deity would be literally lowered unto the stage by a crane, hence the god out of the machine. This character would solve all or some of what had gone wrong to that point in the play, and get the other characters out of whatever corner they had been painted into or whatever doom awaited them. It’s not considered to be very good writing by today’s standards to have to resort to some sort of outside assistance, frankly, some people were critical of that as a dramatic device even at the time those plays were first performed. We still see it in modern fiction, think about a western movie when the cavalry shows up to save the day, or in The Cat in the Hat when the cat returns with a machine that cleans up all the mess in the nick of time before mom gets home.
Is that what we want from our Creator? Is that what we expect from Him? Do we imagine that the God of Heaven and earth should jump in and fix all our problems, and when He doesn’t, we are disappointed?
We look around at all the mess in this world, all the pollution and environmental issues, all the health problems we see, and of course this year is a bad one for that, the worst in a long while, and of course there are continually natural disasters of one type or another, and all the suffering those things bring, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix things, doesn’t make them better. Why did He allow a new variant of coronavirus to arise and kill so many people? At this point it’s closing in on one million deaths. Why doesn’t God fix it?
It’s a commonly asked but not easily answered question. There is any number of reasons why the world is left to continue as it has, why we are faced with living in a fallen and broken state. Before we get to the primary, simple, single-word answer, though, I would point out that the world is operating as it was designed to operate. God established natural laws and order, and we have thoroughly ignored and rebelled against them. The world is broken, our society is broken, we are broken, because we have played rough with it. We have gone against all that God has set in place, and we act surprised and offended when things go wrong.
Why should God have to fix the problems that we have brought upon ourselves? He made this world as an orderly place, with systems that function according to His design. It may not feel like it, but it’s true. This morning when you got up, the sun was up in the sky, unless you got up really early, in which case likely saw it come up, like it does every morning. In eight or nine hours from now it will go down again, because that’s how it operates. It’s reliable, predictable, standardized, dependable.
The world that we live in was created by God, and if you don’t believe that, if you have accepted the lie that things are here by nothing more than random chance and the lengthy passage of time, then you have far more faith than I do in things which cannot be proven, cannot be replicated, and which require the dismissal of far more evidence to the contrary than supposed evidence in favour. That is not my topic for this morning, although I have spoken on this in the past, and likely will again in the future.
This world, for all its disorder and turmoil, is an orderly and designed and highly complex place. The chapter we read describes it and gives a great number of examples of this, and points out how Job and his contemporaries have only minimal understanding of it all. Looking past all the poetical language, God asks Job if he knows where the earth’s foundations are fastened, or how it was made, why the seas stop where they do, why the sun rises when it does, what is the nature of light and darkness, what lies beneath the oceans, or all the facets of the weather, or how the stars and constellations change in the sky with the seasons? All these things we see occurring around us now, just as Job did. We understand many of them somewhat better than Job did, because people have spent countless hours over the last three thousand years trying to learn of the nature of this world, why things are the way they are, rather than simply accepting them as they are.
Even so, while we may understand why it rains, why it snows, and the perceived movement of the stars, we can’t do anything to control it. God made the world to operate in certain ways, He set boundaries and established systems that behave according to how they were designed, and for all our effort and knowledge we can do little to control them. We can harness some of them, such as the wind. Sailors have used that rather effectively for millennia, my wife’s ancestors are Dutch, and they have made windmills for centuries, and if you drive up to East Point you’ll see modern wind turbines which convert the wind to electricity. Some of the things God designed in the world we might not be able harness so much as we can adapt to them. Sometime in the next month or so we’ll all be turning on our furnaces or firing up wood stoves or switching our heat pumps from cooling to heating mode to deal with the cold weather. We can adapt to temperature changes, we can roll with many of the punches as it were which the earth delivers to us, but we can’t control them. There’s not a thing any of us to can to stop a rain storm, we can only try and stay out of its way.
If you can’t avoid or control the natural world then you will be subject to the consequences of ignoring the laws of nature. This might be insignificant, or it might be severe. If you wear shorts when it’s snowing, then you’re going to get cold. That’s not all that bad, but if you remain in the cold for an extended period, then you may, I would say eventually you are likely to get hypothermia and die. Sometimes these consequences are irrevocable and extreme, even if they might be reasonably predictable. If you live on a floodplain, then you are far more likely to get wet than someone who lives on a mountainside. The mountain dweller, however, is a lot more likely to experience an avalanche. Likewise, if you go outside during a thunderstorm holding a big sheet of metal over your head, well, if lightning strikes you, then you should not be surprised.
Much as the natural world operates God made operates according to the principles He intended, so does the spiritual world. Our physical world has laws such as gravity and thermodynamics, which we don’t get to argue with or negotiate around. These are not optional, you don’t get to pick and choose which you obey and when, you don’t get to take a day off from gravity. Likewise there are the spiritual principles which God has ordained. We don’t get to dismiss those either.
What has God said about our conduct and our spiritual state? Well, the simplest statement that comes to mind can be found in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18: The soul that sinneth, it shall die. That seems harsh, but it’s true. The wages of sin are indeed death, and there’s not a human alive today who doesn’t have that final payday in their future.
When we ignore what God has said, when we break His laws, we invite problems for ourselves, and for others, because not only does sin transgress against God, but it’s also harmful in and of itself. Sometimes the connection is obvious, for example, drunkenness leads to health problems such as liver damage, and dishonesty and stealing lead to a lack of trust. Sometimes it’s not so obvious, for example, think of the host of problems that arise from pride, all the selfishness and arrogance that stems from that is noticeable, but so many other sins and symptoms have their roots in pride, in the feeling that you are somehow better or above those around you, and thus gives root to hatred, oppression, and greed on a personal scale, and war, starvation, and genocide on a much grander scale. In short, this world is broken because of sin at every level. We’ve disobeyed God, we’ve been selfish and arrogant and wicked. We’ve sowed the seeds of suffering and strife; we’ve done so as a race for something like sixty centuries now. But what you sow of course you reap, and we’re reaping that harvest, and not exactly enjoying the fruits of our labours.
Why should God step in and fix this? If my children build something with Lego, and then they break it, should I step in and fix it? If you said yes to that, well, if they do so every single day, should I still fix the discombobulated Lego? Or do I accept that Lego goes together and comes apart as it was designed to do, and leave it alone?
Human beings are not made of Lego, and this world is not the table in my family room all covered in half-finished construction projects, but we have made a grand mess. It’s not reasonable to expect God to step in and clean it all up. Again.
I say again, because God has already stepped in and provided a solution to our underlying problem, and that is of course the problem of sin. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, we know this, we’ve all heard that verse from Romans 3 before, we’ve heard it many times. We all know that we have sinned. This is not news, as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. As it says in 1 John chapter 1, verse 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Christ came into this world, the literal embodiment of the divine, to solve a problem that we were utterly unable to fix. All the good behaviour that we could manage, and looking around, or for that matter, in the mirror, we see far less good behaviour and far more bad behaviour, but all the good we could do cannot fix sin, cannot stop it, cannot pay the price. But Christ’s death on the cross did exactly that, He paid the price for all our sins, and by His resurrection He demonstrated without a doubt that His power extended beyond that of death. If we read the next verse in 1 John, we see the result of His sacrifice. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God has already saved the day. When we look around at our fallen world and wonder why He doesn’t step in and fix it, the real question is that we’re wondering why He doesn’t fix it again. But He doesn’t need to, and isn’t going to, at least not in the way people would like to see. We want things tidied up and sanitized, we would like to continue making bad choices, and somehow avoid the consequences. To use a couple of clichés, we want to have our cake and eat it too, we want to sow whatever we want and not have to reap the harvest, and when God doesn’t indulge us in these pipe dreams, we question His motives and His goodness. That is wrong, and that is foolish.
Do terrible things happen in this world? Yes, all the time. Are they the result of human arrogance, human selfishness, and human sin? For the most part, yes. Sometimes, sadly, those who are suffer are largely or entirely innocent, but all that means is that someone else is doubly guilty. And sooner or later, all of us are guilty of some transgression or other.
We might cry for God to step in and fix things, and you know what, some day He will. But not in our timeline, or according to our wishes and desires. If we look back at Job’s story, if we looked to the last chapter of that book we would see how God restored to Job all that he had lost, and more besides. It didn’t happen overnight, though. It required patience and faithfulness of Job’s part, he suffered greatly and for a good long while before it happened.
We don’t enjoy suffering, and we don’t enjoy waiting. We like things that are easy. But when we ask what delays God from setting this world aright, perhaps we don’t realize what we are truly looking for.
As we draw to a close I’d like to read a few words from C.S. Lewis on this very subject.
God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. . .
It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.
We wonder why God does not fix things, yet He already sent His Son to do exactly that. We wonder why the world is broken, but we forget that it is filled with broken people who are unwilling and unable to take responsibility for their actions. We wonder why our choices bring suffering, yet we are reluctant to repent.
God is going to fix things some day, in His time, not in ours. Are we ready for Him to do that? If you can’t easily answer that question this morning, consider this. While God may not repair the world at large today, He is ready and willing to work on fixing you, if you are willing to let Him.