Chapel talk, delivered September 25, 1962, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.”Now, there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Does Job fear God for naught?”
That question was asked by the Devil. The Devil is evidently interested in a man’s reason for serving and reverencing God. I’m sure that the Devil believes that any man who serves God is foolish; it doesn’t make any difference what his reasons may be. But at least the Devil is suspicious of our service and of our reverence for God.
From the beginning, the Devil has been a master of suspicion. So, in his first dealings with man he insulted the integrity of God and, seeking to put a doubt into man’s mind about God, he said, “Now God has not told you the truth. He really does not believe that you will die if you eat of this forbidden fruit. He doesn’t want you to become as Gods. If you eat of this fruit you will know good and evil. You will be as Gods. God is not treating you like this for nothing. He is trying to keep you in your place.” We ought not to be surprised then that when the Devil began to talk to God about man, he should have insulted the integrity of man. After God had paid Job the most wonderful compliment that could ever be paid a man, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, what an upright man he is, what a perfect man he is,” there is that malignant insult on the lips of the Devil, “Does Job fear God for naught?” You understand what he means to say. He means to imply that Job nor no other man would serve God except for what he can get out of God. “You take away what you give him. You rob him of the blessings that you place in his life and he will turn and curse you to your face.” Yes, that question was on the lips of the Devil, and it’s an insult that only the Devil himself is capable of making. Yet it is not a bad question. It is a question that every one of us in this Seminary ought to face. Why does a man serve God? Does he serve God for naught? This is a question Job had to face. This is a question you and I need to face.
A little while ago I was in a luncheon meeting with a group of rising young executives in Nashville, Tennessee. They were excited because the night before they had been to hear a man speak who had said to them, “If you go to church, if you live a decent life, if you tithe, you will make a success in your business.” When they spoke about that, I literally shuddered.
Now it makes good sense that if a man is a Christian and lives a Christian life and is faithful in his stewardship and loves and supports his church, he has a much better chance of making a wonderful “go” of life, but the heresy of their theology was that they were making God into a convenience. God was another “open sesame” to success in life. I could not help thinking, what would you do with God, what would you do with your loyalty to your church if you were not to succeed. Suppose you failed. Suppose your family should bitterly disappoint you or you should be riddled by disease and suffering. Suppose life didn’t turn out as you expected it to turn out. What would you do with your faith in God then? Does a man serve God for naught? It’s a good question.
Will a man serve God when he is immersed in suffering? I don’t suppose there’s ever been a man in history who suffered like Job. He knew the pangs of poverty. He lost all of his possessions suddenly and tragically. Like the crash of the world’s greatest stock market, suddenly all that he had was swept away from him. He knew the pangs of sorrow, for he lost his family too. Now a man can get along pretty well when the world crashes in around him if there is a place of comfort and solace where he can call his own to his side to find strength. But Job lost that too, for his children were taken away from him in one tragedy after another, and finally his wife deserted him. In the common struggle with their problems she evidently listened to the insult of the Devil. She gave up in despair and said to Job, “Why don’t you curse God and die?”
Job knew the pangs of physical pain. Added to all of this, Job was afflicted with some ancient and loathsome disease that left him scratching his itching and miserable body until the blood ran out of his sores. Think of it! From prosperity to poverty. From a wonderful family to utter loneliness. He lost all. Even his health. Will a man serve God for naught? What will happen to Job’s faith now?
John Sutherland JSonnell has said that the sharpest test of the quality of a man’s religion comes when his happiness and his health and his own possessions are threatened. This test, says Dr. Bonnell, is so stringent that it is like acid poured out on gold. Many have been the men who in the midst of suffering have said, “I do no longer believe in God. I will give up this nonsense.” So C. S. Lewis said before he became a Christian, “Man’s history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror. If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction.”
So Bertrand Russell denies a personal God saying that if God is personal, he has some kind of fiendish delight in sending son after son crashing into the sun of man’s happiness like some mischievous boy pushing over his sister’s blocks on the seashore and then laughing while she cries out of her disappointment. Will a man serve God for naught?
Many have been the theologians and the philosophers and the common men who have said in the midst of suffering, “This is evidence that there is no God. He does not care for me, I will wash my hands of him.” The Devil was saying to God, in effect, “Take away what you give to this man and he will curse you. He will no longer serve you.”
I fear the Devil was right about a lot of men, but was he right about Job? Job questioned, Job grew impatient, but the ¿Scripture says that when all of this happened, he tore his mantle and shaved his head and fell down on the ground and worshipped God and said, “Naked came I out of my Mother s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. And in all this Job sinned not nor charged God foolishly.”
Even when his wife turned against him, Job said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil.” “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Will a man serve God when he is bereft of his friends? The most blessed possession in life is the possession of our friends. Ever and again in the Bible the glory of personal, intimate friendship is displayed. So Jehu came to his friend and said, “Is your heart true to my heart and mine to yours?” And the friend answered, “It is.” And Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” And he gave him his hand.
So David, as he fled from the wrath of Saul, found the friendship of Jonathan. For it is said of him, “Jonathan, Saul’s son, went away to David and encouraged him before God.”
So Paul, on the very brink of despair wrote about a friend who had blessed his life, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
Truly the writer of the book of Proverbs was right; there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. U. S. Grant said, “The friend of my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped me relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunlight of my prosperity.” It isn’t any wonder that Longfellow said, “Oh, how good it feels, the hand of an old friend.” It isn’t any wonder that Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Fame is the scentless sunflower with gaudy crowns of gold. But friendship is the breathing rose with sweet in every fold.” Will a man serve God, though, when he doesn’t have any friends?
Sometimes a man who serves God has to stand alone. So Daniel stood virtually alone in the midst of a pagan nation. So Noah built his Ark while people laughed at him and mocked him. There’s a lonely stance in the word of Martin Luther as he said, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.” Jesus knew loneliness when the crowd mocked Him, and His own did not understand Him and virtually deserted Him as they walked far behind Him. The truth is that when a man is devoted to God and to truth, there are times in his life when he has to stand terribly alone. Will a man serve God when he has to stand without any friends?
Job lost his friends too. They came and sat and looked at him and then they accused him and judged him and said, “You’re a terrible sinner. This is why suffering has come into your life. Or else God is trying to discipline you to make you into something that you are not now.” So bitter became that suffering that Job said, “Even my friends scourge me.” The Devil suggested that a man will not serve God if God takes away from him his friends, his blessings, what he gives him. He may have been right about a lot of men, but was he right about Job?
Job did not understand, he questioned, he grew impatient, he complained, but in the midst of that loneliness Job said, “Though my friends are my scorners, my eye poureth out tears unto God.” Will a man serve God when God is silent?
Will a man serve God when God is silent? I think the darkest suffering of Job’s experience was the silence of God. For the darkest experience that any of us will face is in that hour when God seems to be silent, when He doesn’t seem to care. Oh, if God had just answered his questions. If Job had just heard from God what it was that had caused him to suffer. If God had just intervened between him and his friends to answer the criticism of his friends. But though Job wished he were dead, though he cried out unto God by the day and by the night, though he asked God, “Give me some advocate that can stand between you and me and draw us together,” God evidently was silent. There isn’t any suffering like the silence of God.
John the Baptist in his prison was disturbed by this. He did not send his emissary to Jesus primarily because he had been an outdoorsman and had been robbed of the freedom of the outdoors. Rather, he sent an emissary to Jesus because he wanted Jesus to speak up. What kind of Messiah is this? I am disappointed in him. If He is really the Messiah why doesn’t He shout it from the heavens? Why doesn’t He come to release me from my suffering and my anguish?
The silence of God was one of the great issues at Calvary. For when Jesus bore our sins and carried our sorrows suddenly the sun began to hid its face and the shadows of the blackest darkness of the world covered the skies and there was only the shrieks and the curses and the tears of the people at the foot of the Cross. There was only that anguished cry, “My God, my God, why?” It seemed that God did not speak, as if the heavens were brass and he couldn’t answer, as if He were dumb and couldn’t speak, as if He were blind and could not see the plight of His own, as if He were helpless and could not move to save Him. Will a man serve God when God is silent?
As the German preacher, Thielicke, has put it, “Often the silence of God is God’s higher thought.” For suddenly God spoke to Job. But will you notice, He didn’t answer any of Job’s questions. He didn’t explain the mystery of suffering. Rather He underlined His sovereignty as the mighty God as He said to Job, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man; for I shall demand of thee and answer thou me, where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Doth the rain have a father? Who provideth for the raven his food? Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou draw out leviathan with hook?” Suddenly Job realized that it is not God who must give an account unto man. It is we who have to give an account unto God. And Job answered, “I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee. I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
So here is the end of it. You cannot judge God always by circumstance. Sometimes we have to come to the border of human despair before we learn that, because as long as we are great in our own eyes, until we become little, we can never see the greatness of God.
Here is the end of it. God cares for his own even in the shadows.
James Stewart has told about going to the little village to see the beautiful view of the mountains that was available there. The first morning the mist covered the mountains. The next morning the mist was back and the mountains were hidden again. Finally one morning the sunlight broke through the mist and Stewart said, “I saw the mountains for myself. What difference that the next morning the mist covered the mountains again? I knew now that they are there for I have seen them with my own eyes.” What matter it that the mist of suffering and disappointment and trial often seems to cover the face of God? If we have met Him and have known Him we can be confident that God is there, for “He that spared not His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” And if God made the hoary frost and if God set the Sun in its course, then God cares for His own even when He is silent, even when His face seems to be hidden.
Here is the end of the matter. A man ought not to ever serve God for what he gets out of God. A man ought to serve God for the sake of God Himself. It is because we love God, it is because we want to give our best to God that we must serve Him without interruption in spite of the circumstances of life.
Therefore, I admonish you in the midst of trial, in the midst of circumstances, in the midst of disappointments, put your hand in the hand of God and march on. Will you serve God for nothing? You ought to. We ought to even rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that “tribulations worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope needeth not to be ashamed, for the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us.”
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|1.||↑||Chapel talk, delivered September 25, 1962, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.|