By Ryan Coatney
What to do when life’s answers just aren’t enough?
As Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life ended, everyone was silent. None of us knew how to respond. Malick had forced us to consider reality as it exists. Finally, someone broke the silence. “Well, Ryan, what did you think?” I could only describe it as both beautiful and arduous. The movie forced me to consider reality. It forced me to ask Why?
The movie starts with a quote from the Book of Job flashed on the screen, and offers itself as a sort of collage exploring the same question that the book itself explores: “Why?” Terrence Malick isn’t alone in this inquiry. The question is everywhere. Kids are told they can’t have another cookie, and they ask, “Why can’t I?” We stand in line at the DMV, and we ask, “Why did every person on the planet need a new license today?” Someone close to us faces illness, and we ask God, “Why would such a kind person suffer so much?” Life forces us to consider reality as it exists, and we ask “Why?”
JOB’S PLACE IN SCRIPTURE
Scripture, too, has its way of introducing us to reality. Job (and most wisdom literature) is written by (and to) those who have been forced to experience reality as it exists — both beautiful and arduous. Though God is faithful, the characters throughout Scripture often struggle to reconcile the goodness of God with the reality of life. So they ask, “Why?” Job wasn’t written to tell us how patient Job was. Rather, it was written to teach us about the God who governs reality.
GOD’S RESPONSE TO JOB’S QUESTIONING
Let’s take a look at how Job specifically questioned God and how God responded in Job 38:
“Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind. He said: Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words? Get ready to answer Me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me. Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (vv. 1-7)
God’s answer here wasn’t a divine game of “I’m rubber, you’re glue.” Rather, it was God’s way of teaching Job about reality as it exists. Two things are important to note here:
1) Job’s experience overburdens his capacity for understanding. In our own lives, there are events we can’t understand, questions we can’t answer, difficulties we can’t reconcile, and injuries we can’t mend. We’re small and temporary. Our understanding isn’t what we wish it could be.
2) God is sovereign, and Job is not. God’s knowledge and power more than make up for Job’s lack thereof — and ours. His wisdom holds the answer to every question. He’s everywhere and everlasting. His understanding is limitless. By turning the questions around on Job, God painted a clear picture of Himself as the Maker of all things. In the same way, we aren’t the masters of our own universe.
FROM JOB TO JESUS
God’s most complete revelation wasn’t available to Job at all. It came much later, in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. On this side of history, history after Jesus, we know that every injustice, every sin, every tragedy, every weakness was absorbed in Jesus on the cross. Through the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross, God made it possible for us — with all of our questions and all of our sin — to be reconciled to Himself by faith. In Jesus, God says emphatically that suffering is not unique to the created order but is shared by God himself. This is the gospel.
The Book of Job, in light of this gospel, calls us to examine our desire to ask, “Why?” Are we demanding an explanation, or are we seeking revelation? Are we placing ourselves above God as His jury, or are we submitting to Him as learners, eager to know of His purposes? He is King, so we don’t need to be in control. He has provided for our forgiveness and redemption, so we can stop pretending to be good enough. Because of the cross, we can trust in the love, justice, and righteousness of our God.
Because of Jesus, we can be fearless as we’re forced to experience life as it actually exists — both beautiful and arduous. Don’t surrender to the temptation to pose as your own king. Don’t give in to the desire to have an explanation from God. Seek to know who He is, and give yourself to His purposes. Trust the gospel.
RYAN COATNEY (a.k.a. “Coat”) is the pastor/planter of Church, a new congregation in Nashville, Tenn. Follow Coat on Twitter: @churchnash or contact him online at ChurchNash.com.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Collegiate Magazine. To subscribe, click here or on the cover.