In his book, The Bible Jesus Read, Philip Yancey points out that the influential church reformer John Calvin preached 700 sermons. Of that total, 159 were based on the book of Job. In other words, John Calvin preached the equivalent of 3 years of Sundays on one of the most difficult books in the Bible.
In comparison, it makes the four sermons I’ve preached on Job seem puny in comparison. That’s true, but even four messages on Job can feel kind of, well, heavy. So much pain and agony and questions and doubts. Even so, the book of Job reminds us of the importance of honesty and transparency in our faith. And humility.
For at the end of the day, faith never brings certainty. It can’t; that’s why it’s called faith. The whole purpose of faith — the reason we need faith — is because we can’t see everything; we can’t know everything. Faith is about choosing something — Someone — to trust, precisely because a choice has to be made. If we waited until all the evidence was in before making a choice for the direction and purpose of our lives, we wouldn’t be able to move.
The preacher & writer John Ortberg puts it this way: “Faith is not a matter of certainty but humility.”
Job has to learn that lesson. Where he wants answers, he has to settle for wisdom. Where Job rails against God’s silence, eventually Job himself goes quiet. Where he wants to go toe-to-toe with God, he has to settle for falling on his knees.
Because ultimately, faith isn’t a matter of getting the answers we think we need, but getting a glimpse of God that we do need — a glimpse that won’t erase all our questions, but does erase our need for all our questions to have answers.
In light of Job and his life, let me suggest that what our world needs is not an answer to every question they ask. What those who are outside of faith need is to see people of faith doing just that — being people of faith. People who trust even when they cannot see.
The great 20th century writer C.S. Lewis wrote a book that imagined an ongoing dialogue between a senior demon (Screwtape) and his junior demon understudy (Wormwood). In the book, Screwtape writes letters describing how Wormwood must try to keep the human he is working on, John, from living out his newfound faith.
At one point, Screwtape, in response to difficulties John is facing, writes to Wormwood: “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s (God’s) will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
In other words, we most powerfully live out our faith when we can’t see where our faith is taking us — or if it even makes sense. Faith lived out when it doesn’t make sense is a faith that shakes the foundation of the world.
I don’t plan to do 159 sermons on Job, or 59, or, frankly, even 9. But the message of that book has reverberated through humanity, and will continue to do so, because it is a call to faith when life is fuzzy and unclear. And life will remain fuzzy and unclear, at least in part, until the day when we no longer see as through a glass darkly.
Until that day, hold on to faith. And to the Author of Faith. For faith believes that He is there, no matter what I can see. Or can’t.