Helping People to Meet God • Make Friends • Grow in Faith

God’s work and our lamentations

Once when Jesus was criticised for healing someone on the Sabbath, He responded ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working’ (John 5: 16). It seems we don’t often stop to consider what God ‘does’ in His work. Is He Himself above working? What does He do then? There are many instances in the Bible of discussion about what He does, well beyond mentioning here. But, in a nutshell, we know he is the Creator who has made everything (John 1: 3). He probably never stops ‘creating’, just as a true artist can never stop painting. He is therefore the owner of everything: ‘To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it’ (Deut. 10: 14); and He loves His creation, ‘having compassion on all He has made’ (Psalm 145: 9); just as a faithful father loves and cares for his children, so he works for His creation. He sustains it, including our very lives: ‘In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind’ (Job 12: 10). Other references about His sustaining of Creation include Psalm 65: 9–13; 104: 10–14; Heb. 1: 3; and Col. 1: 17, to name a few; perhaps summed up in Acts 17: 28: ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ So, yes, He is always at work; we would cease to exist if he wasn’t.

Yet, how much we take God’s continuous work for granted—at least until something goes wrong—when we question why He allows things such as wars, famines, and diseases to occur. Again we cry out ‘Why, why, why, O God? Where are you?’ Naturally, we lament, even while perhaps failing to see that we might be the authors of our own misery. Indeed, the Bible allows us to see a whole book of Lamentations questioning what on earth God is doing. There are also Psalms of lament, including verses such as: ‘Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?‘ (Psalm 10: 1); ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?’ (Psalm 13: 1); ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy’ (Psalm 130: 1). Yet answers don’t always come; perhaps they do come but not in hoped-for ways, or perhaps they come in such ways that they are not recognised as being answers.

The greatest instance recorded in the Bible of the suffering of a man, apart from Jesus Himself, is the book of Job. Job suffered in ways beyond our worst nightmares; not helped by his friends, whom we know as ‘Job’s comforters’. With what we might consider some justification, Job railed against God, demanding justice, to the point where he wished he had not been born (Job 3: 11). Through all his trials, however, he never rejected God, acknowledging that ‘His wisdom is profound, his power is vast’ (Job 9: 4). But still he cried to God from the depths of utter despair, demanding answers. Like us, he cried, why? Why? Why?

Finally, God spoke. As often seems to be the case, He answered questions with questions, just as Jesus so often did. God’s answer occupies chapters 38–41 inclusive, about 10% of the book. In the answer, God basically asked Job who the heck he thinks he is. ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand’ (Job 38: 4); ‘Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this’ (Job 38: 19); ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?‘ (Job 40: 2). In these four chapters, God describes the wonder of His creation—His work—highlighting the fact that we and God see things from rather different perspectives. We simply cannot comprehend the impact of His vast plans on the world, right down to us personally. ‘Tell me, if you understand.’

No, we do know or appreciate what God is constantly working at on our behalf, and Job’s answer was rightly one of humility: ‘I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth’ (Job 40: 4). ‘I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.’ (Job 42: 2, 3).
Yet God respected Job’s lament. He didn’t shun his importunity. We can take heart that through the book of Job, the Psalms and elsewhere, we are in good company in our lamenting. After all, King David himself wrote many laments. It is natural for us to cry to God in despair. He surely understands and expects us to. All we can ask is that He lifts our downcast eyes to Him. He will take it from there, in ways entirely beyond our understanding. Paul’s advice is therefore rather fitting: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4: 6, 7).