The Crooked Lines of God
Perhaps you have voiced to God the complaint that both Job and Jeremiah also did, that sometimes things just don’t make sense, that God seems to do nothing about evil and that the world seems to defy God and get away with it.
Jeremiah put it this way: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jer. 12:1 NIV).
Notice that even though Jeremiah does question God about his ways, he prefaces his remarks with a reverent profession of God’s righteousness. He wants to establish that he knows deep down that God is just and will not let the wicked get away with their wickedness, only that he sometimes wonders about God’s delay in meting out that justice. Jeremiah knows God and he wants God to know that his question is not a defiant challenge but an honest perplexity.
Job had the same godly attitude when questioning God about this matter. In fact, he is so concerned about being misunderstood (though God cannot misunderstand, knowing every heart’s true condition) that he prefaces his remarks with an admission that he broaches the subject with God with trepidation:
“When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body” (Job 21:6 NIV).
No doubt, however, there is also a mixture of being afraid of his own deductions regarding this issue, knowing that he is only human and not able to fathom the deeper ways of God on his own. Nevertheless, after setting the proper tone of reverence for questioning God, Job continues by stating his perplexity:
“Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7 NIV).
Job then proceeds to give a long list of specific blessings the wicked enjoy, even though they live in defiance of God. And at the end of that list, Job summarizes what he has said: “They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?'” (vs. 13-15).
Then Job finishes his complaint to God by once again letting God know that he, Job, does not agree with their attitude, for they are unaware of the true source of the blessings in their life, thinking that they themselves have gained it all themselves, by their hard work and wickedness. Job knows better. He knows that God allows man to use the gifts he has given him, such as intelligence and the ability to plan and work, so that he can increase his material welfare, even if by wicked means. God furnishes the blessing of the sun’s light and the earth’s productiveness for all mankind. It’s just that some do not acknowledge God’s graciousness in this, while those who love God do, and refuse to go along with their ungratefulness to God. Thus Job says, “But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked (v. 16).
So, Job is careful to declare to God that his complaint is not one of utter rejection of God’s ways but just puzzlement that God sometimes allows such brazen defiance to continue. However, later in his discourse with God, Job did begin to lament and complain beyond his initial restrictions; he began to give full vent to his frustrations that the wicked enjoy so much of this world’s blessings while, he, Job, who had tried so hard to obey God and honor him, was now suffering far more than they ever did. To add further to his dismay, God was silent during all of Job’s long complaint to God.
Finally, however, God did reply to him, as Job had so fervently pleaded with God to do. But that reply was not what Job expected. He did not receive an explanation for his suffering while living a righteous life, while the wicked went on their merry way. No, instead, the first thing God said was a rebuke to Job for thinking that his limited human mind could fathom the deeper purposes of God:
“”Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand'” (Job 38:1-4 NIV).
Why is the first thing that God brings up before Job the matter of the creation of the world? Is it just that God is reminding Job that God is God and that Job is but a man? Perhaps. But notice that right after bringing up that subject that God then mentions Job’s limited understanding of reality. After all, if Job cannot understand how God caused the earth to come into being out of nothing, how can he hope to understand any of the other ways of God, including why Job is suffering just then while the wicked continue to enjoy their life upon the earth which God thus created? God is using the creation of the earth as a reference to cause Job to realize that if God is wise enough to create such an intricately complex thing as the universe and the earth, then surely he must be wise enough to have a purpose in all things, including the presence of evil in that universe. If Job cannot understand the one, how can he understand the other?
“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12 NIV).
This is the same sequence and type of argument that God used for Jeremiah when Jeremiah also questioned his own suffering while evil men prospered. If Jeremiah could not understand and stand up under his current, relatively minor challenge to his life, how could he ever hope to proceed farther along in God’s plan for his life as a prophet and witness for God to the unbelieving, wicked world?
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5 NIV).
The thickets by the Jordan River symbolize well this whole matter, that of the tangled way in which God sometimes works. We know that wrong should be punished and right rewarded, so why does the opposite seem so frequently to be the case in this world?
During the days of my fleeting life I have seen both of these things: Sometimes a righteous person dies prematurely in spite of his righteousness, and sometimes a wicked person lives long in spite of his evil deeds” (Eccl. 7:15 NET).
We want justice and God’s judgment to be more direct, more in a straight line: If a person does evil–BAM!–God strikes that one down immediately with a lightning bolt from heaven; none of this delaying judgment and punishment. But stop and think about it. If that really were the case, where would that leave us? For none of us is perfect in obedience to God; we all fail at times. Do we seriously want God’s judgment to fall upon us instantly, or nearly so? Where is the needed room for repentance and forgiveness in such a scheme?
“The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Ptr. 3:9 NET).
Therefore, in line with his patience and love towards us, God’s ways in dealing with our wickedness are not as straight as we foolishly sometimes desire, but weave in and out in our lives, like tangled vines or branches on a tree or thickets along the Jordan–and we should be glad that it is so. This is the way that God has done things in his great plan for all mankind–and we should not want to change it even if we could.
“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (Eccl. 7:13 NIV).
Not only who can, but who would want to? Not me. I rejoice that God has not immediately punished me for my sins but has given me time to repent and receive forgiveness. That forgiveness has allowed me to make straight the crooked paths in my life. God’s crookedness has become straightness for me. I have headed straight for Jesus. In him, all of God’s crookedness has become the straight, narrow way through which I find forgiveness and salvation. Thank you, Lord, for your crookedness which has made my own crooked ways straight in Christ.
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5 NIV).
“I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths” (Prov. 3:11 NIV).