We can find nearly every argument in the book of Job about why there is pain in the world, but the arguing never seems to help Job much. His is a crisis of relationship more than a crisis of doubt. Can he trust God? Job wants one thing above all else: an appearance by the one Person who can explain his miserable fate. He wants to meet God Himself, face to face.
Eventually Job gets his wish. God shows up in person (see Job 38:1). He times His entrance with perfect irony, just as Job’s friend Elihu is expounding on why Job has no right to expect a visit from God.
No one—not Job, nor any of his friends—is prepared for what God has to say. Job has saved up a long list of questions, but it is God, not Job, who asks the questions. “Brace yourself like a man,” He begins; “I will question you, and you shall answer me” (v. 3). Brushing aside thirty-five chapters’ worth of debates on the problem of pain, God plunges into a majestic poem on the wonders of the natural world.
God’s speech defines the vast difference between the God of all creation and one puny man like Job. His presence spectacularly answers Job’s biggest question: Is anybody out there? Job can only respond, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3).
To visit Clifton Heritage National Park in Nassau, Bahamas, is to revisit a tragic era in history. Where the land meets the water, stone steps lead up a cliff. Slaves brought to the Bahamas by ship in the eighteenth century would ascend these steps, often leaving family behind and entering a life of inhumane treatment. At the top, there is a memorial to those slaves. Cedar trees have been carved into the shapes of women looking out to sea toward the homeland and family members they’ve lost. Each sculpture is scarred with marks of the slave captain’s whip.
These sculptures of women mourning what they’ve lost remind me of the importance of recognizing the injustices and broken systems in the world, and lamenting them. Lamenting does not mean that we are without hope; rather, it’s a way of being honest with God. It should be a familiar posture for Christians; about 40 percent of the Psalms are psalms of lament, and in the book of Lamentations, God’s people cry out to Him after their city has been destroyed by invaders (3:55).
Lament is a legitimate response to the reality of suffering, and it engages God in the context of pain and trouble. Ultimately, lament is hopeful: when we lament what is not right, we call ourselves and others to be active in seeking change.
And that’s why the sculpture garden in Nassau has been named “Genesis”—the place of lament is recognized as the place of new beginnings.
My hometown has experienced its heaviest winter in thirty years. My muscles ache from hours of shoveling the unrelenting snow. When I step inside after what feels like a fruitless effort, weary as I kick off my boots, I’m greeted by the warmth of a fire and my children gathered around it. As I gaze out the window from the shelter of my home, my perspective of the weather shifts completely. Instead of seeing more work to do, I savor the beauty of frosted tree branches and the way the snow blankets the colorless landscape of winter.
I see a similar, but much more poignant, shift in Asaph when I read his words in Psalm 73. In the beginning, he laments the way the world seems to work, how wrongs seem to be rewarded. He doubts the value of being different than the crowd and living for the good of others (v. 13). But when he enters the sanctuary of God, his outlook changes (vv. 16–17): he remembers that God will deal with the world and its troubles perfectly and, more importantly, that it is good to be with God (v. 28).
When we’re chilled by the seemingly ceaseless problems in our world, we can enter God’s sanctuary in prayer and be warmed-through by the life-altering, perspective-changing truth that His judgment is better than ours. Though our circumstances may not change, our perspective can.
At a conference in Asia, I had two eye-opening conversations in the span of a few hours. First, a pastor told of spending 11 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction before he was cleared. Then, a group of families shared how they had spent a fortune to escape religious persecution in their homeland, only to be betrayed by the very people they had paid to bring about their rescue. Now, after years in a refugee camp, they wonder if they will ever find a home.
In both cases, victimization was compounded by an absence of justice—just one evidence of our world’s brokenness. But this vacuum of justice is not a permanent condition.
Psalm 67 calls on God’s people to make Him known to our hurting world. The result will be joy, not as a response to God’s love but because of His justice. “May the nations be glad and sing for joy,” says the psalmist, “for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth” (v. 4).
Although the Bible writers understood that “equity” (fairness and justice) is a key component of God’s love, they also knew that it will only be fully realized in the future. Until then, in our world of injustice, we can serve to point others to our God’s divine justice. His coming will see “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
In June 2004, at a Vancouver art gallery, Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott received an Olympic gold medal. That’s interesting, because the Winter Olympics had been held in 2002—in Utah. Scott had won bronze behind two athletes who were disqualified months later when it was learned they had used banned substances.
It’s good that Scott eventually received her gold, but gone forever is the moment when she should have stood on the podium to hear her country’s national anthem. That injustice couldn’t be remedied.
Injustice of any kind disturbs us, and surely there are far greater wrongs than being denied a hard-won medal. The story of Cain and Abel shows an ultimate act of injustice (Gen. 4:8). And at first glance, it might look like Cain got away with murdering his brother. After all, he lived a long, full life, eventually building a city (v. 17).
But God Himself confronted Cain. “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground,” He said (v. 10). The New Testament later recorded Cain as an example to avoid (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). But of Abel we read, “By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb. 11:4).
God cares deeply about justice, about righting wrongs, and about defending the powerless. In the end, no one gets away with any act of injustice. Nor does God leave unrewarded our work done in faith for Him.
Skittish chickens scattered as relief trucks clattered past the weathered huts of the village. Barefoot children stared. Traffic on this rain-ravaged “road” was rare.
Suddenly, a walled mansion loomed into view of the convoy. It was the mayor’s house—although he didn’t live in it. His people lacked basic necessities, while he lounged in luxury in a distant city.
Such unfairness angers us. It angered God’s prophet too. When Habakkuk saw rampant oppression he asked, “How long,
We welcome God’s judgment of others, but there’s a pivot point in Habakkuk that gives us pause: “The
Why silence? Because we easily overlook our own spiritual poverty. Silence allows us to recognize our sinfulness in the presence of a holy God.
Habakkuk learned to trust God, and we can too. We don’t know all His ways, but we do know that He is good. Nothing is beyond His control and timing.
By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.
Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).
We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.
When Kathleen’s teacher called her to the front of the grammar class to analyze a sentence, she panicked. As a recent transfer student, she hadn’t learned that aspect of grammar. The class laughed derisively.
Instantly the teacher sprang to her defense. “She can out-write any of you any day of the week!” he explained. Many years later, Kathleen gratefully recalled the moment: “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could.” Eventually, Kathleen Parker would win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.
As did Kathleen’s teacher, Jesus identified with the defenseless and vulnerable. When His disciples kept children away from Him, He grew angry. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). He reached out to a despised ethnic group, making the Good Samaritan the hero of His parable (Luke 10:25-37) and offering genuine hope to a searching Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). He protected and forgave a woman trapped in adultery (John 8:1-11). And though we were utterly helpless, Christ gave His life for all of us (Rom. 5:6).
When we defend the vulnerable and the marginalized, we give them a chance to realize their potential. We show them real love, and in a small but significant way we reflect the very heart of Jesus.
Born into slavery and badly treated as a young girl, Harriet Tubman (c. 1822–1913) found a shining ray of hope in the Bible stories her mother told. The account of Israel’s escape from slavery under Pharaoh showed her a God who desired freedom for His people.
Eventually Harriet slipped over the Maryland state line and out of slavery. She couldn’t remain content, however, knowing so many were still trapped in captivity. So she led more than a dozen rescue missions back into slave states, dismissing the personal danger. “I can’t die but once,” she said.
Harriet knew the truth of the statement: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus spoke those words as He sent His disciples on their first mission. He knew they would face danger, and not everyone would receive them warmly. So why expose the disciples to the risk? The answer is found in the previous chapter. “When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
When Harriet Tubman couldn’t forget those still trapped in slavery, she showed us a picture of Christ, who did not forget us when we were trapped in our sins. Her courageous example inspires us to remember those who remain without hope in the world.