© 2014 Lynn Abbott
“I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else? ” inquires Tevye of God in the memorable musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
And to that, I know a great many of us will respond with a hearty “Amen!” Yup, been there; said that!
When a neighbor’s twenty-something son dies unexpectedly, when a friend requires early retirement, when a marriage disintegrates, when the diagnosis is cancer, when death knocks at a family’s door 3 times in one year, when religious persecution hurts a family or a child, I wish to raise my hand and echo Tevye’s question.
In contrast, a response to trouble such as Job’s–“Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him…”– astonishes most of us. Quite honestly, the book of Job unsettles me. For me, the account offers little, humanly comprehensible defense for Job’s pain and suffering.
I certainly would not have borne it as well as Job. Under such overwhelming pressure, I expect I would have crumbled and querulously demanded answers. Or even decided to take matters into my own hands.
After all, God did not offer Job any early comfort by way of explanation. For much of the book, God remains quiet while Job’s supposed friends take turns condemning, lecturing and analyzing Job.
When God ultimately speaks, He simply reminds Job that God is sovereign. God is God. And we are given no further explanation or defense.
For finite humanity, it’s a tough truth. It definitely requires spiritual strength and faith well beyond what I know myself to possess to choose to follow Christ when I cannot “know fully,” when I cannot see my way clear.
Naturally, when life is good, I find no difficulty in acknowledging God’s sovereignty. But during times of trial–when heartbreak, suffering, pain and death color the world–my faith shakes to the core.
Even so, in the opening and concluding words of the book of Job, I do find clues to the book’s mysteries. In both the testing of Job’s faith and the ultimate restoration of blessing, there are hints of humanity’s history, and of the community of faith.
In fact, I see profound parallels that resonate with me because, of course, all of us encounter Job’s trust test in varying degrees.
Job’s nightmare begins with some question as to whether or not he would worship God if his life circumstances were less idyllic–if reality fell short of Paradise. Obviously, Satan wished to sift Job much as he sifted Adam and Eve.
And predictably, the question is subtly raised: “Can you really trust God even when you don’t understand? Even when you haven’t been given full disclosure? Or perhaps, you simply misunderstood God…Did God truly say that?”
Second guessing plagues the finite when trying to grasp what is infinite.
Fortunately, recognizing “that we are but dust,” God has sketched a great many word pictures that help me understand who He is. His choice of an unlikely Old Testament boy as the second king of Israel gives me a glimpse of His divine grace.
Samuel, God’s prophet sent to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king, did not expect a David. A shepherd, in the world’s eyes, had little potential as a ruler over a great people. Yet, God chooses not as humanity chooses. God selected a shepherd-king.
David, in fact, is both ancestor and archetype, although imperfect, for the ultimate King, the one who called himself “The Good Shepherd.”
Both Shepherd and King. And suddenly, considering this image, my view of God’s sovereignty shifts.
In such light, I recognize that God’s sovereignty is not capricious. His thoughts of love are fully for His sheep. And given that sheep see very little of the big picture, the Shepherd cares for them, guiding them to safety and continually providing for their needs.
He leads with grace. Laid in a manger and announced to shepherds by angels, this King sets himself apart from worldly kings. Indeed, He gives His life for the sake of the sheep. This is our Sovereign Shepherd.
Yes, in most every circumstance I must make a choice. Will I follow the Shepherd? Will I acknowledge my dependence upon Him? Will I trust the sovereignty and infinite wisdom of my Shepherd-King?
It seems that all of my life boils down to this simple choice, one that in my broken humanity I must make again and again.
If, however, I understand and truly believe that the Shepherd is loving, tender, compassionate, good, perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever present, then the decision to accept His sovereignty is not complicated. In fact, it frees me. I find peaceful relief in relinquishing my attempts to control my life or the world around me.
Satan may have promised Adam and Eve that they would be “like God, knowing good from evil,” but quite frankly, having looked over the job description in Job 38-41, I would rather let God be God. After all, the Shepherd’s shoes are way too big for this sheep to fill.
“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness,” ~ Ezekiel 34:11-12
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” ~John 10:27
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” ~ Psalm 23:1-3a