Job: God’s Presence—Burden or Blessing?
When sorrow strikes and tragedy occurs, the common response of many sufferers is to point out the seeming absence of God. If he was here, this never would have happened. If he had not forsaken me, surely this trial would not be pressing in on me. If only God was present! Where are you, Lord? Are you even real? Do you even care? Or, are you aloof, standing off in some faraway place, indifferent to the problems of your creation?
While this may be a natural reaction for those enduring difficult circumstances, one of the most well-known sufferers did not always necessarily feel this way as he was crying out to God. In fact, Job sometimes felt the exact opposite amidst his misery. Job loses his wealth, his children, and his health, yet in Job 7, he certainly does not feel forgotten by God. Notice what he says:
“I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be” (Job 7:16-21).
What is Job’s problem here? Does he feel as if God is absent? No, rather describes a kind of entrapment, an imprisonment under the watchful eyes of God. For Job, God is too present
because he cannot escape his testing, and he cannot avoid his apparent judgment. In other words, why does God care so much about what we do that he must always be watching and testing us? If God is so big and powerful, doesn’t he have better things to do than to monitor little creatures like us? For Job, God’s presence is burdensome, and he feels like a burden to God as well. He can’t even swallow his own spit without God noticing. In Job’s mind, it seems as if some failure has placed him in the crosshairs of God’s testing, yet he still feels innocent and undeserving of such immense suffering. In verses 16 and 21, it is clear that Job would prefer death than all this attention. He just wants it to be over; he just wants to be left alone. Basically, Job thinks, “If I am such a burden to you God that you have to make me suffer so much, why don’t you just end my life?” Weighty despair reigns in the heart of Job. God’s presence has become too much. He’d prefer a God who is detached and distant.
What Job doesn’t realize, however, is that God is not punishing him. He is not taking cruel pleasure in watching his every move to see if he trips up. In fact, the reader knows what Job does not: God is delighting in his servant and is watching him with love and compassion. While Job never comes to understand the exact reasons why he suffers greatly, he does learn a valuable lesson about God that shifts his perspective on the ever-present, ever-watching nature of the Lord.
After long complaints, prayers, and arguments between Job and his friends, God finally enters into the scene and answers Job in a powerful whirlwind. Take note of some of the things the Lord proclaims to Job:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?”
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22)
“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young?” (Job 39:1-3)
“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?” (Job 39:26-27)
In these passages, God pointedly lets Job know that he sees and controls things in the universe that are quite beyond man’s ability and viewpoint. He laid the very foundations of the earth and knows every measurement of our cosmos. He controls the snow and all the forces of weather. He knows when each mountain goat gives birth, and it’s by his power alone that the hawk flies. And these are just a few examples among many others that the Lord lists. In this humbling encounter with God, what does Job learn?
First, this kind of cosmic tour reminds Job that he is not the center of the universe, and he’s not the ultimate center of God’s attention. While he may feel like he’s got a target on his back, the Lord reminds him of the millions of happenings in God’s good world that God is overseeing, controlling, and working in for his purposes. There’s more going on in the world than just what is happening to Job. In comparison to all that God is doing and has done, Job is quite small.
Secondly, Job is able to see that God has a much bigger perspective than he does. He has no clue why he is suffering and feels like it is a great injustice, but God sees the grander plan. Since God is present in all places at all times and sees all of his creation, he is a much better judge of what is right and wrong. Job cannot see the good that can come from his suffering, but the all-seeing God can. God is intimately aware of everything happening to Job and how all those things can be shaped and molded for a greater purpose. So while Job felt oppressed by God’s all-seeing eyes in Job 7, he comes to see that God’s continual presence is really the only hope for any help or meaning in our suffering. We need a God who understands. If he was indifferent or aloof, he would be no help to us.
Thirdly, Job comes to understand that God is sovereign over even the tiniest details of his world. Not one mountain goat gives birth without God’s sustaining and guiding hand. Not one ostrich roams about except by the Lord’s wisdom. Because God is deeply involved in every aspect of his creation, we can know that he is sovereign over all the details of our lives as well. He orders and runs his world in a beautiful way, so that provides us hope that he cares for us by his powerful hand. This is not burdensome and oppressive; this is good news for sufferers. God knows us and the events of our lives better than we do, and he is compassionate for us as creatures made in his image.
Jesus taught about these same ideas in his life and ministry. In Matthew 10:29-31, he says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Fear, worry, and anxiety can be driven out by the knowledge of our sovereign God. Because he sees and knows and cares about each sparrow, surely he is watching over each of us with love. He takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so we ought to know that he will provide for us, even in our suffering. The ever- present God is not a burden to us; he is a blessing. And in the face of Jesus Christ, who became physically present with humanity and suffered with us, we are forever reminded of a God who not only loves us enough to walk with us in our pain but who is powerful enough to work our suffering for good. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!