Related Verses: Job 27-32
Leading Question: If you had lots of questions to ask God and after a long silence he talked back but did not answer your questions, would you – like Job – be satisfied?
When we have questions, our level of satisfaction with the response – if and when it comes – depends a great deal on the one offering the response. When God speaks out of the whirlwind, he ends up giving Job a long list of questions, none of which Job is able to answer. In effect, he scores zero out of eighty-eight! Yet Job seems greatly relieved that God has at least responded in some way.
Remarkably, the content of the divine response is very similar to two earlier sections in the book. First, the kinds of questions Job poses himself in his reflections on wisdom in Job 28 are very similar to the kinds of questions posed by God. Second, in Elihu’s response, he prefaces his last words with this introduction: “Listen to this Job; stop and consider God’s wonders” (37:13, NIV). Then he launches into descriptions of God’s wonders that are strikingly similar to the content of the divine response: “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?” (37:15, NIV) and again, “Can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” (37:18, NIV).
Neither Job nor God tell us how they reacted to Elihu speech. But it is remarkable that no sooner does Elihu tell Job not to expect a divine response than God speaks from the whirlwind – and Job exclaims that he will say no more: “I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” In the end, Job seems to have been satisfied just to hear God’s voice, even though God does not answer his questions.
Question: Where else in Scripture does God remind us that humans cannot really understand the things of God?
Two crucial biblical passages remind us that God’s ways are not our ways:
Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (NIV).
Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
In the writings of Ellen White, a comment originally published in the Review and Herald in 1892 provides the equivalent thought:
“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed” – July 26, 1892. Reprinted in Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 37
Question: Does the fact that God asked Job so many unanswerable questions mean that we should not ask our questions?
From Scripture two arguments can be presented in response to the question:
1. God published Job’s questions for us all to read. If all we had was God’s answer without Job’s experience, ours would be a very impoverished world. Some will need to go through the same pilgrimage that Job went through and ask the same questions that he asked. In the end, they may find themselves satisfied with God’s response, just as Job was. But one cannot arrive at that point without first asking the questions.
2. Scripture forcefully admonishes us to search for wisdom. The book of Proverbs offers some of the clearest arguments for seeking wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-6 is a good examples
Proverbs 2:1 My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
From the writings of Ellen White, the importance of the exploratory mind receives further support:
1. The example of John Wycliffe: “Wycliffe received a liberal education, and with him the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. He was noted at college for his fervent piety as well as for his remarkable talents and sound scholarship. In his thirst for knowledge he sought to become acquainted with every branch of learning. He was educated in the scholastic philosophy, in the canons of the church, and in the civil law, especially that of his own country. In his after-labors the value of this early training was apparent. A thorough acquaintance with the speculative philosophy of his time enabled him to expose its errors; and by his study of national and ecclesiastical law he was prepared to engage in the great struggle for civil and religious liberty. While he could wield the weapons drawn from the word of God, he had acquired the intellectual discipline of the schools, and he understood the tactics of the schoolmen. The power of his genius and the extent and thoroughness of his knowledge commanded the respect of both friends and foes. His adherents saw with satisfacti on that their champion stood foremost among the leading minds of the nation; and his enemies were prevented from casting contempt upon the cause of reform by exposing the ignorance or weakness of its supporter.” – The Great Controversy, 80
2. The importance of an inquiring mind in health reform: “My voice shall be raised against novices undertaking to treat disease professedly according to the principles of health reform. God forbid that we should be the subjects for them to experiment upon! We are too few. It is altogether too inglorious a warfare for us to die in. God deliver us from such danger! We do not need such teachers and physicians. Let those try to treat disease who know something about the human system. The heavenly Physician was full of compassion. This spirit is needed by those who deal with the sick. Some who undertake to become physicians are bigoted, selfish, and mulish. You cannot teach them anything. It may be they have never done anything worth doing. They may not have made life a success. They know nothing really worth knowing, and yet they have started up to practice the health reform. We cannot afford to let such persons kill off this one and that one. No; we cannot afford it!” 2T 375 (1870)
Note: One of the great challenges in the modern world is to correlate historical and scientific discoveries with what is revealed in Scripture. Early in her experience (1872) Ellen noted the importance of disciplined learning:
“Ignorance will not increase the humility or spirituality of any professed follower of Christ. The truths of the divine word can be best appreciated by an intellectual Christian. Christ can be best glorified by those who serve Him intelligently. The great object of education is to enable us to use the powers which God has given us in such a manner as will best represent the religion of the Bible and promote the glory of God.” – Testimonies for the Church 3:160
Given the stridency of the rhetoric over creation, Ellen White’s comment about the creation account is also worth noting: “Just how God accomplished the work of creation He has never revealed to men; human science cannot search out the secrets of the Most High. His creative power is as incomprehensible as His existence.” – Patriarchs and Prophets, 113
The tendency of modern evangelicals is to assign absolute value to the statements in Scripture rather than seeing them as adaptations to limited human understanding. This position is illustrated in a 1963 book by S. I. McMillen, M. D., None of These Diseases, now re-issued in 2000 with co-author David Stern, M. D. This quote appears in the chapter, “Eel Eyes and Goose Guts”:
“God then gave Moses many health rules, filling a whole section of the Bible. Would Moses have enough faith to record the divine innovations, even if they contradicted his royal post-graduate university training? If Moses had yielded to his natural tendency to add even a little of his ‘higher education,’ the Bible would contain such prescriptions as ‘urine of a faithful wife’ or ‘blood of a worm.’ We might even expect him to prescribe the ‘latest’ animal manure concoction. But the record is clear: Moses recorded hundreds of health regulations but not a single current medical misconception.” – McMillen/Stern (2000: 11).
While it would be true that the Mosaic legislation represented a huge step forward in terms of human health and hygiene, such broad statements do not take into account those aspects of Scripture that do not correlate with modern science. Jacob’s genetic tricks with Laban (Genesis 30:25-43) would not be considered “science” even by the most devout evangelical, and the test for the unfaithful wife (Numbers 5:11-31), involving dust from the sanctuary floor mixed with holy water as a drink for a woman suspected of adultery would also not be seen as “scientific.” But it is very difficult for the devout to admit that anything in Scripture is not an reflection of absolute truth. To borrow some lines from Ellen White, it is not the words of the Bible that are inspired but the men who wrote the words (SM 1:21, 1958 [Ms 24, 1886])
Having said all that, however, we must remember how devastating the study of modern study of science can be for devout believers. Coming from outside the Adventist community, these two quotes illustrate that phenomenon. The first comment about the impact of science on orientals was written by Will Durant in the early 20th century. The second comment is from a well-known Iranian Scholar, Seyyid Hossein Nasr. He was so concerned about the effect of science on Islam that in 1983 he advised the Saudi government not to build a science museum because it could be a time bomb and destroy faith in Islam.
“Those Western educated Orientals had not only taken on political ideals in the course of their education abroad, they had shed religious ideas; the two processes are usually associated, in biography and in history. They came to Europe as pious youths, wedded to Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Kali, Rama…; they touched science, and their ancient faiths were shattered as by some sudden catalytic shock. Shorn of religious belief; which is the very spirit of India, the Westernized Hindus returned to their country disillusioned and sad; a thousand gods had dropped dead from the skies. Then, inevitably, Utopia filled the place of Heaven, democracy became a substitute for Nirvana, liberty replaced God. What had gone on in Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century now [1920s] went on in the East.” – Will Durant, The Story of Our Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, 625-26 (Simon and Schuster, 1933, 1963).
Many people feel that in fact there is no such thing as the Islamic problem of science. They say science is science, whatever it happens to be, and Islam has always encouraged knowledge, al–ilm in Arabic, and therefore we should encourage science and what’s the problem? There is no problem. But the problem is there because ever since children began to learn Lavoisier’s Law that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen, in many Islamic countries they came home that evening and stopped saying their prayers. – Seyyid Hossein Nasr , Univ. Prof. of Islamic Studies, George Washington Univ. [web, 05]
Question: How does Job’s reaction to the divine theophany compare with that of Isaiah and Peter?
Isaiah 6:1-5: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Luke 5:1-8: “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
In short, an overwhelming sense of God’s presence, even if it is not a “rational” experience can contribute a powerful impulse towards honor and worship of the divine.