Job: The Purpose of God in Dealing with His People
I am overwhelmed by a renewed vision of the relationship between God and us, human beings. I always benefit from the in-depth study that Living Stream Ministry conducts semi-annually. This time the topic is on Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, tackling the great question that consists of two parts: what is God's purpose in creating man and what is God's purpose in dealing with His chosen people? This question arises when we read the Book of Job, a perfect man in his integrity, morality, uprightness, and material blessings yet suffered immensely and stripped to only his bare existence.
Job and his friends had multiple rounds of discourse attempting to provide some kind of logic to his sufferings. However, the underlying concept of their back-and-forth was a misconstrued thought concerning God's relationship with His people. I can't blame Job and his friends because I frequently find myself trapped in the same fallacy. That is, if we do good, God would reward us and if we do evil, God would punish us. Therefore, Job was utterly "disturbed, perplexed and entangled" in his sufferings because he didn't feel like he did anything worthy of such punishment.
From the very beginning, when God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, His first ever commandment to man was concerning eating. Genesis 2:16-17 clearly says, "And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may eat freely, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of it you shall not eat; for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Many Christians are familiar with this forbidden tree, but there are two very crucial matters that are often missed.
First, the tree of knowledge of good and evil has both good and evil on the same tree. God said if you partake of this tree, you shall surely die. The tree of knowledge of good and evil leads to death. It doesn't matter if we do good or evil, it all ends up at the same destination. What then is the opposite to this tree of death?
The second matter that we often miss when reading the record in Genesis is the existence of the tree of life. The tree of life was placed by God, in the middle of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). It was the centerpiece. (Yes, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may also be in the middle but God clearly said to not eat that tree.) Just imagine you're sitting at a dinner table with a Thanksgiving feast spread before you. The hosts invite you to dig in. Wouldn't you eat that big turkey placed right in the middle of the table without being told to do so? Wouldn't the hosts be offended if you eat all the side dishes but never touch the main dish that they have, sometimes painstakingly, prepared for you? This illustration is obviously still short of God's heart toward us. Yet the point is God has given us the tree of life. Actually from the very beginning, He has specifically desired that we would choose to eat this tree!
From the very beginning, when God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, His first ever commandment to man was concerning eating.
Christ is the fulfillment of the figure of the tree of life. He said in John 6:57, "he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me." John 1:4 says, "In Him was life," and in John 15:5, the Lord Jesus proclaims that "I am the vine." He is the life and the vine tree. To eat Jesus is to partake of Him until He becomes part of our being through a metabolic process where our old element is gradually discharged and replaced by the new element that we are partaking, Christ Himself.
This is our relationship with God. God never wants us to be mere good people. He wants us to be God-men, a group of people who are genuinely human yet fully constituted with God, with His life and nature. What defines His relationship with His people is His presentation of Himself as food to us because our eating (partaking) of the Lord Jesus gradually transform us to be God-men.
Job was unaware of this revelation. He went ahead to be not only good, he was probably the best person living on earth at that time. In human's eyes, he had truly reached perfection. He feared God and turned away from evil by building himself up but in practicality, he did not need God. He had lived his life perfectly independent from God. He was successful. So God interjected. In His loving concern, God did not want Job to live according to the principle of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of which the end was inevitably death.
Job needed a radical transfer from the line of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to the line of the tree of life. This was why he suffered. In Genesis 3:4-5, Satan told a plain lie to Eve that she would surely not die if she ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He further mentioned that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. The implication in this statement was that Eve would not need God anymore, she would possess the same knowledge as God. The principle of this tree is a living that is independent of God. You don't need God or inquire God about anything because you got it all down, you got everything under control. You know what to do, you know how to do it, you know why you do it, and so forth. Honestly, I'd say this is an inherent ambition in all fallen human beings, to be as independent and capable as possible.
Job needed a radical transfer from the line of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to the line of the tree of life. This was why he suffered.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil, this principle of independent living, was quite developed in Job's being. Even after bouts of suffering, Job was adamant in not putting away his integrity from himself, holding fast to his righteousness (Job 27:3-6). In contrast to Job, in his suffering the Apostle Paul longed to "be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is out of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is out of God and based on faith" (Phil. 3:9).
Actually Job's self-made integrity was tested and had depleted early. Job cursed the day he was born in Job 3:1. In verse 11 of the same chapter, he wished that he would die at birth. This was equivalent to Job cursing his own mother, wasn't it? Job still thought himself good when his goodness had already failed. Likewise, I had certainly experienced the same situation before, being blinded concerning my real condition. In reality, only God is good. Human goodness will always eventually fail. Yet Job was full of it. He had no awareness that he was not open to God's giving of Himself. He probably did not have any more room within his being for God to come in. The sufferings that God allowed to befall Job were actually to empty Job out of everything that had replaced God in his being.
Out of love Jehovah God began to answer and speak to Job. God's speaking humbled Job and caused him to confess, "I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen You; therefore I abhor myself, and I repent in dust and ashes." What a marvelous transfer! A man who boasted in his own righteousness, integrity, and uprightness, once he saw God his eyes were open to see his true condition and he repented.
The Lord shined in me. Have I repented not for the wrong things I have done but simply for who I am? The person that I am, by default, strives to be independent and capable, repeatedly dismisses God's feelings due to either ignorance or apathy. The vision of the tree of life is that God in Christ desires to dispense Himself into us as food. Food emphasizes dependency. We can't live without food and we can never graduate from eating. He wants us to gain Himself, not goodness as our concept defines it or even material blessings.
The Lord shined in me. Have I repented not for the wrong things I have done but simply for who I am?
Job gained God by seeing God. In the New Testament, Christ became the life-giving Spirit. When we received Him into our life, He came to indwell our spirit, installed as the tree of life within. Now to see God, to eat Jesus, we can simply turn to our spirit because that's where He is.
Needless to say, the Lord is speaking a fresh and personal word to me during this crystallization-study of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. This blog post is based on the spoken messages of this event, which I've been taking the time to muse and digest. To come to a full circle, here is a quote from the key statements of the study that provides the great answer to the great question in my opening paragraph:
"God's purpose in dealing with those who love Him is that they may gain Him to the fullest extent, surpassing the loss of all that they have other than Him, so that He might be expressed through them for the fulfillment of His purpose in creating man."