The God Formula

We all know the story of Job. He has to deal with some pretty bad circumstances: losing everything and getting very sick. He has some friends that show up to comfort him and (very pointedly) try to fix his problems. The problem with Job’s friends is that they thought they understood God. They knew how God worked. They had the formula memorized.

If you live right, God gives you blessings.

If you live in an impure way, God will come against you with judgement.

Job lost his wealth, his family and his health. This meant God was angry with him; therefore Job was living sinfully.

Job’s friends were trying to help him: repent of your secret sin and God will forgive you! But Job was insistent that he had not sinned.

But his friends would not - could not - believe him. Because if what Job said was true, then everything they thought they knew about God would be wrong.

Listen to what the youngest of the friends says as he makes one final attempt to get Job to admit to his wicked ways: “Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.” (Job 36:4)

In other words, “I can’t believe what you’re saying, because I know I’m right.”

I was struck when I read Elihu’s speech (Job 32-37) that it includes some portions that are almost identical to what God says later (for example, that he commands lightning and snow).

Job’s mistake was thinking that God had committed an error.

Elihu’s mistake (and the 3 other friends) was thinking he knew exactly what God was doing.

Job, knowing that he hadn’t brought these curses upon himself through foolish living, was forced to conclude that God’s sovereignty allowed him to act as he pleases, and the only viable choice of humanity is to accept that. As Job says it, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

I’d love to pretend that Jobs friends were the last people to make this mistake, but when Jesus shows up, he tells the religious experts in his day that they have made the same mistake of making God into a formula which they understood.

“You [The Pharisees] diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)

They thought they knew the formula, but when the the culmination of God’s design arrived, they didn’t recognize it in the least.  Jerusalem was destroyed because the time of God’s intervention arrived and they were blind to it. (Luke 19:44).

I think the fact that we think we have this whole God/Jesus/Bible thing down pat can turn us into monsters, too.

We have hundreds of different denominations (which are basically forbidden in 1 Corinthians 3) because we think all the other denominations are doing something wrong, and we are doing it right.

We spend so much time and energy bickering and in-fighting rather than fulfilling the purpose Jesus gave us. To be conduits of God’s Kingdom come and will being done on earth.

God cannot be put in a formula. He cannot be understood. He cannot be explained. We can only say the things he has told us to say. To speak of the things we see him do.

Paradoxically, it is only when we accept that we never fully know him that we can actually begin to connect with him in a greater way.