Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series Laugh-In? The choices are a) Lyndon Johnson; b) Richard Nixon; c)
Jimmy Carter; or d) Gerald Ford. That question was asked of John Carpenter almost 20 years ago appearing on the game show Who
Wants to be a Millionaire. It was the million-dollar question. John had already answered fourteen questions, each coming with more risk and reward. Under the TV lights answering increasingly hard questions, John Carpenter was on the hot seat.
Job discussed with his friends his situation for the better part of 37 chapters. The risk and reward were high since this was his life. Under scrutiny by his friends, Job was looking to ask hard questions. Maybe put God on the hot seat. Because Job’s life had taken an unfair turn. Successful with one wife, ten children, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys, Job didn’t attach his success to his possessions. He believed in the true God. Knew he was under his care, trusted in God’s rescue, and made his spiritual welfare the most important part of his life. Job seemed to have it all, until it was all taken away. By God.
We relate quite well. When things are going wrong in our lives we can want the same thing as Job. Get God on the hot seat. Have him tell us why these things are happening. Highlight how God seems to be a contradiction. Says he wants to help, but offers no help.
Yet as we study the first lesson we’ll find …
Someone’s on God’s hot seat
God’s asking the questions
Let’s be smart enough to say nothing
In the middle of the worst part of his life, it may have been that all Job was looking for was God to give him the reason why all his animals were slaughtered or carried away by thieves, why all his children were killed in one accident, and why his health was so abruptly destroyed so that he was kicked out of the community. Suffering like he was, it seemed a small thing to ask. “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! Let the Almighty answer me.” After much speaking by Job, God answers.
If you’ve ever seen a terrible thunderstorm, swirling, dark gray, maybe even greenish, supercell high clouds, lightning flashes, then maybe you start to get the picture of how God came to Job. Another reminder God isn’t someone we just exchange pleasantries with like calling “Hi” to our neighbor across the street. God has majesty and power. He’s so far above his creation, God doesn’t allow himself to be called to any hot seat. “Who is this who spreads darkness over my plans with his ignorant words? Get ready for action like a man! Then I will ask you questions, and you will inform me.” During the next questions God asked, he didn’t answer a complaint, didn’t address Job’s suffering. Every question helped Job see he was wrong. He complained and raged against God without knowledge. With limited understanding by far. Every question proved God was always right. No matter what he does, no matter what he sends into someone’s life. No matter what. That includes suffering. Job was the one suddenly on the hot seat.
Do we dream of getting God into the hot seat for questions? Given our chance we’d probably ask him nothing more than what is happening with our suffering? We don’t get it. Suffering comes on us when we least expect it, when we’ve been enjoying life, or when we can’t afford to suffer. Answers to why a loved one got cancer would be good. God could explain fairness. People who attend church regularly, are faithful to their children, or the most loving people who care about others, how could they be stricken with life-threatening diseases? Or young people that leave on deployments. Their families depend on them, loved ones worry about them. Why are they being asked to go again, serve more? It’s these questions and many more personal ones we’ve asked that burn in our hearts. It stings because it’s suffering, and we want to know why.
Please don’t think you’ll ever put God on the hot seat. He’s not obligated to answer you or me or anyone. God asks the questions. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its dimensions? Who supports its foundation?” You’re overmatched. Can you say why the earth sits at an angle of 23.5° relative to its north/south axis, just right for seasons, longest days of the year, and life to exist? God can because when the earth was created you weren’t there. But the one who laid the foundation, set the distances, and put down its cornerstones holds the world together still today. God provides you this place to live. God doesn’t attack you with these questions. He sees the whole plan, not just the little you see. You don’t have experience or knowledge like he does. You don’t love like he does. When you suffer be reminded of the grace of the one who with his experience and knowledge created this world for you.
Job hears from the LORD. You hear from the LORD, the special name for God that calls attention to his saving grace. His love. His great single-minded love towards you. This LORD went further than laying down foundations. He laid down his own Son. He measured off what it would take to purchase you from your slavery to sin. Then sent Jesus with the measurements of strength, ability, and attitude to come close and claim you. To bring you close to him. He came right where you are and gave you life. Brought you into a relationship with God through a resurrection. That’s the full picture of Christ’s love. You’re not on a hot seat before God. Your seat is saved before the holy one because of Christ.
I’ve been in moments where my parents were so mad at me I thought smoke would come from their ears. I’ve heard parents coming to their children with question after question. Whatever was done was really bad. They had the right to ask all kinds of questions. The kid being yelled at had the right to sit and take it. Don’t answer questions because they’re not looking for answers. Be smart enough to say nothing. It wasn’t like Job could even hope to respond to God’s questions. Only God could know how the oceans come crashing into their shores with all sorts of power, and yet stay bound to that high tide mark. He knows because he laid those marks. “When I clothed the sea with clouds…I said you may come this far, but no farther. Here is the barrier for your proud waves.” Hurricanes can whip up the Gulf, storm surges can roar in and cause destruction on massive scales, great windstorms can threaten lives. But they’re limited. Damage is limited. The worst storms bend to the will of the one who separated water from dry land. “Then [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, peace, be still.” One of the most powerful forces on the planet is controlled by God. Can be controlled by the Savior with just a word. He speaks, it’s best we say nothing and listen.
What you hear from Christ is a powerful message of grace. He has love for you that takes on the most powerful forces aligned against you: sin, death, and Satan. Jesus didn’t flinch in the face of these forces. He became sin in your place. Took your death and gave you life by his perfection. God looks at you and declares you perfect. Not by earning it, but by receiving it. Listening when Jesus speaks. Hearing the declaration of forgiveness that came while he was hanging from the cross in your place. Knowing its best to say nothing when the Almighty is doing his loving work.
One smart enough to stay silent when God speaks is smart enough to speak when something needs to be said. Like when someone is questioning why suffering happens to them. You’re equipped to speak of God’s goodness. Yes, even in the face of suffering. Giving the real reason for suffering. Suffering is God directing hearts to his love. Suffering calls people to repent, to remember God’s grace. Or when needing to speak up for God by sharing God’s Word. Others throwing him down are those that don’t know God cares for them. Don’t get that he loves them. Share with them. Help people to see heaven now, help them through suffering today. Provide them relief through a Savior who loves them and went to the cross to prove it. A Savior who frees them and rose from the dead to prove it.
John Carpenter answered that last question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The answer was Richard Nixon. He was the first to win a million dollars on the hot seat. You might think if God were on the hot seat you could ask him questions about suffering. Job’s lesson teaches God is the only one who asks the questions. You better know when to be silent. Suffering is never a sign God has turned away. Suffering is God calling you back. Suffering is God pointing you to Christ. God’s love for you on display in creation and in Christ. That takes you off God’s hot seat.