How to Handle Criticism with Class by Charles R Swindoll
All the passages below are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Job” published in 2004.
Ernest Hemingway reduced his definition of courage to three words, “Grace under pressure.”1 Those words aptly describe courageous people down through the centuries who pressed on against the relentless blast of opposition and criticism. Each one could have sat for a portrait titled Grace under Pressure. There was a day when the devil approached Martin Luther and tried to accuse him of his many sins. He presented the Reformer with a long list and started reading from the top. When Satan had finished, Luther said, “Think a little harder. You must have forgotten some. This the devil did and added more to the list. For several more exchanges they went on until the devil could come up with nothing more. Then Luther simply said, “That’s fine. Now write across that long list in red ink, `The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses me from all sin.’ And the devil had to slink away.” 2
Our nation’s sixteenth president was another magnificent model of handling personal assaults on his character. Public criticism against him intensified during the last seven years of his life. One of his biographers writes:
Abraham Lincoln was slandered, libeled, and hated perhaps more intensely than any man ever to run for the nation’s highest office….
He was publicly called just about every name imaginable by the press of the day, including a grotesque baboon, a third-rate country lawyer who once split rails and now splits the Union, a coarse vulgar joker, a dictator, an ape, a buffoon, and others. The Illinois State Register labeled him “the craftiest and most dishonest politician that ever disgraced an office in America. . . .” Severe and unjust criticism did not subside after Lincoln took the oath of office, nor did it come only from Southern sympathizers. It came from within the Union itself, from Congress, from some factions within the Republican Party, and, initially, from within his own cabinet. As president, Lincoln learned that, no matter what he did, there were going to be people who would not be pleased…. As his enemies increased, so did the criticism against him. But Lincoln handled it all with a patience, forbearance, and determination uncommon of most men.3
Lincoln had four ways of responding to all that criticism. First, and most often, he simply ignored it, calling it “Petty.” Second, he answered back only when it was important and would make a difference. Third, he formed the habit of sitting down and writing lengthy letters in defense of his integrity and reputation, venting his anger and emotions … then tearing them up and never mailing them. Fourth, he always looked on the brighter side of life and kept a good sense of humor. Grace under pressure.
One of my favorite historical characters is the colorful and brilliant leader, Sir Winston Churchill. He not only handled criticism with class, he invited it. Biographer, Steven Hayward, verifies this:
He was thought to be stubborn, though it should be recognized that stubbornness is the twin of determination, and therefore requires to be kept in proportion. In fact, an important part of Churchill’s method and success was his independent judgment and self-criticism. “Every night,” he remarked to one of his aides during the war, “I try myself by Court Martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawing the ground, anyone can go through the motions, but something really effective.”
Despite Churchill’s tendency to dominate meetings with his volubility, he always encouraged a complete discussion of issues, and never penalized or fired anyone from openly or vigorously disagreeing with him. “Opportunity was always given for full discussion,” one of his wartime aides wrote. Lord Bridges wrote after the war, “I cannot recollect a single Minister, serving officer or civil servant who was removed from office because he stood up to Churchill and told Churchill that he thought his policy or proposals were wrong.” Moreover, Churchill never overruled the service chiefs of staff, even when he strenuously disagreed with their decisions.4
One of the most eloquent examples in all of time would be King David when Absalom led a rebellion that overthrew his father. David was forced to abdicate the throne after Absalom stole the hearts of the people through deception and flattery. David, not wanting to bring harm to his own son, simply left without a fight, escaping for his life with his mighty men. While en route through a distant region, an irritating enemy named Shimei suddenly appeared at a safe distance shouting curses at the dethroned king.
Second Samuel 16 records the event, where we read, “He came out cursing continually as he came” (v. 5). Then we’re told, “He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David” (v. 6). As Shimei threw the stones he screamed, “Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow!” (v. 7). Classic example of kicking a guy when he’s down. But that’s the kind of man Shimei was, a real loser.
The pertinent question is: How did David respond to this nut on the loose throwing stones at him and screaming these put-downs and curses? Well, before we hear David’s response, let me mention Abishai’s (one of David’s bodyguards) response, “May I go over there and cut off his head?” (I love that line! Had I been David, I would’ve nodded, and Shimei wouldn’t have known his throat was cut until he sneezed.) But David graciously responded:
Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.
2 Samuel 16:11-12 NASB
Again, grace under pressure.
One of my longtime friends and a fellow author, David Roper, has captured the essence of such grace and its lasting benefits:
Our Lord was nailed to the cross; you can count on being nailed to the wall. It’s helpful to see each ordeal that way—as being crucified with Christ….
God gives us over to such bruisings because they are part of the process to make us what he intends us to be. The hurting makes us sweeter, more mellow. We lose the fear of losing out; we learn to let go of what we want. We’re not so easily provoked to wrath by harm or reproof. We learn to absorb abuse without retaliation, to accept reproof without defensiveness, to return a soft answer to wrath. It makes us calm and strong.5
BACK TO JOB … STILL ENDURING
There is no finer example of grace under pressure than the man we’re examining. Job has suffered the destruction of all possessions, the heartbreaking deaths of all his children, and finally, the loss of health and happiness. On top of all this came the frowning presence of his friends, who are determined to wrench a confession of guilt from him, since no one would undergo such suffering if he were innocent—or so they thought.
From chapters 3 through 37 the merciless, monotonous assault continues. Two complete cycles have run their course, and Eliphaz is back for round three. You’d think by now, he would cut Job some slack. Not a chance. Matter of fact, his criticism intensifies.
ROUND THREE WITH ELIPHAZ … STILL CRITICIZING
According to the biblical record, Eliphaz makes three critical statements. He is neither tactful nor subtle.
- You are suffering because you have sinned. (Job 22:1-11 NASB)
- You’re a hypocrite because you’ve hidden your sins. (Job 22:12-20 NASB)
- You need to repent because your sins are obvious to us. (Job 22:21-30 NASB)
You would think by now Job’s critics would back off, but they refuse to let up. With a whole new round of verbal ammunition, Eliphaz returns to the same song, third verse. He is determined to press the issue until Job comes clean.
“You are a sinner!” With sarcasm Eliphaz indicts Job:
Is it because of your reverence that He reproves you,
That He enters into judgment against you?
Is not your wickedness great,
And your iniquities without end?
Job 22:4-5 NASB
Why would he say that? Remember his reasoning. Nobody suffers like this unless he is guilty. Nobody loses everything including business and family, home and health without being guilty of sin! Eliphaz makes a correct observation: Job has lost everything. But he’s come to an incorrect conclusion: It wasn’t because he was sinful. Job demonstrates grace under pressure by not uttering a word.
Eliphaz presses the issue:
For you have taken pledges of your brothers without cause,
And stripped men naked.
Job 22:6 NASB
He’s got a vivid imagination. Job never did that, but he’s being accused of it. It’s another wrong assumption.
To the weary you have given no water to drink,
And from the hungry you have withheld bread.
Job 22:7 NASB
Job never did those things either, but he sits in silence and allows it to be said.
You have sent widows away empty,
And the strength of the orphans has been crushed.
Job 22:9 NASB
Wrong again. Never did that. Harsh statement, but Job restrains his lips.
Therefore snares surround you,
And sudden dread terrifies you,
Or darkness, so that you cannot see,
And an abundance of water covers you.
Job 22:10-11 NASB
Remember, this is poetry. “Job, you have received the full reaction of the living God who can’t abide sinfulness, the kind you have been hiding. Because you are sinful, you are going through all these treacherous calamities.
Can we go back to the original facts? Job’s character was so pure before all his trouble started that Satan picked him out as the one he wanted to bring down and expose as a hypocrite. The Lord allowed it, knowing that Job’s solid integrity and stable maturity would be able to withstand it. It was Job’s unquestioned life of consistency that characterized the man—the opposite of what he’s being accused. The critic Eliphaz didn’t know his facts. How could he have known them? He hasn’t been on the scene prior to the series of calamities. He showed up after the sickness occurred. Eliphaz didn’t know what he was talking about. He’s slicing and dicing Job on the basis of imaginary surmisings.
Habitual critics never get their facts straight. To make matters worse, they have lurid imaginations. They only need a little bit to go on in order to build a sandcastle full of lies. Some even feel it’s their “calling” to make you squirm as they put together a twisted mass of information that cannot be proven. But, oh, the damage it can do! Even though it’s hard to sit there and take it, especially when you realize that other people are listening and some believing, Job shows a lot of class as he restrains himself from responding.
“Job, you are a hypocrite!” The critic turns the heat up as he steps into that next realm. He now sees Job as a hypocrite, guilty of hiding his sins. He invites Job to look back.
Is not God in the height of heaven?
Look also at the distant stars, how high they are!
You say, “What does God know?
Can He judge through the thick darkness?
Clouds are a hiding place for Him, so that He cannot see;
And he walks on the vault of heaven.”
Will you keep to the ancient path
Which wicked men have trod,
Who were snatched away before their time,
Whose foundations were washed away by a river?
They said to God, “Depart from us!”
And “What can the Almighty do to them?”
Job 22:12-17 NASB
In our words, Eliphaz is “telling him off.” It’s hard enough to be told you’re a sinner, but to be charged with hypocrisy adds an even lower blow. Demonstrating grace under pressure at a time like that is especially challenging for someone like Job who was the antithesis of a hypocrite.
I appreciate how Warren Wiersbe defines hypocrisy:
A hypocrite is not a person who fails to reach his desired spiritual goals, because all of us fail in one way or another. A hypocrite is a person who doesn’t even try to reach any goals, but he makes people think he has. His profession and his practice never meet.6
The old, Puritan preacher, Stephen Charnock, said it straight, “It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.”7 No question about it, hypocrisy is an awful reality. Jesus was death on it. In His earthly ministry He exposed hypocrisy more vehemently than any other vice. A major reason He delivered His Sermon on the Mount was the unashamed hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Our God despises hypocrisy. All the more reason that Job “the servant of God” was not guilty of it. He’s hiding nothing. We can be sure that, by now, Job has confessed everything. Have you ever hurt so badly that you mentally rehearsed the history of your life, revisiting all the dark corners? We can be certain that Job has been there, done that! In fact, he has admitted more than once that he’s brought his life before the Lord. This is a wonderful man, whom Eliphaz is treating like a piece of trash.
“Job you need to repent!” Eliphaz goes further. He decides to preach an evangelistic sermon to Job and maybe the man will get saved. And so he launches into an excellent evangelistic sermon. The problem is, Job’s already in God’s family.
Eliphaz delivers it nevertheless.
Yield now and be at peace with Him;
Thereby good will come to you.
Please receive instruction from His mouth
And establish His words in your heart.
If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored;
If you remove unrighteousness far from your tent,
And place your gold in the dust,
And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks,
Then the Almighty will be your gold
And choice silver to you.
For then you will delight in the Almighty
And lift up your face to God.
You will pray to Him and He will hear you;
And you will pay your vows.
You will also decree a thing, and it will be established for you;
And your light will shine on your ways,
When you are cast down, you will speak with confidence,
And the humble person He will save.
Job 22:21-29 NASB
He’s going on and on with this salvation message as job patiently sits and listens.
Showing maximum class, not once does Job interrupt Eliphaz’s longwinded speech. He doesn’t even attempt to set the record straight or lift his hand to ask a question. In fact, when Job does respond, he doesn’t bother to defend himself. He talks to the Lord and about the Lord, but he ignores all the criticism and innuendo. Once again he models grace under pressure.
JOB RESPONDING … DEMONSTRATING CLASS
As we get to chapters 23 and 24 of Job we observe three calm, vulnerable responses from him. Take the time to read through these two chapters—they’re magnificent! Job’s first theme seems to be `I am unable to locate the presence of God, but I trust You, Lord.” I find that coming through loud and clear in the first twelve verses of chapter 23—where our hero openly admits,
Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat! (Job 23:3 NASB)
It seems that Job has a courtroom in mind. “I wish I knew the bench on which Almighty God sits. I wish I knew where I could locate Him. Some place—anyplace—on this earth that I could get to Him.
I would present my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn the words which He would answer,
And perceive what He would say to me.
Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power?
No, surely He would pay attention to me.
Job 23:4-6 NASB
Hidden within these passionate words is found one of the great things about our God. When we come to Him as we are, we never hear Him shout, “Shame on you!” God hears our pleading, our feelings of need, and He is quick to respond, “I forgive you. I love you. I understand you. I’m here; I commend you for facing the truth.”
Did you notice how Job refers to the Lord’s response?
Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power?
No, surely He would pay attention to me.
There the upright would reason with Him;
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.
Job 23:6-7 NASB
All of God’s people find here a valuable truth we can learn from our God. When people come, open and vulnerable with their confession, there is one appropriate three-word response: I forgive you. They don’t need to be put on the spot or shamed because they failed. They need the assurance of forgiveness. He asks, “Would He contend with me?” Then answers, “He would not contend with me, even though He’s much more powerful. He would pay attention to me. I could reason with Him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.” How wonderful is that?
But Job struggles, finally admitting his frustration: he cannot find Him.
Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
Job 23:8-9 NASB
Ever been there? Of course, all of us have! There are days we search in vain for some visible evidence of the living God. I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be great to wake up in the middle of a full-moon sky tonight, peek out my bedroom window, and see some skywriting, “Dear Chuck, I hear you. I’m right here. I’m in charge. Love, God.” I would love for that to happen! I’d love to get into my pickup after a tough day at the church, turn the radio on, and have God interrupt, saying, “Before you listen to this station, Chuck, I want to talk to you for a few minutes.” Let’s face it, all of us would love to hear an audible voice or read a visible message from God. But that’s not the way it works. Our walk with Him is a walk of faith.
I’ll never forget hearing about the tragedy that struck a family of one child. The mother died abruptly and early in the child’s life. The father and the daughter were suddenly left with only the memory of this wonderful wife and mother. Their grief and sorrow went deep. The night following the funeral, as the father tucked his daughter in bed, his heart went out to her, seeing that she was fighting back the tears. And he decided that he would move a cot in there. He pulled it up close beside his daughter’s bed, and they soon fell asleep. In the middle of the night, he heard her crying. And he called her name. Through her tears she said, “Daddy, it’s so hard. I just miss her so much.” Fighting back his own tears, he reached over and took her hand. She said, “Oh, that’s so much better.” And she put her hand over on his shoulder and on his chest. Wanting to comfort her he said, “You know, sweetheart, we have the Lord to lean on.” She said, “I know that, Daddy … but tonight I just need someone with skin on.”8
If you live alone, you sometimes feel that. If you have been left alone because of a broken relationship, and where you once had close companionship, now it’s only you, you must awaken sometime in the night and think, I wish I could see God right here. Right now. I wish I could reach out and touch Him or I could at least hear His words. How reassuring that would be.
Job is a great and godly man. He is a mature saint, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, he longs to witness God’s presence. “Oh, that I could know where He is. But I cannot see Him, behold Him, or perceive Him.”
With that, Job pauses and ponders. His perspective changes from regret to a reassurance. In the words that follow, we have some of the greatest verses found in all the Bible. I’m referring to Job 23:10-12. Many years ago I committed these three verses to memory. I must have repeated them hundreds of times to others and also to myself during the dark days I’ve struggled through trials. To be honest, I think I may have quoted these verses more than any other passage of Scripture. I have framed them in a box marked in bold print in my Bible; I suggest you do the same. Talk about having grace under pressure! These words will point you there. Read them slowly and carefully.
But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary
food. (Job 23:10-12 NASB)
Though unable to locate the presence of God, Job states his trust in Him. “Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, you can say whatever you wish against me. God knows the way that I take. He knows the truth. He is my justifier. He and I are on speaking terms. I trust Him. I believe in Him. Furthermore, after the trial is over, and He has accomplished His purpose within me, `I shall come forth as gold.”‘
You can count on that, my friend. When the trial has passed, you will be deeper and richer for it. Gold will replace alloy. I want you to allow those words to burn their way into your brain so deeply that they become like a divine filter for everything that happens in your life from this day forward. God knows the way that you’re taking.
One of the heretical ideas floating around these days is the “openness of God.” “Open Theism” is its theoretical name as I mentioned in an earlier chapter. It says that God is still learning as He watches us respond to situations. In other words, omniscience is not really omniscience. God is engaged in a kind of progressive knowledge. Nonsense! The God of our lives is fully aware and completely in charge of the way we take. Your need and mine is to “hold fast to His path, to keep His way and not turn aside … nor depart from the command of His lips.”
Stop and think. To what does “the command of His lips” refer? His Word. It’s as if God is speaking through His lips when we open His Book. His Word teaches us, instructs us, counsels us, comforts us, reproves us, and directs our steps.
But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Job 23:10 NASB
Job is embracing God’s Word—it’s more important than bread and water. Job states that he esteemed God’s words more than anything that kept him alive. That explains the man’s endurance. It helps us understand how he continued to demonstrate grace under pressure.
And so can you!
Job now makes a second declaration, which further reveals his vulnerability: “I’m unable to understand the plan of God, but I trust Him.” Remember his first statement? “I’m unable to locate the presence of God, but I trust Him.” Putting the two together will keep us balanced. And in each situation, we still trust Him. Job admits that God’s plan is unfolding, yet he’s not able to understand it. In fact, he refers to God as “unique.”
But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.
Job 23:13 NASB
That’s a very important statement. “What His soul desires, that He does.” God doesn’t ask our permission. He doesn’t tell us His plan ahead of time. He doesn’t give us a preview of coming attractions and then add, “Is that okay with you?” And He doesn’t explain why it’s so hard. He doesn’t let you know how it’s going to end. He doesn’t tell you how long this particular episode is going to last. And so? You and I trust Him. We trust Him. We wait. We serve Him. We keep our feet on His paths. We treasure His Word, and whatever God desires that is what He does. We keep leaning on Him, even though we can’t understand what He’s up to. (And don’t bother to call me. I can’t explain it either!)
To make matters even more interesting, read on: “He performs what is appointed for me” (v. 14). There’s a uniqueness there. Nobody else was Job, and Job had what was appointed for Job, which became his life, his lifestyle, his destiny. Just as He is performing what is appointed for you (don’t get your hopes up), “many such decrees are with Him.” He has a whole bunch of ’em waiting to implement once you get through this one. Isn’t this exciting!
Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.
Job 23:15 NASB
That’s great vulnerability. Go ahead and admit it-“terrified.” Job finally says it. It’s okay. I think the Lord loves to hear us say that on occasion. “Lord, You frighten me!”
I heard about one of the great preachers of the past who was so exasperated the Lord was taking such a long time, he went into his study, closed the door, and he said out loud, “God, hurry up! You’re so slow.” Job says out loud: “You frighten, You terrify me!” If you say that to Him, God will fully understand.
Saint John of the Cross, one of the fathers, wrote, “God perceives the imperfections within us.” (I’ll repeat that; this is deep.) God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of His love for us urges us to grow up. His love is not content to leave us in our weaknesses, and for this reason:
He takes us into a dark night.
He weans us from all the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness. In doing so He is able to take away all these vices and create virtues within us. Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength.
No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the Dark Night.9
Job’s final response is recorded in chapter 24 of his divinely inspired journal. Since he was unable to locate the presence of God, he backed off and admitted, “I trust Him.” Unable to explain the plan of God, he quietly stated, “I trust Him.” (Paschal once wrote, “The eternal silence of those infinite spaces frightens me.”)”
Job’s third declaration, woven through this chapter, is equally profound: “I’m unable to justify the permissions of God, but I trust Him.” What does job mean? He starts in the country (vv. 1-11) where he sets forth several situations God permits. He then goes to the city (vv. 12-17), and he does the same. Finally at the end (vv. 18-24), he levels curses against the wicked, and leaves it at that.
Some remove the landmarks;
They seize and devour flocks.
God doesn’t step in and stop them.
They drive away the donkeys of the orphans;
They take the widow’s ox for a pledge.
God doesn’t stop them either; he permits it.
They push the needy aside from the road;
The poor of the land are made to hide themselves altogether.
This is not only great poetry, it’s true.
Behold, as wild donkeys in the wilderness
They go forth seeking food in their activity,
As bread for their children in the desert.
They harvest their fodder in the field
And glean the vineyard of the wicked.
They spend the night naked, without clothing
And have no covering against the cold.
God doesn’t stop any of that.
They are wet with the mountain rains
And hug the rock for want of a shelter.
And God doesn’t step in and stop it. He permits the hardship.
Others snatch the orphan from the breast,
And against the poor they take a pledge.
And on and on and on it goes down through verse 11. Job is saying these things occur by God’s permissive will. Why does He permit that? We can’t explain it, we only know He does.
Job then addresses many of the wrongs in the city.
From the city men groan,
And the souls of the wounded cry out;
Yet God does not pay attention to folly.
Others have been with those who rebel against the light;
They do not want to know its ways
Nor abide in its paths.
And God lets it happen.
The murderer arises at dawn;
He kills the poor and the needy,
And at night he is as a thief.
And God doesn’t stop it.
The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight,
Saying, “No eye will see me.”
And he disguises his face.
In the dark they dig into houses,
They shut themselves up by day;
They do not know the light.
For the morning is the same to him as thick darkness,
For he is familiar with the terrors of thick darkness.
We could go all the way down through this list, all the way to the end. There are wrongs, there are failures, and there are injustices. There were robberies and sexual sins and hidden wrongs done in the dark, and where is God? He is permitting it. Why? “I don’t know,” says job. “I think His point here is that these things are allowed for purposes unknown to us, exactly like what’s happened to me. God has permitted it all!” Those who do wrong get away with it. Those who take advantage of others get away with that. Unexplainable suffering falls into the same category.
You and I could mention events in our lifetime that the Lord could have stopped, but He didn’t. This isn’t just about the Jewish Holocaust. This isn’t simply about the wrongs of the Crusade Era. This isn’t only about the priests in the Roman Catholic Church who have molested young boys. This is also about all kinds of things that we could name, and God could have stopped each one—but He didn’t. It’s a mystery! That’s the point. “I can’t justify the permissions of God, but I trust Him.” That’s a major step, especially if one of the molested boys is your son. Or if one of the children kidnapped is your child. Or if the test on trust is aimed specifically at a trial that you and your family must endure. And so Job finishes his response by leveling curses against all the wicked.
While Job awaits God’s answer, his mind turns to the topsy-turvy affairs in the world that allow the wicked, given to self-serving, brutal deeds of violence, to oppress the weak and powerless. His own sufferings have made him more sensitive to widespread human suffering. He longs for God to rectify matters on earth. While he grieves at social evil, he remains so confident that God does eventually execute justice that he pronounces a series of curses against the wicked. Job’s concern for injustice leads him to challenge the theology of his day, but at the same time, because of his profound faith in God, his lamenting drives him to God for an answer. He is anxious that God curse the wicked, holding them accountable for their evil deeds.11
Job is saying in effect, “You think I’m wicked? I’m telling you, if I had my way with God He would curse every one of them doing wrong. I’d stand against everything that I’ve named here.” And verse 25 is pretty assuring, isn’t it? “Now if it is not so, who can prove me a liar, and make my speech worthless?”
Can any stand up and say, “This is nonsense”? No one could say that, not even Eliphaz. Job’s passionate response leaves his critics sitting in silence.
LESSONS THAT LINGER … EVEN TO THIS DAY
The major message Job leaves us is fairly obvious by now: Even though God is elusive and mysterious, strange and silent, invisible and seemingly passive, He is trustworthy. In light of that, I want to suggest these three lessons that linger.
First, resist the temptation to explain everything; God knows.
Second, focus on the future benefits, not the present pain; God leads.
Third, embrace the sovereignty of the Almighty; God controls.
Refuse to believe that life is based on blind fate or random chance. Everything that happens, including the things you cannot explain or justify, is being woven together like an enormous, beautiful piece of tapestry. From this earthly side it seems blurred and knotted, strange and twisted. But from heaven’s perspective it has an incredible pattern. Best of all, it is for His greater glory. Right now, it seems so confusing, but someday the details will come together and make good sense.
Early in this chapter I quoted from Dave Roper’s book, Elijah, a Man Like Us. I return to it for a story he tells that vividly illustrates my point.
Recently Carolyn and I were on the first leg of a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to our home in Boise, Idaho. Our first stop was Boston.
It had been an exhausting week and I dropped off to sleep as soon as I found my seat, but I was soon awakened by a disturbance in the aisle.
The steward and a passenger who had been seated on Carolyn’s left were arguing about the man’s seat assignment. Somehow, he had been separated from his fiancee who was seated several rows behind us.
The man grew increasingly angry and argumentative until another passenger, seated by the man’s fiancee offered to trade places. The swap was made and Carolyn’s new seat-mate settled into his place, drew out a legal pad, and began to work on some project.
Unfortunately, there was a garrulous little French boy seated on his left—a charming child—who wanted to talk. The man, who seemed to be the soul of patience, gave up his project after a few minutes and began to chat amiably with the boy. Carolyn was soon drawn into the conversation.
I heard the man say he was from Los Gatos, California, a town close to Los Altos, California, where Carolyn and I had lived for eighteen years. He was on the Frankfurt-to-Boston leg of a flight to San Francisco. I heard Carolyn remark on the fact that we had many friends in the Bay Area and then I went back to sleep.
When I awakened an hour or so later, I found Carolyn sharing her faith with her new-found friend, scribbling on his pad of paper, drawing diagrams, and animating her story. He was listening intently and asking questions. I sat there quietly and prayed for her and the man.
At one point he said, “You believe as my wife does.”
“Oh?” Carolyn replied. “And how did she become a follower of Christ?”
“Through Bible Study Fellowship,” he responded.
“How did she find out about Bible Study Fellowship?” Carolyn asked.
“A friend of hers, Nel King, invited her to attend.”
“That’s remarkable!” Carolyn exclaimed. “Nel King is one of my best friends!”
And then the coin dropped: A few months before we moved to Boise, Nel had asked Carolyn to pray for a friend who had just become a Christian through Bible Study Fellowship and for her husband who was not yet a believer—the man now seated on Carolyn’s left—there “by that power which erring men call chance.”12
There it is—part of God’s perfect plan unfolding. You can’t explain it. You couldn’t piece it all together if you tried. You aren’t able to understand it and there will be times you won’t like it. But, as we’re learning from job, He’s not going to ask your permission. And so? We trust God. I’ll write it once more: Those who do that discover without trying to make it happen that they have begun to demonstrate grace under pressure. To settle for less is a miserable existence. [181-200]
1. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). Definition of “guts” in an interview with Dorothy Parker, New Yorker (Nov. 30, 1929). From The Columbia World of Quotations (New York, NY: 1996).
2. Martin Luther (1483-1546) Public domain.
3. Donald T Phillips, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times (New York, NY: Warner Books, r99a), 66-67.
4. Steven E Hayward, Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity (Rocklin, CA: Forum, an Prima Publishing, i997), 121-122. Used by permission of Prima Publishing, a division of Random House, Inc.
5. David Roper, Elijah, A Man Like Us (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1998), 126-127. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. All rights reserved.
6. Warren Wiersbe, Be Patient (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1991), 91.
7. Stephen Charnock (1628-1680). Public domain.
8. “Someone with Skin On” story. Source unknown.
9. David Roper, Elijah, Man Like Us (Grand Rapids, MI 1998), 88-89, quoting Saint John of the Cross. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. All rights reserved.
10. Blaise Paschal (1623-1662). Public domain.
11. John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988) 354. Used by permission.
12. David Roper, Elijah, A Man Like Us (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, r998), 116-117. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. All rights reserved