Those three words are ones that we human beings like to throw at God from time to time. “Where were You?” When we feel like we’re lost and hurting, when it seems like our world is coming crashing down around us, when we’re surrounded by pain and misery, we want to know where God is. It’s a common refrain that pops up quite often.
For example, a few years back, I took a group of youth to the LCMS National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. As part of that experience, we went into section of the city that had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. It was crazy, seeing the ruined houses and the vacant lots overrun with weeds and grass. But perhaps the most poignant moment was driving under and overpass. Someone had spray painted, “Jesus, where were You?” on the cement. Just seeing that graffiti-prayer broke my heart.
This is a question that was woven into the Fray’s song, You Found Me:
Where were you when everything was falling apart?
It’s a question that people have asked since the dawn of time, in every age, in many and various circumstances.
It’s a question that Job needed answered too.
Job’s Question to God
By any standards, Job had a difficult life.
Well, not at first. He’s rich, he’s got a loving family, things are going well for him. But then, Job unwittingly and unknowingly finds himself in the middle of a bet between God and Satan. Satan believes that Job is faithful only because God has blessed him so abundantly. God agrees to a test: Satan can take away everything Job has, but he can’t touch the man himself.
So, in one horrifically awful day, Job not only loses all of his material possessions, but he also loses his children too. In spite of that, Job remains faithful to God.
God wins the contest, but Satan isn’t satisfied. He theorizes that if God were to allow Job to become sick, Job would curse God to His face. Once again, God agrees to an experiment. Satan can make Job sick, but he must spare Job’s life.
Job finds himself afflicted with boils, which apparently was the last straw for his wife. It wouldn’t surprise me if she ran out on him, leaving him to sit in ashes.
But not completely alone. Job has three friends who come to keep him company. Job’s downward spiral quickly became the topic of conversation. Job’s friends thought they knew why Job was so miserable: he had sinned. God was upset with him and, to express His displeasure, He made sure that Job was suffering.
Job didn’t buy that explanation. He hadn’t done anything that deserved this level of suffering. No matter how much his friends tried to blame him for what was happening, Job stubbornly held on to the belief that he was innocent. Even when a fourth friend happens along to offer the other three backup, Job clings to his belief that he is suffering unjustly.
In essence, Job wants to ask God one question: “Where were You?”
And then God shows up. And He has a question of His own.
God’s Question to Job
In an ironic twist, God’s question is the same one that Job had been asking Him:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
And it keeps going! This is just a sample of God’s questions for Job. If I were to sum them up, I’d say that God’s question for Job is this: “Who are you to question Me?”
It’s a harsh question and yes, it makes me wince. This isn’t the sort of answer I’d want to give the victim of Hurricane Katrina who sprayed his or her question on that overpass. The times that I’ve asked God “Where were You?”, the last thing I’d want to be told is “I’m God, you’re not, so know your role.”
Thankfully, this isn’t God’s last Word to us or for us.
Where God Was
God’s question for Job may make Him seem like a heartless deity, a distant and aloof divinity not worthy of our respect or honor. And if all God did was say, “Nuh-uh, where were you?” that’s what He’d be.
But God sent another Word into this world, and that makes all the difference. Because this Word isn’t just a harsh question, it’s His incarnate Word, His Son, sent to walk with us and be by us and to suffer with us and for us.
In short, when we are tempted to ask, “God, where were You?”, His answer is, “Right by your side. Always. Forever.”
And while He can still legitimately ask us, “Where were you?”, it isn’t a harsh question. It’s a reminder that we aren’t always going to understand what’s happening in our life, that sometimes, God’s reasoning for allowing the pain into our lives won’t make sense. But at the same time, we know that God loves us. He won’t abandon us. He’ll be with us every step of the way.
Thanks be to Him, we never have to wonder where He is, because He is with us forever.
Nice article, John. I think a lot of us are asking some variation of this question right about now.
“Even when a fourth friend happens along to offer the other three backup, Job clings to his belief that he is suffering unjustly.”
I think, though, you might be dismissing Elihu a bit quickly here…he waits to speak because he’s younger than the rest, and when he does roll in, he’s critical of both Job and his other three friends–Job because he’s focused on his own innocence and God’s seeming unconcern, and the friends because they’re focused on accusing Job and can’t imagine any reason other than sin for his suffering.
Elihu argues for God’s righteousness and his intervention in human life in a multiplicity of ways, including suffering, to guide mankind. Elihu doesn’t attack Job’s imagined sins but calls him out for speaking like a sinful man, as if God was unjust and there was no point in trying to please Him.
And afterward, God only rebukes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for their error. There’s no criticism or correction of Elihu.
Yeah, I know I glossed over Elihu a little. Interest of space, I guess. 🙂