Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

God’s Nearness When God Seems Far

Text: Job 23: 8-11

v.8 If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; v.9 On the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. v.10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold. v.11 My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside.

INTRODUCTION

I grew up without a father from the age of ten. Many a times I felt lonely, frustrated and questioned God, why Lord? Why have you taken my father when I was still so young? Again recently I lost my best friend with whom I grew and have been friends for the past twenty four years. These made me to question God. Why do these things happen to me? It took time for me to get settled. There were times of frustration, depression but then why God does disappears when we need Him the most? If God could perform miracles in the past for those whom He loved why doesn’t He do that now?

I believe many of us must have gone through that kind of situations in life. Job had this problem too. Why does God seem so distant when needed the most? Are we to complain or accept it as God’s will? How long will we endure this spiritual gloom in our life? As we ponder on these questions, I would like to share this morning on the Topic: God’s Nearness when God seems far, basing on the text Job 23:8-11

BACKGROUND

The book of Job despite uncertainty about the historical provenance like its authorship, place and time, one thing is very sure and certain is that the core of the book is about the problem of suffering. The book of Job is dialogical in nature and the debate centers around the question: Why does the righteous suffer? The Ancient West Asia worldview gave only one answer to that question and they were definite about it. And that view is represented by Job’s friends. They believed in the divine retribution i.e. the righteous prosper (health and wealth) and wicked are punished. However, here in this case we see that Job though being a righteous person suffers and hence the book of Job gives a different answer to that question. And that is, God has his way with God’s people in his own wisdom. Job 23 falls under the third section, which is the Third Cycle of Debate. It begins with Job’s third reply to Eliphaz, who thinks that Job’s suffering is due to his sin.

MESSAGE

If we look into the text, in verses 1-7, we see Job presenting his case of complaints before God. And when we come to this morning’s text verses 8-11, we see God’s hiddenness and Job’s confidence in these verses. This morning we will look into Job’s response to the suffering that he was going through. And accordingly I would like to bring out three points.

  1. HUMAN'S STRUGGLE TO LOCATE GOD (Verses 8 & 9)

We know that Job was robbed of all the luxuries of his life. Satan wanted to test Job and so he took away his children; his flocks and herds, and even afflicted him with a bodily disease for no reason. Hence, Job was deeply wounded. In verses 8 & 9, we see Job failing to find access to God. Job was an upright person. He knew very well that God would not use violence on him and would listen to his blamelessness. But the only problem Job had was that God was inaccessible. God was silent. And we see here that retribution formula is certainly wrong. If it is right Job’s experiences would have been opposite of what he experiences now. He wanted to have access to God’s wisdom. And so depressed and frustrated, he complains of three things: that he could not fix his thoughts; that he could not form any clear judgments of things in his own mind and his mind was so disturbed and confused with his troubles that he was like a frightened man who was running here and there. He says clearly in verses 8 and 9, “If I go forward, he is not there, or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. If we look into the NIV Translation the words forward, backward, left and right is translated as- East, West, North and South which resembles the four directions on earth. So everywhere he could not find God. Job knew that God was at work but hiding from him.

Likewise sometimes God seems to be hiding from us. There are times when he appears to be “missing-in- action” in our life when we need God the most or when we go through suffering and pain in life. Rick Warren in his book Purpose Driven Life, quotes Floyd McClung’s statement to explain God’s hiding this way… and I quote “You wake up one morning and all your spiritual feelings are gone. You pray, but nothing happens. You rebuke the devil, but it doesn’t change anything. You go through spiritual exercises… you have friends pray for you…you confess every sin you can imagine, and then go around asking forgiveness of everyone you know. You fast…still nothing. You begin to wonder how long this spiritual gloom might last. Days? Weeks? Months? Will it ever end? ... It feels as if our prayers simply bounce off the ceiling. In utter desperation, we cry out, ‘what’s the matter with me?’ David who was known to be a person after God’s own heart too frequently complained of God’s absence… “Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?” (Psalms 10:1). Of course God did not leave David and he leaves none of us. God never promised us that ‘we will always feel the presence of God’ but our God has promised us repeatedly “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

So when we, humans struggle to locate God, when we are suffering and are unable to understand why we are going through. What is our response? Where do we turn to? When Job was in such kind of situation Job reminded himself of God’s purpose in his life. And so here I would like to bring out my second point confidence in God’s good purpose.

  1. CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S GOOD PURPOSE (Verse 10)

Here we see that God is not testing Job but Satan who tests Job. Satan said to God “Job is righteous just because you have prospered him”. God denied that accusation. Therefore Satan challenged God and God allowed Satan to test Job. However, Job thought that it is God who is testing him.

In verse 10 in spite of Job’s inability to contact God, he has the faithful confidence of verse 10. Job says, “But he knows the way I take: when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” Job uttered this cry with gloom and glory, despair and hope. When Job did not find any connection with God, he had a sense of loss of dignity. But the feeling is immediately coupled with the word ‘but’ which shows his confidence in the goodness of God “He knows the way that I take” which means that even if God is hiding, God knows where to find Job. God knows the person we are within. When God goes missing, it is not to hurt us but it is to test our faith. Job says that when he is tested, he shall come out like gold, well refined. You see in the process of purification of gold, the gold is placed with lead and then melted. As air is blown across the surface of the molten, the impurities are absorbed and the purified metal remains. Likewise, our trials, temptations and suffering, our test of faith is only a purifying process so that we will come out as a refined gold. It is God who tears us apart and will also reshape us, through testing of our faith in order to strengthen us.

(Illustration) In October 1991, a firestorm destroyed 2,500 homes in the vicinity of Oakland, California. When the devastated owners returned and examined through the black debris, they found that all their possessions had been reduced to dust. But one man and his daughter discovered a tiny porcelain pot. They marveled that so fragile an object had survived unbroken. And even other victims of that catastrophe also found pottery and porcelain items that had somehow defied the all-consuming firestorm. The Sunday after the disaster, a local minister carried to his pulpit an unbroken pot, which was the only thing recovered from his home. He asked his congregation, "Do you know why this is still here and my house is gone?" and he answered his own question by saying, "Because this had passed through the fire once before."

My dear friends, Can the fiery trials of life actually prove to be a blessing? I tell you, fiery trials may be very painful, but if by God's grace we endure them, our faith can emerge from the blazing furnace purer and stronger than it was before.

As Job looked at the tests that God allowed in his life, his gloom turned to glee. He saw the test as an instrument to bring about good. He knew that as the heat of a fiery furnace was needed to remove the trash from precious metal, so it took the cleansing flames of affliction to remove thoroughly the impurities from his life. He was confident that he would come forth not as a burned-up ashes but as a piece of purest gold.

God is not in the demolition business, but He does run a refinery. His purpose is not to destroy but to purify. The burning difficulties that test us are designed to remove the dregs that hinder us from serving Him with clean hands and a pure heart. He seeks not to ruin us but to increase our value. His desire is to separate from us anything that would detract from our worth and make us ever more useful in service to Him. If you are in the fiery furnace of affliction, take heart. God’s hand is on the thermostat. He will allow the heat to do no more than just remove the impurities. As you go in mixed with the dregs of this world, you will come forth pure and refined. Such kind of refining and God’s work in Job’s life brought confidence in him and also helped him to commit and surrender to God’s ways. And so here I would like to bring out my third point- commitment to God’s ways.

  1. COMMITMENT TO GOD'S WAYS (Verse 11)

After all God has not been tempting Job neither God was punishing him. Even if he had not been able to see God. God was working out his purposes for him. He knew he was walking in the steps of God. That can happen only if God is ahead of him and he is following His steps. “Held fast to his steps” in Verse 11 is the law in the O.T poetry. The words “His steps” comes from the Hebrew word אֲ֭שֻׁרַ mentioned also in Psalms 17:5 which is regarded as a way where God walks before us as our guide and in whose footsteps we must tread committing to God’s ways. Job claimed to have walked in the steps that God had directed him and has kept them in his heart. In this way he committed his ways, his steps to God. And it is because of this reason that Job was sure of his integrity and knew that what he is undergoing is not a punishment from God. As a believer, we know that God is present everywhere. But when we have confusions, worries, temptations and trials in life, it becomes difficult to get a fixed view of God’s merciful presence, to be comforted. God seems to stand at a distance and frown down on us. At such times, we feel guilty of ourselves. But being confident in God is to relish and delight in the truth and commandments of God, and to commit to God’s ways even when we do not feel the presence of God.

APPLICATION:

So how do we respond when we go through painful situations in life, when God seems distant from our lives sometimes? You know it is only by putting our confidence in Him that we can come out of those most depressing moments of our life. Job’s story is a lesson for you and me to show that even when we go through fiery furnace it is only to refine us and make us stronger. We too like Job can go through this stormy situations in life. Deaths, sufferings, pain are all part of life. It is inevitable. So when such problems comes in our lives how do we go through? What will you do? Are we to put confidence in God’s goodness and commit to His ways like Job did trusting in God’s wisdom or are we finding comfort in some other means? We all are involved in God’s ministry and we will be even in the days to come. And in our ministry too we might face dark moments, there will be situations that will tempt us, circumstances that will break us and even challenge us to the extent of giving up on God. So in those kind of moments let us be reminded that God is at work. The problem with our wavering confidence and commitment is due to our lack of understanding of God’s good purposes in our life.

(Illustration)

Mary Stevenson wrote one of the most beautiful poems ever…titled Footprints in the Sand! Am sure many of us must have heard this poem. She wrote... One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints. This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you the most, you would leave me.” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

CONCLUSION

My dear friends…When times are hard, God might seem so distant. It may look like God is playing hide and seek with us. But let us not forget that God is allowing us to be tested so that we can put our trust in Him and follow His ways. Let us be challenged by Job’s suffering and patience that though suffering is precipitated by God, it is an expression of God’s total confidence that our faith in God will triumph one day. When our families are doing well, when we have fewer tasks to do, when we are financially stable, it is easy to praise and bless God. But when we are depressed, frustrated, tempted and tired of life, it is difficult to make that connection with an unseen God. We look for a quick answer but God does not seem to hear or respond. God does it so that we will not cease to build an intimate relationship with God. Our sufferings, trials and temptations are only a test that come our way for us to strengthen our faith and leave us with the exercise of pure, simple trust and confidence in God. God need not answer everything. God will do what God wishes to do and that is the bottom-line. God will not keep us in the dark for long. Sometimes suffering is worth its weight in gold. Before I close I want to leave us with a quote from Dennis J. De Haan … He says …“Are you facing a great injustice? Keep trusting God. Those who go through the greatest darkness are those who most fully appreciate the glory of His light.”

“Those who go through the greatest darkness are those who most fully appreciate the glory of His light.”

Sermon preached at UBS Chapel by Akumtila Jamir (BD IV) On 11th July, 2016