Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a pastor, author, and WWI military chaplain, best known today for his classic devotional book My Utmost For His Highest. His less familiar books include a study of the book of Job entitled Baffled to Fight Better. Chambers addresses the problem of why God allows tragedy by contrasting Job’s friends’ assured religious platitudes with Job’s faith-filled doubts. In light of recent events (and probably past and future ones), this approach to suffering is especially worth contemplating. Here are just a few excerpts that I’ve found very meaningful over the years. — EP
Job’s strong utterances are not against God, but against the statements of his former creed. The man who will stand true to God behind the expression of his creed is true to his belief in God, instead of to the presentation of Him which is in dispute. If you listen to a man who has been sorely hit, he may utter what, to you who have not been hit, sounds blasphemous. Job’s claim is that his friends ought to have known that it was not imagination made him speak as he did, but the fact that he had been desperately hard hit. The only way out for Job is not on the line of reason, but on the line of implicit confidence, such as he expresses in chapter 13—“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
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Job persists in stating that the basis of things is not clear or easy to understand. “It is absurd to say, as you are doing,” he says, “that God punishes the evil man and looks after the good, there is so much perversity at the basis of things that that explanation won’t do.” The friends give this explanation because they are true to their creed, and Job says, “I held the same creed as you do until I came to my great trouble.” Their creed was based on sound principles, but what is needed is a sound relationship at the basis of things.
When things are suddenly altered by bereavement or by some tension in personal experience, we find ourselves wonderfully at home with what Job says. There is a wildness about things, and we revolt against the people who explain everything on the basis of sound principles. They have everything ready to hand, and can tell you just where everyone goes wrong; but Job’s contention is that when a man is face to face with things as they are, easy explanations won’t do, for things are not easy; there is a perverseness all through. If Job is not right in his contention, then the Redemption is “much ado about nothing.”
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It is dangerous to be conscious of submission to a spiritual power. The difference between fatalism and faith lies just here. Fatalism means, “My number’s up; I have to bow to the power whether I like it or not; I do not know the character of the power, but it is greater than I am, and I must submit.” The submission of faith is that I do know the character of the power, and this was the line Job took—“though He slay me, yet I will trust the fact that His character is worthy.” This is the attitude of faith all through—“I submit to One whose character I know but whose ways are obscured in mystery just now.” We do know the character of God, if we are Christians, because we have it revealed to us in Jesus Christ—“He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Anything that contradicts the manifestation given in and through the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be true of God.
Therefore we know that the character of God is noble and true and right, and any authority from God is based, not on autocracy or mere blind power, but on worthiness which everything in me recognizes as worthy, therefore I submit. Elihu was moved with indignation because Job said, “I cannot submit to the fact that God has decreed such things as you say; you must give me room to say that your creedal exposition of God is wrong. By your creed you prove me to be wrong where I know I am right; therefore if the facts I do know are disproved by you, how can I accept your explanation of the facts I do not know?”
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There is a great difference between Christian experience and Christian faith. The danger of experience is that our faith is made to rest in it, instead of seeing that our experience is simply a doorway to God Himself. The reason many of us refuse to think and discover the basis of true religion is because evangelical Christianity has been stated in such a flimsy way. We get at Truth through life and personality, not by logic or scientific statements. “Therefore have I uttered what I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” [Job 42:3] In refusing to stand by what was not true, Job uttered bigger things than he understood at the time.
That is the way God uses men when they are rightly related to Him; He conveys His real presence as a sacrament through their commonplace lives. Our Lord Himself becomes real in the same way that life and personality are real. Intellect asks, “What is truth?’ as if truth were something that could be stated in words. “I am… the Truth,” said Jesus. [John 14:6]
The only way we get at Truth is by life and personality. When a man is up against things it is no use for him to try and work it out logically, but let him obey, and instantly he will see his way through. Truth is moral, not intellectual. We perceive Truth by doing the right thing, not thinking it out. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine…” Men have tried to get at the truth of Christianity head-first, which is like saying you must think how you will live before you are born. We instantly see the absurdity of that, yet we expect to reason out the Christian life before we have been born into the realm of Jesus Christ. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” If ever we are to see the domain where Jesus lives and enter into it, we must be born again, become regenerated by receiving the Holy Spirit; then we shall find that Truth is not in a creed or a logical statement, but in Life and Personality. That is what Job is realising.
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What is it to speak “the thing that is right” about God? [Job 42:8] I have never seen God; to call Him omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient means nothing to me; I do not care one bit for an Almighty Incomprehensible First Cause. To speak the thing which is right about God, I must be in living personal relationship with Him. God is riddling the friends because while preaching the right thing, they have misrepresented Him and told a lie about the Author of Truth. If I preach the right thing but do not live it, I am telling an untruth about God. This is one of the cardinal truths of Christianity (see Romans 2:17-23).
“I started my journey into this Book of Job with doubt in my faith, but I’ve come out with faith in my doubt.”
— William Safire