Does he not see my ways and count my every step? If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit—let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless. (Job 31.4-6)
Do You Know?
OK, it’s time to play “Camp Movie Classics.” See how many clues it takes to name the film. 1. Released in 1975. 2. Second movie to star a pop diva-turned-actress. 3. Set in Chicago. 4. A rags-to-riches tale—or, better yet, a rags and riches tale. 5. Featured one of the 1970’s most cloying theme songs. Give up? The answer is Mahogany, Diana Ross’s sophomore disaster following her amazing début in Lady Sings the Blues. Its story of a secretary who becomes a supermodel was no more than a thinly veiled excuse for Ms. Ross to play dress-up. That theme song—ugh—is what’s pertinent here. If you recall it, no doubt it’s already dug its talons into your brain. If not, here are the lyrics, with apologies, because “Theme from Mahogany” is one of those tunes that roost in your head for hours.
Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?
Since the song ultimately concludes, “How sad the answers to those questions can be,” I for one don’t appreciate having them foisted on me. That wouldn’t be the case if it were “Theme from Job 31,” as this chapter in Job’s riches-to-rags story asks a lot of questions that lead to happy answers. The lyric would need tweaking, though, to reflect Job’s chief query: “Does God know where I’m going?”
A Step-by-Step Inventory
Job asks this hypothetically after friends see the disastrous turn his life has taken and wonder where he went wrong. Sensing they’re headed down the Mahogany path of sad excuses, he doesn’t appreciate it. After protesting his integrity as chapter 31 begins, Job considers a riddle that’s haunted us since the dawn of time: how can a loving God let bad things happen for no reason? Shouldn’t disaster be reserved to punish wickedness? These are legitimate questions no human’s ever adequately answered. (But Jesus did; we’ll get to that tomorrow.) “Isn’t God keeping track of me, counting every step I take?” Job says. “If I’ve failed to please Him, He knows it wasn’t my intention.”
Job’s gone over this repeatedly. But in case he missed something, he takes a step-by-step inventory of his life that testifies to his humility and honesty. Rather than tick off sins and declare his innocence, he frames them as possible missteps that merit correction. Maybe I allowed my eyes to lead me astray, he says. Maybe my hands grabbed after corruption. I may have longed for another’s wife. Perhaps I treated my employees unfairly. Maybe I failed to do all I could for the poor and homeless. It’s possible I placed too much pride in my wealth and success. I may have lost sight of God by glorying in His creation. Maybe I enjoyed seeing my enemy’s misfortunes. Job ends his list with an astounding theory: I may have buried my sin and guilt too far from sight to detect them. If so, he says in verse 35, “let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.”
Trouble Has Its Reasons
Trouble doesn’t need us to give it reason to show up. Its purpose isn’t limited to punishment or correction. If we confine it to that, we’ll be like Job—constantly wondering where we failed. (Since some problems are self-inflicted, a step-by-step inventory isn’t a bad place to start, though.) Many trials that come our way originate elsewhere. This makes it ever important to recognize trouble has its reasons, because even when it’s not of our making, we’ve been chosen to deal with it for a specific purpose.
Trouble is a teacher. The psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119.71) It teaches us what we don’t yet know and sharpens our understanding. Trouble also proves faith and builds stamina. James 1.2-3 encourages: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Finally, trouble is a cleanser. It inspires us to invite God to inspect our hearts and welcomes His participation in our struggles. Job asks for a written indictment. Similarly, when David finds he’s under attack and uncertain why, he prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139.23-24) When trouble persists and answers don’t come, we find the courage to tell God, “Here, You take a look.” There may be nothing to see. But turning to God for answers turns trouble over to God.
When trouble knocks us around, our first impulse is to ask why, and our second wonders, “Do I know where I’m going? Do I like the things life is showing me?” The real question, however, is “Does God know where I’m going?” followed by “What is God showing me?” Job says God sees our ways and counts every step. We may have no idea why trouble has taken us by surprise or the slightest clue where it might lead. Instead of worrying with what we don’t know, it’s best for us to learn all we can. God is keeping track. He sees what’s happening. He knows why. And He knows how to use trouble to teach us, build us, and clean us up for what’s ahead. Knowing that is all we really need to know.
We question why trouble comes to us and where it will lead. All we really need to know is God sees where we are. He’s keeping track of us step-by-step.
(Tomorrow: How Can a Loving God… ?)