Where Were You?

When I drive into my neighborhood, I pass by not one but two cars that have the same exact decal on their windows. It is not some political statement or baseball team, but a simple graphic saying, “He is greater than I.” I have seen this same image on other vehicles, on coffee mugs and last year at the Jiu Jitsu World Championships in Las Vegas I saw it tattooed on the side of a man’s neck. The confession of this simple image is straightforward, God is greater than I am. He is greater than you, greater than all of us. It seems like a silly thing to say but it is something we tend to forget. God is God. He is not us. He is greater and that makes perfect sense. But I wonder if this is really something we want to celebrate. Do we really know what it means to confess God is greater than us?

Quite often this would seem like a terrific confession. You know, when times are a little rough, when you cannot seem to find your path forward, when things are turned so upside down that you feel helpless. Then, to know God is greater than you, that He is bigger and stronger than you are is a source of comfort. If you cannot do it, you know He can. If you are unable to hold fast, there is hope that His grip will never weaken, that He cannot be pushed aside. So, whatever it is plaguing you in life, fear, uncertainty about tomorrow, worries about your relationships, your finances, or your employment, there remains comfort in knowing God is greater than all of it. While you may feel insignificant, He remains capable to do great things.

But what do you do when God turns out to be your problem? What recourse do you have when He stands in the way of your desires or your hopes and dreams? For in the midst of the struggles in this life, in the midst of triumphantly saying, “He is greater than I,” we can, at times, come to the terrifying realization that it is He who stands in the way of I. Think about it. Nothing in the world happens outside of God, that is what makes him God. This is precisely why He is greater than you, which means the tragedies and hardships we all encounter in our lives are not outside of His control either. What then do you do when you dig down and you come to the realization it just might be God who is the one bringing these things, these obstacles, these attacks into your life? When God becomes your enemy, it suddenly is not such a wonderful thing to say, “He is greater than I.”

Originally, I wanted to focus on the Matthew 14 today. The story of Jesus walking on water and Peter’s failed attempt to join Him is a powerful image. It is a dynamic and wonderful story about the saving work of our Lord. It certainly fits with the whole, “He is greater than I,” motif, but it was the Old Testament reading from the book of Job which caught my attention. In a haunting way it grabbed me, and, in turn, I could not let it go either. The Word of God has a way of doing that. “Where were you?” God asks Job out of a whirlwind. And flowing from that simple question He takes Job on a grand overview of the heights and depths of creation itself. Where were you when I did these things? But this question does not come out of nowhere. It flows from a long and brutal story. Job was a man who had everything. He had land and animals and crops and a large family. He was richly blessed but then loses everything. His oxen are stolen, his servants are murdered, his sheep are burned up by fire, the Chaldeans steal his camels, and finally all his children and their spouses die as their home collapses. If that were not enough to ruin a man, sores broke out all over his body from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 2:7). He ends up sitting in ashes scrapping his sores with a piece of broken pottery. And here’s the thing, it was God who did it to him.

Now, Job is not left alone in all of this. He has friends, friends who sit with him in his misery, friends who will not abandon him. In fact, they set out to try and find the reason for the suffering, the reason God would allow such tragedy to befall His servant. Chapter after chapter the discussions go round and around. Surely Job must have done something to deserve this. Surely if he repents and gets back on the narrow way, then God will relent and spare him. They try and find a solution, a logical way forward. But Job seems to get how the problem he has is God himself. God gives and God takes away and there is nothing he can do about it. How do you barter with God? He is greater than I, after all, what can I do to get God to behave as I want Him to behave?

Chapter after chapter and God does not say a word. Job laments. He cries out in rage. He demands answers. He wants to know why. Why would God do this to him? After 35 chapters of silence God finally speaks. A mighty tempest explodes around Job and out of the whirlwind God speaks, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). When God finally speaks He loads Job up with more questions. He leaves us absolutely no doubt that He is greater than I. God does not answer one of Job’s questions. He does not bend to the will of Job. He does not fit into the neat categories Job and his friends have come up with for God.

To one degree or another we all play out this story in our own lives. We play a game with our God; a game we think we can win. See, we think there is a right system, the right plan we can discover and, if executed flawlessly, we can gain control over our God. We can get Him to do what we want to do. This is what Peter does when he gets out of the boat and starts walking on water. Peter thinks, “God is greater than I, but if He calls me out onto the water then I will be able to do what God Himself does.” He seeks to make a deal of sorts, to gain the upper hand, to elevate himself above the other disciples. Not much different than us thinking if we make the correct choices, if we cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, why then, we will have the blessings we deserve and avoid the struggles and sufferings of this life.

But like Peter the wind and the waves continue to rise. They are not in our control and they seem intent to sink us. We cannot barter our way around our sin which so easily clings to us. We cannot gain an upper hand on God by any performance we can muster up. If we think we deserve better, if we think we ought to at least have our questions answered and our miseries justified, we are met with a deafening, “Where were you?”

God remains God and He remains greater than you. Job, though, gives us some hope earlier in his conversation with his friends. He speaks of something that seems impossible at the time, something that you almost dismiss as some sort of strange confession. Perhaps Job gets a little confused in all his grief. But then again, he speaks with a strange confidence even as he begins to realize God is his problem. Back in chapter 19, Job said these words, “Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! Oh, that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19:23-26).

As Job trembles before a mighty God he claims he has a Redeemer. He makes his appeal not to his actions or his friends’ wisdom or his noble intent, but to a Redeemer. I know that my Redeemer lives! Job has no answer to give as God questions him from the storm, but he has one who Redeems him from destruction and so do you. You have a Redeemer who takes up your flesh, who bears your sin, who dies in your place. This alone is your confidence. This is your salvation, for your Redeemer lives!