Limitations

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Thinking back on Job 38, I have to wonder how Job heard the words of God, what those words meant to him.

God, in chapter 38, is talking about his power in creation…but the language that he uses seems to have a few layers to how he is describing himself to a hurting and confused Job.

First, in verses 4-7, the order of creation is described (and God points out that Job was not present nor a part of that design).

The point seems to be clear, Job has limited knowledge of how things work (like me).

God took part at every part of the “building” that he describes. Designed it, as an architect would. Laid out the design like a surveyor would. Constructed it, as the great builder. From start to finish, God built everything replete with beauty and enduring majesty.

In Job’s shoes though, the question then has to be, “okay, I agree, all you did was perfect and stands as beautiful, but what about evil?

Do the words of imagery in the next set of verses answer that? I wonder if it does.

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Job 38:8-11

What did Job hear in these words?

These verses seem to break from the previous ones. No longer talking about the beauty of the design, but it takes a darker turn.

“The sea” is often a symbol (in Scripture) that talks about disorder, chaos, danger, evil, and even death. Job in his misery even wondered if God has made him the sea (7:12).

These verses may be describing the strict limits that God has set against evil. Yes, the created order of the world was done with beauty, but it includes evil, and that evil has boundaries.

Christopher Ash (Job: The Wisdom of the Cross) describes an idea of what this could mean much better than I could…

“Picture the breaking of a mother’s waters at the end of pregnancy, and then her baby bursting out of the womb on its day of birth and causing havoc from that day on. (Some parents may identify with this imagery!) But here is a baby who is put in clothing and a “swaddling band” to restrain him (v. 9) and then put in some kind of playpen so that he cannot roam free and cause chaos everywhere (v. 10). Here is an unruly infant under discipline, with strict “limits” (v. 10; literally “statutes”) constraining his movements and action. “Thus far . . . and no farther,” say his firm parents (v. 11). In the same way the waves of the sea have a limit (cf. Psalm 104:9; Proverbs 8:29; Jeremiah 5:22). They meet cliffs and coasts. Even when they burst over these in the violence of a tsunami or a hurricane, they stop somewhere. Even though this is a continuing battle involving “the gnawing away of shores, cliffs, sands and headlands,” even so “the ultimate restraining of the ocean is finely suggested.”

Evil has limits. That’s one lesson that God teaches Job as he shows his own character to him in the words in this chapter.

But what is maybe even more remarkable (and Ash talks about this) is this: there is a place for evil in God’s created order. As a finite being, this is hard for me to fathom. As a pilgrim, a follower of Christ, this is a hard truth for me to acknowledge and accept.

God brings all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Good of course is defined by God, not by me. Yes, he will care for me (even in the most dangerous situations and the most painful experiences), but the way he does that may not (and doesn’t have to) line up with my idea of how he should care for me.

The evil that we see is not an obstacle to God. The suffering it causes us does not throw off God’s plan for good. His good plan is about transformation. Heart change. Conforming to the more like Jesus (which is Romans 8:28’s context).

Job couldn’t see the scene that opens the book named after him. We (I) have the same limitations. I cannot see what God is doing behind the scenes. How he is keeping evil in its place to accomplish his purpose, but also how he is allowing evil to be a part of his created order.

Lord, give me eyes to see what you want me to know about you, and a heart to submit to you even in the dark and mysterious experiences that are on my path. Grace and mercy never fail because you never fail. You are sufficient and I pray that you continue to teach me to rest in that truth!

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