I’m posting this recent interaction from my Facebook page for two reasons: first, the value of the interaction itself, which consisted of an honest question and good responses to it; second, for the model this is for the kinds of interactions we should be experiencing online. These people were trying to give help and counsel without condemnation and reproach. I loved that! It was full of grace and truth. By the time I read this, I felt I had nothing to add to the discussion except my appreciation for everyone involved. I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the body of Christ at work.
We’ve used pseudonyms rather than the commenters’ real names to protect their identity, but I did want to use names to remind readers that these are individual people who conducted kind of a group Bible study or even a biblically-grounded support group for a person honestly struggling with an issue. Christ is so frequently dishonored either by the absence of truth or the absence of grace that it seemed like a great opportunity to show how an online discussion can be done. To me, this was beautiful.
This is what I had posted on my page:
I used to believe, as many still do, that God’s revelation of His greatness in Job 38–41 didn’t answer Job’s questions. Job’s response has changed my mind. Philosophers and theologians may not be satisfied with God’s answer, but Job was. And isn’t the test of an answer how well it satisfies the questioner? Bullet-point answers couldn’t have satisfied a parent whose children died. God explaining His wager with Satan would have raised as many questions as it answered. Instead, in Job 38–41, God tells us He’s unfathomably great (and we’re not). Rather than explaining why, He reveals who: Himself. His greatness is the only answer. When God shows Himself to Job, lesser answers become unnecessary. “Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?’ Then Job replied to the LORD, ‘I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say’” (Job 40:1-5 NLT).
A commenter wrote,
Hannah: I struggle with scriptures like this. The tone of God’s voice as written sounds so condescending and arrogant. I see His sovereignty and almighty power but not the love. It feels like God has no compassion. The Old Testament God is so harsh. Can you give me some perspective please?
These were the replies:
Mark: Hannah, I realize that you’re waiting on Randy’s reply, but until then let me offer this thought. The fact that any sinner was allowed to live in Old Testament times bears witness to God’s love and compassion. David speaks of God’s mercy, compassion, love, etc. in the Psalms. When Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of his nephew Lot living there, God showed compassion and restraint until Lot and his family could get out of there—with the help of God's angels. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and is the same God throughout the Scriptures.
Carrie: Hannah, when I read the Word, I keep a pencil with me to interact with the passage—underline, write observations or questions. And I draw little hearts in the margin when I’m struck with the loving heart of God. The Old Testament pages have so many hearts. His dear heart is everywhere. Maybe it’s because my devotions are usually read in the New Living. I also keep an eye out for places that say, “Don’t be afraid,” and write that at the top of every page where I see it.
As for God’s tone in the last chapters of Job, I agree with Randy that no other answer could have answered Job’s wrenching questions. “I am God, far beyond your understanding, and you can trust me even now,” is the message I receive there. But it’s a hard message, and makes me glad that I’m in Jesus.
Shari: Hannah, read it out loud with a loving tone as if speaking to a very young beloved child who in his/her simplicity is asking the question. It will shine a whole new light on it! That’s what I do when the answers seem harsh but really are not harsh at [all].
Julie: Thank you for your honesty, Hannah. You are no doubt expressing what many of us feel. My MIND accepts it (what’s stated in Randy’s post above) because of believing all of God’s Word is true, but for it to go from the mind to the heart, I NEED Jesus. We know He compassionately healed the sick, ate with “publicans and sinners,” went out of His way to meet the rejected woman at the well to bring her spiritual and emotional healing. He insisted that little children have access to Him. He cared for the marginalized, the castaways. So relatable, so caring, so personal!
And He also said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. I and the Father are One.” In that statement I am “feeling” the love of God the Father, but via the lens of the New Testament. David didn’t have the amazing Gospel stories we do, but nevertheless he wrote of such loving intimacy between him and God the Father in many Psalms. Psalm 139 is a perfect example. I used to wonder how that was possible until it dawned on me that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, that same Holy Spirit that dwells in us believers!
I like what Carrie wrote to you: “...I draw little hearts in the margin when I’m struck with the loving heart of God. The Old Testament pages have so many hearts.” Excellent idea! I will start doing that.
(Wrote all of the above probably more for my sake than anyone else’s. It’s good to be challenged with hard questions. That’s how we grow in Him.) ❤️
Hannah: Julie, thank you for your thoughtful response. Intellectually I understand the big picture, that Jesus and the Father are one but individual stories where the Father reveals Himself as wrathful and harsh and angry and downright mean sometimes makes me unable to see the big picture very clearly. Maybe it’s because I have too much of it in my life that it sounds familiar through the filter of my life experience. I struggle with the “love.”
Janet: Hannah, I would also suggest reading this passage and story in several different translations. You may see a different attitude and perspective.
Jeff: Shari, great idea.
Tracy: Yes, Shari, that was going to be my suggestion too...I find that changes my understanding when I read it in His gracious, loving tone.
Lorraine: I love how God worked Joseph’s life out, but he sure had some struggles. That helps me to understand it’s not going to be easy. And I love how compassionate Jesus was with the woman accused of adultery, how He appeared to a woman at the tomb, He spoke so kindly to the woman at the well. How Jesus prayed for us in advance in John 17. I lost my son six years ago and I knew I was going to have to deal with why did God let this happen. My first thought and prayer was for this not to separate me from God. And struggle I did but I read everything I could find and listened to many sermons, read verses, prayed from the depth of my soul for His help. I finally had to trust that God could be depended on for His promises and after all the struggles that I still deal with at times, I come back to that. I truly believe He is well able to take a situation that looks impossible and make something good out of it. He did that all through the Bible. It has drawn me so much closer to Heaven and I see most all my life through the angle of that day coming. ♥️
Eternal Perspective Ministries: Hannah, I love the answers that others have given here. Some great perspectives! I think your last comment was also insightful—that it’s so important that we understand the big picture of God’s character revealed throughout Scripture, and that helps us as we look at passages like these.
Here are two more resources from Randy related to Job that might be helpful:
Surrendering to God’s Wisdom
Lessons from the Book of Job
Also see Does God Have Emotions? Randy says there, “It’s critical that we know the heart of God. He genuinely loves and cares about us. If we believe He has no emotions, then we will never feel His love for us, nor will we experience deep love for Him.”
I also wanted to share the following section from Randy’s book Happiness that provides some thoughts. —Stephanie
Nearly all Christians believe that God is good, but many don’t believe that He’s good natured.
When we think of God as happy, we see how His happiness overflows in all He does. If your grumpy neighbor asks, “What are you up to?” you’ll see it as a suspicious, condemning question. But if your cheerful neighbor asks the same thing, you’ll smile and talk about your plans. We interpret people’s words according to how we perceive their character and outlook. So it is with our view of God.
Given most people’s opinion of God, no wonder they read the Bible negatively, selectively focusing on His anger and judgment while missing His mercy, grace, and happiness. God seems restrictive and condemning because they believe He’s against us and our happiness.
The same Scriptures, when read by those who see God as loving and happy, emphatically show that He has our best interests at heart. For them, the Bible becomes a warm, living document instead of a set of harsh, arbitrary rules. If we believe that “God is for us” (Romans 8:31), then even when Scripture exposes our sin, we still trust Him, because He desires to address our sin with His forgiving and empowering grace.
Julie: Hannah, your struggle most certainly is very personal and real. I’m sorry that a person (or people) have fallen short in portraying the love of God to you. That grieves the heart of God! Praying for a fresh revelation of His Love to you and that genuine healing can occur. ❤️
Julie: Lorraine, I cannot imagine that unthinkable dark valley you went through in losing your son. What an amazing statement this is! “My first thought and prayer was for this not to separate me from God.” What a beautiful testimony.
Andrea: Hannah, God did condescend to us in the greatest act of love ever—sending His Son to die for our sins. The difference between God’s greatness and our own insufficiencies is unfathomable.
Helen: Look at JESUS!!
“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NLT).
“No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, CSB).
For more on this topic, see Randy’s book The Grace and Truth Paradox, and his devotionals Beautiful and Scandalous: How God’s Grace Changes Everything and Truth.